Hither and Dither

May 18th, 2007

Update, 2007-05-21: Regarding the technical accuracy and thrust of this post, read this clarification. (This notice is repeated at the bottom of the post, for completeness.)

I was going to wait posting this until after my MacBook came back – latest estimate: Wednesday – to see how they would fix this one itching problem for me. This however caught my eye: Apple’s using 6-bit displays. Apple’s using displays that are literally dithering some colors for you.

From early day one – literally seconds after the setup assistant had turned over control to the regular Mac OS X, I noticed that the gradient in the menu bar was… notchy. One color did not turn into the other like on any other display. There was banding. Gradients of all sorts looked weird, and I was able to bring up colors in the color panel – light grey colors are perfect for showing it off – that in fact looked like a chess field with two alternating colors.

I investigated everything. I tried investigative searches on the intertubes; I tried to enable and disable every possible ColorSync option; I tried literally dozens of calibration profiles; I tried booting up into installation discs, some that should have been in my hands, some not so much; I waited in anticipation at startup after every minor revision to see if some sort of embarassing bug was fixed; I tried attaching their nickle-and-diming mini-DVI-to-VGA adapter to another monitor to ensure that the graphics card was not at fault; and I even filed it as one of my three complaints (joining right fan failure and a yellowed topcase) when the thing went off to the shop earlier this week. Until the dead right fan hit me last week, I avoided actually turning the computer in since I use it all the time, I thought it was a loose panel cable and I didn’t want to pay $80 in labor to be told it was; I also didn’t want to void my one-year warranty by checking myself. But it bugged me. Boy, it haunted me.

The new MacBook released this week still has two separate RAM modules where one would do, still has built-in GFX (which is now actually also a generation behind) and stays as far away as is possible from the new generation of processors (Santa Rosa) Intel just introduced. I’m not sure if they’re pulling the same joke with the display panels.

Listen, Apple. This is not a good week for your reputation. Dell manages to include perfectly usable display panels with their $400 crap. Dell! I am demanding nothing less than free replacements of MacBook displays. We’re your customers, your consumers, your users, your developers, your base. We don’t deserve this crap. We don’t deserve being sold crippleware.

Steve Jobs once said that “a great carpenter isn’t going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody’s going to see it.” How does he explain this? What more on the computer do you possibly see?

For shame, Apple. For fucking shame.

Postscript: There’s a web site about this problem. It’s informative. It explains that it also affects MacBook Pro models, which is even worse. (It also refers to this as “another of Apple’s dirty secrets” – I’d like to add to that that this is worse. It’s normal for batteries to expire if you suck at maintaining them – on the other hand, Apple were advertising that the screens can display millions of colors, and they can’t.)

Update: Scott Stevenson notes that I shouldn’t necessarily assume that the problem is Apple’s intention – that the problem may be manifested through the glossy layer or sheer bad displays, and I agree with him. Even if that’s the case, though, that doesn’t put Apple off the hook. There are people buying the affected models and then buying things like Color (from Apple itself) expecting complete acuity, as you would from any display today. Even if by some freak of nature we mere mortals deserve to keep this glitch, should they sit down and take it?

Update, 2007-05-21: Regarding the technical accuracy and thrust of this post, read this clarification.