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Apple Is Gearing Up for a Big 4K Push

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In its developers release of OS X Mavericks 10.9.3 beta, Apple will soon officially support scaling on 4K external displays.

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To butcher a quote from Douglas Adams, 4K displays are generating excitement much in the same way 3D TV didn't. Ultra high-definition televisions and monitors have folks salivating over crystal-clear images that put Blu-ray to shame. Fortunately, displays are starting to drop to near-affordable costs, however customers are still waiting for technology and media content to play catch-up and widely support a horizontal resolution of 4,000 pixels.

In January, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) became one of the forerunners of the technology after announcing that its second season of House of Cards would be available in ultra high definition on select TV sets. But with 4K still in its relative infancy, tech giants are still tinkering with graphical horsepower and bandwidth constraints for their big push into ultra high definition.

Well, with its recent release of OS X Mavericks 10.9.3 beta to developers, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) appears to be gearing up for a big 4K push -- and may release a ultra-hi-def display very soon.

According to a report by 9to5Mac, this Mavericks beta features an improvement to the way the operating system handles external 4K displays. Before the change, 4K external monitors connected to a MacBook Pro with Retina display would only reproduce the desktop on a larger scale with window elements spread out. But the display controls in the latest 10.9.3 beta system preferences allow for scaling, or pixel-doubled resolution, on 4K displays -- that is, images are sharper and remain spaced more like elements on a MacBook Pro or iPad's Retina screen.

Users were able to achieve this type of setup in OS X with some software tweaks, which including running Windows (NASDAQ:MSFT) on a Mac machine, but this settings switch means Apple is finally pushing default 4K support beyond the new Mac Pros' souped-up graphical capabilities and preparing for the next wave of ultra-hi-def content.

But there are still some limitations.

While some Apple machines older than the late-2013 MacBook Pro Retina and 2013 Mac Pro will be able to achieve 4K scaling on external displays with this update, it's unlikely that the results will look nearly as good. The DisplayPort 1.2 spec for the Thunderbolt 2.0 ports, currently available only on the late-model MacBook Pros and Mac Pros, is required to hit a smooth 60Hz refresh rate. Older machines -- like the iMac, MacBook Air, and Mac Mini which don't feature Thunderbolt 2.0 ports -- will probably only achieve refresh rates at half or less than half as good.

It's still unclear when Apple is poised to release the final version of OS X 10.9.3 to the public, but it could very well be in preparation for a long-overdue upgrade to the company's Thunderbolt external display. The current model was released in September 2011, making this 2.5-year hiatus far longer than the average wait time for the product. Perhaps we'll see an Apple 4K display in the near future.

And who knows? Maybe an Apple 4K TV will actually see the light of day.

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