Begun, The Retina Wars Have

As we approach the E3, the electronic gaming show in early June, I suspect that the value of “Retina” high-resolution displays will soon become apparent. While the prospect of Retina MacBooks is all but inevitable, we have reached a plateau when it comes to general computing and, more important, living room media.

The first question is, in short, why do we need a Retina MacBook? Presumably it would be a superior experience for video and photo editing and offer designers far more real estate on a large screen, especially when viewing photos at lower resolutions. As evidenced by the iPhone’s Retina display, gaming will become considerably more compelling. This presupposes a rich and vibrant OS X gaming ecosystem.

The second question is also quite interesting: If console manufacturers begin to promise 4K (4096 × 3072) video output, what does that mean for TV manufacturers? As we well know, the 3D craze was, just that, a craze. 3D hype was far overblown but 4K hype will be even crazier. Selling a few 3D screens would have been nice. Selling millions of 4K screens is a necessity. After all, 4K displays will be considerably more expensive and far less initially popular than even 3D. 3D was an iterative update, but 4K is a massive investment.

The market expansion of higher resolution displays is contingent on a few things. First, manufacturers need to be able to retool previous manufacturing facilities to produce 4K screens. This isn’t difficult, just a concern in a situation where 1080p and other resolutions are still widely popular.

Second, the global economy will need to be able to support a full upgrade from 1080p to 4K. Hard-core gamers will most definitely flock to the new resolutions, but will general users? Although the retina MacBooks will be sort of a gateway drug to higher resolution, convincing a cohort of television owners to upgrade will be tough, especially if they’ve just been burned by Blu-Ray (a dying, if not dead, format) and 3D.

It will also be delightful to hear all of the marketing-speak behind newer displays. While “Retina” is out, expect HP, Samsung, and Dell to offer “High-Rez” laptops and maybe even “SuperPlasmaWonderDisplay” phones. Display marketing will depend less on pixels and more on arbitrary words stuck together.

We still have a while to go before 4K is even a “thing,” higher resolution screens are coming and console makers and gaming PC manufacturers will probably be the first to push it through into the mainstream. Whither go gamers, the public follows and, although this is just a guess, I suspect the first “cheap” 4K screens will arrive around CES 2015 and really hit stores by 2016 – plenty of time to get the last few years of use out of your PS3 and Xbox 360, not to mention your heavy-duty gaming PC.