In the middle of 2017 — roughly four and a half years ago — I went on a search for a monitor to pair with my MacBook Pro while I was at work. I wanted something that was “retina” quality — which means roughly 220 PPI.

While not terribly scientific, the rules of thumb I landed on were:

  • No more than 24" at 4K
  • No more than 27" at 5K

Back in 2017 — one thousand six hundred and sixty five days ago, as I write this — I compiled a list of options. At the time there were five. Two Dells, one run-of-the-mill LG, and the two LG UltraFine monitors.

The Lineup

1665 days later, let me revise my findings:

  • Budget Option: LG 24UD58-B 24" 4K Monitor — ~$300
    This is what I used, eventually two-up, at work. In 2017. The panel is unremarkable, but for developers, it’s more than serviceable. Honestly, I liked this setup. Even two-up, it’s cheaper than the next available option.

  • Moderate Option: LG UltraFine 4K — ~$700
    A fancier version of the above, which includes the option of daisy-chaining a second 4K display. It also has a small USB-C hub internal to it, offering more connectivity options.

  • Deluxe Option: LG UltraFine 5K — ~$1300
    The same thing as the LG UltraFine 4K, but without the option of daisy-chaining a second display. It, too, has a small USB-C hub. I recently bought one secondhand, and the rumblings are true: the stand is straight-up trash, and the monitor itself is unreliable on the best of days. When it does work, though, it’s great!

  • Ridiculous Option: Apple Pro Display XDR — ~$5000 without a stand
    Apple’s too-fancy-for-its-own-good option. It costs $5,000 without a stand. To add their official stand is another $1,000. Oh, and if you want the fancy nano-texture coating, that’s another $1,000. So, all-in, the Pro Display XDR is $7,000. Which is, charitably, absurd.

The above is the entire lineup. That’s it. Four options. Three of which existed 1665 days ago.

In [effectively] 2022, there are four options for retina-quality monitors to attach to your Mac.

If there are others, please let me know, as I’d love to share them. I know that others have existed at some time in the past — like the Dells I featured in the first version of this post — but they’ve been discontinued and/or are not readily available here in the States.

The Future

Last month I bought a 14" MacBook Pro equipped with a M1 Max. This machine is as fast as my iMac Pro, but considerably more portable. The battery life is by no means infinite, but it’s enough to go work without power for several hours without stressing. MagSafe is back — finally — and the keyboard is both reliable and excellent. I have a HDMI port for when I travel, and an SD card reader. The M1 Pro and Max MacBook Pros are possibly the best machines Apple has released since I’ve been observing the company, for about fifteen years.

Furthermore, the display on this machine is phenomenal. My buddy Jason Snell in particular has been banging this drum for a while: on any other machine, the displays alone would be the star of the show. They’re “true” pixel-doubled retina, they have wide color gamut, they’re backlit by mini-LED, and they sport a fast refresh rate of 120 Hz. They’re nearly perfect.

Why can’t we have this in an external monitor?

Granted, refreshing roughly 15 million pixels 120 times per second requires an immense amount of data/bandwidth, so maybe that isn’t possible. However, everything else about these panels should be possible in an external monitor. Even if we have to suffer through a pedestrian 60 Hz. Why can’t we have an Apple-produced 5K screen that has mini-LED and wide color?

Why can’t we have an option between the unreliable $1300 LG 5K and the $5000+ XDR?

Over the last year or two, Apple has been doing a phenomenal job of filling the holes in their product line. For my money, the completely embarrasing monitor situation is the lowest-hanging fruit. By a mile.

Take my money, Apple. Give me a monitor made for professionals that don’t do video editing for a living. Please.

The non-UltraFine 4K and the XDR items linked above are affiliate links.