Technology seems to be conspiring against an Apple 5K Display. So, how could the company ship one anyway?
There have been rumors about Apple working on an updated Thunderbolt display since the iMac got its new, sleeker redesign in 2012. There were rumors of 4K versions that never shipped. Rumors of Retina 5K versions and DCI-P3 color space versions following the iMac updates in 2014 and 2015. Rumors that all Apple was waiting on was next-generation DisplayPort 1.3 support from Thunderbolt and Intel. So far, though, that's all we've gotten: rumors.
Now, as WWDC 2016 approaches, we're getting rumors again. But with Thunderbolt 3 and Intel punting on DisplayPort 1.3, it's unclear how or even if Apple could connect such a display.
John Gruber, writing for Daring Fireball:
A 27-inch standalone retina display will be a genuine finally. If they announce it at WWDC, the crowd will go nuts. But just how they'll drive it is a fascinating question. Using two Thunderbolt cables would be clunky. Maybe one cable that forks into two Thunderbolt adapters at the end?
Thinking out loud, here are all the possibilities I can come up with:
Ditch 5K and ship 4K instead. In addition to the 27-inch 5K iMac, Apple already ships a 21.5-inch 4K iMac. 21.5-inches feels too small for a standalone Apple display, though, and stretching 4K to 27-inches just feels wrong.
Ditch the dream of Single-Stream Transport (SST), for now, and resort to Multi-Stream Transport (MST), using some type of dual-link cable, like John mentions.
Ditch the idea of shipping with Intel's current Skylake or next-generation Kaby Lake chipsets and wait for the next-next generation Cannon Lake, theoretically coming in late 2017 with DisplayPort 1.3 SST support.
Ditch Thunderbolt 3 and its meager DisplayPort 1.2 support for an Apple-specific connector that can handle DisplayPort 1.3 or better now.
Update: Or use a single cable with a GPU embedded in the display. See below!
Dual-link is certainly a pragmatic solution, even if the idea of splitting the cable and stitching the output is inelegant. At least it feels better than ditching 5K and shipping 4K instead.
Instead of waiting on the industry to support 5K internally, Apple made its own, custom Timing Controller (TC). So, a custom dual-link cable to support it externally wouldn't be that far-fetched.
Not as far-fetched, at least, as Apple sacrificing a Thunderbolt 3 port at the back left of the upcoming MacBook Pro, or on the back of the upcoming Mac Pro, and going with something custom that does support DisplayPort 1.3, DisplayPort 1.4, or similar.
In a perfect world, Apple could do that while maintaining some amount of backward compatibility with the TB 3 and DP 1.2. Even if they couldn't though — complete pie-in-the-sky, flight-of-fancy, short-term-thinking, terrible-idea — I'd be okay with it.
Thunderbolt and Intel have had their chances. Generations of chances. They're starting to lose a step. Meanwhile Apple is uniquely positioned to charge ahead.
If you've been waiting on an updated Apple Display, which way would you like to see the company go?