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Air Display app for iPad brings Retina-level resolution to Macs

Apple's iPad has leapfrogged the Mac in high resolution display support, though an updated iPad screen sharing app brings the feature to Mac users.

Air Display running Mac OS X's HiDPI mode.
Air Display running Mac OS X's HiDPI mode. Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Avatron Software has just added a way for users see their Mac desktops at "retina-like" resolution -- via the new iPad.

Avatron Software's app Air Display allows users to "extend" their Mac desktops to an iPad, essentially turning the tablet into a second monitor. An update to the app now offers an option to enable HiDPI mode, a setting tucked away in Apple's Mac OS that renders the user interface at four times normal resolution (twice the resolution in each dimension).

That's well-suited for Apple's new iPad, which as luck would have it features four times the number of pixels as the iPad 1 and 2, and a higher pixel density than any panel found on Apple's desktop or notebook computers. At least for now, that is.

Speculation around HiDPI has swirled for months, in no small part to its growing presence in builds of OS X. As noted by Daring Fireball shortly after the release of Mac OS X 10.7.3, Apple included a handful of HiDPI graphic elements -- for instance, the hand cursor in Safari and Mail. Other identified HiDPI elements, particularly in Apple's upcoming Mountain Lion OS X update, suggest that a high-resolution, system-wide visual polish is just around the corner.

In the meantime, the $9.99 app offers a hack-free way to enable the feature and utilize it on the newest iPad's display.

Avatron announced plans to enable support for the HiDPI mode last week. In a blog post the company said the feature worked well in testing with Apple's iPad software simulator, but needed extensive testing after attempting to use it on Apple's actual hardware, where it underperformed without additional tweaks.

To use the feature, Air Display users need to be running Lion, the latest publicly available version of Mac OS X. The software is also available on Google's Android and Microsoft's Windows platforms -- the latter of which isgetting support for high-density displays as part of its eighth major release.