New iPad Beats HDTV Resolution by 50 Percent
Photos May Be the Killer App, But Hi-Res Video, Drawing Tools May Come in Handy on Set
It looks like 2012 will be the year that consumer electronics make the first serious jump beyond HD resolution. Consumers are about to get a higher-resolution screen than has yet been seen in technology for the home, and it's not going to be because manufacturers of PC displays or HDTVs pushed the bar upward. No, the new benchmark for screen resolution on a portable device has been set by the new Apple iPad. Due March 16, it delivers a full 2048×1536 pixels in about 10 inches of screen space — as the company noted at the launch event earlier today, that's not just an eye-popping 264 pixels per inch, but also "one million more pixels than HDTV." (1920×1080 HD has 2.07 million pixels, while the iPad boasts 3.15 million.)
It's certainly an improvement over the iPad 2's 1024×768 pixel screen (132 pixels per inch). That's good news for anyone who just wants to watch Iron Man on the plane, but it could be even better news for anyone using the iPad to view production dailies. It's still a smallish screen, but more pixels should mean more opportunity to see what you're really getting in camera before you strike the set. Apple says color saturation has been improved by more than 40 percent, which might help when the screen is being viewed under less-than-ideal lighting conditions. An A5X chip with quad-core graphics is under the hood, pushing all those pixels around. Does this mean every director with an iPad will be watching dailies at 2K resolution in six months' time? Maybe not, but it seems like a good bet that 1080p will become the standard for playback on the iPad.
A screen with this pixel density on the iPhone and iPad is known as a "retina screen," because the human eye is said to be incapable of distinguishing individual pixels on the screen under normal usage conditions. (The assumed distance for the iPhone is 10 inches, while the iPad is expected to be held at a distance of about 15 inches.) The added resolution should be nice for video, but Apple really seemed to be touting its advantages for other applications, like viewing photos. Extra pixels will likely make the iPad a more satisfactory platform for drawing, too. Autodesk was on hand today, showing SketchBook Ink, a new iOS-only line-art app for iOS that can import paintings from SketchBook Pro (used for concepting, storyboarding and previs) and apparently exports images at resolutions over 100 megapixels.
It also shoots stills at up to 5 megapixels and video at 1080p, if you're into that sort of thing.
The new iPad will also feature 4G LTE wireless capability, a big step up from current HSPA (high-speed packet access) technology — it will run at (a theoretical) 73 Mbps on LTE networks from Verizon, Rogers, Bell, Telus and AT&T, Apple said. Different units will be required to utilize the AT&T and Verizon networks, but all models will support 3D roaming internationally — good news if you plan to take one of these on location outside the U.S.
There you have it: faster data service, higher resolution, more powerful processing, and the same price and battery life as previous incarnations. In fact, Apple is keeping the previous-generation 16 GB iPad 2 on the market for the time being with a $100 price cut. Today's news was not necessarily revolutionary, but the iPad's a hit product and there's nothing to dislike here.
Apple also made another pitch to movie fans today, introducing a new $99 Apple TV that takes picture resolution up to 1080p and uses Apple's iCloud service to deliver movies to multiple devices for authorized viewing by paying customers. Some will no doubt grouse that the system works with Apple devices only, unlike such competetive technologies as Digital Copy and Ultraviolet, but it's still a big step in the right direction — if content owners expect to compete with piracy, content needs to become easier to use in more and more places. (And no more asking users to pay twice for media in order to use it on a different category of device. That dog stopped hunting years ago.)