How can I improve the display resolution on an iMac?
January 5, 2006 7:51 AM   Subscribe

A question for a friend: How can one improve the display resolution on an iMac beyond the options in the System Preferences? (My friend is a writer, and she needs the on-screen fonts to be sharp and clear and easy on the eyes.)

She writes: "I have a question about my new g5 iMac. I'm trying to adjust the display resolution with more precision than is allowed in the basic preferences menu, but I don't know where to go. (Macs have changed a bit since I last bought one in 1998. And since 2000, I've pretty much been a PC user.) I have tried searching the Apple support pages online and they just give me the same basic stuff that's in my users manual. I want more. What can I do to improve the screen resolution? Even at the highest setting the text is fuzzy. Is there a site with a better Mac knowledge base than"

Anyone have a bright idea?
posted by jdroth to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
You won't be able to increase the resolution past the panel's native abilities.

Point your friend to the "Appearance" System Preference pane, which will allow her to change the "Font Smoothing" to "Light". This is probably the fuzziness she is experiencing.
posted by tomierna at 8:03 AM on January 5, 2006

It's worth noting that changing that preference doesn't affect running applications. You have to restart them to see the effect (which is a pain in the ass).
posted by smackfu at 8:04 AM on January 5, 2006

A few thigns to try. First off, it's always best to run an LCD in its native resolution. On the G5 iMac, that's 1440x900 for the 17" and 1680x1050 for the 20" version. The next thing to do is go to System Preferences, select the Appearance item, and then choose a font smoothing style at the bottom. I recommend Medium.

Other than these two things, there's not really much you can do to improve on-screen font display.
posted by pmbuko at 8:05 AM on January 5, 2006

She also might try bumping up her font sizes -- something she'd have to do anyway if she ever increased the screen resolution, as it would make everything smaller.
posted by Robot Johnny at 8:07 AM on January 5, 2006

The problem I've found with Macs is that they smooth fonts of all sizes, rather then just very large or very small. This makes them look "blurry" even on a good screen. Drives me nuts.

When I write I often set word to 'zoom fit' (in 'normal' rather then 'page layout' mode) and then maximize the window. This makes the fonts apear like size 26/30 pt, even though the formatting stays the same. At that size, it's anti-aliased even on windows, and it's not that big of a deal for me.

The on-page formatting stays the same, and I can still see a whole line. It makes writing way easier on the eyes.
posted by delmoi at 8:11 AM on January 5, 2006

It's not possible. With CRT monitors, pixels are created by scanning the electron gun across the phosphor back-coating on the tube; by changing the scan, you can change the pixel count, but (until you get down to the size of the shadow mask) there's no inherent pixel size with CRTs.

LCDs, however, have one physical element for each logical pixel (when run at native resolution--actually it's a red, green, and blue sub-pixel for each pixel, but you get the idea). You can't go beyond native resolution--it would be trying to >1 pixel out of 1 element. You can run at lower than the native resolution, but unless this is at an even divisor of the native resolution, one logical pixel is going to be represented by one-and-a-fraction physical elements, which is even fuzzier, as you might imagine.
posted by adamrice at 8:22 AM on January 5, 2006

You could also jack up the value on the text smoothing font size. Maximum non-hacked value is 12 point, but there are utilities out there to change the default values.
posted by tomierna at 8:25 AM on January 5, 2006

As others have noted, this is impossible, and she should check out the font smoothing setting.

But I'll add some more. I switched from Debian Linux to an iMac in Dec. '04. At first, the fonts on my Mac looked slightly soft, especially compared to my Linux machine (on an inferior, but still very good, LCD). Font smoothing in Linux tended toward the "hard" side, and the Mac toward the "soft" side.

I futzed with stuff for a while, settled on a font smoothing setting of "Medium (best for LCDs)" and eventually forgot about it. I got used to it. You can also set the OS to turn off smoothing for fonts below a certain point size in "System Preferences -> Appearances". Any change there really does not take effect except in newly opened applications, so you will see no difference in your existing windows. You've gotta close 'em and reopen 'em.

Recently, I had to switch back to Linux for a weekend while my Mac was in the shop -- the fonts looked horrible to my eye!

Alas, you can get used to a lot. So my advice would be to wait. This is not science, but rather art. And that which bugs you today will seem right as rain tomorrow.

As an aside, the LCD on an iMac is a very good LCD: there's nothing wrong with it at all, and its resolution is fine. If I put my $1,300 iMac computer next to my $900 Sony LCD (which I have -- sometimes I run my iMac with two monitors), the Sony is put to shame. A (presumably) digital connection has something to do with it, but pixel spacing and color are much better on the iMac, too.
posted by teece at 9:51 AM on January 5, 2006

Also, have her use SuperCal to properly calibrate the display colors. This will make a huge difference in perceived display quality.
posted by mrbill at 10:55 AM on January 5, 2006

Couldn't she just use the built-in calibration tool in the Monitors control panel?
posted by designbot at 11:24 AM on January 5, 2006

It's definately not a resolution issue - set the res to the native res (see pmbuko's post about) and turn anti-aliasing (font smoothing) off. Then it'll look more like an OS 9 Mac (or a Windows machine...).
posted by armoured-ant at 12:40 PM on January 14, 2006

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