HiDPI Monitors

I recently upgraded my computer and decided it was time to upgrade my monitors as well. I have been using an old 24" NEC PA241W SpectraView1 as my main high quality monitor and 2560x1440 (WQHD) HP Z25n for the other monitor.

The NEC had some hours on it. The backshell of the calibrator fell off a while ago, but I could still use until around 2020, when the NEC software stopped supporting the old sensor. I figured I’d eventually get a new NEC when I was ready.

About a year ago, I started to look into a replacement, and it turns out NEC left the color calibrated monitor market. The NEC was a great monitor: KVM, hardware calibration, uniformity compensation, AdobeRGB gamut, and a 10-bit panel. Current options seemed to be limited to Dell (1 monitor), BenQ, or Eizo to get most or all of these features. Of course, there is that Apple Studio Display, which looks amazing, particularly with the 5K resolution, but none of the niceties I was used to in terms of color reproduction.

My struggle with picking a new monitor was I that I got really used to the screen real estate of the HP 25" monitor. It was good resolution at 2560x1440, the macOS interface was a ‘good’ size, and the monitor wasn’t too big.2 Unfortunately, most of the monitors out there are either 24" 1080p, 27" WQHD, or 27" 4K monitors. 1080p was right out. WQHD is decent, but I was hoping to get a ‘retina’ display, but that meant running a 4K monitor at 1080p. So I didn’t know what to do.

Well, it turns out I didn’t know how the whole retina/HiDPI thing works on macOS. This is probably news to no one since I am way behind the curve on display technology. macOS is smart about the scaling of the interface with HiDPI screens: images are rendered with detail corresponding to the native resolution, but the interface is scaled in size as if the display resolution was lower. What I didn’t realize is that you can choose intermediate resolutions other than just 2x (e.g. 1920x1080 for a 3840x2160 display). One of the options was 2560x1440! I was used to that resolution on a 25" monitor and it’s only a little bit bigger on a 27" monitor. Everything is much cleaner and sharper looking too, particularly fonts. I’m seeing details in text that were really obscured in the typical 12-14 pt fonts I use for text editors and terminals. This intermediate resolution might be slightly harder on your graphics cards than a straight 2x scaling, but I’m not noticing any specific issues.

I ended up with an Eizo CS2470. Highly recommended for anyone doing photography and wanting the extra stuff that a monitor like this provides. There also seems to be a lot of $400-600 27" 4K monitors that calibrate very well if you want to spend a bit less and don’t mind giving up AdobeRGB and hardware calibration. 27" 4K monitors seem like a good match for macOS; maybe not perfect 2x scaling like the Apple Studio Display, but you have a bunch of options for cheaper, many with more capabilities than the Apple monitor provides. Running them at an effective resolution of 2560x1440 is perfect for me (just like the Apple display).

WQHD side note

During my monitor research, I saw a lot of discussion about how 2560x1440 looks like crap on macOS. Turns out Apple removed subpixel rendering of text at some point in the last few years and a lot of people miss it. I never actually liked it. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that I was using bitmapped fonts in terminal and in my text editors.3


A lot of people mentioned an app called BetterDisplay while I was reading up on the problems with macOS and WQHD displays. You can fake the HiDPI display rendering with it and get smoother font rendering on a LoDPI screen. Seems like overkill to me, but the program has a ton of features for managing your screens and is very cool.

  1. Purchased approximately 13 years ago. ↩︎

  2. I’m also spoiled by the 38" ultra-wide at work. I looked for ultra-wides, but they seem to have some uniformity issues which could be annoying for photo stuff. ↩︎

  3. RIP ProFont↩︎