Apple's new Mac Studio Display has me yearning for a Surface Studio monitor

Surface Studio 2
Surface Studio 2 (Image credit: 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 (opens in new tab) 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 Display

Source: Apple (Image credit: Source: 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.

Zac Bowden
Senior Editor

Zac Bowden is a Senior Editor at Windows Central. Bringing you exclusive coverage into the world of Windows 10 on PCs, tablets, phones, and more. Also an avid collector of rare Microsoft prototype devices! Keep in touch on Twitter: @zacbowden.

  • Zac, I strongly agree with your conclusion on resolution, but via slightly different reasoning. When I was younger, I too resented the "wasted" space on a monitor if I could see the pixels, but now that I'm older, my eyes aren't quite good enough for that anymore. However, because I prefer to fit several windows on my screen at a time, I want the text to be as small as it can be while still easily readable. And for that, my eyes are still plenty good enough to be able see the HUGE difference between text quality at 100% scaling factor vs. 125% or 150% or 200% scaling factor. This is because the actual rendering of the fonts changes significantly by the Windows font engine. At 100% scale factor, fonts look terrible. Even if you can't see any of the pixels, serifed fonts are missing parts of their serifs. Even sans serif fonts often have incorrect spacing and shapes. They are all effectively blurred in order to be crammed into that lower resolution. At 125%, things are much better, but still not perfect. By 150%, things are generally correct for normal sized fonts, with diminishing returns at higher scale factors. But if the screen resolution is 4k, at 150% or higher, you're really reducing how much fits on the screen. For a 15" laptop, I think 4k is fine. But absolutely, when you get to that 27" - 32" or larger (I use a 40" 4k screen as my main monitor), sharp fonts means giant, space-wasting windows. Every month or quarter, I look to see if 5k or higher resolution monitors are available at mainstream prices, and keep being disappointed. I recall when Apple originally launched their 30" 2560x1600 Cinema display, which then prompted some Windows equivalents, that was a great breakthrough (I still use one of those in portrait mode as a secondary monitor). I hope Dell and other PC monitor makers copy Apple here again. But absolutely, the best option would be a Surface touch-and pen-supporting monitor with a great 16:10 or 3:2 aspect ratio at 5K+ with 120Hz+ display and that tiltability of the Surface Studio. Personally, I'd like another 40" model, but even 30" would be a huge jump forward from what we have today. I'd be willing to pay a fair amount for that, not multiple thousands of dollars, but at least $1,000.
  • In this article the author claims that the new Studio Display is a 4K monitor. I understand why that wouldn't be ideal and it's why I ended up with the 5K LG 27". HOWEVER - the Studio Display isn't 4K, it's a 5K monitor. From the specs: 5K Retina display
    27-inch (diagonal) 5K Retina display
    5120-by-2880 resolution at 218 pixels per inch
  • Oh sorry, I totally mis-read the article. Please ignore haha.
  • We should all stop looking aspirationally at anything Apple does. Their products seldom deserve it.
  • I doubt that, not a big fan of Apple product pricing, but greatly appreciate how they push boundaries and by George, they have helped me enjoy the world of PC by lighting the fire under these lazy PC OEMs and for most part they have responded.
    It would be awesome if they can lead rather than follow most of the time.
  • As noted in my comment above, Apple really created the 2560x1600, 16:10 standard and, back then, the need for double data DVI digital connections, because current video cards and cables couldn't handle such a high resolution. I'm sure the resolution existed before (Apple rarely creates from scratch), but Apple absolutely deservers credit for it going mainstream. Same with in-glass multitouch touch systems. That's all to Apple's credit. That doesn't mean Apple's the only source of innovation -- I'd say MS has done a lot more than Apple, but Apple definitely has some high points.
  • As opposed to who? Most of these companies are iterative or copycats.
  • Did you just not like the LG 27" 16:9 5K monitor? Do you really need the OS to adjust display settings? Isn't your graphics chip a bottleneck regarding potential resolution? What a weird article.
  • Graphics cards can generally handle much higher end resolutions than are available on physical displays. Any decent graphics card can drive 8k, but hard to a find an 8k monitor for under several thousand dollars. And for me, like Zac, 16:9 is not a good aspect ratio. It's for watching movies, not for doing computer work. My current main monitor is 16:9, but it's 40", so it still has a pretty good vertical. But at only 4k resolution, it's not a great experience.
  • I'm sensitive to resolution because I'm a pen user (for tablet experiences) and heavy dataset-peeker (lots of data or statistical analysis dumped into Excel), but it sounds like yourself and Zac are in a league of your own. OK, I respect that.
  • I never thought of myself that way, but I suppose I must be in the minority, or there would be more 3:2 and 16:10 ultra high resolution monitors. :-) Or maybe it's just that technology isn't there and none of us are willing to pay $3k for the bleeding edge stuff. One of the main reasons 16:9 is so popular for computer and laptop monitors is because it's cheaper to make due to higher volumes, because they follows the TV manufacturing.
  • IMO 16:9 isn't bad on Desktop monitors since you get much vertical space anyways, especially for 32 inches, heck some don't even like it and go with 27 inch due to finding it too high for them. This is why there is more people will take 34 inch ultrawide than 40 inches 16:9 since it introduce more neck strain depending on your posture, it affects ergonomics. For mobile devices like laptops and tablets, 3:2 is great since vertical space is useful for most productivity apps all while not making the devices larger. I also find snapping on 3:2 for desktop would be non-beneficial for snapping apps since it ends up having apps to be narrow. 16:9 or even 16:10 at least gives you wide enough width for apps when snapped side by side.
  • The UltraFine from LG never used to work properly with Windows. I understand it works much better these days, but it's still a pretty ugly monitor when you compare it to the Surface Studio or Apple Studio displays.
  • Personally, I'm not looking at the bezels when I'm on my PC. But YMMV, I get it.
  • I've always wondered if you would be happier using Apple products, Zac. I don't mean that as an insult... it's just you seem to be mostly focused on the stuff that they do well (polish, UI/UX, aesthetics).
  • What about Surface Monitor? I remember reading your 2021 predictions that Surface Monitor would come though it wasn't certain but your 2022 predictions mentioned only Surface Studio 3, not Monitor. Are these same devices or is Monitor cancelled?
  • I agree Zac, I'm still very happy with my surface book 2 display with 3000x2000 pixels at 13 inch, and my 27 inch 4k screen disappoints me every time I look at it again after using my surface book. Touch isn't important to me at all, and therefor the studio-mode (push the screen flat on the table) isn't needed either. But all the other things you mention... yasss pleeeease!
  • How about something like the Mac Studio desktop to go with it?
  • If I was paying that much for a PC I would want it to be upgradeable, to support GPUs, have multiple display ports, and not look like a block of aluminum. Did you mean the Apple Mac Pro instead? If so, I agree. A Desktop Surface Pro computer is something I'd jump at.
  • I would buy the Studio if it had an "HDMI 2.1 in" port or two, and then just plug in my upgradable PC into the monitor and permanently ignore the underpowered guts within it. PCs built into monitors are a waste. I wish the screen was sold separately as well. I just prey that they would do something so unnecessary as only put Display ports on it. I understand that GPU makers get a profit from every single display port license they sell, but why should Microsoft support that over a more ubiquitous and versatile plug that will work with more devices?
  • DisplayPort is actually an open and free license. HDMI requires a fee be paid to the HDMI consortium. You have these specifications backwards.
  • Even so, it does seem that HDMI is the more widely supported standard. Many laptops come with HDMI. It's rare these days to still find one with DisplayPort. Plus, if using audio or trying to play UHD discs, do those require HDMI? Definitely if running through a sound system, maybe not if only connecting PC -> monitor (I'm not sure). I think there may be a few of these non-technical limitations placed on DisplayPort if being used for anything other than a straight video signal. Of course the real standard that's gaining ground and seems to be replacing both of these on laptops appears to be USB C and Thunderbolt.
  • "this is a high-class IPS panel that I wish existed for PCs." It does exist for PC. Just by the Apple monitor and hook it up to a PC!
  • Yeah, I might do that. But to Zac's point, that won't support touch and pen, like the Studio display would if it carried over its features from the Studio PC.
  • Unfortunately it's not that easy as some functionality way not work as intended for non-Mac machines. Also it already exist on PC's, you just have to pay premium for professional-grade monitors meant for graphic artist and media. Only problem is most of them are 16:9 still.
  • We've heard user requests and rumors of a Surface Display for years. Microsoft has established itself as a follower these days, so it makes sense Apple would beat them to market. They ended up behind Samsung in folding phones. Most of their gaming progress in the past 5 years has been buying the ideas of others and rebooting old franchises, rather then developing their own, new ideas. It's been a while for Microsoft, in terms of innovation. The original Surface Studio is probably the last time they made a splash with something truly unique. Now a Surface Monitor will be another "we can make that too" product, rather than the breakthrough device it could have been years ago.
  • I think there's a lot of truth to your point that MS doesn't seem to be trying very hard to push the envelope in the consumer space. However, on folding phones in particular, while Samsung was first to market, the first leaks we heard of a folding phone came from MS, years before the Samsung fold was announced (going back to the Courier concepts). That doesn't mean they were working on it first, but it probably means that it least, as far as they knew, it was a new innovation when they started on it.
  • If you ignore all the dual screen folding phones that came before. Are you serious? Kyocera released the Duo in 2012 and none of you cared because it didn’t have a Microsoft logo. Stop equating dual screens with folding screens. They aren’t the same at all. One is a technological advancement and the other is a failed gimmick from a decade ago.
  • bleached, you know that's not remotely the same thing. 2 separate screens that have near-zero integration into the OS is not a comparable device. The Duo is the best multitasking device for Android. Even its honest critics who prefer the Fold for other reasons generally agree that for multitasking Duo is the king. Those older 2 screen devices provide a disjointed experience at best and are not designed around multitasking, nor do the provide fantastic dedicated dual screen experiences with many of the most popular apps on the planet, like Outlook and OneNote.
  • Does price not mean anything to folks anymore? Granted, mine are NOT the greatest screens on earth, but I have two Samsung U32J59 32" 4k monitors ($299 on Amazon) attached to my OWC Thunderbolt 4 Dock ($279) and driven by my Surface Pro 8. Text in Word and Excel looks laser printed (to my old eyes), lots of extra ports on the dock - all for $877 - barely more than HALF the price of the single Mac Studio Display at 27" 5k. Of course, I'm not a "creative" so color fidelity is not in my vernacular, but from a productivity standpoint this drooling over 5k+ displays is just getting out of hand.
  • I think you make a great point on the value side of this. That said, for me, because I expect a good monitor to last across multiple generations of computers, I'm will to pay a modest premium for a good, large, high resolution display (see my earlier post). I want to fit as much information as I can clearly read on my screen, and want the fonts to still be sharp, which requires running at a minimum of 125% scale factor in Settings, 150% is noticeably better. Problem for me is that at 4k and 150%, that really limits how much fits on the screen. I would love to be able to get an 8k 40" or 5-7k 32" model. I think many people who like to fit a lot on their screen just run at 100%. That's an aesthetic crime. :-) Fonts look objectively terrible at 100%. I say 'objectively', because Windows literally leaves parts of the characters out at normal font sizes at 100%. Most strokes for lines in fonts at 100% are only 1 pixel thick, which obviously prevents any variability in stroke width. The fonts don't display as they were designed to appear. I think 4k maxes out as ideal at about 22 - 24" for a desktop screen. Below that size, my eyes won't notice the difference for a desktop screen (different for laptop screens, because I generally sit closer to my laptop screen than my desktop screen, so 4k maxes out for laptops at about a 17" laptop screen).
  • I understand your point. Unfortunately I come from a generation that started on 80 character green screens, thought we’d found paradise with VGA, and were feasting our eyes with 1080p. Anything with a “k” and we thought we’d died and gone to heaven!
  • Times do change. I remember CGA screens with pixels the size of crayons tips. Now I can't use laptops with sub-250 dpi screens after using Surface Pro tablets for a few years. Jagged text is something I can't unsee.
  • dstrauss, you're taking me back to the glory days! I remember starting on a TRS-80 when I was a little kid with its dedicated gray screen, then an Apple ][+ on a TV, that could barely handle 40 character width (TV resolution too fuzzy for anything more than that, and even so, I couldn't tell the 8's from the B's -- a real problem when programming in machine code with so much hex). Some of my friends had Apples with green screens, but I was so happy when I finally got a dedicated monitor to handle 80 characters wide. But mine was amber. I always liked that better than the green screens (to this day, when I play Fallout, I set my Pipboy to amber, ha!) For me, from then until a few years ago, when my eyesight was no longer good enough to see each pixel, I always pursued resolution and fitting as much as possible on the screen. Back in those Apple and 80 character-wide displays, I don't recall the name, maybe Ultraterm?, my board could go up to 160 characters wide and 50 rows, instead of 24 or 25. When I was working in Pascal or C, back in those days with all of that on my little 13" amber monitor, I felt like I was the king of the world!
  • This is a windows site, stop doing crapple articles or change the name of the site. I can't stand Apple so I don't visit Apple sites and shouldn't have it forced on me on a Windows site. Windows Central has gone downhill in the last few years. Feels like a sell-out site now.
  • I've also wanted Microsoft to release the Microsoft Studio monitor as a stand-alone product. As a longtime fellow PC enthusiast, I've occasionally wondered if I could be more creatively inspired if I used a shiny new Mac. There's no getting away from the fact that Apple's latest silicon, although very expensive, is blowing a lot of PC hardware out of the water. Besides regularly playing games like Apex Legends on the PC (in my case), what keeps you Windows users from switching to Mac? Or do you use both? I'm 53 and have been a PC `enthusiast' and builder since the Windows XP days. However, sometimes I wonder if one can be too loyal or stubborn for one's own good. As an English teacher in Japan, I'm currently window-shopping for a 5G laptop for use in the classroom. I always like to be in the Windows environment to talk about Windows with anyone. (I currently like the HP Spectre 360 with 5G). However, again, the iPad is probably one of the better options for the classroom. Other than blogging about Windows all the time, what stops you guys from switching to or using Mac?
  • Well, for a start the countless options you have when choosing a Windows computer. Countless. Whatever you need, whatever your budget might be, you will find it. If you want a Mac... well, you know how many years Apple took to release the new Mac Pro (I skip the trash can one, a bad joke, they even apologised for having perpetrated the atrocity), and a what price. Only the wheels 700 euros. They took also years to update the Mac Mini, I know people that switched to Windows because they didn't want to buy that outdated (at that time) Mac Mini. I have a few colleagues that got a shiny MacBook Pro each, with the stratospheric M1. Well, now they use two computers, the new one and the old one, because some versions of software they need don't work and will never work on arm. I can run anything on my Windows, anything. With Apple, you are always at their mercy.
  • I wonder whether Microsoft could possibly create a Surface Studio monitor and desktop separately, allowing you to attach the monitor to the desktop computer to create basically what we have now or to use the monitor separately with any computer. That would also alleviate some of the upgrade issues, allowing people to buy a new Surface Studio desktop PC and pair it with the monitor they already have from a previous model. Sorry if that has already been mentioned but I didn't read the article or comments in detail.
  • "Microsoft still sells the Surface Studio 2 at full price," It has been "Out of stock" for months on end now. If you want to buy one, you have to search for it by now.
    The ones you can find from profound retailers have at least 200 bucks discount.
  • Personally considering the price I thought the new studio display was just absurd.
    I'm just not one of those people that says "Shut up and take my money" when something new and shiny comes out.
    $1300 for an edge lit LED display in 2022?
    Only Apple can get away with suckering people into that crap.
  • $1300 is not that much for a 5K LED display. There are 4K LCD monitors going for more than that.
  • A human eye with perfect vision can see 0.4 arc-minutes of detail. If you assume your monitor is arms distance (e.g. about 30"), then compute 1/(30*tan(0.4/60)), which equals 286 pixels/inch. 4K on a 27" monitor is below this (163 pixels/inch). The average eye can see about 1 arc-minute. That translates to 115 pixels/inch. 4k on 27" is fine for most. My eyes are shot. 2k on 27" (109 pixels/inch) is fine for me.
  • Yeah I'd go with the LG, the one with the user removable power cord