Mac and eystrain
September 4, 2009 9:21 PM   Subscribe

I've been wanting to switch to a Mac for around a year, but my vision isn't perfect and Macs seem to be designed for designers with 20/20 vision.

First I tried a Macbook Pro 15" and everything was too tiny for me (I asked a question about this on this site previously, but couldn't find any good way to enlarge everything, unlike on Windows which is full of options for this). Then I got a Mac desktop and hooked it to my old monitor, which was nice and big (19" 1280x1024) but now the text is big but so fuzzy it immediately gives me a headache and eyestrain looking at it. When I switch to Windows in VMWare this feeling immediately goes away. I am already using DVI, have calibrated the monitor, adjusted the brightness, tried all levels of font smoothing, checked the resolution, toyed with the contrast settings in universal access, and tried every other adjustment I could think of.

So, what's the best super-sharp, high-contrast LCD monitor for a Mac that doesn't make everything look tiny? (Apple's 30" and 23" displays are too high-res for me) Or is there some other solution I've overlooked?

I have around 10 days before I have to return it, and if I don't find a way to use it comfortably, I'll just have to face that the Mac is just not for me and go back to Windows for the foreseeable future.
posted by lsemel to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
1) Make sure you have a pair of glasses specifically for computer use -- coated lenses, proper focus for your anticipated distance, larger than 'stylish' lenses are also helpful.

2) Increase the default font sizes in the Finder and Safari. Most other applications now have a 'zoom' feature that allows you to set the default document size to, say, 125%.

3) Use a large display with the resolution set below the native resolution. Everything will instantly be larger.

#1 & #2 work swell for me. Good Luck.
posted by mmdei at 9:31 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

3) Use a large display with the resolution set below the native resolution. Everything will instantly be larger.

If you're using an LCD or plasma, you could easily be sacrificing clarity here. Most LCDs want to be driven at their native resolution, and wind up looking blurry and shitty at anything else.
posted by Netzapper at 9:44 PM on September 4, 2009

The fuzziness is probably Apple's font-smoothing. Some people prefer it; I've always thought it looked like the fonts were a bit past their prime. I imagine there's a way to turn it off, but I don't know what it is. Poke around in the system preferences.
posted by sinfony at 9:57 PM on September 4, 2009

Of course, I missed the part of your question where you say you tried the font-smoothing. Very strange, then.
posted by sinfony at 9:58 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: It's definitely the font smoothing. I notice that it looks better on some monitors than others (such as the glossy Macbooks, which look sharp to me but are too high-res to use comfortably) but on my bigger monitor text looks like it's run through the Gaussian Blur filter in Photoshop and I can't focus on it.
posted by lsemel at 10:02 PM on September 4, 2009

Go to System Preferences>Appearance and Font smoothing settings are at the bottom and you can set it to a low number
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:11 PM on September 4, 2009

oops...change it to a large number.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:12 PM on September 4, 2009

I like to add that MacOS has a very well designed "universal access" system.

For example, it intuitively verbalize the user-interface(UI) as you place your finger on parts of the touchpad corresponding to the UI.

Check out the description at
Mac OS X - Universal Access

Best wishes!
posted by jchaw at 10:19 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: I think part of the problem is my crappy monitor. Any suggestions for monitors that look good on a Mac are appreciated!
posted by lsemel at 10:22 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: ...probably 1920 x 1080 at 24" or 27"
posted by lsemel at 10:23 PM on September 4, 2009

You might just not like how OS X smooths fonts. I've heard a lot of windows users complain that text on a Mac is either too blurry or too bold.

You can try turning on the experimental "Resolution Independence" with this terminal command

"defaults write -g AppleDisplayScaleFactor x"

where "x" = a percentage of your choice. Values of x > 1 will make things bigger; values of x <>Sample screenshot @ 2.0x

Or you could also look for an older 4:3 21" LCD (1600x1200) and run it at 800x600 for pixel perfect 2x zoom.
posted by wongcorgi at 10:25 PM on September 4, 2009 [1 favorite]

Fixed screenshot of resolution independence at 2x
posted by wongcorgi at 10:26 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: Resolution independence will be great and will solve the problem, once they debug it. Right now it messes up a lot of software.
posted by lsemel at 11:00 PM on September 4, 2009

Best answer: I'm legally blind (literally 20/200) and I use a Mac. And I love it!

One of the struggles for people with poor vision will always be monitor resolutions, and this is especially true when it comes to laptops because, with a laptop, you're married into the screen it comes with.

I own a Mac Mini and my monitor is a 20 inch with a native resolution of only 1280 X 1024. It's a crappy Envision monitor, but it came with a lower native resolution, so I'm relatively pleased with it. God damn are companies making it hard on people with the crazy huge resolutions monitors come with these days... but bigger numbers are more impressive to the average yutz who knows nothing but what he sees on the tag in the store.

If your vision is as bad as mine, I recommend nothing larger than a 20 inch monitor. Why?!? THINK DISTANCE. As you're reading this now, stop! Look at the distance from your eyes to the text you're reading on the screen. Literally use your fingers to measure it. Notice how far away the stuff at the top and bottom of the screen is by comparison to the stuff in the middle? Bigger monitors are great for people with good vision. For people like me, they actually push everything that isn't at the center of the screen further away because I sit so close to the monitor. The bigger the monitor, the more my head ha to move around in order to try to compensate.

If your vision is as bad as mine, I recommend trying to stay under a native resolution of 1000 pixels from top to bottom. The more pixels, the smaller the stuff on the screen will be. Again, my monitor is 1280 pixels wide by 1024 pixels tall. For me, that's just a little too big.

The bad news is, you'll have to really really hunt for a monitor that has a large screen with the smallest native resolution... but it's worth it!
posted by 2oh1 at 11:31 PM on September 4, 2009

Response by poster: @2oh1, that interesting that you love the Mac. Your vision is far worse than mine yet I'm the one having problems. I totally agree about high resolution monitors being a problem. I'm currently using a 19" 1280x1024 screen. How close do you sit to the screen? I tend to sit around a foot back from it. I have to hunch over to use a Mac laptop with its tiny 1440 x 900 screen because everything is so small, but my old Thinkpad with a 1024x768 15" screen feels comfortable.

Oddly enough I am completely comfortable reading a fully zoomed out web page with tiny 3pt type on an iPhone from like two inches away. Too bad that doesn't carry over to normal sizes and distances.
posted by lsemel at 12:03 AM on September 5, 2009

I was quite sad to have to give up using a MAC in the 90's due to vision loss. When you've used a MAC, going back to a PC sucks, no matter what anyone says.

But since the era of Tiger and especially Leopard, I'm BACK! Using one right now, actually.

The advances made to MAC universal access are quickly becoming far and away better than using the more expensive accessible software such as zoomtext or JAWS/Window Eyes. I use a combo of screen enlargment and voice output, and the MAC built in (aka FREE! not hundreds of dollar) accessibility features are really blowing the other guys out of the water.

The screen enlargement software is much, much smoother (both in text and actually navigating around the screen) than zoomtext is. The voice output takes a bit of adjusting to if you are used to using JAWS, and it has some things that need improvement (I'm interested to see how snow leopard does with these) but is very intuitive and usable after some getting used to.

And bonus: I've also heard that with snow leopard you can bluetooth your way to a variety of Braille displays/printers. Probably not what you need, but very amazing to have that kind of immediate access for those of us who are deaf blind.

The best thing about Mac accessibility is that I can go into any apple store, or use any library/public/friend's computer by just pushing "Control F5". Instant access universally that blind people have never enjoyed before.

There will be a learning curve, but if you take advantage of the access features, you will be fine on a Mac.
posted by Bueller at 5:33 AM on September 5, 2009

Best answer: Macs and Windows use different font rendering techniques. There was a big programmer brouhaha about it a couple of years ago (I think this was the opening salvo). The gist of the discussion was that Mac font rendering was designed with an eye to looking the same in print and on screen and not just to screen reading, where Windows fonts are designed for screen reading and look different between screen and print. So Mac fonts look better at higher DPI screen/print resolutions, and look blurry to Windows users when the resolution is too low. Conversely, Windows fonts look all wrong and too narrow and so on to Mac users; they don't give me headaches but they are harder to read.

This is the tech background behind 2oh1's comment and 2oh1 has the right solution: smaller monitor, biggest pixel dimension to force higher resolution.
posted by immlass at 7:38 AM on September 5, 2009

control scroll (if you have a scrolly mouse) zooms the screen in. There is a control in system preferences to change how it functions (either live scroll or only when the cursor hits the edges). it works in real time, so you can zoom in and out as much as you like.
posted by KenManiac at 8:42 AM on September 5, 2009

Please be very precise in your terminology here and ideally link us to a screenshot or, much better, a digital photograph of your entire computer screen including bezel.

Do you mean text is fuzzy (has ill-defined edges), or do you mean it is blocky or jagged (has visible stairsteps or discernible pixels on angled strokes and vertices)?
posted by joeclark at 9:46 AM on September 5, 2009

You might also consider an hdtv with a 720p resolution. That would be quite large text on a suitably large screen, I routinely see adds for 720p tv's that are 37". Also, if I'm not mistaken, Snow Leopard has introduced new display settings specifically for hdtv's. While getting a DVI to HDMI adapter might be a pain in the ass, it shouldn't be too hard to find one with VGA inputs.
posted by ericales at 11:38 AM on September 5, 2009

Response by poster: @joeclark, to be very precise about it, the text is rendering correctly but the anti-aliasing is very visible due to the resolution of my monitor. Pictures here.

When I look at this type of text in the Apple Store on the latest Macbook or iPhone, it looks very clear and sharp, and the anti-aliasing artifacts are not really noticeable. It looks better than text on a PC and nicely matches the look of the fonts. Unfortunately it's also too small for me, or I'd just get a Macbook.

When I look at this same text on my screen, a Dell 1905FP with matte surface, .294 dot pitch and 1280x1024 resolution, the font rendering artifacts are quite noticeable. The characters look like they have ill-defined, washed-out edges, and there are no sharp lines to focus on. This doesn't happen on the notebook screens. So my eyes struggle to focus on what they perceive is out-of-focus text, causing immediate eyestrain - similar feeling as wearing glasses with a prescription that is not quite right.
posted by lsemel at 12:06 PM on September 5, 2009

Creating a color calibration for your screen may help.

In the system preferences, in Displays, click the "Color" tab and press the "Calibrate" button. It will run you through a set of steps to adjust the brightness curves. In particular, switching to the "2.2 Television Gamma" rather than "1.8 Standard Gamma" may make the apparent contrast look better.
posted by xil at 12:45 PM on September 5, 2009

Hi Isemel,

First, a question. You speak as though your issue is occurring right now, in real-time, with current generation Macs. Yet you say you are using DVI, when all new Macs use Mini Displayport. Can you please clarify?

If you are using a current generation Mac with a Mini Displayport connector I will solve your problem for you by giving you a new CinemaView 24 LCD display from our first inbound inventory in about 6-weeks. It is a 24-inch monitor at 1920x1080 resolution, so has a larger dot pitch than Apple's displays, making it easier to see details. However, again, it does require the Mini DisplayPort jack on the Mac.

If this meets your needs, then email me at to sort out the details.
posted by cinemaview at 2:01 PM on September 5, 2009

Response by poster: On this Mac Pro, I'm using the big (DVI) connector. There's also a small connector, which I assume to be a Mini Displayport.
posted by lsemel at 8:51 PM on September 5, 2009

Having looked at your pictures and understood your explanation, characters look fine to my relatively normal vision. This assessment does not help, of course. Neither will my belief that your system is working as designed and there is nothing obvious you can do about it – possibly nothing at all.

I would, however, caution against comparisons between seated viewing at your own workstation under your own lighting conditions and standing viewing in a bright retail store. If nothing else, the latter isn’t what you’re dealing with day to day.
posted by joeclark at 2:18 PM on September 6, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I'm pretty set on keeping it, and my solution thus far is to be on the lookout for a better monitor.
posted by lsemel at 3:37 AM on September 7, 2009

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