Apple Studio Display: A Review
Apple touts that its products are of high quality. For the vast majority of cases, this is true. No matter how much quality assurance is done, there are always going to be individual exceptions to having quality products. I do not mean lines of products, although sometimes that happens. What I mean is that individual items end up going bad. No matter how hard a company tires, it is just the way with modern manufacturing. Apple started out as a computer company, and has since transitioned away from being a computer company to be a general technology company, and is attempting to move towards being a services company.
Most of Apple's modern devices are all-in-one devices. Some examples are the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro, Apple Watch, and MacBook Air. These devices all come with displays built-in. For all of these, except the Apple Watch, you can plug in the device into an external monitor if you so choose. Most people who have an iPad or iPhone may use AirPlay, but sometimes that is not always possible and instead connecting directly is the way to go. Before we dive into Apple's latest standalone display, let us look back at a short history of Apple's previous displays.
Apple Display History
Standalone displays are not a new product line for Apple. The first computers that Apple created did not include a monitor and instead users were instructed to plug the computer into their television. This changed in 1980 when Apple unveiled the "Apple III". The Apple III included a Cathode Ray Tube, or CRT, monitor. Apple would continue to offer CRT monitors for sale with computers until the late 1990s. At this point Apple began a switch away from CRT monitors to flat-panel monitors. These would not be the first Liquid Crystal Display, or LCD monitors. The first LCDs were used with the Mac Portable line of computers during the mid to late 1990s. Most did not have any experience with these because most users purchased desktop computers.
The standalone displays produced by Apple have had a long history and have shifted over the years. Over the last 25 years there have been 16 different models of standalone display sold by Apple. Most have been flat-panel models, however there have been a few CRT-based models. Here is a list of all of the released Standalone displays with the introduction and end dates. The list includes:
- Apple Studio Display - 15-inch - March 1998 - January 1999
- Apple Studio Display - 17-inch (CRT) - January 1999 - May 2002
- Apple Studio Display - 21-inch (CRT) - January 1999 - January 2000
- Cinema Display - 22-inch - September 1999 - July 2000
- Cinema Display - 22-inch - July 2000 - June 2003
- Apple Studio Display - 15-inch - July 2000 - January 2003
- Apple Studio Display - 17-inch - May 2001 - January 2004
- Cinema HD Display - 23-inch - March 2002 - June 2004
- Cinema Display - 20-inch - January 2003 - June 2004
- Cinema Display - 20-inch - June 2004 - February 2009
- Cinema HD Display - 23-inch - June 2004 - November 2008
- Cinema HD Display - 30-inch - June 2004 - July 2010
- LED Cinema Display - 24-inch - October 2008 - July 2010
- LED Cinema Display - 27-inch - July 2010 - December 2013
- Thunderbolt Display - 27-inch - July 2011 - June 2016
- Pro Display XDR - 32-inch - December 2019 - Currently Available
If you look at each of these displays, you may notice that each display type was not on the market for that long. The longest was the 30-inch Cinema Display, which was around for just over six years. The next longest available was the Thunderbolt Display, which was just about five years. Most models were only around for a year or two. We will not dive into all of these different models, but we will look at three models. In order we will look at the Thunderbolt Display, the LG UltraFine displays, and the Pro Display XDR. The reason for these two in particular will be shown. But before we dive into each of those, there is a quick side topic that I want to cover, Target Display Mode.
Target Display Mode
One of the features that Apple included in Macs between 2009 and 2014 was a feature called Target Display Mode. Target Display mode was a way of being able to connect a Mac to an iMac and use the iMac as a display for the other Mac. This function worked well when using a MacBook or MacBook Pro, and using an old iMac. Target Display Mode only worked for iMac between 2009 and mid-2014. You can check out the Apple support article all about Target Display Mode.
The big change that happened with iMacs released after mid-2014 is that the screen resolution of iMacs improved to become "Retina". The late 2014 iMac came in two sizes, 21.5-inch and 27-inch. The 21.5-inch was 4K and the 27-inch was 5K. Both of these required a custom timing controller. This timing controller meant that the iMac could no longer be used as a second display for a Mac.
When I got my Early 2015 iMac, I remember using my mid-2011 iMac as a second display for the laptop. It worked quite well and when I needed a larger screen it was a nice thing to have. There are third-party solutions, like Luna Display, which can take an iMac and make it into a second display. Before you delve down this, you may want to read about Adam Engst's experience at Tidbits.com or Allison Sheradin's experience at Podfeet.com.
Now, let us look at one of Apple's standalone displays, the Thunderbolt Display.
The Thunderbolt Display was introduced in July of 2011 and Apple stopped selling it as of June 2016. The Thunderbolt Display was a 27-inch in-plane switching, or IPS, paneled display. It had a resolution of 2560x1440, so just slightly higher than High Definition. The Thunderbolt Display was an improvement over previous versions because it was intentionally designed to be used with a MacBook or MacBook Pro. It was not just designed to be able to connect to a MacBook or MacBook Pro, but the Thunderbolt Display included a MagSafe power adapter that would allow you to charge a MacBook Pro when it was connected to the Thunderbolt Display.
One of the advertising aspects of the Thunderbolt Display is that there were two cables total, the Thunderbolt cable with MagSafe connector, and the power cable. The Thunderbolt Display was more than just a display, it was actually a hub. If you connected the Thunderbolt Display to a Mac, you could plugin some peripherals with the provided ports and the devices would be connected to the Mac. The available ports on the Thunderbolt Display were three USB 2.0 ports, one Firewire 800 port, another Thunderbolt Port, and a gigabit ethernet port.
Almost six years ago, on June 23, 2016, Apple announced, through a statement, that it was discontinuing the Thunderbolt Display and they would no longer produce standalone displays. At the time they stated,
"We're discontinuing the Apple Thunderbolt Display. It will be available through Apple.com, Apple's retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last. There are a number of great third-party options available for Mac users".
Apple would continue to sell the Thunderbolt Display until supplies ran out. Apple clearly stated that they were getting out of the standalone display business. Instead of making their own displays Apple decided to partner with LG to make some displays. Let us look the LG UltraFine displays next.
When Apple introduced the 27-inch 5K Retina iMac in 2014 many were hoping that Apple would eventually release an "iMac without the computer", meaning just the screen. However, this did not happen. Instead, as mentioned above, Apple partnered with LG to make displays that were not only compatible with Macs, but also sold by Apple in its physical stores as well as their online store.
The reason that they chose LG is because LG was already in the display manufacturing business. Secondly, LG was the company that built the actual panels that were used for Apple's 4K and 5K Retina displays in the iMac; therefore it made sense to partner with LG to make the displays.
The LG UltraFine monitors came in two sizes, a 21.5-inch 4K model with a resolution of 3840-by-2160, and a 27-inch 5K model with a resolution of 5120-by-2880 pixels. These resolutions are the same as the 4K and 5K Retina iMacs. The screens also included support for the P3 color gamut, meaning that colors are brighter and more vibrant than standard Red Green Blue color space.
The LG UltraFine monitors also featured a Thunderbolt 3 connector and a USB Hub to connect up to three USB-C devices. The USB-C ports are USB 3.1 generation 1, which are capable of up to 5 gigabits per second. As you may notice, this is very similar to the functionality of Apple's Thunderbolt Display, just by a third-party manufacturer.
Also similar to the Thunderbolt Display you could charge a MacBook or MacBook Pro. The 4K model could charge up to 60 watts and the 5k Model could charge up to 85 watts. These two wattages means that you could easily charge any of Apple's MacBooks.
In May of 2019 some changes were made. The 21.5-inch 4K model was replaced by 23.7-inch 4K model. The power from the monitor was increased to 85 watts. The 27-inch model was updated in July of 2019. The changes for this model were increased power to 94 watts, and this added support for the iPad Pro.
The LG UltraFine monitors were not completely well received, at least not by everyone.
LG UltraFine Critiques
There were some critiques of the UltraFine monitors. The most notable is that if you had a 27-inch LG UltraFine that was too close to a wireless router, including the Apple AirPort, the screen would go black and become unusable. LG did fix this by adding additional shielding to models produced after February 2017.
There was another issue that has not been satisfyingly fixed, and that is that the monitor does not always sit properly on the stand. What happens is that the stand ends up wobbling whenever it is touched. This can make using the UltraFine less than ideal.
In June of 2019 at their World Wide Developer's Conference, Apple unveiled a brand new Mac Pro with its complement Display, the Pro Display XDR.
Pro Display XDR
Introduced in June of 2019, the Pro Display XDR was the first Apple standalone display in three years. The Pro Display XDR took the 5K Retina screen and made it bigger. The Pro Display XDR is a 32-inch 6K monitor with a resolution of 6016 by 3384. The "XDR" portion within the name stands for Extreme Dynamic Range. Dynamic Range, in relation to color, is the range from smallest value and the largest value. In this case, it is in terms of color range.
Similar to the Thunderbolt Display and the LG UltraFine, the Pro Display XDR can also be used as a USB hub, USB-C to be exact. However, unlike the Thunderbolt and LG UltraFine these ports are USB 2 speed, except when using a 16-inch MacBook Pro, where they are USB 3.1 generation 1, or 5 gigabits per second. So, in reality these ports are better used for charging or for devices that are not speed-sensitive. The reason for this is because the bandwidth for Thunderbolt 3 is used up by the display to make sure it gets the full 6K screen resolution.
When the Pro Display XDR was introduced Apple mentioned that it was a display that could be used as a replacement for $40,000 reference monitors that are used by video professionals to make sure they are getting accurate color within their video or photos. Color is not the only reference mode that you can do with the Pro Display XDR. The complete list of reference modes includes:
- Pro Display XDR (P3-1600 nits)
- Apple Display (P3-500 nits)
- HDR Video (P3-ST 2084)
- HDTV Video (BT.709-BT.1886)
- NTSC Video (BT.601 SMPTE-C)
- PAL and SECAM Video (BT.601 EBU)
- Digital Cinema (P3-DCI)
- Digital Cinema (P3-D65)
- Design and Print (P3-D50)
- Photography (P3-D65)
- Internet and Web (sRGB)
Beyond reference modes the Pro Display XDR has some additional features that can be found on other Apple devices. This includes, Night Shift and True Tone both adjust the color. Night Shift automatically adjusts the color temperature of the display as the day progresses to the warmer end of the spectrum, so this is easier on the eyes.
True Tone will take the light levels around you and adjust the temperature of the screen to be close to the light in the area surrounding you. This is designed to make the color appear more natural.
The Pro Display XDR also supports Dolby HDR 10 and Hybrid-Lag Gamma (HLG) playback for video. Along with this, the Pro Display XDR supports various refresh rates, including 47.95Hz, 48.00Hz, 50.00Hz, 59.94Hz, and 60.00Hz. These refresh rates are standards that are used for both National Television System Committee, or NTSC, and Phase Alternating Line, or PAL, standards.
The Pro Display XDR is a standalone display that has some advanced features. The Pro Display XDR is designed for professionals and has the professional price. The Pro Display XDR starts at $4999 to be exact, and that is without a stand. You have two options for stands, the Pro Stand or the VESA mount. The Pro Stand will add an additional $999 and the VESA mount adds $199.
There is an alternative screen technology, which is an option for the Pro Display XDR. That technology Apple calls "Nano Texture". Nano Texture is an advanced glass technology that is etched directly into the glass and it is not another layer on the glass. Nano Texture is designed for those places that have direct sunlight or changing lighting conditions where being able to see the screen in all conditions is needed. For most users though, Nano Texture glass is not needed, but for those that need it, it is an option.
Therefore, the base model Pro Display XDR and the professional stand brings the total price up to $5999 for both. The Nano Texture price will add another $1000. Many people want to get an Apple standalone display, but cannot afford, nor justify, the entry price. However, there is now a product that more people can afford called the Studio Display. Now, let us look at the Studio Display.
As mentioned earlier, many Mac users have been hoping Apple to take the screen out of the 27-inch iMac and just put it into a standalone display, which is basically the iMac without the computer. When Apple announced that it was no longer making standalone displays, many figured that Apple would not end up doing this. Furthermore, Apple has done just this, and then some. Before we dive into the display itself, let us look at the name.
The Studio Display was introduced at the same time as the Mac Studio computer, so the common word of "Studio" makes sense and the two products are very complementary. Long time Mac observers may recognize the name "Studio Display", because it is not the first time that Apple has used the name "Studio Display" before.
The name of "Studio Display" was used previously in 1998 when it was used for the 15-inch flat panel LCD that was introduced with the G4 Cube. This was the start of a series of flat-panel and cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors that ranged from a 15-inch screen to a 22" model.
Beyond the name, each of the Apple Studio Displays had a commonality between all of the displays. That commonality was that they were all in the same ratio, 4:3. The various models had different connections. Some had DVI, others had ADC. The 17-inch Apple Studio Display was the last model available, but was ultimately discontinued in 2004. The replacement was Apple's Cinema Display line, which was a line of widescreen displays.
It has been almost 18 years since the name was last used, and with a new display, it makes sense to use the name again. Now that the name has been covered, let us look at the devices that you can use with the Studio Display.
There are a number of devices that fully support the Studio Display. These include:
- Mac Studio (2022)
- 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019 or later)
- 14-inch MacBook Pro (2021)
- 13-inch MacBook Pro (2016 or later)
- 15-inch MacBook Pro (2016 or later)
- MacBook Air (2018 or later)
- Mac mini (2018 or later)
- Mac Pro (2019 or later)
- 24-inch iMac (2021)
- 27-inch iMac (2017 or later)
- 21.5-inch iMac (2017 or later)
- iMac Pro (2017)
Macs are not the only devices that support the Studio Display. You can also connect an iPad to the Studio Display. There are only a few iPad models that are supported. The complete list includes:
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (3rd generation or later)
- iPad Pro 11-inch
- iPad Air (5th generation)
The reason that there are only a few models that support the Studio Display is because each of the iPads has an M1 processor. The M1 has Thunderbolt support. In order to be able to support the full 5K resolution, as well as being able to support charging, you need enough power and bandwidth. Other devices, like the iPad mini, only supports USB-C, so it only has 5 gigabits per second for bandwidth. This just is not enough to handle 5K resolution. The 5K resolution for the Studio Display needs 14.75 gigabits per second. With this whole discrepancy you can see that USB-C just does not have enough bandwidth for the display.
When you do connect one of the supported iPads to the Studio Display you will likely see the iPad screen mirrored to the display. It is possible that some apps will display a different screen than the main app, but the developer needs to explicitly code this into their app to fully support external displays.
Now that we have looked at what devices can be used with the Studio Display, let us look at what drives the Apple Studio Display.
Every display that you use, no matter how small or large, nor how basic or how advanced, needs some sort of mechanism to actually run the display.
You might think that a display is a very basic item. All that the display would need to do is take the video signal from the Mac and put it upon the screen. If this was the case, it might be easy enough to just use an off-the-shelf part. However, with the Studio Display that is not Apple's approach.
Apple could have developed an entirely custom chip, with its own custom firmware, just for the Studio Display, but it was not necessary to do, because Apple already had developed a chip that would be able to handle all most of the features of the Studio Display, That chip is one that Apple has used for a number of its products. The Studio Display has an A13 processor in it, and it is the same processor found in the 9th generation 10.2-inch iPad, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, and 2nd generation iPhone SE.
Even though Apple included an A13, they could have created a custom operating system, or firmware, just for the Studio Display, but they did not. Instead, they are using iOS, yes, iOS to run the Studio Display. You can actually check the firmware version of your Studio Display by using the following steps:
- Click on the Apple Menu.
- Click on "About the Mac".
- Click on "System Report" to bring up the system report.
- Click on "Graphics/Displays". Each of the graphics cards and displays should be shown.
- Under Studio Display, locate the line that says "Display Firmware Version".
This is the firmware version. As of this writing my Studio Display has Version 15.4 (Build 19E241). This is the same build as iOS and iPadOS 15.4. From time to time, you may need to update the firmware in your Studio Display, so let us look at that next.
The Studio Display will likely need to be updated to improve features and functions. It is possible to think that there might be a dedicated app to update the firmware, but that is not Apple's approach to this. Instead, you update the firmware for the Studio Display as you would any other update to macOS, by going to Software Update. If there is an update it will appear in "Software Update" in system preferences. Once the update has been downloaded and installed, the Studio Display will reboot to complete the installation of the firmware.
There is an Apple support article that was published on March 19th, 2022 which outlines the process as well. The update took about 10 minutes total from the time I started the download to the time macOS booted up again. You will need to reboot your Mac, because the firmware on the Studio Display will need to be updated when macOS is not running. After I updated my Studio Display, it was running 15.4 (Build 19E241).
There are a lot of things that the A13 is used for, and with iOS running on the display, it . One of the most important reasons that Apple included an A13 was for one of the features of the Studio Display, the camera, so let us look at that next.
One feature that the Studio Display has, that the Pro Display XDR does not, is a built-in camera. The camera on the Studio Display is a 12 megapixel ultra-wide camera, the same one that is on the 5th generation iPad Air.
The A13 processor contains an image signal processor. The image signal processor is used to process the signal coming from the camera and then applying various filters, and then sends them to the display to be shown through whichever app needs the camera. On the topic of the camera, let us look at the specs.
The camera has a 122 degree field of view with an ƒ/2.4 aperture. These specifications allow a device to support feature Apple calls Center Stage. Center Stage is a feature that will automatically follow anybody in the view of the camera, so they remain the focus of the view. This is possible because the camera will automatically move in and out as the focus of the screen changes. This is the same feature that is on the following devices:
- 5th Generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro
- 3rd Generation 11-inch iPad Pro
- 9th generation 10.2-inch iPad
- 6th generation 7.9-inch iPad mini
- 5th generation 10.9-inch iPad Air
The Studio Display is the first non-iPad device to support Center Stage. As of this writing, there are no Macs that support Center Stage, just iPhones and iPads. Even though the Mac does not natively support Center Stage, if you have a Mac connected it will support Center Stage through the Studio Display.
I am not one who uses cameras for video calls that often. The only time I generally do is for work. For those I use my work issued MacBook Pro.
I did do some testing with the camera, and I did see that the camera did seem to have some artifacts when I was using it. What I mean by this is that the the image did not seem to be as crisp as it could have been. Instead, it was blocky and not what many would suspect from Apple's hardware.
Other reviewers who had the product before me have stated that Apple has acknowledged that there are issues and they will be releasing a firmware update in the future.
Let us now look at something that is related to the camera, or at least is used in conjunction with the camera. That item is the microphones.
The Studio Display has an array of three microphones. These are used with the camera to provide audio for FaceTime calls, or any other app that uses the camera. According to Apple, the microphones have a high signal-to-noise ratio. What this means is that the higher the signal to noise ratio the clearer the audio will be.
Beyond the high signal-to-noise ratio, the microphones also have directional beamforming. Beamforming is used to be able to cancel out background noise, all while picking up the person speaking. This will be very useful when on FaceTime or other video calls, because any background noise will be removed which should help make your voice as clear as possible.
The microphones are not only used for video calls. The Studio Display has another feature, it supports "Hey Siri".
Back in April of 2010 it was announced that Apple purchased an app called "Siri". When Apple purchased the Siri app it continued to be available on the store. With the introduction of the iPhone 5S in October of 2011 Apple released a version of Siri built into iOS.
Starting in 2014 iOS and iPadOS devices could actually use a new feature called "Hey Siri", without needing to touch the device itself. This was only supported on iPhone 6s and later. The list of supported iPads for "Hey Siri" include:
- iPad Air (3rd generation) and later
- iPad mini (5th generation) and later
- iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2nd generation) and later
- iPad Pro (10.5-inch)
- iPad Pro (9.7-inch)
- iPad Pro (11-inch) all generations
- iPad (6th generation) or later
iPhone and iPads are not the only devices that now support Hey Siri. The other devices that support it are HomePod, AirPods 2nd generation or later, AirPods Pro, AirPods Max, Apple Watch, various Beats models, MacBook Pros (2018 and later), MacBook Air (2018 and later), iMac Pro, iMac (2020 and later). You can add one more device, the Studio Display.
As mentioned above, the Studio Display uses an A13. One thing that the A13 can do is be used for "Hey Siri" on the device. Having Hey Siri on the Studio Display means that you can get information regardless of which Mac is connected. This means that you can ask Siri to get the current weather, sports scores, or any of the general facts that Siri is able to retrieve for you.
The Apple Studio Display is not only for displaying things or being able to use FaceTime, but it can also be used to connect things, so let us look at what you can connect to the Apple Studio Display.
Much along the lines of LG UltraFine displays, the Studio Display can be used for more than just a display. The Studio Display can also be used as a USB hub for connecting additional devices. You can connect up to three USB-C devices. The three USB-C ports are capable of handling up to 10 gigabits per second, which is twice as fast as the LG UltraFine monitors was capable of.
To make things easier, there is a Thunderbolt cable included with the Apple Studio Display. This cable is compatible with Thunderbolt 3 ports so you can connect the Studio Display to any compatible Mac or iPad. The maximum bandwidth for Thunderbolt 3 is 34.56 gigabits per second. The math is a lot of multiplication, but if you are not using any compression, running at the native resolution of 5120 by 2880, with 12 bits of color, the entire link can become saturated.
It is not likely that the peripherals will get the full 10 gigabits per second throughput. This is because the video will get priority for the bandwidth from the Mac to the Studio Display. This makes sense because any configuration that would have the video become distorted would negate the entire purpose of having the display. Instead, it makes more sense to have the throughput of peripherals drop down and become slower, because you are less likely to notice a speed drop in peripherals, where you would if the display is distorted.
As of right now items without batteries still needs to be physically connected to power. Technology has not progressed enough to have perfected wireless power, and I do not mean Qi charging, that is more inductive charging than true wireless charging. The power cable on the Studio Display is directly connected with no way of being able to remove it. This is not the first time that Apple has used this approach with its products. There are two recent products that do not have removable power cables, the HomePod and HomePod mini.
For the HomePods, one could argue that it makes sense because those two products are speakers that might cause some issues if the power cables were removable. It would also add some bulk to the product and likely interfere with the acoustics of the speakers if there was a bulky power cable coming out one of the sides of the HomePod.
The thing with the Studio Display is that that argument does not hold up. The Studio Display is a large product, so it should also have a removable power cable. All of Apple's previous displays, including the Pro Display XDR have had a removable power cable. Laptops, obviously, need to have them, but all iMacs have had a removable power cable.
I have a couple of theories as to why there is no removable power cord on the Studio Display, plug placement. My guess is that there is not much space left on the interior of the Studio Display that would allow a power plug to be exposed to the back of the display. The second theory is that this may be the approach going forward. For devices like displays, HomePods, and other "appliance" devices that are not portable, have the cable built right into the device without being able to remove it.
What I do find interesting with this is that Apple could have placed the power plug anywhere. They did not put it directly center on the Pro Display XDR, so it could have been an option to place the power cord anywhere along the back of the device.
Friend, and editor of my books, Barry Sullivan has his own theory. He thinks it is a cost cutting decision. Having a power cord that is hardwired to the display is just plain wrong. The cost of repairing a damaged cord is expensive. What does one do for a display on their computer while waiting for repairs?
Regardless of why Apple decided to do this, it could be problematic for some users. There are instances when you want to be able to have either a longer power cord, or a shorter one, depending on need. Since that is not an option with the Studio Display, there will likely be a loop of extra cable.
That covers the connectivity, so let us move onto the speakers.
If you were to look at all sorts of monitors, one thing that you might notice is that most monitors do not have speakers on them. This is the case for a couple of reasons. First, including them would make monitor and the internals a bit more complex. Secondly, for most people the price of the monitor is a factor when it comes to which monitor to purchase. Therefore, any speakers that would be included with the monitor would increase the price of the monitor, again price is a major factor for most users. Furthermore, any speakers that would be included would likely not be of the highest quality, because while a differentiation, it increases the price of the monitor. Lastly, and somewhat related, many who want good speakers will have a separate pair of external speakers, therefore including them are are not worthwhile. If you do manage to find a monitor that has speakers in it, they are very likely going to be basic stereo speakers.
Unlike the Pro Display XDR, the Studio Display does have speakers built-in. Over the last few years Apple has steadily been improving the speakers in all of their products. The Studio Display has a six-speaker system, similar to that of the MacBook Pro.
The speakers support Spatial Audio for music as well as video with Dolby Atmos audio. The Dolby Atmos support means that you can watch movies with pretty good audio right on the monitor. This is a significant improvement over using the built-in speaker on the Mac mini, and likely significant improvements over the built-in speakers in the Mac Studio.
During my usage, I easily noticed that the Studio Display speakers are significantly better than the iMac speakers. They have more bass, and are louder in general than the iMac speakers. This makes complete sense given that there are six speakers in the Studio Display as opposed to the two speakers in the iMac.
For additional comparison I tested the speakers on my iPad Pro and they sound better than the iMac, but not nearly as loud as the iMac. The Studio Display speakers sound a lot better than the iPad Pro, which makes sense given there is more space for the Studio Display to move air, and the are more speakers. However, when I compared to a HomePod mini, the HomePod mini has better sound than even the Studio Display. After thinking about it for a bit, I can understand why. The HomePod mini is designed to create the best sound for the environment that it is in.
If you look at a System Report for the a device that has a Studio Display connected, you may notice that the there are actually 8 output channels. These are capable of outputting up to 48KHz, so it can provide high quality sound. The internal speakers on my mid-2017 iMac can only output at 44.1KHz, so this is definitely and improvement, just in output quality.
Even though the HomePod mini sounds better, the Studio Display speakers are still really good, and much improved over the iMac speakers. Now that viewing things has been mentioned, let us look at the screen itself.
Throughout my time using computers I have gone back and forth between using two screens and just using one. The sizes of the screens have varied as I have purchased new computers and new screens.
If you have used any of the 27-inch 5K Retina iMacs since their introduction in 2014, you may not initially notice that many differences between the Studio Display and the 5K Retina iMac Screen. You would be completely rationale to think that they are same screen. The reason you might think this is because the actual screen of the Studio Display is very, very similar. In fact, they are the exact except for one specification. The resolution as the 27-inch 5K iMac, of 5120-by-2880, it supports the P3 color gamut, True Tone, and supports for 1 billion colors, and support for Night Shift.
The one area where the Studio Display screen has a slight improvement over the previous 27-inch 5K iMac is in its brightness. Instead of having 500 nits of brightness of the 5K iMac, the Studio Display has a maximum of 600-nits of brightness. This is a 20% improvement. What this means is that the screen can be brighter when needed.
You may not initially notice any change, but that is not really a problem because you likely will not want to have the screen at its highest brightness setting. Having the highest brightness level can hurt ones eyes when used for a long time. Even if you do not want to use it at its brightest settings all the time, there may be times when you need it temporarily. For those times, there is a feature that can utilize the full brightness.
It has been a while since I have had two Apple screens connected to a computer and I had forgotten that when you have two Apple displays connected, that many functions can be set independently. For instance, The brightness setting can be set differently for each screen. What this means is that if I want to have the Studio Display be a bit dimmer than the iMac screen I can do just that.
There are a couple of different ways to adjust the brightness, using hardware keys and Control Center. When you want to use the dedicated keys on a keyboard you can do so just like you would for just an iMac or MacBook Pro. The thing to be cognizant of is that when you switch the second display, it needs to have focus before the hardware keys will adjust properly.
The second option through Control Center is a bit different. Once you open up Control Center and click on the arrow next to "Display", it will expand and show both of the screens independently. Here you can adjust the sliders to the brightnesses that you would like for each of the displays.
While you might not need to have the brightness set all of the way up at all times, you may want to be able to make sure that some aspects of the item you are working on meets industry standards. There is a feature for specifically for that situation called Reference Modes, so let us look at those now.
Reference Modes are not a brand new feature to macOS. They were actually introduced with the Pro Display XDR in 2019. The ability to use reference modes is also supported on the 14-inch and 16-inch M1 Pro/M1 Max MacBook Pros introduced in 2001. The same functionality now comes to any Mac with a Studio Display connected.
A reference mode is a preset on the Studio Display that will allow you to make sure that you are matching the industry standard requirements for the particular mode. There are a number of presets that are possible with the Studio Display. The available reference modes are:
- Apple Display (P3-600 nits)
- HDTV Video (BT.709-BT.1886)
- NTSC Video (BT.601 SMPTE-C)
- PAL and SECAM Video (BT.601 EBU)
- Digital Cinema (P3-DCI)
- Digital Cinema (P3-D65)
- Design and Print (P3-D50)
- Photography (P3-D65)
- Internet and Web (sRGB)
Setting a Reference Mode
There are a two different ways of setting a reference mode. Either through the mirroring menu item or through System Preferences.
Accessible by using the following steps:
- Open System Preferences.
- Click on “Displays”
- Click on “Display Settings” at the bottom of the screen.
- Select the Studio Display
- Under Presets, select your desired preset.
If you need to be able to quickly access different reference modes you can select specific modes to appear in the menu. You can so by following these steps:
- Open System Preferences.
- Click on “Displays”
- Click on “Display Settings” at the bottom of the screen.
- Select the Studio Display
- Under Presets, select “Customize Presets”. A popup will appear.
- In the list of presets, enable the checkbox next to each of the presets that you want to enable.
- Once finished, click the “Done” button to close the popup.
- Click “Done” again to close the Display Settings screen.
The list of reference modes that you select with the “Show In Menu” checkboxes will be shown in Control Center, as shown in the example below.
When you switch reference modes, the device will momentarily turn off and then turn back on. To me, it seems like the screen is doing a soft reboot. What I mean by this is that it disconnects from the host Mac, including stopping and switching audio, and then changes the reference mode, reconnects audio and shows the screen again.
Most non-professional users are not likely to use reference modes, but for those that do need them they will come in handy and are a nice feature to have. And now, you do not need to purchase the Pro Display XDR or upgrade your MacBook Pro just to get the modes. Next, let us move onto the pricing for the Apple Studio Display.
The Apple Studio display is somewhat reasonably priced. The Apple Studio Display starts at $1599. For this amount you can get a standard display, with either the tilt stand or with a VESA adapter. If you want the Tilt and Height adjustable stand, the price would be $1999.
There is a second screen option, called Nano texture. Adding the Nano Texture option will cost an additional $300. Therefore it is $1899 for the Tilt adjustable stand or VESA Adapter, and $2299 for the Tilt and Height Adjustment stand.
There is one thing to note about the Studio Display, the stand is not replaceable. This means that the stand you get when you purchase the Studio Display is the one it will have for its entire life. Therefore, if you do purchase one be sure to get the stand you want.
One last thing to note is that if you do go with the VESA mount, you can put the Studio Display in portrait orientation. Therefore if you have the need to use a monitor in portrait mode, you might want to think about the VESA adapter.
There is one other item related to pricing that you may want to know about. That item is AppleCare.
When you buy the Apple Studio Display you may want to add on AppleCare for the display. You have two options. The first is to pay for three years of coverage up front for $149. You also do have an additional option of paying per year. The price per year is about the same as the up-front cost at $49.99 per year. Regardless of which route you go, the price will be about the same.
If you do need to use the AppleCare+ for the Studio Display you will be charged $99 for screen damage or external enclosure damage. If there is any other damage it will cost you $299. With AppleCare+ you will get two incidents every 12 months.
When I purchased my Apple Studio Display I opted to go with the yearly AppleCare+ coverage. This is the first time I am going with yearly payments for AppleCare. The reason I opted for this is that I will likely keep the monitor for well more than three years, probably closer to 5 or 6 years, before I replace it. I would rather pay $299 for getting a replacement or getting my Studio Display fixed after the three years. Furthermore, if for some reason I do not keep it for three years, I will only need to pay for the coverage that I need and not more. However, I did run into a problem.
AppleCare+ Billing Issue
When I have purchased AppleCare in the past I have always gone with pre-paying for AppleCare. As mentioned above this time around I decided to go with the annual AppleCare payment. This was the first time that I have opted to use the annual AppleCare option, and I ended up running into a problem with purchasing the yearly AppleCare+ for my Studio Display.
When I went to order the Apple Studio I added AppleCare+ at that time. Apple's policy on annual AppleCare is to bill it when the device ships or is picked up. This approach makes sense because lead times for devices can vary. As expected, I received an email stating that my Studio Display had shipped. Within a half hour of receiving that email, I received another email indicating that there was a billing problem with purchasing my AppleCare+. This is odd considering that Apple charged my card for the Studio Display with the same card. Immediately after receiving that email, the payment went through on my card, albeit in a "pending" state.
Because there was a problem, I called Apple support to verify whether the charge went through or not. Apple's voice system initially sent me to technical support, despite me asking for billing (computers, gotta love 'em). The first person I talked to in tech support did a cursory check to see if they could see anything, but they could not see much on their end. So, they sent me over to the AppleCare team.
The second support person I talked to thought it might have been a phishing email, which is possible. But phishing emails would not contain AppleCare agreement numbers, valid serial numbers, not to mention the last four of my credit card number. So, we ruled out the email being a phishing attempt. They continued to do some additional checking, but ultimately they ended up sending me to the Agreement Admin team.
The third person I talked to did some more searching but they could not bring up the agreement and serial number combination in their system. There is an Apple site that you can use to add an agreement to your account if you have both the agreement and serial number. They asked me to attempt to add the agreement to my Apple account, but I could not add it to my account. The last check we did was to look up the coverage using checkcoverage.apple.com using the serial number. That site indicated that the Studio Display did not have active AppleCare plan.
After discussing with the AppleCare admin support person, we decided to wait until the charge either cleared or was removed from my card. If it cleared, then I would call them back so they could figure it all out. If it was removed then I could sign up for AppleCare+ on the site or by calling them again.
It turns out that the payment ended up going through about five and a half hours after I got the email saying that there was a billing problem. It took another 12 hours or so before the Apple site indicated that it was under warranty.
Now that AppleCare has been covered, there are two other sets of items to look at. The first of these is what happened when I connected the Studio Display to some of the supported, as well as, non-supported devices, so let us look at that next starting with the supported devices.
Usage with Other Devices
I use the Studio Display with my mid-2017 iMac as a the primary display with the built-in iMac screen as the secondary display. As outlined above is the list of supported devices. Macs are not the only devices that are supported. One of the devices that is supported that I have is the 5th generation iPad Pro.
5th Generation iPad Pro
According to Apple's page, the entire iPad Pro line can be used with the Apple Studio Display. So, I decided to try and connect my 5th generation iPad Pro to the Studio Display.
When I initially connected the 5th generation iPad Pro to the Studio Display, nothing showed up. Instead nothing appeared. When something is not working, it is best to reboot a device. So, I ended up rebooting the iPad with the Thunderbolt cable connected to the iPad. When the iPad rebooted the iPad would not finish loading. It acted the same way as my iMac when there is a secondary bootable hard drive connected, where it would just stall. Once I unplugged the thunderbolt cable from the iPad the iPad booted right up. I then re-connected the Thunderbolt cable and the iPad screen showed up on the Studio Display.
It might just be my device, but it seems as though unless the iPad is turned on and unlocked, the negotiation between the iPad Pro and the Studio Display fails at some point. For example, I plugged in the Studio Display to my iPad Pro when the iPad was closed. When I turned on the screen for iPad Pro, nothing appeared on the Studio Display. The only way to get it to work was to unplug the Studio Display and plug it back in, while the iPad Pro screen was on.
6th Generation iPad mini
Unlike the iPad Pro, I had zero issues connecting the iPad mini to the Studio Display. When I connected the iPad mini to the Studio Display the iPad mini screen showed right away without any issues. I was able to control the exact same things as the iPad Pro.
I did some looking around for what devices I could actually connect to the Studio Display. At first I thought that I could not connect anything except Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 4 devices, because I could not find any way to connect older Thunderbolt 1 and 2. I knew I had a Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter, but I thought that was a one way device, like so many other adapters. After thinking about it a bit, I realized that Thunderbolt is a two-way communication medium, so any connection from Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 should work without issue.
I got out my Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter and a Thunderbolt 2 cable and proceeded to connect some devices. I connected my Early-2015 13-inch MacBook Pro, a mid-2014 21.5-inch iMac, and even a mid-2011 21.5-inch iMac, all with various results.
The early-2015 MacBook Pro is running macOS Monterey 12.3, so it was able to connect, mirror or extend the display and function as a second monitor. The one function that did not work was that I could not adjust the brightness on the Studio Display with the function keys on the keyboard. However, I could adjust it using Control Center or in System Preferences, so you can use the Studio Display with any device that runs macOS Monterey 12.3.
The mid-2011 21.5-inch and mid-2014 21.5-inch iMacs could not display anything on the screen. This makes sense given that neither of the devices is capable of running macOS Monterey. The latest operating system for these are macOS High Sierra (10.13) and macOS Big Sur (macOS 11) respectively. Given that all of these devices run Thunderbolt, both of these iMacs was able to see the USB-C drive connected to the Studio Display, so even if it cannot be use as a display, it can be used in a pinch for connecting devices.
The mid-2014 21.5-inch iMac was able to identify the display in system preferences, and even in System Report. So there was some communication between the Studio Display and older devices. But this all leaves me with some questions.
As outlined above, the Studio Display has a limited number of iPads that it supports. What is not described is what features or functions that the the supported devices can utilize that other devices, like the iPad mini, might not be able to. I did some testing of connecting USB-C drives, playing music, and even adjusting the volume. All of these worked on both the iPad Pro and the iPad mini.
I could not find anything that the iPad Pro was able to do that the iPad mini could not. It is possible that it could be that the iPad Pro can support Dolby Atmos over thunderbolt, where the iPad mini might not be able to, because it is USB-C. It should be noted that neither of these devices was on a beta operating system, both were using iPadOS 15.4 (19E241), so it is not a case of one device having improvements or a different set of software features, over the other.
Furthermore on my early-2015 MacBook Pro, it was able to display the screen and I could use it in either mirrored, extended, and even as my main display.
The common thing that I could not do with any of the devices, even the iPad Pro which is supposed to be fully supported, was adjust the brightness automatically. For the early-2015 MacBook Pro I could use the Studio Display without issue.
So, the real question is what does Apple mean when they say "supported" devices with the Studio Display? It cannot be fully functionality, because the two iPads do not seem to have any difference even though the iPad mini is not officially supported. It is possible that I am missing something. Does anybody else have any idea?
Possible Future improvements
There are a couple of things that I could think of where the Studio Display could be improved. There are three areas total where I think there could be improvements are with Thunderbolt 4, Airplay, and the power cable.
Given the intention for the display, Thunderbolt 3 is sufficient. However, it could be nice to have Thunderbolt 4 for additional bandwidth for two reasons. The first being consistency between the monitor and the Macs that are connected and supported. The second is to be able to have the USB-C devices connected be able to run a their full 10 gigabits per second bitrate.
It would be nice to be able to have a Studio Display be an AirPlay receiver. I am sure this would require additional hardware, but it since there is already an A13, it might not be as much extra hardware. The Apple TV is an AirPlay receiver, and even the A10 can be an AirPlay receiver, so the A13 is not the limiting factor on that.
Removable Power cable
Similar to HomePod, the Apple Studio Display does not have a removable power cable. While this is not likely a problem for most users, it could become one. If any damage occurs to the power cable, then it would likely fall into the $99 accidental damage portion of AppleCare. Having to pay $99 to get a power cord fixed would be, in my opinion, absurd.
On one of the biggest factors when it comes to purchasing anything these days is the price. At first when you see a monitor that starts at $1599 you might think that it is overpriced. Many users are not willing to spend that much on a monitor, but others will if it has the proper set of features. The Apple Studio Display is a 5K Retina screen. There are not many 5K Retina screens on the market today. There are a large number of 4K ones, but there is only one other 5K screen on the market, the LG UltraFine 5K.
When you compare the features and price of the Apple Studio Display to the LG UltraFine 5K, you might reevaluate that the Studio Display is too much. The LG UltraFine has a retail price of $1299. So, for the $300 difference you get a number of features. You get an Ultra Wide camera with a 122 degree field of view that supports Center Stage, so everyone will stay in focus and the center of the screen.
Instead of a set of stereo speakers, you actually get six speakers that not only sound better, but also supports music mastered for Spatial Audio as well as audio from movies that have a Dolby Atmos option.
You can use the Studio Display as a USB-C hub and connect peripherals to the display. When you do you will be able to use them with your Mac as you would if they were directly connected. These will run at 10 gigabits per second. While this is not Thunderbolt speeds, 10 gigabits per second is fast enough for many peripherals like audio interfaces, external hard drives, and other accessories.
Those who were asking for Apple to just take the screen out of the iMac and do nothing else with it, they would have been perfectly happy, but that is not what Apple did. Instead, they went above and beyond by providing features and functions that many users have come to rely on with their MacBook Pros. If you are looking for a new display, you might want to check out the Apple Studio Display.