Retina Display Test: Under the Microscope

Curtis Taylor Curtis Taylor
Posted on November 2, 2012 There have been 10 comment(s)

 

Here at RepairLabs.com, we thought we’d have some fun with the new iPad, iPad mini, and the microscope. With the long-awaited iPad mini going on sale today and with some of the rumors and hearsay flying about regarding its screen resolution, we thought we’d put all of the iPad generations under the microscope to see what’s really going on with the different display resolutions.  People are worried that once they have the Retina Display on other devices they’ll be spoiled and be unhappy with the iPad mini. And they may have a point. Anecdotes abound  of people giving up their lightweight and portable notebook computers in favor of the beautiful Retina display:

“In short, I have become a pompous pixel ass. Thanks to Apple,” says Brooke Crothers @mbrookec, in his article describing the joys of Retina Display.

We, as a screen consuming culture, thanks to Retina display, have come to recognize jaggies: those little jagged edges that the human eye can perceive on fonts and pictures where the individual pixels are visible, even if only just slightly, or if you have your nose to the screen.  And the real kicker is that once you start seeing pixels and jaggies, you can't stop. I’m seeing them now, typing.

To illustrate the pixel difference though, presents a bit of a problem. Most of us still use screens that aren’t Retina Display, so showing you a picture from a Retina screen versus one from a standard screen will give you the same results. Jaggies.  So how can we illustrate and test the actual difference that you will see? We zoom in as close as we can go. In fact we’ve zoomed in to the actual pixels of each of the iPad screens to give you an idea of what you’ll be looking at.

Under our 150 times zoom microscope, you’ll see each block of Red, Blue, and Green (a square of RGB, 3 blocks). Each of these three block are equal to one pixel.  The difference in displays is due in part to how many of each of these tiny blocks Apple can squeeze into one inch, or pixels per inch (ppi). (The other part are some very tricky and clever innovations on Apple’s part of how the screen actually functions.)  We’ve compared the Retina Display with each of the previous iterations of the iPad along with the new mini in order to give you an idea of what the difference between them is.

 

iPad 1st Gen vs iPad with Retina Display (4th Gen)

 

iPad 2nd Gen vs. 4th Gen with Retina Display under a microscope www.RepairLabs.com

It looks like Pac Man vs Tron! Left: iPad 1. Right: iPad 4th Gen with Retina Display

Here is our most dramatic example. You can see that the pixels of the  iPad 1st Gen are nearly double the size of the 4th with Retina Display. For every one grouping of the RGB block on the 1st Gen, you can see that 6 blocks of color (2 RGB groupings) fit into the same space. What does this add up to? Pixel density. The Retina Display packs more pixels in every punch.

 

iPad 2nd Gen vs iPad with Retina Display (4th Gen)

 

iPad 2nd Gen vs. iPad 4th Gen with Retina Display, pixels under a microscope www.RepairLabs.com

Just check out the difference in pixel size!

Again in this instance we can see that the iPad with Retina far out preforms the iPad 2nd Gen.  The displays on this device and the iPad 1st Gen are basically the same:  132 ppi.  On the iPad with Retina Display (4th Gen)  the pixels per inch are again 264. It’s literally double the amount of pixels than the earlier versions.

 

iPad (3rd Gen) with Retina and iPad (4th Gen) with Retina.

 

iPad 3 Gen vs. 4th Gen with Retina Display under a microscope www.RepairLabs.com

Same size. Surprise.

The much-maligned and befuddling 3rd Gen stopgap iPad is not all bad. Hated due to its inferior power and how quickly it became obsolete in in the wake of the 4th Gen announcement, it’s no slouch when it comes to display. In fact the displays of the two are identical, with identical resolutions of 2048 x 1536.  (The difference you see between these two pictured is that the 3rd Gen screen is displayed upside-down. Just to keep you on your toes.) At exactly the same magnification, the displays are identical.

 

iPad mini vs 4th Gen.

 

iPad 1st Gen vs. 4th Gen with Retina Display under a microscope www.RepairLabs.com

At this point it looks like a major, deal-breaking difference, but wait...!

The iPad mini is where things get interesting. Its smaller size necessitates a few sacrifices, and the Retina Display (at this point) simply cannot be made to fit the new small chassis, so to speak.  But lo! The difference between the iPad 4th Gen and the iPad mini is not that huge when examined under the microscope.  In fact, the pixels of the Retina Display are only 2/3 the size of the iPad mini. In the older iterations, the pixels of the 4th Gen are ½ the size of the older versions, or .50. Here, they’re a full 16% (.16, since the 4th Gen’s pixels are 1/3 or .66 of the size of the mini) larger in comparison. This means the difference between the two, is less noticeable. In fact, to the naked eye, it’s negligible. Why is this? Since it’s a smaller screen, the pixels are packed much more densely.

 

iPad mini vs. 4th Gen with Retina Display under a microscope www.RepairLabs.com

iPad mini pixel size breakdown, compared with Retina Display

 

BONUS:  iPad mini vs. 2nd Gen

 

 

iPad mini vs. iPad 2 (no Retina display on either) under a microscope www.RepairLabs.com

A surprising difference here! Left: iPad mini. Right iPad 2nd Gen.

But if you buy and iPad mini, are you going to be sad that you don’t have the glorious Retina display?

So the question remains. Which device is the best to purchase, based solely on displays?  If price point is your major consideration, you’ll be choosing between the iPad mini, which costs $329, and the iPad 2nd Generation, a larger size for $399,  but without Retina Display. In theory, these displays should be basically equivalent.

But when viewed under the microscope, you can see that the pixels of the mini are much smaller, it looks a little over half the size of the 2nd Gen (it measures in 81% of the 2nd Gen’s 132 ppi, to be exact).  The mini boasts 163 ppi, more than the 1st and 2nd generation iPads.  The pixels are packed much more densely into a smaller screen.

“No, this isn't Retina, but maintaining the same resolution as a 10-inch display shrunken down to 7.9 means a necessary boost in pixel density: 163ppi,”

 

says Tim Stevens of Engadget in his  review of the iPad mini.

 

In Conclusion:

We must keep in mind that, as Gary Marshall (@garymarshall) points out  in his definitive article on Retina Display:

“When Apple talks about a Retina display it's not referring to a worldwide standard or a set of specifications. It's actually just a marketing term, and it simply means that the screen has sufficient pixel density, so that when you look at it normally, you can't make out all the individual pixels.”

 

We must remember that viewing distance is always a factor, and what looks pixelated at 2 inches from your nose won’t look pixelated 15 inches away. So between all these devices it’s generally agreed that Apple has mastered the art of creating a beautiful screen.  What’s the difference between devices? Much smaller pixels, packed much more densely into an area. That’s basically what you’re getting when you’re paying for Retina Display. And many will swear up and down that it’s TOTALLY WORTH IT.  After all, Retina Display boasts as many as 3.1 million pixels, better than an HDTV.

 

 

 

Additional Sources:

 

http://www.theverge.com/2012/11/1/3585082/13-inch-macbook-pro-with-retina-display-review

http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/14/2870533/ipad-review

http://www.apple.com/ipad/design/

 

UPDATE: Sorry for the confusion, folks. I managed to "dyslexic" my right and left on that last image there. I've updated it, so that now it is correct.  Thanks, astute readers!

by , Tech Expert, Freelance Writer.

Retina Display Test: Under the Microscope

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Curtis Taylor

Curtis is one of the lead public technical advisors for all personal electronics. With a burning passion for not only bringing you the most informative articles, but also for his websites RepairLabs and Fix-iPhones.com. His proudest achievement though is Op:HERO -- a program dedicated to making each repair help overcome.

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This post was posted in Opinion, Tablets, Tech, What We Do, iPhone, iPad Rumors, iPad, Uncategorized and was tagged with display, Retina, Apple, pixel, density, microscope, Retina Display, pixels, iPad mini, LCD, tablet, iPad

10 Responses to Retina Display Test: Under the Microscope

  • John says:

    The last pic (mini vs 2nd gen) is wrong. You used pictures of different scales to create it.

    Posted on November 2, 2012 at 8:34 pm

  • mike says:

    Why not show the three screens side-by-side, for a true comparison. Pixel size biggest to smallest:
    [1/2 gen iPad] [iPad Mini] [3/4 gen Retina]

    Posted on November 3, 2012 at 10:31 am

  • How about a test between the iPad mini and the iPhone 3GS. I have noticed with the naked eye, that the pixel sizes may be similar.

    Posted on November 3, 2012 at 2:04 pm

  • admin says:

    Awesome idea: we'll put it in the works!
    ~Curtis

    Posted on November 5, 2012 at 4:15 am

  • admin says:

    you are indeed correct, Jim. Fixin that little typo straightaway!

    Posted on November 5, 2012 at 4:21 am

  • admin says:

    i'll see if my designer can whip something up :D

    Posted on November 5, 2012 at 4:22 am

  • admin says:

    Sorry, John, but all of our pictures are the genuine article, taken from an HDTV screen hooked to the microscope. The scale is unchanged, and microscope zoom is not moved between the tests. In fact our microscope saves a picture on the right for comparison's sake, so the left-hand picture is actually a live image under the microscope (i.e. a live image of the mini). Our designer has not changed the scale of any photo. All she's done is to adjust the brightness to make up for my terrible photography skills.

    Posted on November 5, 2012 at 4:32 am

  • ZOMG; "Why is this? Since it’s a smaller screen, the pixels are packed much more densely."

    Stating the obvious... LOL

    Posted on November 5, 2012 at 9:29 am

  • Very Nice articule! What should be the comparison of the Retina Display of the iPhone 4/S and 5 versus the Mini iPad versus New iPad.
    I mean the density in the Retina iPhone is it even greater that the new iPad?

    Posted on November 5, 2012 at 11:34 am

  • admin says:

    Actually the iPhone 5 has the best display of all. Apple's operating off of the premise that you'll look at the iPhone 5 from 10 inches away (closer) as compared to the iPads, which they believe you'll view from 12-15 inches away. This means that you'll be able to see fewer pixels. Just experiment with it: if you put your nose really close to your screen, you'll see pixels or jaggies. Farther away, you'll see fewer pixels.

    Posted on November 9, 2012 at 10:00 am

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