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Hither and Dither

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.

Comments

  1. [...] Jesper: [...]

    By Michael Tsai - Blog - Apple’s 6-bit Displays · 2007.05.18 21:25

  2. This is pretty outrageous. I always thought the display on my Macbook Pro was sub-par, and had a very grainy look to it. Using the method shown on that web site, I was able to deduce that my screen is one of the affected models (B154PW01 V0) and is only able to display 262k colours. Apple better do the right thing and offer to replace these screens.

    By pblair · 2007.05.18 22:14

  3. Ever since I bought my 17-inch MacBook Pro last June I’ve been complaining that the screen looks SIGNIFICANTLY worse than my 23-inch Cinema Display, but I always assumed it was normal.

    Then I spent some time today because of this looking up the specs of my MBP and sure enough, my display is only capable of showing 262k colors. Looks like I might need to join this lawsuit.

    How annoying.

    By Garrett Murray · 2007.05.19 00:10

  4. This is highly disappointing. I’ve often felt that gradients and dark photos looked like crap on my MBP. I even remember running to System Preferences > Displays to check to see whether I was running in Millions of Colors or Thousands. It said millions, but I didn’t know how that could be given the banding I was seeing in a particular gradient.

    This certainly explains it. This cannot be good for Apple given the number of MBPs and MBs they must have sold with 6-bit displays.

    By http://kyle.rove.myopenid.com/ · 2007.05.19 04:20

  5. Is this the usual fare in other laptops by other manufacturers?

    Can anyone confirm this in a Dell, Sony, or anything else?

    By nathan · 2007.05.20 01:26

  6. My MacBook (C2D) seems perfectly fine, though using my friend’s MacBook (CD) today it was noticeably dithered. I wonder if this is just a CD problem or if it’s simply the luck of the draw as to which sort of monitor you get.

    By http://openid.aol.com/pilkycrc · 2007.05.21 01:32

  7. This is extremely frustrating. I certainly didn’t pay $2500 for a MacBook Pro with a gimpy 6bit display. Apple, this is almost entirely inconceivable given your TARGET AUDIENCE OF DESIGNERS. I will most definitely await a response on this matter.

    By http://openid.aol.com/drdist0rt · 2007.05.21 01:45

  8. You’re misinformed if you think notebooks from any other vendor have 8-bit screens. None of the major panel manufacturers make 8-bit screens in 13.3″ and 15.4″ sizes. None of them. Every laptop in the world with those screen sizes uses 6-bit color. The only reason you’ve noticed this more on Macs versus Dells is because OS X uses gradients more than XP, and because Apple users are more concerned about small details like this.

    I defy you to find any manufacturer of flat panel notebook screens at these sizes that uses full 8-bit color. Here are links to most of the major vendors: http://samsung.com/Products/TFTLCD/common/productlist.aspx?familycd=LCD02 http://www.lgphilips-lcd.com/homeContain/jsp/eng/prd/prd300je.jsp http://auo.com/auoDEV/products.php?sec=notebook&func=items&itemsid=2&ls=en http://www.cmo.com.tw/cmo/english/product/product02.jsp

    By http://openid.aol.com/wodgy777 · 2007.05.21 05:52

  9. BTW, your complaint about how the new Macbook “still has two separate RAM modules where one would do” is also misinformed. This configuration doubles memory bandwidth to the onboard graphics hardware. It was not done as a cost-cutting measure.

    By http://openid.aol.com/wodgy777 · 2007.05.21 06:00

  10. Well damn. That explains what I have been seeing for so long now. I thought it was just a mis-calibration. /sigh. I love my MBP 17″ as well, but damnit, I paid for nice blacks in photos and passable gradients. I’ll be hanging in the lawsuit as well.

    By http://openid.aol.com/revolvertheory · 2007.05.21 07:59

  11. Hi, I found this post via Daring Fireball.

    As far as I can tell, Apple notebooks have always been 6-bit displays. From my G3 iBook through to my MacBook Core Duo and MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo, the displays are very similar and have very similar narrow colour gamuts.

    I highly doubt that MacBooks or MacBook Pros with 8-bit screens exist, currently.

    They seem to be TN film panels with very narrow viewing angles — I actually think the “uneven backlight” issue that some users complain about is actually caused by the narrow TN film panel viewing angle.

    See here for a gamut comparison that I did using my Spyder2 and ColorSync: http://www.flickr.com/photos/dashingreverie/288479469/

    By comparison, an Apple Cinema Display has a colour gamut of approximately sRGB. I haven’t had a chance to test other PC notebook displays, but I suspect they will fare similarly to the Apple notebooks.

    Does anyone know if any 8-bit notebook LCDs even exist? I’ve never seen one before myself, so I’d be interested to hear if anybody has any info and reliable sources, and if they could please tell me which model and brand laptops offer these 8-bit screens. And LED-backlit 6-bit “wide gamut” screens don’t count — they’re still 6-bit!

    Information about the 6-bit notebook LCD panel issue is scant; I’ve looked before with little result. I’m very interested in the whole colour accuracy and gamut thing. The vast majority of LCD panels nowadays are TN film panels unfortunately, and the market is rapidly moving away from 8-bit panels. Even 24″ LCDs are starting to appear with TN panels, which is plain sad.

    I started a forum thread about this issue a few months ago, you can read it here: http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies.cfm?t=620983

    By gerry · 2007.05.21 11:51

  12. Oh my! That almost sounds like ‘Thousands’ of colours. I didn’t even think you could buy such stuff anymore. (Which was the last <24bit machine Apple shipped?)

    While I usually seem to have machines that come with all of the faults Apple ships, mine doesn’t seem to be affected by this problem.

    Good luck for your replacement. No matter who screwed this up, Apple sold you the machine and they should have engineered and tested it. If it doesn’t meet your reasonable expectations or even the published specs they should replace or repair it.

    By http://supersnowman.livejournal.com/ · 2007.05.21 13:17

  13. AFAIK this is absolutely normal. I have never had a laptop with an 8-bit display. I’ll start caring about this lawsuit when someone shows me Apple is doing anything that everyone else isn’t doing.

    By Ada · 2007.05.21 14:36

  14. [...] Jesper says, for shame, Apple. For fucking shame. And now the word is out everywhere: here, Daring [...]

    By Apple taking the heat it deserves. « GracefulFlavor · 2007.05.21 18:08

  15. Even if “6-bit displays” are normal, and in fact the same thing my PowerBook G4 has, that doesn’t explain two things:

    1. The MacBook display is noticeably – and I do mean noticeably – worse than the display of a PowerBook G4. From the sound of it, not every MacBook is affected, but the affected ones are plainly worse.

    2. Apple touted the MacBook not only as being able to provide 16 million colors – false advertising, in any case – but as showing “colors simply unavailable on any other laptop” – deceptive at best.

    There have always been two possible outcomes if you accept that the dithering or grainyness is not just a product of a deranged imagination:

    1. Apple’s using sub-par displays but advertising them, in normal fashion, as if they’re the best thing since sliced bread.

    2. Apple’s in fact using perfectly good displays, but there’s a widespread QA issue, meaning that lots of displays are broken or not hooked up right.

    Both of these options mean that I as a customer am justified in my anger, and that replacements could be in order if Apple wants to save face.

    And once more: I may be wrong in the particular technical spec. I don’t have my MacBook handy now, and I didn’t at the time of writing, to be able to check on it, or I would have. If I’m mischaracterising the technical specs of the display, I apologize, and I will correct it, but my point as such still stands, since the suckiness of the display compared to an 18 months older laptop from the same company is apparent and not just a placebo effect.

    By Jesper · 2007.05.21 19:03

  16. Your claim that your Macbook’s screen is noticeably inferior to your PowerBook G4′s screen is questionable. In what way, specifically is it inferior? I also owned a PowerBook G4 and have been thrilled with both the panels I’ve had on my Macbook (I’ve had two because the first had to be replaced due to freezing in cold weather). There is definitely minor variation in the dither algorithms between panel manufacturers, I’ll grant you that. My first panel had a bit more noticeable dither in unified toolbars, but the difference is extremely small. The new panel also has dither there; it is just a small bit more subtle. Most people would never notice it on either display.

    The fact remains, no notebooks with screens smaller than 17 inches have full 8 bit color. When manufacturers advertise “millions of colors” or “16 million colors” they mean the 16.2 million simulated colors produced by a standard dither. If Apple is claiming “16.7 million colors,” that would be false advertising, but I’ve seen no evidence they’ve made that specific claim.

    By http://openid.aol.com/wodgy777 · 2007.05.21 19:20

  17. Questionable?

    It is noticeably inferior. I’ve seen both of them. I’ve viewed them side-by-side. The menu bar, in specific, exemplifies a type of gradient where the MacBook’s display is way, way worse off than the PowerBook’s display.

    Note that I’m not saying that your MacBook display is worse than your PowerBook display. If this is a case of defective displays, you may have gotten a good one; if this is a case of Apple using many display models and not all of them being great, you may again have gotten a good one. But please don’t play my display’s defect off as not being there – it is there, and it wasn’t ever not there.

    By Jesper · 2007.05.21 20:16

  18. not sure how useful this comment would be, but anyways. after reading this and some other articles on this issue I found out that my MBP is also “affected” by this issue. in addition to a grainy gradient, I also have a darker border around the screen, approx. 1-2 in wide – it appeared in December after screen replacement (I had some light spots on the screen). I was so happy that I finally got my laptop back (after three weeks in repair), that I didn’t bother to make noise about the border. But this time I thought “what the heck”. So I called Apple today, explained them my issue, and they told me that apparently my screen has to be replaced and I need to send it in to Apple. I asked whether it can be done with local “authorized service provider” and got a positive response. So I went to my local service provider, showed them my display, said that I already had spoken to Apple about that, and they agreed to replace my display (again, duh!). So now I’m waiting for the replacement part to arrive, and, hopefully, I’ll have a better screen then. PS I have AppleCare for the laptop. I think, it justified its purchase!

    By http://alexmak.myopenid.com/ · 2007.05.21 20:27

  19. [...] waffle → Hither and Dither Interesting read – want to look closer at mine now… (tags: apple mac macbook) Posted in del.icio.us links. [...]

    By Motherduce - Daily Links links for 2007-05-22 « · 2007.05.22 01:21

  20. I noticed significant graininess and sparkling due to dithering on a Macbook Pro 15″ with matte display. After returning it for a glossy display model, the sparkling wasn’t as predominant. However, the image is still rather grainy. When comparing the display to other PC laptops, you have to keep in mind that OS X currently displays at 72 DPI, so your focus on text is closer than in Windows at the default 96 DPI. I do feel that the dithering on the MBP display is worse than on the HP laptops I use for work.

    By klapton · 2007.05.23 17:40

  21. so regarding comment #18 today I had my display replaced. now it’s: b154pw01v0 au optronics aap9c60

    which is still capable of only 262k colors, but boy, what a difference. it’s so much brighter, the angle is much better – I guess it’s 178º – and in general the picture is better. when using Color LCD’s gradient feature, the gradient is smoother than it was. I don’t work with pictures professionally, so even the previous display was OK, but now it’s better and I am happy.

    By http://alexmak.myopenid.com/ · 2007.05.25 03:34

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