Connect a Retina display to a regular computer

You don’t have to search very long before you find someone raving about the Retina display used in Apple iPads. We’re not going to disagree. These 9.7″ panels pack in a whopping 2048×1536 resolution and the color is fantastic. But we were surprised to hear you can get one of these for a meager $55. That’s how [Andrzej] sourced the part when he set out to connect a Retina display to a regular PC.

It turns out this isn’t all that hard. The display uses the eDisplayPort protocol. This is an extension of DisplayPort which is an alternative to LVDS that is gaining a foothold in the industry. An external DisplayPort adapter can already be found on higher-end laptops, which means this should be a snap to use as an external display if the signals can be routed correctly.

To do this, [Andrzej] figured out how to order the PCB connector for the panel’s ribbon cable. He then etched and populated his own board which serves as an adapter for a DisplayPort cable. It even powers the panel, but an external 20V supply is necessary for the backlight.

[Thanks Adam]

96 thoughts on “Connect a Retina display to a regular computer

    1. Well, remember with a desktop LCD you’re also paying for the case (labor for design and assembly on top of materials), packing materials, shipping, AC power supply, ADC for the VGA input, and usually a couple cables. Some of those are more expensive than others, but they all add up.

      With these displays you’re just getting the raw panel, and I’m sure Apple paid for a lot of the development costs and purchases an insane number of these displays.

          1. the larger the screen size the more chance there is for a failure in production which makes the whole screeen worthless and bin it.

    2. In semiconductors, you pay by the surface area. The larger the panel, the more demanding it is for the litography optics, so the higher the price because the machines cost more.

      1. Yeah, but I’d think that the decreased pixel pitch,(and therefore increased complexity) would more than make up for the smaller panel size.

        1. Not really, the primary limiting factor (last time I checked) wasn’t about packing them in there as much as ‘how many tries does it take to get a good panel’.

          Dead & stuck pixels are still a huge problem, and if you have even a 1% failure rate per sq inch, that’s means you essentially have to throw away about 4 panels for every 30 inch screen that you can sell.

          Whereas you only need to toss every third panel for a 10 inch screen.

          1. I was about to get irritated about pedantry when I realized that you might not been just quibbling over whether the rate is measured over a square inch or by pixel, which seeing as there are a fixed number of pixels per square inch, results in the same measurement.

            You might have been trying to imply that you could make a 30in screen by just making 400 individual ‘square inch’ modules and just tossing and remaking the ones that didn’t pass QA. Which, would be cool but isn’t how it actually works.

            As far as I know, they are still pretty much stuck with making anything the in the consumer range of products as a single piece, which means a 30 inch screen has roughly 400 sq inches and a 10 inches screen has only about 45 sq in.

            The process to make an LCD is a lot like making any other IC, in that you cook up a bit batch as a single sheet wafer and then cut it down to make individual parts. Which means the failure rate per area is the same for a big screen as it is for a small screen. Which also means that it should be obvious that the larger your screen gets, the harder it is to even get a single working panel off a batch.

            For a 10 inch screen, for every 100 panels you make, you’ve made less than three whole 30 inch panels. A 1% failure rate per square inch means you toss around half the 10 inch screens, but you still haven’t ‘made’ your successful 30 inch panel.

    3. I’m trying to do something similar with the 1280 WXGA display from my Galaxy note 1 (SGH i717). Happily we know that retina uses a display port video format.
      Unhappily, I don’t know anything about the signal type or connector type of the Note 1’s display or digitizer.
      Any infornmation would be much obliged.
      In the end, I’d like to use my display module as a touchscreen for an electronics project using either my pc, a raspberry pi, or an arduino unit as brains.

  1. I would love to outfit my eee PC with one of these!

    Of course the graphics card only supports a max 1920×1200 resolution and there is no displayPort port, but I would still love to do it.

    1. I have an old eeePC1000, piece of sh!t. I’ll probably configure it into some stand alone system one day where it can live out the rest of its pitiful life :S Maybe build it into my 3D printer to have a printer interface on the go.

      1. Making an LCD projector is easy, especially if you don’t worry about making all the optics yourself. Grab an old overhead projector off of ebay ($30 to $60) and you have all the complicated lighting circuits built. The only reason not to use one of these is for a larger LCD, but this screen would fit.

        1. I highly doubt that. The Ipad mini display is 1024×768. The rift uses a 1280×800 7in unit. Always has been a 16:9 when considering the single-display configuration. I could actually fish up the display the pre-kickstarter prototypes were using… ^.^’… I know where the thread much of that discussion occured is… Nothing that extrodinary, really though.

          Mind, the hopes for a prototype not too long from now switching to a higher res pannel. Those are interesting. 1080p or thereabouts.

          1. I’ve recent played with a Rift…

            I can’t wait for a high resolution version. 4xhd for 1K count me in.

  2. This is going to be one of those things I’m going to bookmark and actually do. This would be so useful as an external screen if you make a small wooden case for it and a DP plug, it could be powered by 2x USB ports (maybe 1x high power) and like others here, a ready made PCB would be fantastic but i think that thin connector is the main bit that would be hard to find/solder.. with any luck theres a matching on in my parts draw somewhere :P Good tip

    1. The specifications for the panel note a total draw of 5.5W (logic + backlight), which is more than the sum available from two USB ports. That number is at 18.5mA backlight string current and 1.07W logic driving a static white background, and the peak at worst-case may be up to 25mA backlight string current and 1.2W logic driving rapid white-black transitions which is even less attainable on USB. I am planning to use a 12V 1A power brick.

    1. No, the touch screen is separate and its controller is on the motherboard, so it’s impossible to interface. Not to mention there is no public datasheet for it…

      1. challenge, accepted!

        unless it’s not physically present there on the display and needs an add-on on top.

        and delayed until i can find that sweet $50 deal he found. ebay here only shows $80~$300

        1. The seller bossknow on eBay seems to have them for US $55. (Not including a link since eBay tends to expire auction links quite rapidly). The part number on the ribbon cable in the photos is 821-1240-A which corresponds to the iPad Retina Display.

          I ordered one today, will update when I receive it.

      2. Who cares about iPad’s Digitizer when you can use dozen others.

        We only care to make it a touch screen,right?

          1. I’ve got the cheapest 7″ android tablet I could find (1024 x 600, about $50) that I use with TeamViewer to control Mach3 that’s running on a laptop with a broken display connected to my CNC. Works like a charm :) I can even check from my phone the status of the CNC.

  3. I ordered two displays for $67 each from AssetGenie (plus $11 shipping for the pair), shipped today. I found the connectors for $5.70 each at newark (element14):

    http://www.newark.com/molex/502250-5191/connector-fpc-rcpt-51pos-2row/dp/56R1204

    And I added a $7.35 Raspberry Pi case to my order while I was at it.

    Although I already have my Rift (since before GDC 2013), I plan to build a Rift clone with these, and perhaps two if it works out. I think all those extra pixels will be worth the added size and weight.

    All I can say is “Thanks [Andrzej] !!!”.

  4. So you could make a really small, high resolution multi-monitor setup for the price of one cheaper monitor. And since its DIY you can reduce the amount of bezel between screens. If only my graphics card could just drive one of them…..

  5. Here is the display for $56 dollars (and free shipping) on eBay:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/180981908501

    I ordered one, but it could take a long time to get here on a slow boat from China. I will have my two panels from a US store within days.

    A lot of motherboads have built-in HD4000 video with DisplayPort (including this one I am typing on), so these panels will come in handy (until they end up in Rift-clones). :-)

  6. Why do they have to make those great displays in uncommon 9.7” for tablet toys? Make one in 12.1” and a shitload of people will convert their x-series thinkpads to 2048×1536. Imagine a X61 with low voltage CPU, 8GB RAM and a 2048×1536 display, there probably isn’t anything better!

      1. The half-Korean datasheet I have for this panel notes “White LED array(42ea x2)”. I think it’s six strings of 7 series LEDs.

  7. No clue what I would ever use this for, but I really want to do it. That sort of resolution on that size screen is unheard of on PC’s and would be amazing to get working. If they had 20-25″ retina displays I’d buy them in a heartbeat (3 of them) and make a near-seamless Eyefinity monitor out of them, it would probably be cheaper than my current 3x 1080p setup as well.

    1. You could grab 6 of em for $400 odd bucks with connectors and hook em up as is in a 2×3 eyefinity setup… bout 30 inch display but at a staggering res, 6144×3027? makes my eyes hurt and my mouth water just thinking about it.

  8. Well, I’ve found my next project. Will be burning a real board though, and a proper power supply and backlight driver.

    I wonder what is the best way to handle backlight control…

  9. Concerning the thoughts of some to make a projector out of this, whats the HDCP compliance feasibility of this panel?

  10. I would have no other use for a screen so small than a portable document reader, or maybe finally a digital oscilloscope with a decent screen, but that’s interesting nonetheless. This calls for a cheap conversion interface from the same chinese factories producing those uber-cheap single board computer or peripherals pcbs you often spot on the bay.

    1. I saw this on eBay too at one point. It appears lvds has some compatibility with display port. Can anyone confirm this?

      1. LVDS is analogue, DisplayPort is digital – basically DVI with a different connector and a few nice extra features. I’d be very surprised if there was any compatibility.

    2. You can’t drive this panel with straight LVDS. However, silicon does exist to convert LVDS to (e)DP. Presumably here they are using a standard TMDS/VGA to LVDS converter (the green PCB; the white+blue cable is unmistakeably LVDS output), plus a new LVDS to eDP converter (the mysterious white box in the background) to do the conversion in two stages. A third PCB houses the interface FFC connector.

      Not exactly a clean solution, in my opinion. Note how they never show the full “what’s in the box”…

      1. So it looks as though we are stuck with eDP as the input since I don’t believe hdmi/Dvi are directly compatible. Pretty much would require an external converter to translate as well.

    1. I don’t see why not, but you would have to feed it power from somewhere.

      Does the FireWire standard have enough power to run the backlight?

    1. Edited:
      NEW Glossy LCD LED Display Assembly Screen for Retina 2012 MacBook Pro 15″ A1398 US $419.95

      And there is even cheaper version of this probably only raw 2880×1800 display with no cables:
      US $279.95

      http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/NEW-OEM-MacBook-Pro-15-A1398-Retina-Glossy-LCD-LED-Screen-2880×1800-Resolution-/330897303977?pt=US_Laptop_Screens_LCD_Panels&hash=item4d0b0429a9

      Lets make this beauty to work on windows 7 desktop PC or any laptop , if someone know how to connect this

  11. I am seriously interested in using this kind of concept with two retina 15 inch displays connected to a PC. To think this would be possible, and if so what I need more than one graphics card to run both displays? I am very serious about this And you could make a decent amount of coin helping me solve this problem. Minimum order would be 100 boards likely to hundred because I would need to for each project.

  12. hello, whether prompt please there is an opportunity to connect retina 15″ through displayPort? If yes, that that needs to be got.

  13. Anyone knows of a HDMI or VGA to DisplayPort adapter so that this solution would work with regular PC that doesn’t have DisplayPort?
    Thanks

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