Retina analysis for Design and Audio enthusiasts

Discussion in 'MacBook Pro' started by Update, Dec 2, 2012.

  1. Update, Dec 2, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2012

    Update macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    It's important to note that the following review is based on the visual representation of non-retina apps and content on a retina display. For the most part, your non-retina apps will function completely fine on a retina display.

    There's no denying the lure of the Retina display but you have to completely understand and fully appreciate what you're getting yourself into if you plan to use the retina 2012 MacBook Pros for design or audio production.

    Since the release of the Retina display in June 2012 a lot of small 3rd party developers have been fantastically supportive of the new technology and have been very quick to push out lovely Retina updates of their apps. Quite simply, they look amazing. Apple have also pushed out a huge batch of retina-optimized updates for their apps and they too look great, as you'd expect.

    Here comes the caveat. The MacBook Pro with Retina display launched with huge fanfare and press releases from Adobe (and the likes) saying that they would be supporting the display with updates to their apps. What Adobe failed to do was commit to a date. This goes for a lot of other big name developers.

    Graphic Apps - December 2012
    It's now December 2012, 7 months after the release of the retina MacBook Pro and Adobe still haven't released their retina updates. Look a little closer and you'll notice that they haven't included InDesign of Fireworks on their retina todo list. At this point in time Adobe apps look terrible on a retina display and are barely usable. Just look at how badly a bezier curve renders in Illustrator or how pixelated all of the UI elements look. Pixel-level editing in Photoshop is bad. Really bad.

    Lets return to the omission of InDesign and Fireworks from their todo list. If you use InDesign you'll probably have to wait until CS7 for a retina update. In the meantime you're going to be stuck with a horribly pixelated experience.

    Sure, Adobe will probably release their retina updates in the next few months but by then Apple will probably have plans for the second generation retina MacBook Pro which will no-doubt come with even faster processors, graphic chipsets and refined retina scaling code to make pushing all those pixels around the screen as 'butter smooth' as you would expect from Apple. The current models are definitely pushing the limits of the current technology and it shows from a stutter here and there.

    Step outside of Adobe and you'll quickly find that most of the other big name graphic companies have yet to commit development time to updating their apps to support the retina display.

    Audio Apps - December 2012
    When it comes to Audio apps and plug-ins, the story is bleak from the outset.

    Apple may have updated most of their apps but Logic Pro wasn't one of them. Development in the audio community is notoriously lethargic and Apple has set the pace from the word go.

    There are almost no retina-ready plug-ins or DAWs. The only company I can think of that supports retina at this time is Sinevibes. Ableton have announced Live 9 for early 2013 but have publicly said that it won't have retina support. I imagine they'll eventually update it but it's obviously very low on their priority list.

    This goes for the rest of the audio development community. Some forward-thinking developers will eventually add retina support over the next year or two but just think of the challenges they face. Most audio apps have heavily graphic intensive interfaces, all currently designed to the existing 72dpi standard. Rotational knobs are often constructed with hundreds of turn state PNGs. All of these fiddly elements will in most cases need completely re-drawn and rendered. Most audio developers don't make a lot of money from their apps so it's a considerable investment of time and money for them.

    Make no mistake. Retina is the future, but at the moment it's a very niche market and for some it's not worth the time and money until it becomes a wider standard on more Macs and most importantly - PCs. The vast majority of audio plug-ins began life on the PC and have been ported or re-written for the Mac.

    Reality Check
    In December 2012 graphic and audio professionals are left with a frustrating situation. They have the opportunity to purchase some of the most beautiful hardware Apple has ever made - with the best displays ever. The major caveat is that most of the apps you're likely to use are going to look terrible on them.

    Some developers like Adobe have promised support and it'll come - but when? Other developers will take months, even years to eventually find the resources to re-draw their app GUIs to retina standards. Expect an especially painful transition in the audio community. Some current top-of-the-line plug-ins haven't been updated in over a year (often more).

    If you're a graphics or audio enthusiast it doesn't make much sense to buy a retina-based Mac now. You'll be investing thousands of dollars into a system that's going to make all of your apps look terrible. Of course, if your a developer, writer or photographer you may find that you're covered. Aperture looks fantastic. A lot of web development apps have been updated and as I mentioned earlier, a lot of small developers have been quick to embrace the retina technology - which should be commended.

    So where does that leave you?

    You'll probably find that your apps will get the retina treatment in the next 1-2 years. By then Apple will have ironed out their early teething problems with pushing pixels smoothly around a retina display. Then would be the perfect time to invest.

    Thankfully you have a few options. If you're going portable then a top of the line 2012 MacBook Air is a great option. It's very fast, incredibly portable and has a really nice regular (non-retina) LED-based display that'll display all of your apps in their intended glory.

    Of course, Apple have updated their classic MacBook Pro line which is just as powerful as the retina models but don't have to drive a retina display. The existing design is still great and it's almost a no-brainer option for a high performance non-retina portable.

    For a desktop you have the wonderful new 2012 iMac. It has a fantastic IPS-based (non-retina) regular display and will render all of your existing apps in their full glory. It's also insanely fast and will last you for years - or until all your favorite app developers catch up with Apple.

    A half-way option would be to endure the rendering of your non-retina apps on a retina MacBook Pro and connect it to an external Thunderbolt display - which is also non-retina.

    I hope this helps with your purchasing decisions. :)
  2. nontroppo macrumors 6502


    Mar 11, 2009
    It is important to remember that applications that are not yet retina aware display identically to a classic MBP of the same resolution (Apple use nearest neighbour interpolation, thus the pixel buffer is identical), so suggesting that a classic MBP is a solution (or that the rMBP is somehow deficient) doesn't really make sense...

  3. AndyDiamond macrumors 6502


    Jul 12, 2004
    The Black Lodge
    Thanks for the extensive overview.

    It sounds very depressing. That is if you want to run everything at Retina resolution. Which of course is the main point of having a retina screen.

    However it seems that non-retina apps still run fine as long as they are updated for 10.8x - you just don't get retina resolution - you get regular resolution which I can live with- for now.

    I agree a 2012 iMac would be a good solution.
    For a few hundred less than a fully loaded 15" MBPr you can get a high spec 2012 27" iMac which would be great for graphics and audio:

    3.4GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz
    32GB 1600MHz DDR3 SDRAM - 4x8GB
    3TB Fusion Drive
    NVIDIA GeForce GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5
  4. lebbeus, Dec 2, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2012

    lebbeus macrumors newbie

    Nov 15, 2012
    for what its worth i just bought a 15inch retina for audio and its great. yes logic hasn't officially been updated but all the text is dynamically sharper and it looks really well, plus being able to get so many tracks visible on a scaled display is ace.

    yes there's the odd slightly fuzzy curve on an icon but it doesn't affect usage at all.


    also. and this was a surprise- the new retinas do supply external power via thunderbolt. i was told by motu that this was no longer the case but my audio interface works fine just using the regular firewire adapter.
  5. Cjallen macrumors member

    Oct 28, 2012
    I bought a rMBP exclusively for ableton live and the lack of support doesn't bother me at all. It'd be nice to see someday but doesn't hinder me at all. Being able to scale is a massive benefit too.
  6. MCAsan macrumors 601


    Jul 9, 2012
    Adobe is rumored to release retina support in mid December. I got my rmbp for all solid state design with GPS in small package. At home I use an external monitor, not a 15" screen....ant any resolution.
  7. Update, Dec 2, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2012

    Update thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    Thanks for all the follow-up points.

    Firstly, the screen shots are never going to show exactly how a retina display deals with typical 72dpi content. Yes, the nearest neighbor interpolation makes the upscaling look sharp, but the UI elements are still very low-res compared to native retina-apps.

    Secondly, I should have noted at the beginning of the review that my observations are totally visual. I've updated the review with a preface to address this.

    Thirdly, most of your existing apps will function perfectly fine on a retina display, albeit with a fairly blocky representation. Apps like Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign, however, still have issues when working with content on a pixel for pixel basis. You can no longer rely on a 1px line being represented 1:1 by 1px. In most cases it'll be represented on screen with a solid line right next to a lighter fuzzy line. It's the same in Illustrator. Bezier curves no-longer look smooth. They look like a jaggy pixelated curve - yes, a very sharp pixelated curve thanks to the retina display.

    My main point is that non-retina apps were designed to be displayed on normal non-retina displays. Of course, retina displays can upscale non-retina content - but it looks blocky and the sharpness of the display highlights this. For some, this might not be a problem at all. Audio apps are still going to function properly. UIs will look super sharp, but will be noticeably pixelated compared to retina-optimized content.

    The retina display is spectacular and retina-optimized apps look amazing. It's hard to go back once you've experienced the retina display. I wrote my article is to remind users that as a designer or audio enthusiast, you're in for a bumpy - or should I say 'blocky' ride.

    Just know what to expect from your apps, developer timelines/priorities and the retina display before making the leap.
  8. nontroppo macrumors 6502


    Mar 11, 2009
    However your OPTIONS section still suggests a whole range of low-res solutions, which provide no advantage over running non-optimised apps on the retina MBP...
  9. bill-p macrumors 68000

    Jul 23, 2011
    I think you're missing any mention of being able to scale the display to higher than "Best For Retina" resolution.

    At scaled resolutions, Retina apps remain just as sharp, and blocky non-Retina apps are less blocky since the effective pixel density is higher.

    That and resolution is not the be-all end-all for graphics designers. Color reproduction and viewing angle are equally important. Both of which the Retina MacBooks far outclass any of the older generation computers.

    In fact, I would even recommend against the MacBook Air because the MacBook Air has worse color reproduction than any of the Pro devices.

    Graphics design is not my main forte, but I work closely enough with many graphics designers to know that the Retina screen is a much bigger deal for them than the old Pro screens even if they have to run apps at lower resolutions.
  10. Update thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    My non-retina options provide an advantage to running non-retina apps because the apps are being rendered on a screen that they were designed to be run on.

    Of course, you're perfectly entitled to your opinion but non-retina apps look best displayed on a non-retina display. To suggest the sharper blocky upscaled retina solution is better is just misleading.

    If anyone is confused about this issue I urge you to visit your local Apple store, check out a retina MacBook Pro and launch any non-retina app (Photoshop, Illustrator, Logic Pro etc.) and you'll see what I mean.

    I'm not for a moment suggesting the standard displays are better than the retina display. This would be nonsense. The retina display is far superior in almost every way EXCEPT the way it displays non-retina apps.

    My report is based on the state of design and audio applications. Very few are retina-optimized and buyers need to know that the vast majority of their apps are going to look worse running on a retina display than on a standard display.

    Hope that helps clarify things. :)
  11. bill-p macrumors 68000

    Jul 23, 2011
    This is actually NOT true.

    Non-Retina apps at scaled resolutions (1920 x 1200 for instance) on a 15" rMBP looks BETTER than the same apps on a regular 15" MBP. Since they are "downscaled", not "upscaled".
  12. Update thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    My point was based on running apps at best "Best for Retina" setting.

    Yes, if you choose a higher resolution you can mitigate some of the blockiness (with 2x rendering and downscaling) but this introduces performance issues with the hardware having to double everything and downscale every movement.

    Much of my argument is based on the lack of retina support from design and audio developers at this time. It'll take years for full support and a non-retina display (like the new 2012 iMac) is arguably the best solution until the developers catch up with Apple.

    Thanks for your reply. It's a good balance to my argument and something for users to consider as it definitely helps with the blockiness but it's still not as native as running a non-retina app on a non-retina display.
  13. bill-p, Dec 2, 2012
    Last edited: Dec 2, 2012

    bill-p macrumors 68000

    Jul 23, 2011
    It's actually better looking because at scaled resolutions, the Retina MacBook Pro gets more sub-pixels to display a non-Retina pixel than a non-Retina screen.

    And you can scale the display to resolutions at which pixels are indistinguishable from a 2-ft regular screen viewing distance, so any blurriness will not be noticeable.

    Plus there are alternatives to non-Retina design apps.

    For instance, you can use Pixelmator in place of Photoshop, inDesign, or Firework (all 3 of those apps do essentially about the same thing anyway, which is to create graphics).

    Illustrator can be replaced with iDraw or ArtBoard.

    Lightroom can be replaced with Aperture, or if you insist, you can upgrade Lightroom to Retina on 4.3 release candidate:

    And if you'd followed news, you'd know that Adobe has something to show on December 11... regarding Photoshop on a Retina MacBook as teased through this video:

    That's just about a week from now.

    This is also not true. The Retina MacBook Pro is afflicted with a bug in the latest EFI update that limits its performance to the lowest state. That's why it lags. If the computer wasn't affected by that bug, it won't exhibit any more lag than non-Retina computers.

    I know this because I got this bug, and then I was able to "fix" it somehow. My rMBP without that bug runs just like my old 2011 MBP 15" in every way.
  14. Update thread starter macrumors newbie

    Nov 21, 2012
    Thanks again for the reply. Scaled resolutions are definitely an interim solution but it's not perfect because of the additional hardware performance hit - but yes, it's a very good point.

    Some users may be able to live with Pixelmator over Photoshop etc. but for many users, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Logic Pro, Ableton Live etc. are all industry standard apps that can't really be replaced for a professional workflow.

    Lets hope the graphic and audio developers start to support the retina display in greater numbers over the next year. We'll see.

    Thanks again for your input. :)
  15. AndyDiamond macrumors 6502


    Jul 12, 2004
    The Black Lodge
    Good thread - thanks everyone.

    I'm going to be interested if Quark make a Retina update to QuarkXpress - that's my go-to layout app.

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