Thousands of Colors

July 3, 2009 • Louie Mantia

When Apple announced the new 13″ MacBook Pro, my ears perked up. Of course, they always advertise “gorgeous” displays, but with the new MacBook Pro lineup, they boasted a wider color gamut.

I walked into the St. Louis Galleria Apple Store to see it. Seemed fine to me. I was shopping for a replacement for my 17″ MacBook Pro. I hated lugging it around. I wanted a more portable machine with the same specs. I was delighted to find nearly every spec in the high-end 13″ Pro was matched (or better) to my year old 17″ Pro.

I asked the staff if it was a 6bit or 8bit display. They didn’t know. (Nobody seems to know, and Apple doesn’t provide this information to sales, geniuses, or support.) They told me it was upgraded from the 13″ MacBook’s screen, so they assumed it was better, it had a “wider color gamut” so… it must have been 8bit?

I sold my 17″ Pro for less than half my purchase price within a day, and went back to the Apple Store as soon as it did to purchase the new one.

The Problems Begin

I went back home. Used it for a bit, no issues. It was only until I arrived back in North Carolina that I noticed two problems: my new MacBook Pro has a less-than-stellar display and the adapter sold to me is not compatible with my 30″ display.

The MacBook Pro 13″ has a 6bit display; it cannot truly display millions of colors. Yes, on Apple’s website it claims it can “support millions of colors,” but what they don’t tell you is that it does so through dithering. That means the screen will display colors closely in a kind of pattern to give the illusion of blended color.

The display adapter is another story. The 30″ display requires a Dual-DVI Adapter, not a regular old DVI adapter. You see, when I was at the store, not only did I tell them I had a 30″ ACD, but I also asked “Isn’t that thing like $100?” They said, “Nope, it’s only $30!” I thought they lowered the price or something, but they sold me the wrong one. So instead I was stuck with an adapter that output 1280×800 on my 30″ display instead of 2560×1600. Horrible.

I called Apple Support about both of these issues. I first discussed my displeasure of using the “new” MacBook Pro display. I complained that for a Pro machine, it should be treated as such. There are 8bit portable displays, and Apple should be a company that uses them. Instead, they went with a cheaper option. He couldn’t verify this information, because Apple didn’t supply their support team with this info. (Basically, the first tier of Apple Support only has as much information as you can find on your own at Apple’s website.) Of course, he asks me if I’m sure I have my colors set to millions. (Yeah, these guys assume I’m an idiot.) The second tier of support is where I usually get an answer, but even these guys weren’t sure. They’ll have to contact an engineer to know for sure.

That Escalted Quickly

A few days later, I get a phone call from Apple, letting me know that an engineer has declined to disclose this information. Excuse me? Declined? All I want is to verify the advertised specs.

Side note: a few years ago, a few individuals started a class-action lawsuit against Apple for advertising millions of colors with their 6bit displays. Unfortunately, they needed a “class” for a class-action lawsuit, and not enough people cared/noticed. (The matter was settled out of court.)

Apple did offer to send me a replacement Dual-DVI adapter (free of charge), which is great, but—

I needed an answer about the MacBook Pro display. Engnineers at Apple again refused to answer.

Continuing to escalate, they offered to give me a full refund of my purchase, which would be fine, if I could go to another store and purchase a portable machine of this size that had an 8bit screen. But given Apple is the only company that makes computers that run OS X and they do not offer a 13″ MacBook Pro with an 8bit screen, I’m kinda out of luck.

Helpful information to know would be if the 15″ or 17″ had an 8bit screen. I might consider upgrading if I knew, but they won’t say. “The documents you have asked for are not able to be released to you/ They are internal documents, it’s not something that’s available to the public. We are not escalating the situation. We are not able to provide this information to you. You’ve exhausted all your resources at this point.”

The Apple rep suggests writing a letter. A real, actual letter. With pen and paper. I ask for the address to send it to, of course it’s “One Infinite Loop—” “Cupertino, California. Yes, I know. Thanks.”

I wonder if I can call the Cupertino campus. They say to write a letter. I ask to who. “Steve Jobs, he’s the CEO.” My thoughts are, “Uh huh, and he’s gonna read my letter?”

Why do you care so much?

A 8bit screen like the 30″ Apple Cinema Display is able to achieve 16,777,216 colors. A 6bit MacBook Pro screen? 262,144 colors. That’s roughly 1.5% of the colors possible on Apple Cinema Display. For all the colors it can’t display, it blends with nearby pixels. This is just embarrassing and unacceptable.

For those of you who are curious, the model of display is LP133WX3-TLA1, an LG Philips display. The product guide on their site does not have this model number, but all of the other displays they offer for portable machines are 6bit.

In a machine labeled a “MacBook Pro,” you’d think they’d cater to, well I don’t know, professionals?

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