Apple’s Liquid Retina XDR Display Works With You

Movies, photos, video, or whatever you need

Key Takeaways

  • Apple says this Liquid Retina XDR screen is its best display ever.
  • Professionals get a slew of new tweaks to fine-tune the display. 
  • Even regular folks will love how this looks.
MacBook Pro with Liquid Retina XDR Display.


The new MacBook Pro's display might be Apple's best display yet, including the $5,000 Pro Display XDR. But what makes it so good, and why do you need it?

For most of us, as long as the display is bright enough, sharp and contrasty enough, and makes our photos look good, we're happy. But some users want more. They might need super-accurate colors for editing photos or color-grading movies.

They might need the extra brightness that HDR requires. Or they might just love watching movies in a technically critical manner, yet also on a curiously small screen. These new MacBooks offer some crazy customizations to make all these folks happy.

"For UX, design, graphics, video, and photography pros, their business boils down to putting the right pixels in the right places on the screen, and the MacBook Pro's display is simply the best when it comes to sharpness, clarity, and color, all of which makes it easier to pick just the right shade for a background, just the right shape for a button, or just the right filter for a photo," web designer and CEO Devon Fata told Lifewire via email. 

That Display

First, let’s check out what this baby can do. The MacBook Pro’s Liquid Retina XDR display uses mini LED backlights to put thousands of individual lights behind the colored pixels. Switching this on only when needed saves energy, gives better contrast, and provides better blacks. It also can display images three times brighter than the MacBook Air, but only in bursts. 

The Mac Pro Display.


The panel also refreshes at up to 120Hz, instead of 60 times per second, for much smoother animation. 

But for today, what we’re interested in is the contrast and color accuracy. 

Normally, when a pro wants to ensure consistent color, they will calibrate the display using a tool that hangs over the screen and measures the pixels' color, brightness, and other aspects. This creates a profile for that display, so the shade of pink your computer thinks it’s showing matches the pink you see. 

Apple already has calibrated these displays at the factory and says that they are ready for almost all high-end colorwork out of the box. 

Not only that, but these machines have entirely new sections in the Mac’s display preferences to tweak them further. 


The MacBook Pro now offers reference modes. In normal use, the computer uses Apple’s auto-brightness adjustment, True Tone, and Night Shift modes to make the display look great in any surroundings. But when you’re color grading video, you don’t want a warm orange sheen added on top when working late at night. 

Reference Modes for a Mac Display.


The reference modes are tailored for very specific purposes and switch off all the automatic features. You can pick modes for photography, print design, digital cinema, and more. These tweak the display profile to match specific tasks. You also can create your own presets, mark presets as favorites, and switch between them from the Mac’s menu bar. 

These are the kinds of capabilities that are utterly essential for some pro workflows. Not only does color, contrast, and the like have to be accurate, it has to be consistent, so it looks the same no matter what machine you’re viewing on. But these extremely tight tolerances have some benefits for the general user, too. 

Looking Good

Of course, pretty much everyone views and edits photos and videos these days, and the Liquid Retina XDR helps out there. 

"For more ordinary users, the real power is in photo and video applications. At the resolution that the MacBook Pro can support, videos can start to look almost seamlessly real," says Fata. 

But this screen is also suitable for watching movies, and in regular general use. 

Photoshop open on a new Mac Pro Display.


"What I didn't expect was the quality of the screen in combination with the excellent speakers. I watched some Gladiator and Black Hawk Down in the [Apple TV app with] (HDR and Dolby Atmos)," writes 16-inch MacBook Pro-owner Somian on the MacRumors forums. "I felt like my eyes were about to pop out because of the insanely good contrast."

There's one final trick up the MacBook Pro's screen-sleeve that benefits all users: The display resolution, but not how you think. In recent MacBooks, the actual physical resolution (the number of pixels) has differed from the notional on-screen resolution. Apple does this to make the on-screen elements the right size, but it can result in (hard to spot) blurring. These new models have physical pixels that match the screen resolution, making everything super-crisp.

In short, this really does look like Apple's best display ever—and it's in a laptop.

Was this page helpful?