Apple's new iPad display is better than most HDTVs

Display expert Raymond Soneira has put the new iPad screen on the test bench and found that it's not just the best tablet display, it's "much better than most HDTVs, laptops, and monitors."
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

The new iPad display isn't just the best in mobile, it's one of the best screens on any device.

The new iPad display isn't just the best mobile display, it's one of the best displays on anything.

Some people think that Apple's new iPad Retina Display is a game-changer. Others say that, yes it is better but its "isn't quite like the jaw-dropping jump," they'd been led to expect. So, which is it? Dr, Raymond Soneira, president of DisplayMate, the world's leading display and display tuning company, has put the next-generation iPad to the test bench and found that the "The display on the new iPad decisively beats (blows away) all of the Tablets we have previously tested.

How so? Well, for starters, the new iPad really does meet Steve Jobs' Retina Display specification. To do that, "an iPad Retina Display only needs 240 ppi (pixel per inch) - and it has 264 ppi. So according to Apple's own definition, [which is based on 20/20 vision] the new iPad is indeed a true 'Retina Display.'"

Soneira asks "Do you really need all of that 'Retina Display' resolution and sharpness?" He answers, "In many cases no." But, the 2048x1536 3.1 Mega Pixel Retina Display actually will make a noticeable visual improvement when you're looking at text, which "will appear much sharper, but it will make the most difference whenever there is tiny text and fine graphics, which you often see when surfing the web (like the front page of The New York Times) or in a complex spreadsheet. Then there is a tremendous visual difference between the new iPad and the iPad 2 or existing Android Tablets. You won't have to zoom in as much or switch to Landscape mode as often when reading tiny web content. Full screen high quality photographs with lots of fine detail will also stand out and take full advantage of the new iPad's High Definition screen."

Moving to the test bed, Soneira found "all of the images, especially the text and graphics, were incredibly and impressively razor sharp. In some photographs, that extra sharpness made a significant difference, especially in close-ups and when fine detail like text was photographed." The new iPad's color display was also much better. The "new iPad has a virtually perfect 99 percent of the Standard Color Gamut (a 38 percent improvement over the iPad 2). The colors are beautiful and accurate due to very good factory calibration - they are also "more vibrant" but not excessively so or gaudy like some existing OLED displays." Indeed, "with some minor calibration tweaks the new iPad would qualify as a studio reference monitor."

iPad apps to show off the new Retina Display

Perhaps the third generation iPad's most impressive feature is its battery life. Soneira explains, "There are 4 times as many pixels in the display that need to be kept powered. Also 4 times as much memory and processing power is needed for the images. In addition, the light transmission of the LCD decreases as the pixel density increases, so a brighter Backlight is necessary. In fact, the number of Backlight LEDs has roughly doubled (from 36 to an estimated 72 to 82), so the Backlight power has approximately doubled. Since the display normally consumes about 50-60 percent of the total Tablet power, the new iPad needs at least a 50 percent larger battery. In fact, the battery increased from 25 to 42.5 watt hours, a 70 percent increase. … At the Middle brightness slider setting, which is closer to typical user settings, the running time was 11.6 hours, which is almost identical to the iPad 2, indicating that Apple has used an appropriately larger battery (and confirms Apple's 10 hour claim)."

At the same time though Soneira notes that "While the enhanced resolution is important, it's also a technical overkill that parallels the Mega Pixel wars of digital cameras. More pixels are better up to a point, and then they wind up adversely affecting both performance and manufacturing costs. ... Still Apple has managed to pull everything together nicely so that in the end it all performs quite well. Just as surprising is that Apple has managed to keep the retail price the same as the iPad 2." Soneira also thinks there's room for improvement with screen reflectance, the ambient light sensor, and display controls.

Still, when all is said and done, Soneira thinks that "Apple has taken the very good display on the iPad 2 and dramatically improved two of its major weak points: sharpness and color saturation - they are now state-of-the-art. Our lab tests and visual tests agree with Apple's claim that the new iPad has "the best display ever on a mobile device" so we have awarded the new iPad the Best Mobile Display Award in DisplayMate's Best Video Hardware Guide. But there's more…the new iPad's picture quality, color accuracy, and gray scale are not only much better than any other Tablet or Smartphone, it's also much better than most HDTVs, laptops, and monitors.

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