OS X Lion to bring high resolution 'Retina' display support

Apple's fondness for high-resolution graphics looks set to extend to the desktop with the release of Mac OS X Lion later this year.

According to MacRumors, yesterday's OS X Lion developer preview includes a major step forward in terms of resolution independence. In essence, resolution independence is the idea that graphical elements can be scaled to fit higher - or smaller - screens without any loss of detail.

As a concept, resolution independence is far from new in the world of OS X - support has existed since OS X Tiger back in 2006. In the Windows world, Windows Vista introduced DPI scaling in the same year.

In OS X Lion, previous efforts at resolution independence support have been replaced with "HiDPI display modes" which, as their name suggests, bring support for high DPI display modes. HiDPI modes work essentially the same way as Retina Display modes on the iPhone 4 - developers supply double-sized graphical elements, allowing the same size screen to display double the detail.

For the moment, high DPI screens are prohibitively expensive - it has been rumoured that the cost and complexity of such displays will lead to their omission from the iPad 2 - but it isn't hard to imagine a point where Apple would bring its desktop and notebook offerings up to ''Retina Display'' standard.

HiDPI modes are not enabled by default in the Lion developer preview and must be enabled in the Quartz Debug tools.

Image Credit: gigaom.com

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This isn't about higher resolution displays. It's about accessibility.

Apple has been trying to do this since Tiger because Mac OS is designed to be viewed comfortable at 72DPI while the increasingly dense MacBook Pro screens have now put it at as much as 132PPI.

Like on Windows, increasing your screen DPI would give visually impaired people (or those of us who don't want to become visually impaired) the ability to view things better while keeping them sharp.

Glad to see they're having another go at this; it's about time.

One of the revolutionary new features that Apple brings to the OS world is Auto-save. When Pages or Keynote crashes, it will re open the document when you open the programn again. Magic.

Benjy91 said,
One of the revolutionary new features that Apple brings to the OS world is Auto-save. When Pages or Keynote crashes, it will re open the document when you open the programn again. Magic.

Everything to them is revolutionary when it's not. It's all false marketing trying to get people into buying their products.

Next time they'll put what? Decent task and resource manager? Extensible Event Viewer? Active Directory support? Update manager that doesn't download half a gig for a minor update? Fully customizable shell?

Windows 7 is actually waaay more advanced than OS X.

lexp said,
Update manager that doesn't download half a gig for a minor update?

Yeah, Windows is way more advanced. Apple still doesn't have that update manager that needs 10 reboots on a clean install. When will they ever include this wanted feature?

PyX said,

Yeah, Windows is way more advanced. Apple still doesn't have that update manager that needs 10 reboots on a clean install. When will they ever include this wanted feature?
boohoo that Windows has a kernel that needs a reboot every once in a while. no system is important enough that never has to be rebooted. (hardware is known to last a lifetime without any issues)
And microsoft could enable updates without reboots, but this will make the system/kernel more unstable. And if you think linux doesnt have to reboot on kernel updates, ur wrong. But almost everything running on a linux box is NOT part of the kernel. The linux kernel is 1/1000th the size of the windows kernel.

PyX said,

Yeah, Windows is way more advanced. Apple still doesn't have that update manager that needs 10 reboots on a clean install. When will they ever include this wanted feature?

What was the last version of Windows you installed? Windows Vista and 7 boot from the disc, run all the way through, then reboot into the OS which goes through the welcome procedure and then you're at the desktop.

lexp said,
Next time they'll put what? Decent task and resource manager? Extensible Event Viewer? Active Directory support? Update manager that doesn't download half a gig for a minor update? Fully customizable shell?

Windows 7 is actually waaay more advanced than OS X.

Agreed! They are slow to make it into OSX when it's available in Windows for years.

News flash: the future will have higher resolution displays. Wait? Hasn't that been true, since...like... the beginning of computing w/ monitors? How is this news?

I'd say that a jump from the current resolutions by double or more is fairly big news.

Having said that, it's not even apple who is coming up with this innovation, it's the screen manufacturers.

I take it that apple must have struck a deal to get their dirty hands on it first though.

Shadrack said,
News flash: the future will have higher resolution displays. Wait? Hasn't that been true, since...like... the beginning of computing w/ monitors? How is this news?

It's news because that requires OS X to get good high-DPI support. Something it hasn't had before. Even Windows 7 with its high-DPI support isn't that awesome. It's there, but few applications actually respect it well, unfortunately.

Northgrove said,

It's news because that requires OS X to get good high-DPI support. Something it hasn't had before. Even Windows 7 with its high-DPI support isn't that awesome. It's there, but few applications actually respect it well, unfortunately.

I understand what you and this article are saying. The scaling of the UI elements to the DPI of the display is something that needs to be done better. My point is that, yeah things have been getting better and resolutions have been getting higher for years. The title could just as well read "New Operating Systems need to account for New Technology". uh huh..hmmm... its all interesting I suppose. Just some "new technology" is revolutionary, while other "new technology" is just evolutionary .

Northgrove said,

It's news because that requires OS X to get good high-DPI support. Something it hasn't had before. Even Windows 7 with its high-DPI support isn't that awesome. It's there, but few applications actually respect it well, unfortunately.

I just set my Windows 7 to 125% (and turned off XP-style scaling) and Windows 7 itself looks great. All the Microsoft programs I have tried scale very well, too.

Most third party programs on the other hand are not programmed to take advantage of it. Some of them that don't support it at all just use direct scaling which makes them look extra fuzzy since they aren't being doubled. Others like Firefox 4 beta appear to recognize the scaling, but are the exact same size, not being scaled at all.

If the programs were just coded to take advantage of it, it would work excellently. Microsoft just seems to never have pushed for resolution independent programs while all of their own are.

Here are some third party programs that do support it. I do not have very many installed on my Tablet PC so I can't test a lot.
Wolfram Mathematica
Firefox (doesn't appear to be any larger, though)
Photoshop CS5 (doesn't appear any larger other than context and program menus)
WinRAR

Programs that totally don't support scaling (look fuzzy)
Skype
Google Chrome
Opera
Adobe Acrobat X
BatteryMon
KMPlayer

Edited by mrp04, Feb 26 2011, 5:50am :

"retina" sounds nice when they try to market the iPhone. but that's it. High DPI or High resolution is still High DPI and High resolution.

And providing twice-the-resolution graphics is hardly an achievement. Using vector graphics (which was also long rumoured for OS X) would be more interesting.

Julius Caro said,
"retina" sounds nice when they try to market the iPhone. but that's it. High DPI or High resolution is still High DPI and High resolution.

And providing twice-the-resolution graphics is hardly an achievement. Using vector graphics (which was also long rumoured for OS X) would be more interesting.

Most devs seem to have an alergy for vector based gfx apps, as W7 and Vista have support for it, but there's only a handfull of programs that utilize it. Even the UI on the native OS doesn't use it. Maybe theres another issue i'm missing out on though ?

Julius Caro said,
"retina" sounds nice when they try to market the iPhone. but that's it. High DPI or High resolution is still High DPI and High resolution.

And providing twice-the-resolution graphics is hardly an achievement. Using vector graphics (which was also long rumoured for OS X) would be more interesting.


Vector graphics aren't pixel-perfect by their nature. More often than not, you'll end up with blurry, mis-aligned pixels or have to drop effects that you just can't pull off. Android is fairly vector-based, and pixel-perfect designers hate it.

Elliott said,

Vector graphics aren't pixel-perfect by their nature. More often than not, you'll end up with blurry, mis-aligned pixels or have to drop effects that you just can't pull off. Android is fairly vector-based, and pixel-perfect designers hate it.

Android isn't any more vector based than GDI from Windows 3.x back in 1992. It may use vector like drawing concepts, but it uses a pixel based coordinate system. (aka rasterized) The pixel alignment isses are caused when an application was not designed for the size of display it is running on, thus forcing Android to try to compensate different pixel coordniates, which will leave pixels falling between the grid or ghosting over the pixel grid. Android doesn't do alignment well, and thus you find the ugly issues.

However, you are correct that pixel alignment is an issue when dealing with vector drawing. This is where Microsoft has dumped a lot of money into the WPF technologies in Vista, and have further been refining them in Windows7 with Direct2D that offers pixel locking features for vector drawing and font hinting.

The real problem is drawing Vectors images is expense in terms of performance compared to displaying a simple raster image.

Vista and Win7 (also WP7) take care of this issue, and even have API features to supplement any performance dips that vector images might cause, by allowing them to be temporarily rasterized, but shifted through the composer.

However, developers are hard to break to new technologies, and you can see this in the Silverlight or WP7 development forums everyday, as they are geared to create raster images and draw using pixels, and all this vector and resoultion independence is confusing to them.

PS - The Silverlight APIs on WP7 are something you should check out, as it is truly a vector based OS platform, unlike Android's VM that is only a pixel based drawing model. (aka rasterized) This does not mean that Developers won't use freaking PNGs for their interface, it just means that Silverlight's inherent drawing model uses a true vector display independent model.

IMO current implentations of DPI scaling are lame anyway. Windows 7 looks like s*it when i setup DPI to 125. Everything is broken and looks ugly, blurry, missaligned etc.. If they don't fix it, i don't care for high dpi displays. This one the one of thing which are better solved in linux. Much better IMO, even if the OS itself sucks

6205 said,
IMO current implentations of DPI scaling are lame anyway. Windows 7 looks like s*it when i setup DPI to 125. Everything is broken and looks ugly, blurry, missaligned etc.. If they don't fix it, i don't care for high dpi displays. This one the one of thing which are better solved in linux. Much better IMO, even if the OS itself sucks

Don't use XP Style scaling (it is an option when you select Custom DPI).

As for blurry applications, these are are 'dumb' applications that are have locked resolutions, so Windows overrides the application, and the only way to do this is to resize the 'bitmap' of the application, as the developer has designed it pixel by pixel, with no inherent coordinate drawing.

If you look at any newer applications that are using the WPF/XAML (.NET 3.x) API sets, they have full vector based UI scaling, and will look incredible on any display. (This is why Silverlight which is based on these technologies is also resolution independent, and one reason WP7's new OS platform is based on Silverlight.)

manosdoc said,
Welcome to 2000 Apple.

Yeah, it was about time we have such a feature, really...

But DPI scaling in Windows has always be really bad. Apple is late instead of delivering a half-assed feature and not change it for a whole decade, they will get it right the first time.

PyX said,

Yeah, it was about time we have such a feature, really...

But DPI scaling in Windows has always be really bad. Apple is late instead of delivering a half-assed feature and not change it for a whole decade, they will get it right the first time.

Which in return would push MS to implement it better.

But to be honest DPI scaling isn't exactly comparable to high DPI screens.

One is too zoom your desktop independent on the resolution, the other is to cram more pixels on to a set area. They may sound the same, but it's worlds apart.

PyX said,

Yeah, it was about time we have such a feature, really...

But DPI scaling in Windows has always be really bad. Apple is late instead of delivering a half-assed feature and not change it for a whole decade, they will get it right the first time.

Next time, Apple will be still late, but will offer true Windows maximize button.
It's pathetic to believe that Apple is late for a decade, to provide what Windows in it's current version has already made perfect.

manosdoc said,

Next time, Apple will be still late, but will offer true Windows maximize button.
It's pathetic to believe that Apple is late for a decade, to provide what Windows in it's current version has already made perfect.


The zoom button was a good idea, but devs didn't really know what to do with it so it had an erratic behavior. Once again, Lion will fix it, as well as shut down document-based apps with no document opened.

About the DPI scaling, it scales just a few elements of the OS, thus changes the proportion of some elements compared to the others. And you say it's perfect as is? I want to hear your point about that...

Deo Domuique said,

Then, instead of "Lion" they could name it "OS X Millenium."

If they named it OS X: ME, my life would be complete.

manosdoc said,
Welcome to 2000 Apple.

Apple aren't usually ahead of the game in time .... but in quality they are. They usually wait a while, see how the tech develops, and move from there with a triple A product. I'd rather that.

Spirit Dave said,

Apple aren't usually ahead of the game in time .... but in quality they are.

No, no they aren't. It's more accurate to say that in MARKETING they are ahead of the game. And that's really all.

Except for the iPhone. They kicked ass on that release. They had a 2-5 year jump on the entire market and then made the critical mistake of bundling with one vendor, instead of the way they achieved ubiquity with the iPod...by making it and its accessories available everywhere.

1WayJonny said,
DPI scaling has been available since Windows XP not Vista.

That would be 2001 vs 2006

#corrections

DPI scales text, it doesn't provide easily support for using higher resolution images in your applications.

dagamer34 said,

DPI scales text, it doesn't provide easily support for using higher resolution images in your applications.

The Windows UI only goes up to 144/196DPI anyway. After that it would look smaller.

1WayJonny said,
DPI scaling has been available since Windows XP not Vista.

That would be 2001 vs 2006

#corrections

DPI scaling in Windows has been so terrible, I'm not sure why people are even talking about it.

Sounds like it's about time they start supplying their hardware with current mid range graphics solutions then, rather than their usual last gen/low end solutions.

Panda X said,

The Windows UI only goes up to 144/196DPI anyway. After that it would look smaller.

...Um, no.

People using a recent version of Windows have far greater control and scaling features.

Also Windows supports 480DPI - not sure where you get the 196 from - even the older 200% is 192DPI.

Shadrack said,

DPI scaling in Windows has been so terrible, I'm not sure why people are even talking about it.

Because if you use Windows Vista or Windows7, and don't select the XP Style DPI scaling option, things are properly scaled.

The newer API sets from WPF, XAML, etc are fully scalable, as in high resolution vector based scaling.

Also Windows has a true vector based composer, so the vector drawing and information is translated to the Aero composer with amazing precision at higher DPIs with resolution independence. Sadly, OS X does not have a vector composer, so this precision is lost, requiring more drawing recalculations and bitmap conversions, shoving the drawing back to the applications.

It is amazing that so many people are experts on Windows scaling, and have so little understanding of the features or technology. Maybe Microsoft should have advertised 'magical scaling' or 'magical Aero' instead of just listing these features when Vista or Win7 were released. Geesh...


thenetavenger said,

...Um, no.

People using a recent version of Windows have far greater control and scaling features.

Also Windows supports 480DPI - not sure where you get the 196 from - even the older 200% is 192DPI.

The UI elements. The msstyles only goes up to 196DPI. Which is what I meant by the UI. Windows can go to what ever it can go to, but the images in the UI don't.

Panda X said,

The UI elements. The msstyles only goes up to 196DPI. Which is what I meant by the UI. Windows can go to what ever it can go to, but the images in the UI don't.

Seriously, you are referencing the pre-rendered raster images used by the skining engine? This is NOT the UI and is NOT the limit.

Vista and Win7 can upsample these pre-rendered raster images, just as it can upsample old pixel locked applicaitons or raster images throughout the OS.

Just because the images are only pre-rendered at a few 'set' DPI points, does not mean they are locked to these points. For example, the buttons on the Window Frame are pre-rendered at various set DPI sizes, but can fully scale from tiny to every size up to the 480DPI.

And the 480DPI is an artifical constraint, as Windows's UI is not limited to this DPI, just the user controls for higher DPI settings are.

Even XP wasn't locked to specific DPI presets, and would scale (not as elegantly) any raster elements of the base classic or themed drawing modes. Aero is a full Vector composer, it doesn't have these limits. Go do a simple search on Avalon or Aero or DWM and UI DPI elements, and the Microsoft bloggers or even reviewers talking about why UI elements are still raster DPI points, as the fidelity doesn't drop on them until beyond the 480DPI point, and for performance, due to the finalization and acceleration support lacking in GPU drivers for AERO/DWM and WPF technologies when Vista was getting close to release.

Seriously, you need to find the proper definition of UI, and OS UI abilities, and not fixate on pre-rendered raster images used on the frame of the Window border.

Geesh, seriously, Geesh...