Having switched to macOS for my day-to-day computing as Xcode is a requirement for me, I naturally use an external display along with my MacBook Air as I need the larger display from a productivity and ergonomic perspective.

I currently use a Dell 27″ “S2721DS” 1440p display which has been serving me well for the past few years. It’s no Studio Display but it definitely gets the job done and the colours are fairly accurate and has good viewing angles thanks to an IPS panel.

When I was using Linux, the display was as you’d expect, pretty normal and font is rendered just fine however, after using a Mac, I realised that macOS is very picky when it comes to what resolution is being output as anything that isn’t a “Retina” display is typically a hit or miss.

The Dilemma

According to various sources online, if you want the ultimate external monitor experience, you need to go for something that is 5K due to how macOS handles scaling. So if you can afford it, I’d go with a Studio Display as it also comes with really good speakers from what I hear (pun intended 😉

If you go with any other monitor like myself, most folks recommend 1440p as it scales really well at native resolutions without any modifications.

However, I quickly found out that if I want sharper and smoother text and also fix the dredged pixelation when gaming at a lower resolution (yes, I play ETS2 on my Mac :D), then you need to use a tool called “BetterDisplay”

What is BetterDisplay

BetterDisplay is a tool that lets you convert your displays into fully scalable screens, create custom resolutions, control your brightness/HDMI audio (e.g. CEC) and much, much more.

It’s an extremely extensive program which is frankly, overpowered but I use it for two things:

  • Scale my 1440p display down to view text more comfortably + gain “Retina” feeling text
  • Control external monitor brightness via my keyboard
As you can see, I am running my 1440p display at a scaled “down” resolution of 2048×1152. This does make the elements appear larger and probably takes a toll on the GPU however, as I am mainly productivity first with my computers, this makes everything very much more pleasant to look at.

You can actually adjust a lot and even enable HiDPI (Retina display experience), on just the standard 1440p but I found that this resolution is the sweet spot for me.

Plenty of adjustment available

I also find myself working at night and having the ability to control the displays brightness via my keyboard is very convenient.

Showcasing the ability to control brightness using the keyboard. Typically done using F1 and F2 on macOS layout.

If you’re after a way to spice up the way elements are rendered on your external monitor, I recommend giving BetterDisplay a go!