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Review: iMac with Retina 5K display is among Apple's brightest lights

Christopher Breen | Nov. 4, 2014
The iMac with 5K Retina display is a beautiful piece of work--both within and without. If you're particular about pristine video and images, this is the Mac you'll want to own.

retina imac primary

Among the many new and improved technologies promoted by Apple, one of the most attractive has been the "Retina display." This is a marketing term rather than a technical one and refers to displays with a pixel density where individual pixels are indiscernible to the human eye. You see it touted for iOS devices as well as Apple's MacBook Pros. Like much of Apple's marketing, it's catchy and appealing to those who'd prefer to not dig deeper. However, there are occasions when the term just won't do--particularly when Apple wants to boast about the specific number of pixels that a display houses. Such is the case with the $2,500 iMac with Retina 5K display. And it wants to boast for good reason. The display is stunning.

Just how good is the display?
Specifically, this iMac projects 14.7 million pixels (at a native resolution of 5120 x 2880 resolution), which is four times the pixels offered by the standard 27-inch iMac. And it does so, according to Apple, while using 30 percent less power. This is accomplished through the use of more efficient LEDs along with a special timing controller that coordinates the pixels. Additionally, Apple has introduced something it calls Compensation Film, which helps ensure solid contrast even when viewing the display off-axis.

I had the opportunity to test the iMac with Retina 5K display alongside a late 2012 27-inch iMac, and did so largely to compare the look of each display. At first glance, when viewing Yosemite's default desktop on each iMac, I didn't see a great difference between the two. With brightness cranked all the way up on each, the Retina iMac was brighter than the other but otherwise I'd have been hard pressed to tell one from the other. Off-axis viewing was slightly better on the new iMac--the display was clear up to about 45 degrees off-axis--but the difference wasn't breathtaking.

However, when I moved in closer, the menu bar text on the older iMac appeared hazier than that on the Retina display. As I opened a window the difference was more apparent as text was clearly sharper on the Retina iMac. It's not radically different however--not like switching from a first- or second-generation iPad to an iPad Air, for example. Rather, it's a bit like having your eyes examined and looking through one lens that's very slightly blurry and another that's tack sharp.

It's when you zoom in on text and high-resolution images that you see just what the Retina iMac is capable of. The images below were taken from iBooks, using the zoom feature built into OS X. As is clearly apparent, the text pulled from the older iMac is far less crisp than the text displayed on the Retina iMac.


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