There was one notable omission from Apple’s recent flurry of new product announcements: a 4K display. It will launch one in time, of course – and I’ll come to that shortly. But in the meantime, there’s the question of how it demonstrates one of the key capabilities of the new Mac Pro.

Sure, they could hook it up to multiple Thunderbolt Displays, but that’s not the same: Apple made a point when launching the machine of pointing out that it could drive three simultaneous 4K displays. That’s a capability you’d imagine it would want to at least show off in-store, and perhaps even offer for sale …

Apple using third-party displays in stores is not unprecedented. It already uses Sony TVs to demo Apple TV. At the launch event, Apple demo’d the Pro with Sharp 32-inch 4K displays. It wouldn’t be a massive surprise to see the same displays used in-store as a demonstration.


Would Apple also offer those same displays for sale? Using my Apple TV comparison, you might say no: you can’t buy a Sony TV in the Apple Store to go with your Apple TV. But it’s not really the same: almost everyone already has a suitable TV, while the Mac Pro may very well be what drives the purchase of a 4K display or three. Put that beautiful Sharp display for sale alongside the Pro and Apple would likely sell as many of those as it does Mac Pros, maybe more.

Which, of course, raises another possibility: maybe the Apple 4K Thunderbolt Display is waiting, as yet unannounced, in the wings. The Mac Pro isn’t going to be available until December, possibly online first, so may not make a physical appearance in stores until January or February. It’s not impossible that Apple could be waiting until nearer the time to announce its own 4K display.



But I’m guessing not. While there are some budget 4K panels around, the decent ones still cost more than the Mac Pro itself. The pros will pay that, but not most consumers.

You might ask ‘so what?’. Consumers aren’t going to buy the Mac Pro either. Apple is pitching it at the high-end pro market, so why not make a high-end display to go with it? To which I have three answers.

First, Apple announced the Mac Pro back in June. That would have been the obvious point at which to announce a matching display. If not then, then certainly when it announced the availability, because that’s the point at which many intending customers will start looking around for – and perhaps buying – the displays. Failing to mention that it has one on the way would be dumb, and I don’t think Apple’s dumb.


Second, even the latest MacBook Pros can’t really drive 4K displays. Not properly. Not at decent frame-rates. Offering a display that would reveal the limitations of its shiny new machines wouldn’t make much sense. I say Apple will wait until next year’s models, powerful enough to drive a 4K display at a sensible frame-rate.

Third, while 4K displays are high-end devices today, that’s going to change fairly rapidly. At some point in the next year or so, we’re all going to have one. Apple will want in on that action, and since it hasn’t already announced a pro model, my money says it is waiting until it can make it at least semi-affordable. Enough to attract well-heeled consumers as well as pros.

A current-model Thunderbolt 27 display costs a thousand bucks. It’ll be a while before Apple-quality 4K displays hit that kind of price level, but I’m guessing Apple wants to get within shouting distance of it. Maybe $1499, perhaps $1999, but not more. That’s what I think Apple has planned, and that’s not something I expect to happen by February.

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58 Responses to “Opinion: What are Apple’s plans for 4K displays?”

  1. December will hit. The Mac Pro will become ready for sale and Apple will [again] grab mindshare by announcing the Thunderbolt 2 Display. It will be 4K and use a Sharp IGZO panel. offer improved FaceTime HD, Magsafe 2, 2 additional Thunderbolt 2 ports, audio I/O and USB 3.0 and some other cool trick (Apple Tradition ™)

    Price will be $2499 is my guess.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Heh – see you back in this thread in December :-)

    • tgilles1 says:

      I’d be happy with an updated Thunderbolt 2 Display at current resolutions.. it’s an awesome screen as is, but badly needs updating to USB3, Megasafe 2, Thunderbolt 2, etc. I’m holding off my purchase for that reason.. don’t want FIREWIRE.. pfff.

      My fear is that the current TB Display is the last and they drop the display side of the business.. I hope not..

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I don’t think there’s much danger of that. There must be a lot of cross-over between iMac and Thunderbolt Display production that provide economies of scale.

      • But Ben, the current Thunderbolt display is based on the 2011 iMac with stand-alone LCD panel and reflective glass. In 2012 iMac moved to an LCD with antireflective glass bonded to it, but the Thunderbolt display remained unchanged.

        Sadly this means the Thunderbolt display is noticeably inferior to the iMac or new rMBP when it comes to reflected light (ambient plus light from the display itself hitting the user in the face/shirt)

        My theory: Apple’s display suppliers are still having trouble getting good yields of 27″ bonded displays.

        I’d like to see the Thunderbolt 2 Display come in both iMac and 4k resolutions. They wouldn’t have to include FireWire now that inexpensive T-bolt to FireWire adapters are available.

        FireWire does remain incredibly important to me, however.
        1. When a Mac is put to sleep with a USB hard drive attached, the USB drive can become corrupted. I’ve suffered this multiple times so my music and photo libraries and Time Machine are FW800 drives.

        2. There are still many Macs in my extended family from the 2006-2010 era that we’re now trying to migrate to newer hardware. The old machines only support FireWire target disk mode. For the two oldest ones I’m going to have to buy a FW800-FW400 adapter. I find migrations done over gigabit Ethernet are much slower and prone to errors.

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        Most people seem to love glossy displays. I hated them when they first took off, but must say that I’ve learned to live with them now. It’s not hard in my office to eliminate reflections.

  2. A 32 (31.5) inch iMac with the Sharp 4K Display would awesome.
    I don´t need the computing power of a MacPro, but i would like to have that many pixels within one Screen.

  3. nwdrift says:

    Apple should have at least released an updated Thunderbolt display with USB 3.0…

    I don’t mind paying $$$ for a 4K display.. Don’t forget, Apple had the 30″ cinema display that most consumers (except for myself) did not need or even considering buying.. and that launched at $3200 USD! and that was back in 2004..

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Indeed – loved mine. The market is a little different today, of course. Not only is the pro market tiny for Apple, but even the Mac market is a small minority part of its business.

  4. The other issue with 4K is their is so little hardware out there that can drive 4K at decent frame rates (the rMBP with integrated graphics can only drive it at the lowest frame rates).

    Apple may simply be waiting until the GPU hardware that can drive such displays is more prolific in it’s devices.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Yep, that’s reason two in my post: “Second, even the latest MacBook Pros can’t really drive 4K displays. Not properly. Not at decent frame-rates. Offering a display that would reveal the limitations of its shiny new machines wouldn’t make much sense. I say Apple will wait until next year’s models, powerful enough to drive a 4K display at a sensible frame-rate.”

  5. dra128 says:

    Ben! I need your advice! Want to but a Thunderbolt Display. I have a 15″ Retina MackBook Pro. Don’t need 4K. Just want an updated Thunderbolt Display. Do you think this would happen by December? What should if do, wait it buy one now?!?!? Thanks!

  6. zoidbert says:

    I keep hoping for a simple Thunderbolt Display refresh — something with USB3 ports and maybe a TB port or two. I’m not caring 4K or not, nor even if it’s Thunderbolt 2.

    I am in need of a new display — my current one was damaged during a lighting strike over the summer (seriously!) — but I have a hard time justifying buying a display that’s about 2 years old at the same price it was intro’d at.

  7. Jeff DeMaagd says:

    A display more than $2k has plenty of precedent, I think the original 30″ screen originally sold for $3299 USD. I wouldn’t plan on buying it at that price, but even that would be a price reduction compared to competitors of similar quality.

  8. Michael Ford says:

    I’m not terribly knowledgeable regarding electronics, but would it be possible for apple to integrate a secondary, dedicated GPU in the display itself, giving an assist to the computer driving it and allowing a 4K display to run at reasonable frame rates despite underpowered integrated graphics of Macbook Pros and older iMacs, etc? Seems like Thunderbolt would be up to the task. I think it’s tough to believe that Apple would sink lots of cash into a product that only a tiny percentage of consumers would even be able to use.

  9. driverbenji says:

    Personally, I think we’ll see the 4K display in the videos hit the stores same time as the Mac Pro. Apple isn’t going to show off their new Mac for the Pro of the future off with a 2-year old display. I agree, next year Apple may have their own 4K display, but, not yet. I’m not sure if Apple will update current 27″ display or not, they seem to like to keep milking out whatever they can out of form factors, typically three generations for iPhones, so, we may see this display for another year…Perhaps Apple will update the 27″ to the current iMac production and bring out their own 4K display at the same time.

  10. animatedude says:

    i love the mockup of the 4K display from allthingsD….any idea which article they used in? i never saw it before..

  11. tomtubbs says:

    From what I’ve seen on pcper, Home Theatre Geeks etc – 60Hz is only just coming to 4k displays.
    Issues include – gaming sucks – you need triple Titan card levels to get everything turned on visuals and it won’t be 60fps (G sync anyone?)
    Lack of 4k content (phones are now doing 4k but not much streaming/downloadable content yet)
    You need to pay for decent hardware to have good upscaling
    The codecs haven’t been settled and baked into silicon – eg HEVC /H.265.
    A 60Hz 4k monitor however running as computer screen doesn’t use that much resources and all reviewers who’ve used one as a desktop monitor seem to rave about it.

    People yap about an Apple TV but it isn’t a TV they want as much as a 4k screen that displays content. Apple could have the upgradable hardware as the ATV and the screen as a 4k ACD.
    We’ve seen Apple utilise A7 across the board – I’d imagine they will get some economy of scale for any panel they use too.
    Thunderbolt 2 got onto the MBP this time round – a good sign, and Mavericks is setting things up nicely too. Like getting retina on the iPad mini – things get there. It makes sense to hold fire for standards to settle a little – we haven’t even seen H.265 in iDevices, ATVs yet -and Apple would surely want to champion being able to surpass 1080p. Color would also be a good improvement they’d tout also. (showing off photos in Aperture on a 4k monitor, showing off FCP X – it sounds perfect Apple stuff).

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Yes, you’re absolutely right that it’s early days for 4K, and I suspect it will take off as a monitor long before it does as a TV, not only due to lack of content but also lack of bandwidth to deliver it. Things will be different once we all have Google Fiber or equivalent, but that’s a way off yet.

  12. Jack Desmond says:

    Ben, I REALLY hope you’re right about your 4K display predictions, but I think they’re unrealistic. I’m sort of waiting for a decent-quality 4K display to hit the $2k mark. I’d be fine with that, and if it’s extra-special in some way, I might shell out a bit more, but not $3,499.

    I also predict that Apple would sell one for $2,499 or even $2,999, if it made sense for them. They’re definitely not giving up on the entire Mac Pro/high-end displays categories. That was especially evident again at the 10/22 event when they revamped practically ALL of their both consumer – and some pro (iWork) – software, as well as ALL operating systems, and all of this is now free. Combine that with some broad price cuts. Good stuff.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      There are already low-end 4K displays for $700. We’re still a long way from an Apple-quality one at the $1500-2000 range I suggest, but a year from now I suspect that will be realistic.

  13. John Stuke says:

    Apple Thunderbolt 2 Display 4K 24-inch wi

    th USB 3 and built-in 3D SDS support for passive 3D glasses. Finally, 3D on Mac! Twin Digital Terrestrial Television tuners for full Picture-in-Picture (PiP) and full Picture-and-Picture (PaP) television (TV) reception.

    Apple Keyboard with Numeric Keypad and built-in USB 3 hub (wired).

  14. If apple were going to release a 4K display, they would have announced it already. The problem is, 99% of their products don’t support 4K yet. So even if they did release one, you’d hear people whining about how it doesn’t work, etc. Bad out of box user experience, that’s for sure.

  15. How well do you think the top end config of the Late 2013 15″ MBP (i.e. upgraded to the maximum possible) will cope with driving 4K displays? I know it has a d-GPU, which should stand it in better stead than the lower-spec models with integrated graphics, but do you think it’ll be able to drive the display at a decent rate (what IS a “decent rate”, by the way?)?

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      People often think that because 24fps works for movies, it should also work on PCs, but on PCs I’d say 24-30fps is the absolute minimum workable, and 60fps is noticeably smoother, so for me 60fps = decent.

      • What can the new MBPs currently output, frame-rate wise? Looking to get a top-spec one in the next week or so, and want to know how future proof it is…Do you think that next year’s models will jump to 60fps? (By the way, I assume the Mac Pro has 60fps capability?)

      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        I’ve seen various reports in the 24-30fps range, though I’ve also seen lower numbers. This year’s refresh was more about battery-life than power. I’m guessing next year’s models will offer a significant boost in performance.

  16. You guys are getting way to excited about Apple making a 4K display. The fact is a 4k 27″ thunderbolt display would have a smaller screen real estate than the current 27″. If apple wants to go retina on the 27″ thunderbolt display and maintain the same real estate, it has to up the resolution to 5120×2880 which is 1.77 times more pixels than 3840×2160 4k. My guess is the first apple 4k display will be 21″.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I can’t see too much demand for a 21-inch 4K display personally. 31.5 inches is the sweet spot right now.

      • Totally disagree. Apple have multiplied resolutions for screen sizes in the MBPr. Why would they go for a weird in between scale at 32″. The PPI would be too dense in standard use and too large in HiDPI mode (like using a 1080p res at 32″).
        However a 27″ at 5120×2880 actually is not supported in Thunderbolt 2 (DisplayPort 1.2) which has a max capability of 3840×2160@60Hz.
        I predict we will first see a 24″ retina display at 3840×2160.
        Apple may have another trick up there sleeve to reach the 5k resolution, why else would they bundle 5120×2880 resolution wallpaper images in Mavericks.

    • Jeff DeMaagd says:

      “You guys are getting way to excited about Apple making a 4K display. The fact is a 4k 27″ thunderbolt display would have a smaller screen real estate than the current 27″. If apple wants to go retina on the 27″ thunderbolt display and maintain the same real estate, it has to up the resolution to 5120×2880 which is 1.77 times more pixels than 3840×2160 4k.”

      For the same aspect ratio, a 27″ display has the same screen area as a 27″ display.

      Apple’s OS X is resolution independent, doubling the pixels is just the simplest way to go about it.

      • Exactly. Apple should double the screen resolution of their current display, and in doing so the 4k display would be the 21″ and the 27″ would be over 4k. Making a 27″ 4k display would yield a worst result even if the OS is resolution independent, it would only look like a sharper 1920×1080 display. not a sharper 2560×1440.

  17. Is Thunderbolt2 Displayport compatible? Can I take any vanilla PC display port monitor and just plug into one of the thunderbolt ports?

    The rMBP thunderbolt 2 support officially TB 2560×1600
    and 4K HMDI in 30Hz.

    I really don’t want 30Hz monitors.

  18. Jack Desmond says:

    Alright, so Thunderbolt 2 is required to drive a 4K display, but you’re saying that’s not really working well in real life, even with NVIDIA GT 750M chips? One of my favorite blogs is AnandTech and Anand seems to agree that driving a 4K display in 2013 has not been a good experience.

    But again, Thunderbolt 2 has more than enough bandwidth, so why wouldn’t it work with upcoming 4K displays? NVIDIA and AMD and even Intel’s integrated Iris and Iris Pro are all supposed to make 4K a reality for consumers, albeit probably “pro-sumers” in the beginning.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I think anything from 24fps up allows them to say that it works (citing the movie example as evidence that this is ‘fast enough’), even if the experience isn’t very good. But I can’t see Apple being willing to sell a 4K display until next year’s models allow a much higher frame-rate.

      • The new Macbook Pro late 2013’s computers technically *should* support 60hz. The GPU (750M) supports it. The Thunderbolt 2 bandwidth (20gbps) supports it. The next step is the OS. I could be wrong but Apple just most likely needs to release an OS or firmware update and 4K60hz technically *should* work.

  19. It should incorporate 3D glasses-free viewing