June 5, 2019

Who is the Apple XDR Monitor For?

While the specs are impressive, without more answers we're still wondering precisely how the XDR will fit into our workflows.

Nothing is more frustrating than working with a team member or client and the question arising "why doesn't it look the same on my computer as it does on yours?"  For many people working on a video project is the first time they even care what the image looks like, and the inconsistencies in monitoring are one of the biggest frustrations we have with modern computer technology. 

So... we should be excited about the new XDR monitor from Apple, which aims to deliver "reference monitor" levels of performance and which was announced alongside the new Mac Pro, which we are legitimately excited about (though reading Twitter this week it seems like we might be the only ones).

A reference monitor should provide a consistent "reference" from machine to machine.

The Mac Pro makes sense, despite its steep price, when you think about who will use it and how it will be used. 

It's a device for "Professionals," who will be making money off of it, thus it'll be worth more money to get a machine that delivers better performance. 

It'll change workflows and certainly change working hours, for many filmmakers who can make a business case to justify the purchase.  The purchase itself does have some "apple tax" built in, but as Gizmodo points out it's not dramatically more expensive than PC competition when you look at workstation class hardware. 

We know precisely which market this device is aimed at.

Which raises the question... who is the XDR Monitor for? 

Well, let's start answering by looking at what it does. 

It offers full 1000 nit sustained white output, and 1600 peak nit output, which is very, very bright and qualifies it as HDR.  But it only has "desktop" connections (Thunderbolt 3), not the video standard SDI connector.  1000 nits is probably too bright to be staring into as a desktop monitor all day.  HDR is really designed for a TV you are sitting across the room from, at least 6 feet away, or even better 10.  Sitting 24" from a 1000nit display set to put out full brightness is probably not something anyone worried about long term eyesight is going to want to do.

While it doesn't cover the full Rec. 2020 color gamut (no monitor we know about does), it covers the entire P3 color gamut, which is the color space used for DCPs. 

This is fantastic. 

It can also be set to a variety of other reference modes, including the HD color space 709, and some still photography color spaces that users desire.  But here is where we get into other issues. Purely on paper, all of the specifications of the new XDR seem mostly fascinating, but we don't know if Apple also has something in mind for software for working with the monitor.

The big problem in computer monitors being consistent isn't only the hardware, it's also the software.  When working with video images, professionals use some sort of video output device to get a video signal out of the computer and patch that into a reference monitor to see their images accurately.  From within the operating system, on the desktop of the computer, any video signal you see is being processed by the software, be it Apple (Quicktime and Final Cut), Resolve, Adobe, REDCine, or even VLC.  And many of you have probably noticed that each software has its own way of interpreting video that leaves it looking differently.

Now, Apple is making a huge push to bring filmmakers back into the fold.  On top of that, they are clearly working closely with major partners in the space, including RED, Blackmagic, Atomos and others to make sure this is a push where Apple is a fully functioning part of a larger ecosystem.  Maybe even the center of the ecosystem.

So it's possible that Apple is working on some way of making it so that the XDR monitor can display useable video imagery from Resolve and Premiere and Media Composer, full screen, that looks the same application to application and allows you to properly evaluate the image.  It does seem like it would be technically doable, though it still wouldn't address how different videos look in Vimeo and YouTube, though maybe they could tackle that next.  But there was no mention of anything like that happening.  And without that our biggest fear is that we'll master something for our client in our suite on a pro reference monitor, and they'll watch it in Vimeo on their XDR and it won't look right and they'll freak out because "this is a reference monitor, it should just look right!" without understanding that it's not just the monitor, it's the signal.

Which, to us, makes the XDR not that interesting as a computer display.  Since every piece of software shows images so differently, and we only use our computer display for the user interface and send a video signal out to an actual reference monitor, what we want from our UI display is that it be easy to read and easy on the eyes. 

Even though some colorist hate it, we leave "TruTone" on, which changes the display colors to match ambient lighting, on.  We even use f.lux to dim and warm up our monitor at night.  We don't judge our images on a desktop screen, so we don't care what it looks like, we just want to be sure it doesn't damage our eyes.

Of course, they aren't marketing it as a computer display, but as a reference display.  But it only has thunderbolt as a connector, no HDMI, and no SDI.  Without SDI, you'll need a Blackmagic decklink and a Blackmagic teranex to get the full video signal and set of "color tools" (SDI, scopes, LUTs, etc.) to use this as a reference monitor, which adds another $2000 to the price. 

Not including the stand (since many will go VESA in the post world), that's still $8K easily for the Matte finish model.  Now, that's still cheaper than major HDR monitors from Dolby, Flanders Scientific and Sony, but popular monitor maker SmallHD  has a 32" for $7999 HDR monitor coming.  The Atomos Neon 31" is $7999 and includes the ability to record video.  Yes, those monitors are all "only" 4k, not 6k like the XDR, but the visual difference between 4k and 6k at 32" is not dramatic.  On a 20 foot screen it's sometimes hard to see the difference between 2k and 4k.

There are also some specs that are just nowhere need good enough to be "reference," as pointed out by colorist Juan Salvo on Twitter.  Top of the line Sony monitors, like the ones referenced in the presentation, have per-pixel dimming for the backlight, whereas the new XDR has only 576 separate dimming zones, which means there are 35,000 pixels in each dimming zone.  That low number of dimming zones means that you are likely to see some "haloing," or light bleeding around highlights, where an entire dimming zone is turned up to make a bright highlight bright enough and the brightness bleeds around the edges.  This will be particularly noticeable because of the dramatic brightness range of HDR.  Have a bright highlight next to a dark shadow (a glint of like a sword in a cave, for instance), and that sword is going to get a halo around it you might not want, and it will effect grading decisions.

Honestly, having to use the decklink and the teranex just doesn't feel very "apple-y."  Apple is all about slick integration.  Having to add two pieces of hardware to make it work, and to have that mess in your post suite or DIT cart feels less slick than it could be.  Our hope, because Apple has always been the company where "it just works," is that there will be some attempt to bring software in line with the monitor, so that if you do spend $5999 for the monitor when you fire up Resolve and look at the image it will look roughly like it's going to look on frame.io.  

If they do that, it will absolutely be worth its price point, right alongside the Mac Pro. 

$1000 for the stand, though?  That seems out of alignment with reality. Just look to the memes for confirmation on that one: 

Choose Wisely

 

Tech Specs:
  • Brightness: 1000 nits sustained (full screen), 1600 nits peak, SDR brightness: 500 nits
  • Contrast ratio: 1,000,000:1
  • Color: P3 wide color gamut, 10-bit depth for 1.073 billion colors
  • 6016 by 3384 pixels (20.4 million pixels) at 218 pixels per inch
  • Nano-texture matte finish available
  • Width: 28.3 inches (71.8 cm)
  • Height: 16.2 inches (41.2 cm)
  • Depth: 1.1 inches (2.7 cm)
  • Weight: 16.49 pounds (7.48 kg)
  • One upstream Thunderbolt 3 port for Mac Pro or other Thunderbolt 3 host (96W host charging)
  • Three USB-C (USB 2) ports for charging or syncing3
  • Line voltage: 100–240V AC
  • Frequency: 50Hz to 60Hz, single phase
  • Operating temperature: 50° to 95° F (10° to 35° C)
  • Relative humidity: 5% to 95% noncondensing
  • Maximum altitude: tested up to 16,400 feet (5000 meters)
  • Reference Modes: HDR Video (P3-ST 2084), HDTV Video (BT.709-BT.1886), Digital Cinema (P3-DCI), Design and Print (P3-D50), Photography (P3-D65), Internet and Web (sRGB)
  • Refresh Rates:  47.95Hz, 48.00Hz, 50.00Hz, 59.94Hz, 60.00Hz

Your Comment

3 Comments

Not to crush on your thoughts, but couldn’t key parts of this argument honestly be said about any reference monitor? Color not matching between applications isn’t really on Apple. Similarly, any monitor could produce the variations in color and image between clients because they’re probably running different hardware, despite which reference monitor you use. Targeting the nits of HDR and blaming Apple is also confusing, because you’re more so making a complaint against the HDR standard being so bright. (And I’m sure you can turn down the backlight for when you’re not working HDR).

While I could see where you’re coming from about not having SDI access, but in some sense... this monitor seems to be meant for the main display of the Mac (and specifically paired with the Mac Pro). I’m not sure the expectation of reference monitor off to the side applies. It has a general use that’s greater than just video.

Can’t disagree about the bad PR behind the stand price though. They should have just included it with the monitor. Though, I do wonder how costly machining and their positioning tech might be when produced in low quantities. Have a feeling they’re not making as much money on this machine as expected after R&D these past few years.

Maybe I just don’t see it the same way. Really feel like they gave it their best shot here.

June 6, 2019 at 9:10AM

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Anthony Berenato Jr.
Director / Cinematographer
183

I had the exact same thought. Pretty much any reference monitor is going to require some software calibration and, even with SDI ports, you'd still need adapters or PCI cards to connect it to your Mac (depending on which Mac you're using). And Apple has built in their Color Sync Utility which provides some measure of color calibration. If you need something more, not sure that wouldn't be true with any other reference monitor.

I also didn't get the sense this was being marketed as a reference monitor anyways (even though its specs make it seem that way). It's clearly designed to connect natively to the Mac using Thunderbolt 3 so that it can be used as a display. That's likely why SDI isn't built in. It seemed like this was Apple's way of getting back into having a cinema display and it was paired with the release of the Mac Pro for good reason... but the specs make it good enough to turn it into a reference monitor if you so desire. I will say, though, most people probably would've been happy if Apple had just given us a display with reduced specs that was priced more in line with the original cinema displays we all loved. This display is overkill for most people. But as others have said - it's not for most people. It's a "pro" monitor.

I too thought the stand should've been included. I would've settled for a less fancy version of the stand in exchange for it being included but I'm guessing that Apple is assuming most people are going to either VESA mount the monitor to their existing wall/desk mounts anyways if they're not investing in the pro stand. Not sure why anyone would buy the stand. The magnets seem cool but hardly worth the price when there's a slew of other VESA mount arms you can get for 1/10th the price. I wonder how many of those stands they'll actually end up selling.

But the whole demand that Apple needs to find a software solution to make this in to a true reference monitor seems silly to me. Don't get me wrong. I'd love for Apple to do that. But it just seems like an odd thing to complain about when no one else really offers that either.

June 6, 2019 at 10:26AM

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Yep, that.

Plus don't know what sense it makes to compare it with the $2000 MORE expensive (even if we include the Apple stand) SmallHD. Or the also $2000 more expensive Atomos which "adds the ability to record video" (because people record video on a 32" reference monitors?)

Both of them are a) more expensive, b) have worse specs, c) are 4K not 6K.

June 6, 2019 at 10:27AM, Edited June 6, 10:28AM

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