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As 4K displays become more prominent and the price continues to drop at a rapid rate, it should be no surprise to see that Apple has now begun to take the implementation 4K support in OS X a bit more seriously. Just as Apple has now begun seeding builds of OS X 10.9.3 following the release of 10.9.2 last month, developers have discovered that Apple has drastically improved the way OS X handles 4K displays, both by supporting a wider range of 4K displays as well as by allowing 4K monitors to run in the HiDPI “Retina” mode on supported devices.

When a 4K monitor is connected, the Display Preference Pane now shows options which should be immediately familiar to anyone who owns a Retina MacBook Pro. Users can choose to run their monitor in a fully “Retina” mode with each pixel doubled for maximum quality, or they can choose a different amount of scaling that’s higher than the 1:1 without DPI scaling but lower than optimal.

At the moment, 4K support continues to be limited to running 4K displays at a 30Hz refresh rate on OS X – far lower than the standard and ideal 60Hz. However, according to limited reports, Apple could also be implementing support for 60Hz refresh rates in 10.9.3 for some machines. MacBook Pro 15″ (2013) users are reporting success with enabling the higher refresh rate on 4K displays under the new developer build, however that functionality remains missing from other machines. This appears to be a limitation of the way OS X handles 4K displays, as Boot Camp users have always been able to drive 4K displays with a 60Hz refresh rate under Windows on a wide range of devices.

Rumors have been flying of both a new iMac with Retina Display lineup as well as a Retina Thunderbolt Display for quite some time now. However, both the 27″ iMac as well as the current generation Thunderbolt Display currently run at a standard 2560 x 1440 resolution. If Apple were to continue their trend of simply doubling the available pixels on their Retina displays, the would effectively need to include a panel capable of displaying a native 5120 x 2880 resolution to make a “Retina” version of those displays with the same real estate. That resolution far surpasses the 4K standard, which comes up short with a 3840 × 2160 resolution. Apple would therefor need to sacrifice either image quality or screen real estate if their next generation displays are truly to go Retina using this method.

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