Why Apple’s Expensive Monitor Is Worth It

Why Apple’s Expensive Monitor Is Worth It

You might not be considering dropping the cash for this thing, but the target customer might.

If you’re out of the loop, Apple announced a brand new Mac Pro. It’s an overdue replacement for the previous trash can model, and I think Apple is getting back to their Mac Pro roots. It’s more cheese grater than ever.

In addition, we’re finally getting an update to the old Cinema Display that many loved. For the past couple years, Apple stopped selling these and instead touted LG’s 5K display. The latest Pro Display XDR offering is as in-house Apple as it gets, even down to the eye-watering price. The new 10-bit 6K monitor will cost $4,999, or for $1,000 more, you can get fancy new reflection-phobic glass.

If Apple's monitor is as good as they say it is, then it competes with the best. These are comparable Flanders Scientific reference monitors.

Your Display Isn’t This Display

I’ve said for a few years now that HDR is the future. When Apple debuted the iPhone X, nearly all of the lauded features pertained to watching HDR content. Netflix is behind it, HBO dropped the ball on it with Game of Thrones, and content producers need to get on board.

Unfortunately, reference monitors aren’t all the same, and newer standards like HDR10 and Dolby Vision can only be achieved with a certain class of display. That wouldn’t be a problem if these things were cheap, but an industry standard Flanders Scientific monitor will seriously set you back, and you'll want it to last years. A Flanders that’s comparable to Apple’s Pro Display XDR would cost $35,000 and would be 4K instead of 6K.

A side note here that I prefer a true 16x9 4K reference monitor so there’s no upscaling from a 4K signal. Still, 6K is impressive and will be amazing for photographers.

The Competition

Two years ago, I reviewed Atomos’ Sumo monitor/recorder, a wonderful piece of kit that gave me hope for the future of HDR. It had a 10-bit FRC, 1,200 nit display and all the bells and whistles you could need on set: focus peaking, waveforms, the lot. The display-only version costs about $1,300 right now.

However, it’s not true 10-bit. It’s 8+2-bit. Here’s a brief explanation of that. While some might not notice the difference, Atomos certainly have. That’s why they’ve released all new 10-bit HDR monitors that directly compete with their Sumo, the Atomos NEON.

If we were to pick the new Atomos NEON monitor that matched Apple’s Pro Display the best, it would be the 31” model. This monitor comes in at $7,999. Granted, Atomos packs this monitor with way more I/O, a 4K 10-bit recorder, waveforms, LUTS, and even an accompanying app. But I hope you still see what the asking price for a good HDR monitor is.

Atomos' new NEON line up is a competitor with Apple's Pro Display XDR, although they are so much more than just a display.


Now I don’t think that Apple’s Pro Display really matches exactly to a Flanders or Sony reference monitor. You don’t get built-in scopes, LUT control, or any features that might help on set. They also say that the Pro Display “produces an industry-leading 1,000 nits,” which is and isn’t true. That 1,000-nit $35k Flanders monitor I mentioned earlier has a $45k bigger brother, which peaks at 3,000 nits.

I’m being extremely nit-picky here though, because that Flanders monitor can only display the 3,000 nit image at a 20% scale. So, you’re only getting a small fraction of usable screen. This won’t happen with Apple’s monitor.

What also won’t happen with the Pro Display is full performance when it’s warm. Apple is claiming that it’ll sustain at 1,000 nits and have a peak of 1600 nits. That brighter ability won’t kick in if the monitor is over 25 °C. Interesting that they’d dish out a temperature in Celsius on their US website. That’s 77 °F, so comfortably above room temperature. This isn’t a particularly jarring issue, I feel, but I’ll bet people will complain about it and compare it to the MacBook Pro’s i9 chip overheating.

The lack of HDMI or SDI sets the Pro Display aside from other reference monitors, and it irks me. This is designed to be plugged into a Mac computer.

Industry Adoption

Apple makes a bold point here. They think that if everybody buys these monitors and they overtake the existing industry standard, then the industry will be better off. They’re totally right, in the sense that a colorist or retoucher knows that they’re looking at the same monitor that was used on set.

If industry juggernauts start advertising their tools with the Pro Display, then there’s even more reason to buy it. I’m talking about color calibration tools like Spyder, waveform display apps like Scopebox, and editing apps from Davinci Resolve and Lightroom (who have both already been mentioned in Apple’s keynote).

Also, I know it’s petty, but most of us like when a client recognizes and appreciates our tools, from a particular lens to a type of light. Does a client always know the difference between a softbox and a parabolic? No, but they might know the difference in quality. I’m sure we’ll be seeing these displays in high-end studios soon, and I’m sure that some of the appeal will be the client seeing a brand they know and trust.

Pros have called on Apple to provide updated gear for years, and it’s finally happened. I’m going to brush off the comments that they’ve missed the mark here. Although, I just can’t get behind a $1,000 monitor stand.

What do you think? Will you be saving up or renting one for a few days? Or do the likes of Atomos, Flanders Scientific, and Sony seem more reputable to you?

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Previous comments
Lee Christiansen's picture

Interesting how we can have a review on how the monitor is worth the money when none of us have actually been able to fully test or use it yet.

Interestingly when I spoke to Eizo in depth when their head sales chap came to my office so I could demo a CG319X, (bought it straight away...) he explained that its ppi of 149 is visually almost identical to a printed 300dpi due to print and screen differences of image delivery.

I'm wondering how much we need 6K on a 32" monitor?

Forgetting contrast ratios, (which to be honest can be slewed with high brightness capability) I'd be interested of performance at low brightness levels (to get closer to paper reflectivity) or potential glows in the corners that some monitors suffer, or how smooth the tonal response is, (again which some higher end monitors are not good at).

It may be truly wonderful and so so then great stuff, (even if we do have to sell a lens just to put it on the stand...) But let's hold our breath until we've actually had it to test properly.

Stuart Carver's picture

My humble opinion, all I have seen is articles about this screen and the Mac Pro... it seems the whole world has failed to notice they are now allowing network drive access from the files app on iPad (think editing on the fly and uploads to social media with greater ease). Also failed to notice that the sidecar app coming to iPad will allow 2nd screen on a Mac so you can use editing tools with the Apple Pencil seamlessly.

Jeremiah Fulbright's picture

For $5k.. I can find plenty of things that are worth more, like amazing glass.

Daniel Sandvik's picture

I can't see why people can honestly support Apple's pricing of their products.

Daniel Medley's picture


This is correct. $999 extra for the needed stand is everything that is wrong with Apple today.

Again, catalog this in the people with more money than sense column.

For a very select part of the market, this is indeed a bargain. For those customers who would normally spend 30-50k on a reference monitor. For everyone else, this is probably far too expensive.
The Mac Pro in the rather shitty base configuration is good for nobody with a working mind. Knowing Apple, a bit specced up version will probably cost more than 15-20k and this makes is also far too expensive for most photographers and most small video firms.
The large studios with millions in equipment will of course spend 50k without a problem it is suits their needs.

Jon Wolding's picture

1. Who's grading at full brightness? Eye fatigue is a thing. Dark room and medium/low brightness.
2. No scopes on the Apple monitor.

"I’m talking about color calibration tools like Spyder"

calaveras grande's picture

I've worked in broadcast and post. Never seen a production monitor that only came with USB C ports.
Most come with SDI, HDMI, Displayport, maybe component and more HDMI.
But in Apple's universe, you are only plugging it into their computers, using their software and streaming to iDevices.

At least the article mentions the lack of LUTs, scopes (and LUFS meters).
This is just very expensive prosumer.