Apple’s latest iPad Pro may look a lot like the model it replaces, but it has several major upgrades inside. It features the same powerful and power-efficient M1 chip as the latest MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and now the redesigned iMac. Cellular models have made the leap to 5G. The front camera can zoom in and pan to keep you focused on video calls. But apart from the processor, the biggest technical leap is exclusive to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro: this is what Apple calls the “Liquid Retina XDR”, a new screen that adopts the Mini LED backlight to achieve higher brightness and higher contrast than any iPad (or Mac) the company has ever made.
Apple claims that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro can reach 1,000 nits of full screen brightness – on par with the very expensive Pro Display XDR – and that parts of the screen can reach 1,600 nits when playing HDR content. It’s brighter than many 4K HDR TVs on the market.
For comparison, the previous iPad Pro exceeded 600 nits. Complete stop. These measures also wiped out Apple’s Mac lineup. The 16-inch MacBook Pro can go up to 500 nits. The flashy 24-inch iMac presented yesterday? Also 500 nits. Things get a little closer when you look at the iPhone 12 Pro’s OLED display, which can hit a peak brightness of 800 nits and 1200 in HDR.
But Apple isn’t quite ready to switch to OLED for its tablets just yet, and the reasoning probably boils down to the Mini LED’s brightness advantage – more the company’s promise than this iPad Pro, with its display. sophisticated, still has the standard 10-hour battery life that iPad users expect. Either way, this is an upgrade that should be clearly evident to the naked eye.
What is the Mini LED?
Unlike OLED, where individual pixels are self-illuminating and can turn off completely when not needed, Mini LED is more a natural progression from the LCD screens that have become such a mainstay of consumer electronics. . But where this new approach differs is in the size and amount of LEDs behind the screen. At her Spring Loaded event, Apple’s Heidi Delgado said that the old iPad Pro had 72 LEDs, but the new “Liquid Retina XDR” manages to hold over 10,000. Apple has accomplished this by miniaturizing the LEDs. to a size “120 times smaller in volume than the previous design”.
The mini LEDs are grouped into over 2,500 local dimming zones that can individually light up and dim depending on what is displayed on the screen. This level of granular control, according to Delgado, allows clients to “see the brightest highlights with subtle detail in the darkest parts of an image.”
Apple is not the first to use Mini LED
While this may be the first time the Mini LED has found its way into a tablet, the technology has already appeared in TVs. TCL really started the trend in 2019, and apparently Samsung and LG have noticed: their high-end 2021 LCD TVs now also use Mini LED backlighting.
Here’s how TCL explains the visual improvements:
LCD LED TVs have two parts of the screen that combine to create an image. The “LCD” portion of the screen creates an image and the “LED” (Light Emitting Diode) portion of the screen produces light that shines through the image for your eyes to see. So the benefit of thousands of precisely controlled mini-LEDs in an active matrix backlight is more powerful light that is better distributed across the screen, more precisely controlled for crisp contrast, and more efficient at creating vivid colors and saturated which dazzle the eye. The mini-LED simply offers significantly better image performance.
The huge rise in LEDs could also translate to better panel uniformity; some owners of the previous 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros have observed irregular backlighting. Having traded one or two for this very reason, I can attest to that. The “panel lottery” is a thing with just about any device – TVs, laptops, tablets, etc. – but the switch to the Mini LED should help with consistency.
What do I hear about MicroLED?
MicroLED is considered the next major leap in TV display technology and the potential successor to OLED. It shares many of the best OLED traits (like self-emitting LEDs), boosts brightness, and doesn’t have most of the associated downsides, as the technology is inorganic. But at the moment MicroLED is extremely expensive and is really only found in Samsung’s ultra-premium luxury TVs.
Final impressions of the new iPad Pro will have to wait until we get it in our hands. But as someone who uses the previous 12.9-inch model on a daily basis for productive and creative purposes, I’m very curious to see what Mini LED adds to the iPad experience.