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Many ask whether the Mac Retina display is worth it.

At the Apple store, a 15-inch Macbook Pro with Retina costs $2,199 (base) vs. $1,799 for the non-Retina 15" Macbook Pro, and $1,199 for the non-Retina 13-inch Macbook Air.

Retina screens make text look great, I'm comparing it with a 2007 Macbook Pro and I can tell you that for a fact. Retina pixel density = 220.5 PPI, vs. 135 PPI for the latest non-Retina MacBook Air (according to The Verge).

Recently, Gary Heiting, an optometrist told Mashable:

“A key factor in something that’s called computer vision syndrome, or just eye strain from computer use, is screen resolution,” Heiting says. “The new iPad, with twice the resolution of the iPad 2, 264 ppi (pixels per inch) instead of 132, people are going to notice less pixelation, especially in a small typeface. It’s not just an enjoyment issue or an aesthetic issue, but it’s definitely a visual comfort isue, over time.”

So... is it true that Retina gives less eyestrain than lower resolution screens?

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How do you measure eye-stain? How do you measure the difference in eye-strain between different people? Do you or I experience the same eye-strain? Are there people who experience worse eye-strain and others who experience less? How long is "...over time?" Does this mean that it's uncomfortable at first and we just get used to it? –  jdstankosky Nov 27 '12 at 14:27
    
I am sure Retina display is eyesight killer. Eyes 6 muscles must work during the day and rest during the rest or night. Instead, one have info and make eyes lazy and finally catches himself that a bus number approaching bus-stop is not so clear as before. This logical info will always be put on hold :) –  user11554 Feb 16 '13 at 18:35
    
The only thing not related to Apple's marketing I've found on the subject, talks about healthy resolution being ".28mm dot pitch or less". That's 90dpi. –  vartec Feb 18 '13 at 8:56
    
Most people keep their monitors so bright that DPI is the least of their eyestrain issues. –  Larry OBrien Feb 18 '13 at 19:40
    
BTW. is Retina available in non-glossy version? –  vartec Jul 1 '13 at 14:24

2 Answers 2

Retina Display is unhealthy, but it's unrelated to the resolution. It's the fact, that it's offered only as glossy display, no matte option.

Queensland University of Technology page on "High gloss computer screens"

This web page contains health and safety considerations for Macintosh – Apple ‘glass’ or high gloss monitor screens.

Reflections and glare on high gloss monitor screens and their relation to the angle of the monitor screen, could cause the operator to adopt awkward postures when viewing the monitor screen and using related equipment. These reflections on the screen can be from internal and external sources such as the overhead lighting and/or position of windows.

Awkward postures adopted by the operator may in turn lead to an injury.

Glare is also mentioned by American Optometric Association in their description of "Computer Vision Syndrome"

symptoms may be caused by:

  • poor lighting
  • glare on the computer screen
  • improper viewing distances
  • poor seating posture
  • uncorrected vision problems
  • a combination of these factors

Note, that they do not mention resolution as one of the factors.

Popular guidelines talk about ".28mm dot pitch or less", which is equivalent to 90+ dpi. For comparison, really low end laptop displays: 1280×720 at 13.3" is .23mm dot pitch (116 dpi), 1336×768 at 15" is .25mm dot pitch (103dpi).

On the other hand, these guidelines suggest that bigger screen is better, MBP Retinas are offered only as 13" and 15" sizes. That of course isn't a factor if you're comparing eye strain with other similarly sized laptops, but implies that much bigger external displays are better.

I have not seen a single scientific study, which would suggest any particular resolution threshold, much less study suggesting going below .28mm would reduce eye-strain further. Which of course doesn't rule out that it might be the case.


As for the question why would Retina appear to be "so much better" than 135dpi screen...

Although there haven't been any serious studies for Retina in particular, in the past it has been shown that there is kind of "placebo effect" when it comes to screens or content in with higher resolution. For example 2008 survey showed, that:

survey by the Leichtman Research Group (LRG) shows that 18 percent of HDTV owners think they're watching high-definition shows, when in fact they're viewing standard definition programming. The findings are based on a telephone survey of 1302 U.S. households. This is LRG's sixth annual study on the topic.

Given the general consumer confusion surrounding HDTV-all those mind-numbing specs like 1080p and HDMI aren't easy to grasp-it's no surprise that many buyers are still clueless. Standard content that's stretched to fill the entire screen may look funny, but at least the picture's big.

Retina vs standard res: There have been multiple a bit tongue-in-cheek "studies", where people would be tricked into believing they are using iPad 3 (with Retina display), while in fact they were using iPad 2. Still, they would describe image as much more crisp and higher res than on iPad 2 (sic!). For example one of such a experiments was conducted by Gizmondo.

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OK, but what is the effect on the eyes? Let's imagine one is in a perfectly lit environment, where glossiness does not lead you to assume a strange posture. –  nico Jul 1 '13 at 15:00
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@nico: I'd guess that it is some minimal improvement, but there is some evidence, that it's placebo effect (eg. there were videos where people were tricked to believe that they are looking at retina iPad and said that everything is much sharper, while in fact they were looking at older ipad with non-retina display. There have been similar experiments with SDTV vs HDTV, people said image is much sharper when they were shown SDTV but told that it's HD). –  vartec Jul 1 '13 at 15:16
    
Cool, thanks for the edits. If you have a reference for those studies it would be nice to include them in the answer. –  nico Jul 1 '13 at 16:27

Computer Eye Strain: 10 Steps for Relief says, "Choose a display with a dot pitch of .28 mm or smaller."

According to MacBook Air - Technical Specifications (with the help of Display PPI (Pixels Per Inch) Calculator), the 13-Inch MacBook Air's dot pitch is 0.1989 mm (127.68 PPI), smaller than 0.28 mm.

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This is evidence that the non-retina display is probably good enough, but doesn't really answer the question of whether retina is even better. Can you add anything along those lines? –  Bradd Szonye Jul 1 '13 at 4:23

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