Alternative Retina Display for Mac Pro?

As I previously mentioned, the iMac with 5K Retina Display is going back to Apple. Not because there is anything wrong with it, it’s a beautiful machine, but mainly because I wanted to keep my Mac Pro and I couldn’t justify (to myself anyway), the extra expense of a second powerful machine, just for the display.

However, once you’ve experienced a Retina display, it’s really hard to forget about it!

So in looking for possible alternatives, my eye was taken by the LG Flatron 31MU97 31″ True 4K 60Hz Professional WideScreen LED Monitor.

This is a true Cinema 4K display, with a native resolution of 4096 x 2160. The iMac 5K Retina Display is 5120 x 2880. These figures are significant.

Firstly, some words first about using these humongous resolutions in real life.

Yes, you can run these monitors at these incredible resolutions. It’s quite a buzz to play a 4K Ultra HD resolution at full size – and it looks awesome too.

However, in real life, you’re really not going to stick to these maximum resolutions, the on screen elements – menus, dialogue boxes, etc, are just too small.

The true power of these monitors is that it allows you to run in HiDPi mode, or in Apple’s parlance in Retina Mode.

In HiDPi, all the pixels available are used, but they “scale” the resolution to something more reasonable.

With a normal iMac or Apple Cinema Display, the optimum resolution for the 27” screen is 2560 x 1440. At this resolution, all the on screen elements are perfectly readable and correctly sized for the display.

With the iMac with Retina Display having exactly 4 times as many pixels as the 2560 x 1440 display, when in HiDPi mode, each point at a resolution of 2560 x 1440 is made up of exactly 4 pixels. As such, the crispness of the display needs to be seen to be believed. You can scale up the resolution and it still looks great, but the sweet spot is 2560 x 1440 HiDPi. The added benefit is that if you play 4K media it will be displayed in its true resolution.

So as the iMac was going back, I decided to throw caution to the wind and ordered the new LG Flatron 31MU97.

It arrived a couple of days ago and as the iMac isn’t going back until tomorrow, I was able to do some comparisons.

I discovered that at a certain optimal resolution, the LG Flatron 31MU97 is as eye popping as the iMac Retina.

The only problem is that the optimal resolution is 2048 x 1080 not 2560 x 1440

At 2048 x 1080, the LG also is able to use exactly 4 pixels per point making the display super crisp and gorgeous, just like the iMac display.

So what’s the problem?

2048 x 1080 HiDPi on a 31” monitor makes everything pretty damn large!

It’s usable, but realistically, you’d want a bit more screen real estate on such a large monitor.

But all is not lost, if you scale the display up to 2560 x 1350 HiDPi (same as the iMac but just slightly wider as it’s a 21:7 ratio display), it still looks pretty good.

Very good in fact.

If you’d never seen an iMac with 5K Retina Display, you’d be blown away by the quality of the LG 31MU97 at 2560 x 1350 HiDPi.

But it’s not as good as the iMac, very close, but not quite. Presumably due to the fact the scaling is not using an exact number of pixels for each point at this resolution.

Even so, I’d recommend it to anyone with a Mac Pro who wants to go with a Retina Display.  It’s still a Retina display in my eyes as you still can’t discern any visible pixels.

The LG 31MU97 is able to be driven at the full 4096 x 2160 resolution using DisplayPort rather than Thunderbolt, and it is VESA mountable. Not forgetting the fact that it’s half the price of an entry level iMac with Retina Display.

There is one issue in that the monitor is so new, the Mac Pro doesn’t appear to support the full resolution out of the box. However, due to some fantastic work by Stéphane Madru, the developer of the awesome SwitchResX, the full resolution is available by the addition of a small config file on the Mac Pro. You don’t need to purchase SwitchResX, it’s a simple text file that Stéphane has created.  This is documented over on the MacRumours forum.

So I’m a happy bunny again.

I can get my refund on the iMac and have a full blown 4K Retina display on my Mac Pro.

At least, until the next new thing comes along.




Why I’m returning my iMac with Retina 5K Display

It’s now been a week or two since I received the iMac with Retina 5K display.

As everyone says, it’s a gorgeous machine.

The screen is sublime and it’s really quite nifty in the performance department too.

I wanted to try out the machine to determine if the screen was enough to make me want to trade in my Mac Pro or even to keep both.

I originally made a mistake in ordering the iMac in that I didn’t realise that the iMac was not VESA mountable. You needed to order a special VESA version of the iMac. My initial impressions of the iMac were so positive, I’d decided to return the original iMac and order the VESA version.

However, after a few more days with the iMac with Retina 5K display, I’ve decided to return it and cancel the order for the VESA version.

Let me say straight off, that this is not due to any failing of the iMac. It is a truly stunning machine and if your needs are for a fast, beautiful desktop Mac then more than likely, I’d recommend the iMac with Retina 5K display over the Mac Pro. It’s a steal at the price.

So why return and cancel…

I already have a maxed out Mac Pro that I don’t want to give up on, and I don’t need a second desktop machine to  complicate matters, even if the screen is to die for.

There are some other reasons too…

I’ve been using the Mac Pro with the LG 34UM UltraWide monitor – it’s a beast of a monitor with a great 21:9 aspect ratio. I’ve really become used to the ultra wide ratio and it’s just perfect for any editing with a linear timeline.

If you put the 34″ LG next to the Retina iMac, you’ll see the difference in image qualityimmediately. But is it £2000 worth of difference? Actually, I’d upgraded the iMac so it was more like £2700.

Probably not.

It is possible to drive the 34″ LG off the Retina iMac and it works just fine. But in all honesty, once you go above a certain size, it really doesn’t make sense to use duplicate monitors. The ergonomics just don’t work, at least for me. I’ve now become accustomed to using a single large monitor directly in front of me, unless I’m recording a screencast.

When recording a screencast, I really need do a machine with two screens. One to display the desktop I’m recording, and one to have my editing software running on.

Prior to the iMac, I’d use my Retina MacBook Pro as my recording machine, and temporarily hook up the 34″ LG screen (and all my required peripherals) just by attaching a single Thunderbolt cable from a Thunderbolt hub I have setup. The small 15″ monitor and the large 34″ monitor worked a treat. Just switch back to the Mac Pro when required by swapping out the cable.

With the iMac and 34″ LG, the two monitors were just too large together. I’d also noticed a small amount of fan noise when pushing the iMac say during video encoding – not overly noisy but noticible. The Mac Pro has remained completely silent not matter what I throw at it.

So, with a heavy heart, I’ve just switched back to the Mac Pro and the 34″ LG and you know what, within a few minutes, my eyes have become used to the lower resolution – if you can call 3440×1440 a low resolution! Plus the delights of just a single machine and a single monitor work for me. I have to admit to feeling slightly relieved also, I think I was really wanting the iMac to work out for me to justify the purchase, although I knew that in reality, the Mac Pro is the best machine for my needs.

However, I did enjoy the clarity of the 5K display and would love to have one for my Mac Pro.

Based on the current technology, 5K isn’t going to happen on the current Mac Pros for the foreseeable future – the iMac has some custom hardware to make it all happen.

So after saving myself £2600 by returning the iMac, I think I’m going to take a punt at the new LG Flatron 31MU97 31″ True 4K 60Hz Professional WideScreen LED Monitor.

This is slightly larger than the 27″ iMac at 31″ and has a 17:9 aspect ratio. It’s not 5K but runs at a resolution of Digital Cinema 4K or 4096 x 2160 @ 60Hz over Displayport.

In theory, this should allow me to edit consumer 4K (UltraHD) without cropping or scaling and still have some room for some user interface elements. It also is able to be VESA mounted as standard. You may not be able to class it as a Retina display (or can you), but OS X Yosemite should be able to do some scaling making the text clearer. I’ve no doubt it won’t match the pixel density of the Retina iMac.

But, at least I’ll still be able to have a single monitor solution, use my Mac Pro to it’s fullest and have £1600 change from the iMac.

Just to reiterate, the iMac with Retina 5K display is a fabulous, fabulous machine and I would recommend it to anyone, it just wasn’t enough to make me give up my Mac Pro.

The Aftermath

It’s taken me a day to get over the disaster that was the live stream from the Apple event.

Absolutely inexcusable, especially as the event was hyped so much by Apple.

I was so miffed by the whole debacle, I think it has jaundiced my view of the overall event – hence the delay in posting some thoughts. But I think I’m nearly over it so here we go…

So the iPhone was nailed by the rumours following the leaks of the form factors – except no Sapphire! Always good to see the incremental improvements across the board – yay for 802.11ac. Double the transistors in the A8 and significant performance improvements across the board.

Both versions look absolutely gorgeous, and I think the larger screens are well overdue.

As did many people today, I undertook the mockup test and have no qualms about the larger screen. The mockup fitted just fine in my jeans front pocket.

I’ll be opting for the 128GB iPhone 6 Plus in Space Grey.

The larger size really doesn’t freak me out, unlike some people, and the benefits of the optical image stabilisation as well as the increase in battery life swayed it for me. I would rather they added a few millimetres to the thickness to add additional hours to the battery, but on such a large device, the thinness is probably needed.

Pay will be a world changer – no question.

As for the Watch…

It didn’t grab me!

I think the issue was I wasn’t expecting a watch, I’d thought Apple would have introduced an “off the wall” wearable concept.

24 hours later, I’m starting to get it.

It’s definitely positioned as a fashion item and is exceptionally photogenic.

Despite its apparent “chunkiness”, it seems to sit OK on the wrist, and doesn’t look as thick from several angles. Reports from the event seem to suggest it’s light and comfortable to wear (especially the sports edition).

They are definitely positioning it as a luxury item, and so well they might if it’s to partner with the iPhone.

Some of the applications shown did appear slightly “gimmicky” and of dubious necessity.

Great emphasis was made of the “Digital Crown” yet most of the live demo used gestures on screen.

But I think I get it now, and they’ve got another three months to refine the software, as well as give developers time to create additional 3rd party apps.

It might well be the first Apple product that I’ve never immediately lusted after – but I have a feeling its a slow burner.

Will I buy an Watch?

Ask me again in three months…

but probably!

PS The blog might need to go quiet over the next few days. I’ve been called away to foreign shores due to an illness in the family. Should be back to normal next week, or I may find the odd time to get online in the meantime.

The Fabled 12″ MacBook Air

MacbookairI love the 13″ MacBook Air.

I also love the 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display.

I’m fortunate enough to have access to both.

But for some reason, the prognostication of a Broadwell based 12″ MacBook Air with Retina Display fills me with absolute delight.

It’s probably due to the combination of a truly portable laptop with a stunning display, incredible battery life and power by the bucketful. Throw in operating in complete silence too.

The 12″ MacBook Air has the potential to be the perfect laptop.

My original thoughts were that it could well be released during the WWDC keynote, but that wasn’t to be. It’s not like they didn’t already have a ton of stuff to announce with iOS 8 and Yosemite, I think it’s more likely that the chips and or retina displays were not yet ready.

However, rumours are flying that the fabled machine is nearing production for a late 2014 or early 2015 launch.

My gut feel is that we’ll see it before Christmas.

If they manage it, the 2014 last quarter numbers for Apple with new iPhones, new iPads and a new MacBook Air will be off the charts.

Curved 34-inch ultrawide display?

If you checked out my updated Setup page, you’ll be aware that I’ve been using the LG 34UM95 34″ 21:9 Wide Screen Monitor.

It’s a beautiful monitor with a fantastic screen resolution of 3440 x 1440 pixels and the ultra wide format really is a boon with lot’s of screen real estate to play with. The 21:9 format is fantastic, especially for applications with a linear timeline such as Final Cut Pro or Screenflow. Plus, it’s optimised for Macs with built in Thunderbolt 2.

The screen is wide though, very wide.

Hence my eyebrow raised when I heard about a new version of the LG 34UM95 to be launched at IFA 2014 next month – The LG 34UC97 – a curved version of the 34UM95!

LG Curved

Based on personal experience with the 34UM95, a curved version of the screen would be amazing. Viewing the huge width would benefit from a slight curvature, bring the edges of the screen in closer to the user.

LG have published a photo of three of curved displays together, although to my eye, I don’t think they are the 21:9 aspect ratio displays. But the photo does give an impression on how awesome three curved screens would be.

Three curved

So will I get one?

It really depends on pricing, availability as well as what else is happening in the monitor world.

Now I have a 4K camera and a Mac Pro, it may be time to start thinking of a 4K display, although I really do like the 21:9 aspect ratio.

Don’t forget, we also are waiting for Apple to show their hand on what they are proposing to do in the monitor space.

Perhaps before Christmas?