Wacky display on Mac. Halp?
January 26, 2012 5:17 PM   Subscribe

When I log into my MacBook Pro, the graphics contrast suddenly increases — by a whole lot. What the heck is going on?

I've had this thing for a few months but only recently has this issue popped up. I'm using a new MacBook Pro (Intel graphics) running Lion. Here's what's happening:
  • The screen is fine on boot, until I log into my personal account. A second or two after entering my password, the graphics system does some sort of adjustment and the contrast increases dramatically. The most noticeable effect is that black values are "crushed" and graphics look dark because of this, although the overall screen brightness is as expected. Needless to say, it makes everything look like total shit.
  • This DOESN'T happen with the guest account, only with my personal account.
  • This seemingly has nothing to do with my color calibration settings. If I recalibrate while the display is messed up, it stays messed up.
  • It has nothing to do with my screen, either. I get the same effect with external monitors.
  • If I switch between my account and guest, the contrast thing happens BEFORE the 'cube' animation. After the cube animation finishes, there's another shift in the color/gamma, which I assume is the color calibration kicking in.
  • The problem happens with both desktop apps and GPU-accelerated games. It doesn't seem to matter.
The ONLY thing I've found that solves this is plugging in an external monitor. When I do that, the screen goes blue for a moment while the graphics system resets itself (I suppose) and then the contrast is normal. I then get normal operation until I log out, switch users, or shut down the computer. Sleep mode doesn't cause a problem (which is why I have no clue what caused it or when exactly it started happening; I let the system go for weeks without logging out or shutting down).

I'm really at my wit's end about this. I could re-make my user account, but I'd really rather not do that, especially because I don't know which setting is causing this. Google has failed me. I haven't installed anything that messes with graphics settings, except SwitchResX, which I used briefly to try to correct an external monitor resolution problem (and have since uninstalled).

Any clues? I'm pretty knowledgeable about graphics and computers, and I'm not afraid of the command line, but I'm a Mac noob and I don't even know where to look. At the very least, as a workaround, a way to induce the same reset that plugging in a monitor causes would be helpful. (For example, I'm stuck with it right now because I don't have my monitor cable handy at the moment.)
posted by neckro23 to Computers & Internet (7 answers total)
You mentioned that recalibrating doesn't help - by that, do you mean that going into the 'Color' settings under the Display preference? Because that's the only thing I can think of, that your account is set to switch to a different preset.

What happens if you make a brand new account? Does that have the problem as well?
posted by anaximander at 5:23 PM on January 26, 2012

It's pretty common for Macs to startup with the default display settings, and then switch to custom settings when a user is logged in with a custom calibration.

How many presets to you have in your "Displays>Color>Display Profile:" window?
Why don't you try creating your 'ideal' calibration and then deleting the rest? (Make sure to make it available for all users.) That way, the 'bad' calibration won't exist to be activated.

Hope this helps.
posted by itsjustcarlo at 5:29 PM on January 26, 2012

Response by poster: There is no "bad" calibration. Like I said, it's possible to get the display to behave "normally" without touching the calibration settings at all. If I mess with the settings when it's broken, when things return to normal (when I plug in a monitor) I finally get to see the "real" calibration result.

Whatever's causing the contrast-breaking thing, it's separate from the calibration. I see the calibration step happen separately when I login or switch users.
posted by neckro23 at 5:31 PM on January 26, 2012

Response by poster: And yes, by calibration I mean display profiles.
posted by neckro23 at 5:32 PM on January 26, 2012

Best answer: Have a look at the Universal Access options in System Preferences (or wherever they are in your version of the OS). It's possible to set some display stuff with key combinations, so it's not impossible that you've somehow got a strange setting switched on by accident.
posted by Lebannen at 5:46 PM on January 26, 2012

Response by poster: By Jove, you've got it. "Enhance Contrast" was up a couple of notches. Thanks!

(Of course this leads to the question "Why doesn't this work as intended when I plug in a monitor?")
posted by neckro23 at 5:48 PM on January 26, 2012

Perhaps to support video mirroring for effective presentations?
posted by retronic at 10:02 PM on January 26, 2012

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