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Apple Pro Display XDR with Nano Texture Glass  — the Shortest but Most Useful Review You’ll Find on the Web —  and Why the NEC PA302W Rocks

I don’t hold it against it here, but the Apple Pro Display XDR tipped, and its sharp corner hit the front of my my workhorse NEC PA302W, turning it into landfill material with a 10 X 2mm impact that destroyed the panel. What a horrible turn of luck, and I was really trying to be careful...f*ck!!! So I set up my spare PA302W. I don’t know if I can replace the PA302W, as it is discontinued and spending $2K on one with a white bezel is not very palatable.

Funny how things work out. I was sure I wanted the Apple Pro Display XDR, but now I feel a sense of relief in sticking with the NEC PA302W and something like the LG 5K (low resolution and 5K are both needed for my work for several reasons).

In 5 minutes, I am going to tell you more about the Apple Pro Display XDR with nano texture glass than any review out there (some of those reviews are laughable, measuring the color which is ostensibly scientific, but not even understanding the meaning of the gamut findings or even doing basics, like using eyes to compare with another display as a reference).

Apple Pro Display XDR with optional Apple Pro Stand

These observations apply to the Apple Pro Display XDR with nano texture glass—perhaps the Apple Pro Display with regular glass is better with some things, such as off-angle color rendition.

Note: I have exceptional color vision, never scoring less than 99 out of 100 on every color test I have tried. I cannot take any credit for it since it is a genetic inheritance from my father, so I just state it as a fact. Most people literally cannot see what I see. Probably my vision is less good as I’ve aged, but it is still good. It doesn’t mean I am an expert at color correction, only that I can discriminate color nuances that most people cannot.

What you need to know about the Apple Pro Display XDR

You won’t see these things in an Apple Store with the regular glass XDR display showing the over-saturated images Apple is using for examples like an experiences at Best Buy. At home, I have well over a decade of looking critically at color images under the same conditions year over year. I am tuned-in to what to expect.

  • If you just want to view images for the pleasure of it, I cannot think of a better display than the Apple Pro Display XDR—probably nothing better exists.
  • While nominally a 32-inch display, the Apple Pro Display XDR is actually about 1.5 inches (6 cm) wider than the NEC PA302W (also a 32" display, aspect ratio 16:10), because the XDR is a wider aspect ratio (16:9). The difference does not seem like much on paper, but I am finding that the width of the Pro Display XDR exceeds a comfortable field of view. It is also awkward to have both side by side; not very manageable in terms of view as well as a desk space challenge.
  • The nano texture glass is highly effective, delivering a curiously natural look to images that is slightly 'flat'—much better for print makers than regular glass, which is shiny like the iMac 5K.
  • The uniformity and smoothness of the grayscale is just not there with the Apple Pro Display XDR—side by side with my (spare and now only) NEC PA302W, the grayscale of the NEC PA302W is completely uniform. Not so with the Apple Pro Display XDR, which does not look smooth; it has an almost textural/faint grid look to it, perhaps related to its localized lighting corrections? You won’t be able to notice this on detailed images, but what about gradients, sky etc? It’s a serious negative IMO.
  • Grayscale of the NEC PA302W is remarkable—real gray and why I have stuck with it for years. The Apple Pro Display XDR has the same flaw I have seen in many other displays: a slight magenta tint that colorimeters will claim is not there, but is obvious side by side. I had the same complaint about the NEC PA322UHD next to the NEC PA302W and it has to do with a discontinous spectral distribution of the LED backlighting. The NEC PA302W has a GB-R LED backlight which my eyes tell me is superior to anything else I’ve seen for true gray—it only takes a moment to see it and it cannot not be seen. All of which makes claims of 0.6 delta-E blah blah color measurement masturbation rather silly.
  • Grayscale uniformity of the Apple Pro Display XDR (with nano texture glass) when viewed even 12 inches off angle is AWFUL. I can look at a normal-width window (white background) and it is white on one side and bluish on the other on the XDR whereas the NEC PA302W is free of that color shift. Creating a full-screen window with white background on the XDR and positioning my eyes near either side of the display, I see one half of the display as blue and the other half as white. WTF? Because of the size of the display, this is a problem even when viewing it straight-on, with the outer areas of the display being visibly bluish. Could it be due to the nano texture glass? UPDATE: visiting the Apple Store, I determined that this off-axis bluish color shift occurs with the regular glass also (not just the nano texture glass). I pointed it out to an Apple Store employee, who acknowledged that he saw it also—which proves that even a novice can readily see the behavior.
  • There is no way to calibrate to known brightness with the Apple Pro Display XDR; you get either canned non-standard profiles where the crude brightness slider is available, or canned profiles where brightness cannot be altered. With the NEC PA302W, I can calibrate and profile the display to my exact specifications of contrast, gamut and brightness and it’s the same all the time and has been for years—I deem that critical for consistency year over year, job after job.

The Apple Pro Display XDR is nowhere close to what I require for color management—the off-axis color shift alone makes it problematic at best. Looks like I had better figure out how to get another NEC PA302W.

I might still get the Apple Pro Display XDR (with standard glass) at some point as a Retina display for viewing images. But I am certain that it is NOT the right display for evaluating them, not to my standards.

David T writes:

I’m writing because I don’t think you will find the bezel on the white NEC PA302W to be at all objectionable. I had purchased a PA302 (added to my long-time PA-272) when you mentioned on your site last fall that they are going out of availability. The only one B&H had available was the white variant. I bought that one and have been using it for several months. The front bezel of that unit is actually a neutral gray, darker than the rest of the body, and actually very pleasant to work with. I don’t find it distracting at all, and actually like that neutral gray as well or better for image work than the black bezel on my PA-272.

I am in complete agreement with your many (and accurate) comments on image review and adjustment on the NEC PA302W. The color and grey-scale are just so accurate and dependable. The lower pixel pitch is really helpful in evaluating and adjusting sharpness and other aspects of image acuity. I don’t make any critical judgements on finer pitch screens like on my laptop.

Thank you for all your very useful publications on your web page. I’m enjoying learning about the recent Voigtlander reviews.

I also agree with your comments on macOS Catalina. What a lot of crappy bugs they have supplied to us. All kind of strange behaviors, trouble with disks, and also the infinite safety nags, and the loss of color profiles for monitors, and…. Ugh. Apple really needs to get its shit together on the OS, but I’m not too hopeful at present.

On the other hand, the 2019 MacBook Pro 16” is a really _amazing_ machine for photo editing. Way faster than anything I’ve been using before. And excellent battery life when I’m just writing on the train commuting in to Boston. Best laptop I’ve ever used.

DIGLLOYD: Apple hardware usually rocks, the software is usually rocks.

Apple Pro Display XDR with optional Apple Pro Stand

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