Display Candy for the Eyes?
December 10, 2011 1:44 PM   Subscribe

On your wise counsel, I instantly went out and got myself a used monitor. For learning purposes, an external monitor is just great, and I couldn't thank you enough! For seeing purposes, I could still stand just a little more guidance. Can you answer some questions about my Mac, my monitor, and me? (Oh, yeah, and the program F.lux, too.)

  • I've got a MacBookPro OSX.6.8 and a 20" Syncmaster 2033sw Samsung WideScreen external display.
  • I've got the Display set at the maximum resolution of 1280x800, and I've set the refresh rate as high as it will go, at 75 Hz.
  • The Display is set up about 20" from me, as recommended in the manual.
  • I've got F.lux enabled.
But all the other settings baffle me. I keep playing with them since I tend to be light sensitive at the best of times. But there are too many possible configurations, and I don't really know what I'm doing. I also don't know where to look up ergonomic (eyegonomic?)--rather than idiosyncratic--recommendations for large monitor viewing.


1. I've got the screen connected to the Mac with a VGA cord. But I've got the option to use a DVI cord. Does that increase sharpness? And if so, do I want that?

Master Controls: Mac v. Monitor

2. In general, which machine should control my viewing options? Or does one override or conflict with the other? Or do they complement each other?

Mac & Monitor

3. Should I calibrate the Mac's color and brightness settings AND set up the monitor's color, tone, and gamma settings?

4. If I should set up the monitor's color, tone, and gamma settings, how do I set 'em up?

5. Apropos the last question, how should I set the monitor's contrast, sharpness, coarseness, and fineness?

6. And do I want a viewing position of "wide" or "auto"? (The latter introduces black bars to the edges of the screen.)

7. And what is Magicbright, Magicolor, and all the other Magics?


8. How does F.lux play into all this? (I'm assuming F.lux is good for my eyes....)

Bonus Question

9. What I'd like to do is view the widescreen in portrait mode, and then set it up as an extended desktop, so I can watch tutorials on my Macbook (which already has a height-adjusting stand), and work on programs I'm learning in full-page mode, therefore eliminating a lot of click-click-click. But what I'm wondering is whether I should bother spending the money. Will a 20" monitor standing on end be too high to be ergonomic for a 5'3" individual, for whom ergonomics are always an issue?

I'm happy with whatever you've got, but general concepts to help me understand more specific goals and specific numbers to help me right now would make me giddy happy.

posted by Violet Blue to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You should use the DVI cable if it works; that should increase sharpness, and I think you'd want that. If I understand what's happening, it should also allow the computer to fill the whole screen without black bars or stretching. VGA can't push enough pixels across the connection to keep a modern monitor satisfied at its full resolution, so you'll end up with lower refresh rate (flicker), or scaling up a low resolution image in the monitor (blurriness).

As for the later questions, my gut feeling is you should leave the monitor's settings at their defaults, and do calibration on the Mac side— they're both attempting to solve the same general problem of color correctness, and you can probably get the job done with either one or both, but the Mac's UI is probably easier to deal with than the monitor's.

F.lux is solving a different problem: it's trying to keep you from staring at a bright bluish rectangle late in the day, which (supposedly; I don't know how solid the research is on this) throws off your circadian rhythm. But this is also tied into color correctness, since our notion of color is very contextual. This is a very complicated subject once you get into it. But if you're mostly interested in ergonomics and not perfect color calibration, then you don't need to get into it.
posted by hattifattener at 2:09 PM on December 10, 2011

It looks like the maximum resolution of the 2033sw monitor is 1600x900. That you report it to be 1280x800 might be because of the use of a VGA cable (though, VGA should be able to drive till 2048x1536).
1.In theory DVI should improve the signal, because it is digital. In practice, it does make text look better, sharper and less stressful on the eyes.
2. Maybe I missed something, if you are editing pictures, the higher DPI monitor is better. Of course, color rendition and monitor panel types are important too. I am not very sure about the color rendition aspects of the Syncmaster.
3. Generally it is a good idea to calibrate them both so that they are similar, so that you are not having trouble when looking at them alternately.
4. The second monitor should show up in the display pane of System Preferences and a calibrate option would normally be there.
5. I usually set the contrast to 75%, brightness to 100% or play with what is least stressful to your eyes. Again, if you are using a two monitor set up, it is preferable to have them be similar to each other.
6. Depends on what you are doing with it. If you are watching movies, obviously letterbox is nicer in that you are getting all the details, but if you want to maximize screen real estate usage, you are better off having it auto or use the screen fully.
7. I am not aware of these specifically, but these are usually marketing speak for technologies that adjust the screen brightness contrast etc.. for specific tasks, like text, movies etc..
8. F.lux adjusts the color temperature of your monitor so that as the day changes to night, the blue component on your monitor is reduced slowly, so as to not affect your circadian rhythm much. The gradual change is so that you can adjust to the changed color temperature and your brain still perceives it as white (whereas in reality it is getting warmer or more orangish). How well this works in practice, I don't know. But sleep doctors regularly prescribe blue lights to push or pull the circadian rhythm.
9.The monitor in portrait mode will be about 17" tall, so if your setup allows you to sit and look at the top of the monitor at or near eye level, I think that should be good.
posted by ssri at 2:35 PM on December 10, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks for all your answers!

Here are a few answers of my own: I'm noticing now that you mention it that 1280x800 *is* the maximum level (in the area subtitled "syncmaster") *if* you want to set the monitor at its highest refresh rate of 75 hz.

(Then there's another area subtitled "color LCD"; this is all under the monitor menu in the menu bar at the top. I don't know what the point of the two separate areas is???)

Anyway, I'd thought from other Q&A's I'd read on Mefi that the blur was being caused by the low refresh rate (default of 60 hz), so I changed it to 1280x800 to force the maximum hz.

When I reset it to 1600x900 the screen doesn't get any clearer and the black bars don't go away. They only seem to go away if I use the "wide" view option.

I'm almost exclusively using the screen for text (documents & internet).

posted by Violet Blue at 3:01 PM on December 10, 2011

Response by poster: No, nope, my error. The black bars only go away if I set the wide view option at the lower DPI with the higher hz. If I set it at the highest DPI, with the lower hz, the black bars return....
posted by Violet Blue at 3:17 PM on December 10, 2011

1. A VGA hook up is fine until you have copy protected content (such as a Blu-ray movie), then only the DVI cable will work. This is called HDCP (High Definition Copy Protection). I suggest using the DVI both for sharpness and eliminating copy protected content troubles.

2. It's really personal preference. I usually control settings through the control panel on the computer because it's easier than the menus and buttons on the external monitors.

3. Calibration isn't all that necessary for learning. It's not until you start do produce production quality work that you may need (for example) Pantone color accuracy for print materials or something. If you're working on web, there are soooooooo many different monitors and color calibrations out there (that visitors will see), it becomes a challenge to pick an "in-between" color that will look right on most monitors. Ultimately, our company ends up choosing what the customer likes on THEIR monitor as the best color. I wouldn't worry about it much while in the learning phase.

4/5. Again, until you have some experience, don't mess with it (or if you do, write down the default settings ahead of time, so you can easily revert from experimentation). The default factory settings (especially on Macs) are usually excellent out-of-the-box, and Samsung monitors are usually stellar too.

6. If you divide width in pixels by height, you will get the aspect ratio of the screen. So in terms of resolution:
1024 / 768 = 1.333 = 4 / 3 (or roughly square, standard television)
and for widescreen
1920 / 1080 = 1.777 = 16 / 9 (widescreen ratio)
Pick resolutions that correctly divide out to the type of screen so that when you draw a circle in Illustrator, it actually looks like a circle on the screen instead of an oval (some monitors will stretch a square resolution to fit (but it sounds like your monitor is properly showing black bars instead and maintaining the proper aspect ratios of the displayed image).

7/8. Don't use F.lux, and probably wouldn't for design projects. Someone else might have to answer this.

9. Choosing to rotate your monitor can be done through display preferences. Whether or not you do is again, personal preference. Try it, if you don't like it, turn it back. It also depends on what you're working on. If the project is vertically oriented, you might prefer a vertical monitor over a horizontal one, however if you're like me and eventually get comfortable with zoom, horizontal is more "life like". In other words, when we look at the horizon of a lake, mountain range, etc, it's mostly horizontal information that you're looking at.

My two cents:

Learning the suite is just like riding a bike or an instrument. Practice, practice, practice. The more you do, the more you learn, and thus the better you get. Don't get frustrated, it takes a long time.

Also note, refresh rates usually help most in fluorescent lighting which, in the US, oscillates at 60 hertz, so previously a tube monitor refresh rate that was also set to 60 hertz sometimes looked like it was flickering. So changing the monitor to something like 70 or 75 Hz eliminates that. I've never seen this flickering on modern flat screen monitors in rooms with fluorescent lighting. This is the practical use of changing this setting I've always used for myself and clients.

Best of luck to you!
posted by rwheindl at 3:18 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: I forgot to mention, monitors are usually designed with an "optimal" resolution in mind, this is often the highest setting the monitor will support. It's usually best to set your display settings to that resolution so the monitor performs its best for you.
posted by rwheindl at 3:22 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: I think there are a few things going on here, so here's my recommendation of things to set so you no longer have to worry about them. Set your resolution to 1600x900 and the refresh to 60Hz. LCDs should be run at whatever your current does, the monitor is not like a CRT where you want to set the refresh as high as possible. This isn't hard and fast, but 60Hz is a good, generic place to start. Now, there are bars on the top? Sides? Both? What does it say when you press the menu button at the top of the column of buttons on the right edge and cursor down to the info display?
posted by rhizome at 3:28 PM on December 10, 2011

Response by poster: I've set the resolution at 1600x900 at 60 hz.

But when I go into Apple's display preferences page it tells me that "Usable Resolution" is actually 1280x800. (And that's what it says in Apple's Monitor Menu Bar on the drop-down menu under the "Color LCD" subtitle as well.)

The black bars are at the right and left-hand sides of the screen, making the Wide Screen just a little less wide.

Under the Monitor's "Information" Menu on the right-hand side it says:

60 OkHz 60Hz PP
posted by Violet Blue at 3:41 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: This seems like a good candidate for an answer.
posted by rhizome at 4:23 PM on December 10, 2011

Best answer: It is possible that the connector is the problem. It may not be the correct connector for the MBP model, plus the fact that it is VGA.

Also, it might not be the best idea to read text on a portrait monitor at small font sizes, because text rendering in mac os or windows is designed to make use of sub-pixel rendering and the relative positions of the horizontal RGB sub-pixels. When you rotate the monitor, the text is rendered in a different direction from the sub-pixels.

On preview, also what rhizome said. However, OP says they are using the MacBookPro. AFAIK, its internal resolution has always been 1440x900.
posted by ssri at 4:34 PM on December 10, 2011

How old is your MacBook Pro? I think you might be limited in the resolution for your external display through your graphics chip.

If you go to the Apple Menu and select "About This Mac" and then click on "More Info" (or if you run System Profiler), you should be able to see what kind of graphics chip you have. That will be useful information for knowing how many pixels it can drive at once (the MacBook screen plus the external screen).
posted by hippybear at 8:32 PM on December 10, 2011

Response by poster: I do nothing but praise Mefites. But let me lavish on some more: You people are incredible!

I started marking best answers and quickly found that I'd marked them all. So for readability's sake, I limited the "besties" to those where the entire answer was useful. This is hardly a slam at everyone else though. I had no idea that Displays were so complex, and you all helped me understand the issue in ways I would not and could not have reached on my own this millenium.

The Biggest bestie, though, goes to rhizome! For future readers, the answer to the question was provided by Frederic1943 on the linked Apple support page.

He says: "To make the external display the main screen open System Preferences. In the Display pane click on the Arrangement Tab when in side by side arrangement. Then move the menu bar from the MacBook screen to the external screen on the arrangment picture. Then close the lid on the MacBook and strike a key on the external keyboard and your external display will be your main screen (Menu bar, Dock, etc...)and you can choose the highest resolution for it."

And it worked. What I was seeing I finally realized wasn't a blur, so much as chunkiness on the screen, particularly with the fonts. As many of you guessed, the screen was stretched. Anyway, Frederic1943's solution gave *full* control of the monitor to the external Display. This in turn allowed it to reach maximum, native resolution at a genuine 1600x900 at 60 hz. Once that happened, the text was rendered crisply, which I complemented by resetting everything to "automatic," "dynamic," and Marketing's "magic" settings + 100 % brightness and 75% contrast, as recommended above. And in the end, the whole thing just rocks!

One final note, however, for anyone else referring to this page. When I say the external Display took over (rendering the laptop into nothing but a hard drive) I mean that literally. Part of my initial problem turned out to be that I had the laptop set up between worlds. It was neither being used in tandem (as part of an extended screen) or closed ("clamshell"). Instead I had it half-open and off to the side, due to space considerations.

So when I put the external Display to sleep, unplugged the laptop, and brought it into another room I expected the laptop screen to take over again. Nope. After much fiddling, I finally had to go back to my office, plug everything in again, undo Frederic1943's instructions in reverse, and restart. Wow!

Anyway, I consider this resolved and everyone who posted wonderful. Thanks!
posted by Violet Blue at 6:15 AM on December 11, 2011

You can locate a free OSX program called "SecondBar" which replicates the toolbar of your current application on the second screen, (no matter which screen you're working on). The benefit is having the application menu above your mouse at all times.

It doesn't replicate the OSX menus such as the apple menu and all the indicator doodads to the right end (default) of the OSX. Also, sometimes it shows up as a second bar when you disconnect them monitor. It's easy to make it go away-- far right end has a semi-hidden arrow that opens a menu that tells it to close.

P.S. if video playback on anything starts to stutter, start by updating your video drives, but following that, temporarily reduce the resolution on the monitor not playing the video. It'll juice the video's monitor with additional resources you just freed up.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:24 PM on December 12, 2011

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