- Samsung and Dell’s new monitors take aim at Apple’s Pro and Studio Displays.
- These are high-end displays with high-end features.
- Macs have very specific requirements for their Retina specs.
After years in the wilderness, Mac users finally have some good, non-Apple options for adding an external monitor to their setup.
At this year’s CES, Samsung and Dell announced new Mac-friendly monitors. Samsung’s ViewFinity S9 is a 5K 27-inch monitor with a design that looks suspiciously similar to Apple’s Studio Display. Dell’s UltraSharp 32 6K is a (presumably cheaper) alternative to the $5K Pro Display XDR. Prior to this, the only third-party option for Macs was LG’s UltraFine 5K. So what’s going on? Why have things suddenly gotten so much better for Mac users after years of drought?
“I suspect the ViewFinity will be a more appropriately priced ‘clone’ of the Studio Display—and I have no problem with that as Apple’s pricing is ridiculous,” Mac user tbayrgs says on a MacRumors forum thread participated in by Lifewire. “And as someone who would’ve pulled the trigger on a Studio Display if it wasn’t so terribly priced, I’ll definitely [consider] picking up the Samsung version in its place.”
5K or Bust
First, what makes a Mac monitor a Mac monitor? After all, can't you just hook up any old display via USB-C, HDMI, or DisplayPort? Yes, you can, but to look good with a Mac, you need a higher screen resolution than is usually available.
A 27-inch monitor is usually built with a 4K resolution, whereas Macs prefer 5K. The same for 32 inches. Apple’s Pro Display XDR is 6K, and the competition there doesn’t really exist. Many 32-inch screens are still 4K, or you have to opt for a widescreen gaming monitor.
Apple uses the term "retina" for many of its displays. This means that the resolution is high enough that you will not see any individual pixels at normal viewing distances. For a 27-inch screen, that resolution is 5K. Thus, Apple has tuned the size of the on-screen user-interface elements (the menu bar, window text, and so on) to look good at this resolution and to be the same size as on its previous non-Retina displays.
If you run a Mac into a 27-inch 4K display, then the contents of the screen will appear too big. If you allow the Mac to scale these elements to the 'correct' size, they will not be as sharp.
Plus, Mac users are used to certain conveniences. One is that the volume and brightness keys on the keyboard should work with the connected screen and its speakers. You should not have to reach up and adjust these on the monitor itself. Also, Mac monitors should be instant-on. If the computer is sleeping, and you tap a key, the screen should light up, ready to go, like Apple's own external display, MacBook displays, and iPads and iPhones.
Until this week, if you wanted a Mac display that looked right and worked well, you had to buy one from Apple or LG, and that LG is really showing its age. Dell’s 6K 31.5-inch U3224KB connects via Thunderbolt and has a very high-quality display panel. It doesn’t support Apple’s True Tone tech that changes the screen’s color to match the room’s light, but it does come with a 4K webcam, speakers, and a mic.
What it doesn’t have is local dimming of the backlight like the Apple monitor. It also comes with a stand, whereas Apple will charge you another grand for one—or let you prop it up against the wall, I guess.
Samsung’s S9 is, like the Dell, still unknown in terms of quality, but specs-wise it matches Apple’s $1,599 Studio Display, comes with an anti-reflective matte finish, and has a computer inside that turns it into a smart TV.
When these monitors go on sale, we'll see how well they perform. But both Dell and Samsung make great displays, and these are both aimed squarely at the high end. For Mac users, this is amazing news. The offer just doubled, and the new models are likely to cost a lot less than Apple's versions, which are typically expensive.
“My only gripe with the 5K Apple Studio Display is the 27-inch size, I would have liked a 32-inch option that wasn’t $5,000, but it’s a beautiful crisp display, so it’s a small gripe,” filmmaker and editor Matthew Egan told Lifewire via email.
And who knows? Perhaps this is a trend. And if it continues, we might see Windows PCs start to embrace these higher resolutions, which would be great for users too.
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