Jagged fonts on Snow Leopard on LCD over DVI

     I have a 13″ white MacBook. It has a glossy display that is about the best I have ever used in my life. Great quality, lovely fonts. The only drawback with it is a drawback with glossy displays: it reflects ambiant light which can at times cause problems. But I really don’t mind that. I can work around it easily. Overall, I am really happy with the display on the MacBook.

     The only problem is, 13″ is just not enough. Not all the time. But when you are managing many things side by side, and not least when writing code, you can really get frustrated from not having enough space on the screen. After all, it doesn’t help that you’ve windows hiding behind your current window in focus because there is no space left anywhere on the screen to toss two or three windows side-by-side and still be able to get anything done.

     So, a year ago, I purchased, after careful thought and research, a ViewSonic VX1940w external LCD. The reason I settled on this one, and not any other, is a combination of: a) great price I was getting on it; b) excellent resolution it was offering at that price; c) it sported both VGA and DVI inputs. I really, really wanted an LCD with a DVI input. If you haven’t clicked on the LCD catalog page, this LCD sports a max resolution of 1680×1050 and is 19″ in size and wide-screen. It has a matte display, in that, it does not have the reflection problem the glossy displays suffer from. But it isn’t nearly so crisp in display quality as the glossy.

     If you’ve had the occasion to use any Mac laptop, you’ll know that they don’t have the de facto VGA and DVI input/output ports. Instead they can have any one of mini-DVI, mini-VGA, mini-DisplayPort, or micro-DVI/VGA ports, which by the way are all Apple proprietary stuff. So, how do you connect almost all of the LCDs out there that come with standard VGA and DVI ports and connector wires? You buy VGA and/or DVI adpaters from Apple. These, I should mention, are anything but cheap.

     Naturally, I wanted to buy the DVI adapter for my MacBook. However, I did some research and found bad news in that, a lot of people on the Mac forums reported their LCDs not working with the DVI adapters Apple provides because of the latter being either DVI-I or DVI-D, and most LCDs not supporting one or the other. That scared me. The DVI adapter was expensive to being with, I was not sure whether it would really work with my LCD. So, I took the safe lane out and bought the VGA adapter. And it worked out of the box.

     But, there were problems. These were the sort of problems I documented in a question titled, “Why do I feel a strain on my eyes when I look at the 19″ matte display?“, that I asked on the Super User forum. You may want to skim through it to get the excruciating details of the problems I faced with the VGA display on the LCD. The bottom-line was that that I was told that I had to get the DVI adapter instead, and that because of the jagged fonts on the VGA display and generally sub-standard picture quality, my eyes were having a hard time adjusting, resulting in strain and headache. Initially, it didn’t make sense to me how that could really be the cause of the problem, and didn’t buy it. But, the fact remained that I couldn’t use the LCD for long without walking off with an incredible burden weighing down on my eyes.

     Finally, I bit the bullet today and bought a mini-DVI to DVI adapter. Having plugged it in, I noticed that the “auto image adjust” functionality on the LCD was disabled. It wasn’t when the VGA was plugged in. Despite changing a couple of settings that I thought might make a difference, I felt that the fonts looked even more jagged, the picture quality worse than before. Having spent some more time staring on the screen, opening up Terminals and editors and windows, I realized it wasn’t merely a feeling. The fonts and the display did look much worse than before. I freaked out. I didn’t know what to do. I rebooted the MacBook in the hopes that when I plug in the LCD again, I will actually surprise myself. To my utter dismay, nothing changed. I was sorely disappointed, and I didn’t know what to do. A feeling of remorse hit me for having spent a fortune on the DVI adapter only to get a crappier picture than I did on VGA.

     With a heavy heart, I started looking around. I skimmed with grief through a couple of similar posts on the forums about how fonts on DVI input on LCD looked jagged, and such. Nothing suggested really helped. And then, I found this blog post, Snow Leopard Font Smoothing. It talked about the exact same problem I was having. And what’s more, it suggested a fix for the problem. The fix was to toggle a global setting on OS X by running the following command on the Terminal.app:

defaults -currentHost write -globalDomain AppleFontSmoothing -int 2

     I did this, but nothing worked. I wasn’t really sure what else I had to do to get this to work, neither did the blog post hinted at anything beyond running that command. After a while, I was convinced that there was no hope for me in this. I had nearly given up when I noticed the fonts on the text on the menu bar. It looked different. It was crisper, better, more beautiful. And then it hit me. I quickly, first of all, quit my Terminal.app, and when I re-opened it, voila! There they were. The lovely fonts I had fallen in love with on the MacBook screen. I restarted one by one most of the applications. Apparently, what little helpful bit that blog post missed out on was that you had to close all your applications and re-run them for the settings to take effect. I imagine an easier way is to simply log off and log back in.

     I am absolutely ecstatic with all this. Not only can I use my big LCD to manage my work in a better and more productive manner, I don’t have to walk away with unbearable headaches and eye-strain. Well, I still have headache and eye-strain, to be honest, but that’s an every-day thing. I am so happy.

3 thoughts on “Jagged fonts on Snow Leopard on LCD over DVI

  1. Mike says:

    Thanks mate, you just made my day. I was about to return my new 23″ screeen to the shop, but now it’s all perfect! –Thanks again.

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