MacBook Pro 16-inch 2021 with M1 Max
Apple

Apple uses all sorts of proprietary names for standardized technologies which can make it difficult to compare products. One example is the company’s Liquid Retina XDR display found on the latest iPad and Mac models.

Apple’s High Dynamic Range LCD

The Liquid Retina XDR display is an evolution of Apple’s existing Liquid Retina panels. It’s an LCD that uses IPS (in-plane switching) technology, with the “Retina” moniker referring to the high pixel density which makes it virtually impossible to identify individual pixels at normal operating distances.

What differs in newer XDR models is the method of lighting. While a standard Liquid Retina display uses a panel of LEDs that remain on regardless of what content is displayed on the screen, the XDR variant uses many more, smaller LEDs which are grouped into zones, and individually dimmed.

Liquid Retina XDR MacBook Pro
Apple

This allows the Liquid Retina XDR display to achieve a better contrast ratio than its predecessor. The XDR display can also get brighter than the older models, which enables a more impressive HDR (high dynamic range) video presentation. By switching off groups of LEDs, dark colors and blacks appear deeper increasing the perceived contrast ratio.

RELATED: What Is Pixel Density, and How Does It Affect Image Quality?

Also Known as a Mini LED Display

The Liquid Retina XDR display is essentially Apple branding for what many refer to as mini LED technology. These displays have improved contrast ratio and peak brightness compared to older backlit and edge-lit LCDs but they are built on the same fundamental technology.

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This is in stark contrast to OLED, which uses organic compounds to generate light with no backlighting required. There are some compelling use cases for both technologies, with OLED still being susceptible to burn-in and not hitting the same brightness levels as comparable LCD panels.

Anatomy of a mini LED display.
TCL

By contrast, an LCD panel may exhibit ghosting (a visible glow around the edge of a dimmable LED zone) and inferior contrast ratio to OLED, while being immune to burn-in and far brighter for light-filled viewing environments. Apple’s own version of OLED is known as Super Retina (XDR) and is found on higher-end iOS and iPadOS models.

Another Apple Marketing Term

Apple products are of high quality and favored by many, but try not to pay too much heed to marketing terms. If you’re trying to compare an Apple product to another, cutting through marketing terms like ProMotion and Super Retina can help you make a better decision.

RELATED: What Is an Apple ProMotion Display?

Profile Photo for Tim Brookes Tim Brookes
Tim Brookes is a technology writer with more than a decade of experience. He's invested in the Apple ecosystem, with experience covering Macs, iPhones, and iPads for publications like Zapier and MakeUseOf.
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