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Forget the Apple Watch, Here Comes the Retina Thunderbolt Display

Forget the Apple Watch, Here Comes the Retina Thunderbolt Display

Update [2014-10-16]: Apple didn’t launch the Retina Thunderbolt Display today, but it did unveil a new “iMac with Retina 5K Display” sporting a 5120×2880 resolution. Check out the details here. We expect that a Retina 5K update to the Thunderbolt Display will arrive in the next quarter or two.

Now that all the mobile/wearable silliness is out of the way, we can start looking forward to the fall’s Mac hardware upgrades, which may finally bring us the long-awaited Retina Thunderbolt Display. A report Friday from DigiTimes claims that Apple is gearing up to release a 27-inch display with a 5K resolution by the end of the fourth quarter.

For the uninitiated, 5K is a step above the increasingly common 4K, with a resolution of 5120×2880 compared to 4096×2160 (although some companies also market Ultra HD, or UHD, with a resolution of 3840×2160 as “4K”). If true, Apple wouldn’t be the first to introduce a product at such a resolution; Dell unveiled its own 5K display earlier this month, sporting a resounding 14.75 million pixels (compared to around 2 million for a typical 1080p display).

Dell 5K Ultrasharp
Dell’s Upcoming 5K Display

One concern however is that 5K resolutions exceed the official specifications of DisplayPort 1.2, the standard found on modern Macs with Thunderbolt 2. While the technical details of Dell’s 5K display are still unclear, it is speculated that the company is utilizing two DisplayPort 1.2 connections and splitting the signal into equal 2560×2880 halves.

Apple could choose to implement a similar solution for a future Retina Thunderbolt Display, but doing so would limit the display’s compatibility to Macs with multiple Thunderbolt 2 ports, namely the Mac Pro and Retina MacBook Pro (although it is likely that the iMac will be upgraded in the near future to support Thunderbolt 2). Left out of the mix with only a single first-generation Thunderbolt port are the MacBook Air and the long-neglected Mac mini.

As a “pro” display, however, it is feasible that Apple would choose to limit Retina Thunderbolt Display compatibility to certain high-end Macs, but it would still require users two connect two Thunderbolt cables in order to activate the display, a solution that the company may find inelegant compared to the current scheme which utilizes two cables total (one for Thunderbolt, one for MagSafe power).

Apple Thunderbolt Display with MacBook Air

Another solution, and one that was widely rumored prior to Friday’s report, is for Apple to introduce a new display at a “Cinema 4K” resolution of 4096×2160. This is the maximum resolution that the standard can support at 60Hz, although the prevelance of UHD displays at 3840×2160 may make that resolution more attractive due to lower production costs.

Regardless of the route Apple elects to pursue, many consumers hope the company introduces a Thunderbolt Display update soon. Apple began selling a very limited number of third party UHD (4K) displays alongside the launch of the Mac Pro late last year, but support is flaky at best for other models. As we discussed back in May, the Mac Pro’s AMD drivers don’t fully support the new round of cheaper single-stream 4K monitors, forcing users to stick with an unacceptably slow 30Hz refresh rate, or run at a lower resolution, such as 2560×1440, with blur-inducing upscaling.

Apple’s lack of enthusiasm in addressing support for single-stream 4K displays is likely due to the company’s efforts on its own high resolution display. The introduction of high resolution “Retina” displays with the iPhone 4 back in 2010 was a revelation for consumers living in a pixelated world, and things only got more interesting with the launch of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display two years later. Now desktop users are clamoring for the same experience, and it’s getting more and more likely that Apple will soon deliver a compelling Retina Thunderbolt Display and, surely soon to follow, a Retina iMac.

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5 thoughts on “Forget the Apple Watch, Here Comes the Retina Thunderbolt Display”

SimonC says:
Still waiting on that retina thunderbolt display… Macrumors buyers guide is a big fat red DONT BUY – 1474 days since last release.
AirstreamStyle says:
I am so ready for Apple to release an updated display. Honestly, I am more interested in the form more closely following the latest generation iMac and the addition of Thunderbolt 2 ports than a ultra high resolution display. I am currently using a 2.4GHz mid 2007 iMac and it is past time for an upgrade. I can always buy another iMac but I was really wanting to go with a top of the line Mac Mini with an Apple Display instead of replacing an all-in-one iMac every time I upgrade as I think I would upgrade more often if I could do so.

When will Apple ever care about anyone but it’s iPhone and iPad users again? I know they have released the MacBook Pro Retina (I’m typing this on one) and the new Retina iMac but I still feel their love for traditional computers and their users has been lost.

Scott Cooper says:
I’m in exactly the same position. I want a separate monitor as I need to use my work Winows PC at home but don’t want to pay the exorbitant price Apple are charging for the current Thunderbolt Display. I don’t understand why at the very least Apple don’t sell display with the same resolution and form factor of the non-retina iMacs. I would buy two right now.
stormchild says:
There won’t be a 5K Thunderbolt display until Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 2 doesn’t have enough bandwidth, period. Putting a GPU in the display won’t make any difference. I’d say it’s at least another year off, if not more.
Nate Opgenorth says:
Apple screwed up in preparing for the 4K revolution….I’m on a early 2013 15″ rMacBook Pro and while my hardware can push 3840x2160p30 (or 4096x2160p24) this was not allowed tell Mavericks…furthermore the retina MacBook Pro’s feature decent graphics cards but nothing needed to really push a 5K display + the 2.8K internal display…then they only introduced Thunderbolt 2 on the latest models of Mac’s, now I can’t entirely blame Apple for the thunderbolt 2 standard taking its time but Thunderbolt from the start should have been able to aggregate both channels together just like Thunderbolt 2, especially since Apple brags about how revolutionary Thunderbolt is over giant PCIe slots and eSATA. I understand the reason for 5K, current thunderbolt/cinema displays are 2560 lines across so it only makes sense to double to 5120 for simplicity reasons as well as some other advantages but they are going to need to step up the GPU’s of their computers or release this display with an integrated graphics card inside of it…the latter is expensive but it would make compatibility issues less of an issue and offer a unique way to offload the stress of running a 4K+ display off an arguably weak GPU on anything less than the Mac Pro’s….
TekRevue says:
Great observations, Nate. I’m betting that we’ll see the eventual Retina Thunderbolt Display arrive with a built-in GPU, but as you say it won’t solve all of the issues.
Stefan says:
A 4K or 5K Thunderbold-Display makes sense only with an integrated graphic card. So every MacBook an MacMini could be upgraded to high resolution. To implement the graphic card into the Computer is an outdated technology – the display has to the job, not the computer.

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Jim Tanous

Sep 13, 2014

676 Articles Published