4K Screen Optimization – Squint be GONE

Don’t squint! Your 4K monitor can be tweaked so you get the whole picture.

4K Monitor Optimization

I'm always looking to increase productivity, and one of the easiest and cheapest ways to do that is with a large monitor. Nowadays, 32-inch 4K monitors are relatively cheap. What does a large 4K monitor give you? It gives you the screen real estate of 4 monitors in one. That's a massive amount of space and quite frankly sometimes it's too much. So how do we optimize for the best viewing and productivity experience?

4K is NOT Retina Quality

4K at native resolution is a monitor style of the past. Today, most modern monitors are a "retina" style with pixel quadrupling to make fonts and graphics smooth. But at 32 inches, 4K monitors are meant to run at normal resolution modes -- that is to say old style 1 pixel equals 1 pixel on display. The benefit is that you get the full 4K real estate - 4 screens right in front you on 1 monitor. But the drawback is that it can be hard to see the screen because fonts and menu items are small. I have some tips to make it the best experience you can get with simplifying your setup with just 1 large monitor. Read on.

Use the Right Cable

Real computer monitors use DisplayPort connections and cables. DisplayPort can run over Thunderbolt 3 / USB 4. HDMI is universal, but we're not playing games with game consoles. We need sharpness and that means real cables that give us all the colors our monitors can display. Macs in particular have a tough time getting a clear picture over HDMI. With some tweaking using the tips I mention in this post I have gotten HDMI output to be acceptable on my 2014 Mac mini.

ClearType and Mac Font Smoothing

For Macs, enable the font smoothing. This is equivalent to ClearType on Microsoft Windows computers. This gives extra resolution to fonts because each pixel [or dot on the computer screen] is made up of 3 sub pixels and the operating system can control it to give fonts extra sharpness... if enabled. Macs no longer have it enabled, but you can enable in the Terminal [try medium level 2 first]:

Disable font smoothing:

defaults -currentHost write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 0

Light font smoothing:

defaults -currentHost write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 1

Medium font smoothing (default):

defaults -currentHost write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 2

Heavy font smoothing:

defaults -currentHost write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 3

Reset to default font smoothing level (medium):

defaults -currentHost delete -g AppleFontSmoothing

You will need to log off or restart your Mac for any changes to take effect.

If you don't want to mess with the Mac Terminal [though I do recommend doing it this way], there is an app called Font Smoothing Adjuster you can download.

Depending on the monitor, it can help or not. It's good to experiment with different smoothing to see if improves text legibility.

Picture Adjustments

Because your monitor in your room can have a lot of different looks depending on where it is placed, the lighting conditions, and distance from you matter.

A few things you can tweak:

  • Try adding lights directed at the monitor
  • Get closer or further away from the monitor [most likely further away since as you get closer to the monitor it tends to get too bright and the colors get washed out]
  • Adjust the color calibration of the monitor - use the built-in system settings to do this or use a hardware calibrator
  • Adjust the monitor angle / tilt / height
  • Adjust basic settings like brightness and contrast and more advanced settings like Gamma / color mode
  • Try dark mode
  • Use the accessibility settings to increase contrast, menu sizes, and other adjustments. You'll be surprised how much the system settings can change the look of text and user interface elements
  • Use the right color profile. On most operating systems the common profile would be sRGB, Rec 709, or generic RGB. Higher quality monitors would use something like DCI P3 color profile.
Mac Accessibility Screen Mac Accessibility Screen Options Mac Accessibility Screen Display Options Mac Display Calibration Chooser

Turn off Monitor "filters"

A lot of monitor manufacturers alter the picture coming from the computer. We want the purest picture coming from the computer and you need to find out how to do that. Sometimes, little tweaks work. Some monitors come pre-calibrated from the factory and don't need much tinkering. Tinker with picture modes [on my Samsung monitor, "Game Mode" disables picture effects to get the monitor to display the picture the fastest] to see if they make a difference.

Use Special-purpose Eye Drops

I've been using computer vision eye drops from Similasan [currently out of stock 10/23]. They help my eyes focus on the screen on keep my eyes from drying out.

Try Special Computer Use Eye Glasses

For 4K viewing, your eyes need to be perfect. For many people, that means glasses. I wear contacts, but computer glasses help give me perfect vision. Computer glasses are like reading glasses, but with a weaker strength for more distance. See your optometrist to get the exact strength, but a ballpark strength is half of your reading strength. You can go to a pharmacy store like CVS or Walgreens to check your strength from the kiosk and then order the eye glasses online. Computer glasses aren't sold in regular stores... you need to buy them online.

I use Readerest computer glasses right now.

Get Your Eyes Examined

Lastly, as we age we need to realize that over time our eyes get worse over time. It happens very slowly though, so we need to be accepting to the fact that we might need help. We might need reading glasses, computer glasses, or adjustments to contact lenses. You can see your eye doctor for an updated prescription.

More Tips

For more ideas on productivity increases with 4K monitors, see my post 4X Productivity with 1 Giant 4K Monitor.

Ken Morico
Tech enthusiast
Building a solo business while sharing personal + business development tactics. Advised Fortune 500, celebs, startups.

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