Retina 5K iMac Will Not Act as External Display, Standalone Apple 5K Display Unlikely Soon

At Apple's introduction of the new 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display, Phil Schiller noted that the machine's $2499 starting price compares favorably with some of the higher-end 4K displays on the market today for closer to $3000, leading some to wonder whether it would be feasible to use the iMac as an external display for something like a Mac Pro.

For a number of years, iMacs have supported a feature known as target display mode, which allows them to serve as external displays for other computers, but as pointed out by TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino yesterday, the new Retina 5K iMac does not support this mode.

imac_retina_waterfall
The probable reason for this is also likely the reason why Apple did not announce a standalone Retina Thunderbolt Display yesterday: bandwidth limitations. The current DisplayPort 1.2 specification used over Thunderbolt 2 on Apple's latest Macs simply isn't capable of handling the bandwidth necessary for 5K video over a single cable.

As a result, no current Mac, including the Mac Pro and Retina MacBook Pro models that do support 4K displays, can currently drive a 5K external display. Technically, Apple could allow another Mac to output video at a lower resolution and have the Retina iMac scale the content up to fit its display, but this would not be ideal and Apple has apparently elected not to support it as an option.

As noted by Marco Arment, simple plug-and-play support for 5K external displays over a single cable will need the new DisplayPort 1.3 standard, but that won't be an option until Intel's Skylake platform, the successor to the upcoming Broadwell family, is launched.

Doing it right will require waiting until DisplayPort 1.3 in Thunderbolt 3 on Broadwell’s successor, Skylake, which isn’t supposed to come out for at least another year — and Intel is even worse at estimating ship dates than I am, so it’s likely to be longer. [...]

I’d estimate — granted, I’m wrong a lot — that Apple won’t ship a standalone 5K display until at least 2016, and it won’t work with any of today’s Macs, including the 2013 Mac Pro.

Arment points out that Dell's upcoming 5K display uses dual DisplayPort 1.2 cables for connectivity but that no current Macs appear to support the setup and even if they did performance would likely not be ideal.

Another potential product on the horizon is a Retina 21.5-inch iMac likely at 3840 x 2160 pixels, although it is unclear when Apple plans to launch such a machine. KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicts a second half of 2015 launch for the machine in a similar pattern to that seen with the MacBook Pro, where the larger 15-inch model received a Retina display option a number of months before the 13-inch model followed suit.

Related Roundups: iMac, Apple Pro Display XDR
Buyer's Guide: iMac (Caution)

Top Rated Comments

MacFather Avatar
82 months ago
Deleted.
Score: 36 Votes (Like | Disagree)
gugy Avatar
82 months ago
This sucks. I want a TB 5K now for my MacPro!
Score: 21 Votes (Like | Disagree)
nagromme Avatar
82 months ago
Best you can get today?

For my Mac Pro I went with a 24" Dell UP2414Q 4k display. 4k at larger sizes than 24" is just awkward: pixels too big to use at 2x, too small for 1x. But this Dell is just the right size to be a Retina display that works TODAY.

It looks terrific! And it has nice scaling options just like a retina MacBook Pro. No software to install--Apple supports this model specifically with scaling options not found on larger 4k displays.

However... you get what you pay for with Dell. Styling-wise this is not Dell's worst (clearly imitating the 2007 black-and-aluminum iMac design), but it is NOT close to Apple's display standards:

- No camera, no mic, no speakers, no Thunderbolt hub, audio ports, Ethernet, etc.; no powered USB, just an unpowered USB hub that loses power when the display isn't on.

- No option to adjust brightness automatically with an ambient light sensor. (Didn't realize how much I'd miss that.)

- Won't reliably wake from sleep!! And when it does wake, sometimes you get only half the screen. Keep trying.

- A few little bits of hair or dust between the layers. Looks like dead pixels, but it's not.

- Cheap painted silver plastic, combined with a few not-quite-matching thin panels of real aluminum.

- Gaps and cracks and creaks and flexes. Just feels cheap.

- Awkward touch controls that don't always work. Sometimes you have to press hard. Simply adjusting the brightness is a pain.

- Unreliable sensor that makes the controls' lights blink annoyingly.

- No protective glass--and thus risky and difficult to clean, and easy to bash with a box corner.

- Can't respond to the brightness keys on my keyboard.

- Shipped at an awful 30Hz and took research and hoop-jumping to enable 60Hz.

- Good warranty that might help with some of the above... except it's unbearably painful to deal with their support staff. Good luck with that.

- No magsafe to power your Mac laptop. This is not a dock for a MacBook the way Apple displays can function; but that's OK with a Mac Pro.

- Not a great black level, and uneven glowing backlight bleed around the edges when viewing dark images. Viewing angle is OK, not great.

- Generates a TON of heat! Ouch! My electric bill!

- Sits on a permanent, very slight diagonal in landscape (normal) mode: the portrait–landscape pivot won't quite rotate all the way to level.

But yet... when viewed head-on, it has awesome res and color! I'm glad I have it--there is no better option yet. Also, it goes to Portrait... sometimes. And it can go very bright! And if you play endless games looking for deals like I did, you can find a cheap price. (Or you can get sent the wrong thing and waste time and end up not getting such a good price... like I did.)

I use mine at a scaled res equivalent to 2304x1296. But it will go as high as 3008x1692 if you like to squint.
Score: 13 Votes (Like | Disagree)
JHankwitz Avatar
82 months ago

no 5k standalone soon?? well, why the **** not?!


Read the article.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
HenryDJP Avatar
82 months ago

better throw away that 5k monitor/computer in 5 years when 5k finally becomes a standard.


Well in 5 years I'm sure many people will upgrade to the latest model of this machine anyway.

I guess Apple wants the Mac Pro users to get a 3rd party 4K display. Not a problem. Not everybody has to have an actual Apple display to use the Mac Pro.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)
calaverasgrande Avatar
82 months ago
I'm not going to say 'applefail' or 'if steve was still alive'.
But it just seems like Apple is pretty smug lately, flipping the finger to the people who buy their stuff on the regular.
You own a Mac Pro? Our most expensive item? Look elsewhere for a monitor for it, we can't be bothered.
But look at how thin our ipad is!
Score: 8 Votes (Like | Disagree)

Top Stories

16inchmacbookpromain

Kuo: New MacBook Pro Models to Feature Flat-Edged Design, MagSafe, No Touch Bar and More Ports

Thursday January 14, 2021 9:32 pm PST by
Apple is working on two new MacBook Pro models that will feature significant design changes, well-respected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said today in a note to investors that was obtained by MacRumors. According to Kuo, Apple is developing two models in 14 and 16-inch size options. The new MacBook Pro machines will feature a flat-edged design, which Kuo describes as "similar to the iPhone 12" ...
iphone x camera close

iOS 14.4 Will Introduce Warning on iPhones With Non-Genuine Cameras

Thursday January 14, 2021 8:07 am PST by
In the second beta of iOS 14.4 seeded to developers and public testers this week, MacRumors contributor Steve Moser has discovered code indicating that Apple will be introducing a new warning on iPhones that have had their camera repaired or replaced with aftermarket components rather than genuine Apple components. "Unable to verify this iPhone has a genuine Apple camera," the message will...
prototype iphone 12 pro

Prototype iPhone 12 Pro Shown Off in Photos

Wednesday January 13, 2021 3:39 pm PST by
Developer Giulio Zompetti, who often shows off prototype versions of Apple devices, today highlighted a prototype version of the iPhone 12 Pro. The iPhone 12 Pro is running an operating system called SwitchBoard, a nonUI version of the iOS 14 update that Apple uses internally. We've seen SwitchBoard on prototype devices before, as Apple uses it to test new features. Zompetti's prototype...
foldable iPhone concept feature

Apple Testing In-Display Fingerprint Sensor for iPhone 13, Foldable iPhone Also in the Works

Friday January 15, 2021 1:46 pm PST by
Apple has started "early work" on an iPhone that has a foldable display, according to a new report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman. Though testing of a foldable iPhone has begun, Apple has not committed to releasing a device that has a foldable display. Development has not yet expanded beyond a display and Apple does not have full foldable iPhone prototypes in its labs. Like foldable...
Apple TV Ray Light 2 Triad

Apple Extends Free Apple TV+ Trials Until July

Friday January 15, 2021 10:50 am PST by
Apple is once again planning to extend its free Apple TV+ trial subscriptions, this time until July. When Apple TV+ launched in November 2019, Apple offered free Apple TV+ subscriptions to those who purchased a new Apple device in or after September 2019. Those free subscriptions were set to expire in November 2020, but in October 2020, Apple announced that it was extending free trials...
macbook pro 16 inch thunderbolt

Bloomberg: Next-Generation MacBook Pro to Offer Improved Displays, Faster Charging Over MagSafe

Thursday January 14, 2021 11:36 pm PST by
Following today's report from analyst Ming-Chi Kuo outlining major changes for the next-generation MacBook Pro models coming in the third quarter of this year, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has weighed in with his own report corroborating some of the details but seemingly differing a bit on others. First, Gurman shares more details on the return of MagSafe charging to the MacBook Pro, indicating...
Hue module dimmer switch

Philips Hue Announces New Wall Switch Module, Dimmer Switch, and Outdoor Light Bar

Thursday January 14, 2021 3:11 am PST by
Philips Hue has announced a new wireless dimmer switch module that lets Hue bridge owners directly control the smart lighting from their standard wall switches. The new Philips Hue wall switch module is the ideal addition to any Philips Hue set up. Installed behind existing light switches, it allows users to turn their existing switch into a smart switch and ensures their smart lighting is...
pat gelsinger intel

Incoming Intel CEO Derides Company's Inability to 'Deliver Better Products' Than Apple's M1 Chip

Friday January 15, 2021 6:17 am PST by
Incoming Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has said that the company must "deliver better products" than Apple, which he described as a "lifestyle company," and says that Intel's best days are "in front of it" (via The Oregonian). Speaking at an Intel all-hands meeting yesterday, Gelsinger derisively implied that Apple is merely a "lifestyle company," so Intel must be able to surpass its technology: ...
mac pro mini feature

Apple Working on Two New Mac Pro Desktops, One of Which Will Be Reminiscent of Power Mac G4 Cube

Friday January 15, 2021 10:23 am PST by
Apple is developing two versions of the Mac Pro to succeed the Mac Pro that was first released in December 2019, according to a new report from Bloomberg. The first updated Mac Pro is a direct successor to the current Mac Pro and it will use the same design. It may also be equipped with Intel processors rather than Apple silicon chips, and it could be one of the sole machines in the Mac...
pioneer carplay wc5700nex

The Best Apple-Related Accessories at CES 2021

Wednesday January 13, 2021 1:16 pm PST by
CES 2021 is taking place digitally this year, and it hasn't been as exciting as in past years because many vendors have opted out. That said, some companies are still showing off some interesting Apple-related accessories that are coming out this year and that will be of interest to Mac, iPad, and iPhone users. Subscribe to the MacRumors YouTube channel for more videos. Pioneer Wireless...