Surface Studio 2Source: Windows Central

Yesterday, Apple unveiled a handful of new products, including a new Mac mini (Mac Pro mini?) that's packing some serious power. Dubbed the Mac Studio, it's a desktop Mac designed for professionals, housed in a super compact form factor. It's pretty great looking, but that's not what stood out to me as a tech enthusiast.

The one product that Apple did announce yesterday that has caught my attention is the new Apple Studio Display announced alongside the Mac Studio. This is a 27-inch 5K Thunderbolt display, and it's drop-dead gorgeous. Available with anti-reflective and nanotextured glass, this is a high-class IPS panel that I wish existed for PCs.

I've been looking for a display of this calibre in the PC space since Microsoft first unveiled the Surface Studio back in 2016. To this day, the Surface Studio's display is one of the best displays in the PC space, and is likely the sharpest at its screen size. At 28 inches, it has a PPI (pixels per inch) of 192, blowing most 4K 27-inch and 32-inch displays out of the water from a sharpness perspective.

The reason I make that comparison is because that's basically all that's available in the PC space so far. There are plenty of 4K monitors at various screen sizes, but nothing really in the 5K resolution space, and there's definitely nothing with 5K resolution and a 16:10 or 3:2 screen resolution, even more so if you throw in touch.

So, the Surface Studio display remains unique in this market. It's the sharpest in the Windows PC space at this size, has the best aspect ratio of 3:2, with a sleek design, and includes touch. It's the whole package, and the Apple Studio Display is the first monitor in a long while that even comes close, which has reminded me how much I wish Microsoft would just make a Surface Studio monitor.

I love my Surface Studio 2, but Microsoft has been terrible about updating it on a frequent basis. Microsoft still sells the Surface Studio 2 at full price, with an anemic 7th-gen laptop processor paired with NVIDIA 10XX series GPUs. These aren't flagship specs in 2022, which is why I wish I could just take the Surface Studio's display and use it on something else.

Above all else, I want a monitor that matches or beats the Surface Studio's PPI, and the Apple Studio Display does with a PPI of 217. Even with a 16:9 panel and no touch, I'd be willing to make that sacrifice for a 217 PPI at 27-inches, which is firmly in "retina" territory, just like the Surface Studio's 28-inch display at 192 PPI.

4K resolution is not enough

Apple Studio DisplaySource: Apple

For those of you who may not understand what I'm talking about, and think a 4K display at 27 inches or 32 inches should be more than enough, let me try to explain. 4K at those screen sizes is not enough to achieve a "retina" level of sharpness. This means with a display of that size and resolution, you'll still be able to see pixels when sitting at a normal distance from the monitor.

When I test-drove the HP Envy 32 last year, the one thing that stopped me from keeping it full time was the display. It's a beautiful 4K 32-inch panel, but it just wasn't as sharp as my 28-inch Surface Studio. When having them side-by-side, the Surface Studio's display was just better to look at. Text was smoother, rounded corners were nicer, and the glossy finish made colors punch much more than they did on the Envy 32.

A 4K panel at 27 inches has a PPI of 163, which is just not dense enough to ensure you can't see pixels at a normal working distance. As I'm writing this, I'm starting to realise how much of a PPI snob I really am, but once you've tasted greatness at 192 PPI or above, you just can't go back.

Now, I fully understand that for most people, 4K at 27 inches or 32 inches is more than enough. Most of you likely don't notice that you can see pixels at those screen sizes and resolution, which is perfectly fine, but that doesn't mean it's not a thing. Apple users are all over this, and there are countless forums online from Apple customers looking for "retina" quality monitors and coming up blank because there just weren't any.

There's a reason why Apple's recent displays have all been in the 5K territory, and that's because this is the resolution required to achieve "retina" sharpness, which does matter. And I'm shocked the high-end premium PC monitor industry hasn't adopted this yet.

So, with Apple's Studio Display now a thing, have my dreams been answered? Partly. Unfortunately, I suspect the Apple Studio Display will be only partially compatible with Windows PCs. While I'm sure it'll display something if you plug in a Windows PC, things like the built-in webcam, auto brightness, and the ability to manually adjust display settings won't work.

Apple's XDR Display has a similar problem. You can plug it into a Windows PC, but oftentimes you won't get the full resolution, or if you do, you won't be able to control the display's settings such as brightness. This is the case with the LG UltraFine 5K too. It's a shame, and it's why I wish Microsoft would just make a Surface Studio monitor for the PC space.

A Surface Studio monitor doesn't even need to include touch. All it needs to do is ship with a PPI of 192 or above in the 3:2 aspect ratio. That's it! Sure, touch would be nice, as would a stand that lets it lay down in studio mode, but that's extra niceties, and at this point, beggars can't be choosers.

My dream Surface Studio monitor would basically consist of the following:

  • 28-inch or 30-inch display size
  • 3:2 aspect ratio
  • 192 PPI or higher
  • Touch + Pen (should be optional)
  • Stand that lets it move into studio mode (optional)
  • 120Hz

I'd be willing to put down serious money for a display of this calibur.

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