16 inch MacBook Pro causes eye strain/pain while 15 inch Retina does not?

baryon

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Oct 3, 2009
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Bear with me on this one. I just bought a 16 inch MBP to replace my 15 inch Retina (late 2013). I've noticed something very weird: when looking at the 16 inch screen, my eyes immediately feel strained and the back of my eyes hurt, like when you're wearing glasses that are too strong, or like when you've been staring at something too close to you for too long. When I look at my old Retina MBP, my eyes immediately feel relaxed and I can't feel any discomfort. With the 16 inch, it feels as if my eyes have difficulty focusing, or like looking at a hologram or something that isn't where it "should" be, tricking your eyes. It's hard to explain, it just feels tiring and exhausting to my eyes.

The two screens look almost identical otherwise. I can't tell any significant difference in color, resolution, refresh rate, or anything. I'm using the same "best for retina" settings, NOT the default "scaled" resolution on both machines. So on-screen elements are nearly identical in size on both machines. I'm using the 60 Hz refresh rate on the 16 inch (can't change it on the 15 inch but I assume it's also 60 Hz). I have turned True Tone off and I'm not using Night Shift. They both run the same OS, which is the latest Catalina release. I'm using the same brightness on both displays. I'm looking at them from the same exact distance, and viewing the same content on both.

I can't see any difference between the two screens whatsoever. It's just that the 16 makes my eyes hurt immediately and the 15 doesn't.

Am I going crazy? What the hell could be going on? Is there anything, even in theory, that could cause something like this? Is there any technical difference between the original Retina screens and the new 16 inch screen that may be relevant?
 

intrepidcase

macrumors member
Nov 13, 2019
40
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Interesting, I just got my 16" MBP coming from a late 2013 15" MBP and likewise use 2x retina resolution on both. So that was 1440 x 900 and now 1536 x 960. I kinda feel something similar as well though I have only been using the 16" for a few hrs. My only thought is that the PPI density has increased slightly from 220ppi (110 @ 2x) to 226 (113 @ 2x). So text is every so slightly smaller, and my 50 yr old eyes need to hold the screen just a wee bit further away.
 

baryon

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Oct 3, 2009
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Interesting, I just got my 16" MBP coming from a late 2013 15" MBP and likewise use 2x retina resolution on both. So that was 1440 x 900 and now 1536 x 960. I kinda feel something similar as well though I have only been using the 16" for a few hrs. My only thought is that the PPI density has increased slightly from 220ppi (110 @ 2x) to 226 (113 @ 2x). So text is every so slightly smaller, and my 50 yr old eyes need to hold the screen just a wee bit further away.
I would be really surprised if the small change in PPI would make such a huge difference. I use my iPhone and iPad regularly and they all have higher PPI screens, and I've never felt anything remotely similar. Hell, I have never had any form of eye pain from any kind of screen, ever – be it CRT, LCD, OLED, etc... Even when using them for hours and sitting too close in the dark, I've always been fine.

Yet now, I spend 1 minute reading large text on my 16 inch MBP, and I feel like it's killing my eyes. I feel like the screen is too bright or too close even when I dim it down so much that I can hardly see it anymore and sit as far away as I can. I have absolutely no clue what's going on, it's incredibly weird. It's like some invisible thing that I can't explain.
 
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retta283

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Jun 8, 2018
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AFAIK, there is no difference in the display other than the size, resolution bump.

I actually went through a similar experience with iMacs. A 21.5" 2009 iMac made me sick trying to use it, within a few minutes I would have a headache. Tried to use it for about a week but it did not improve. First time it ever happened to me. So I later purchased a 21.5" 2010 iMac, which has an even brighter screen, and I had no problems with it whatsoever.

Perhaps there is something about the way the display has been calibrated that makes us sick when we look at it. There's obviously something wrong. Try to go to an Apple Store or Best Buy if you can make it to one, and see if their demo units give the same issue.
 
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Fravin

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Mar 8, 2017
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The 2013 MacBook Pro has 300nits of brightness.
The 2016 has 500nits!

If you are using the same amount of brightness using the bar as a control, than you have almost twice light getting in your eyes.
That’s why your eyes are straining. Try to low down the brightness in MBP16.
 

impulse462

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Jun 3, 2009
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Do you use the highest scaling option? I noticed the screen objects are a little smaller than compared to the highest scaled option on the 15”. Maybe that’s causing it?
 

Evilxardas

macrumors newbie
Dec 5, 2019
8
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macboojk pro 2016 does not have pwm
This is not true:


I don't think it's a PWM problem in my case because i use an iphone X without many problems.
I think it's more a dithering problem because i feel eye strain also with my external monitor that is perfectly good with my desktop PC.

By the way i have to return it. I hope to be luckier in the future.. maybe with the next mini led display.
 
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Falhófnir

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Aug 19, 2017
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PWM is a possibility, but then the retina generation machines all also have PWM dimmed displays, so coming from a 2013 it shouldn't make a difference. Maybe the 16" uses different frequencies that OP is more susceptible to?
 

DRuser

macrumors member
Jul 1, 2017
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Certain types of PWM displays make my wife's eyes hurt after about 15 min. I think it really depends on the frequency PWM is working in and how susceptible the person is.
 

Sanpete

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Nov 17, 2016
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This is on the high side which should mean only few people should have problems with.
It's higher than there's any evidence to support anyone having trouble with it.

But Notebook Check says in their newly updated review that the touch bar flickers at 240Hz, which is well within the range known to cause problems for some.

https://www.notebookcheck.net/Apple-MacBook-Pro-16-2019-Laptop-Review-A-convincing-Core-i9-9880H-and-Radeon-Pro-5500M-powered-multimedia-laptop.445902.0.html

Edit: I assume that's not changed from the earlier touch bars, but I haven't checked.
 

Evilxardas

macrumors newbie
Dec 5, 2019
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It's higher than there's any evidence to support anyone having trouble with it.

But Notebook Check says in their newly updated review that the touch bar flickers at 240Hz, which is well within the range known to cause problems for some.

https://www.notebookcheck.net/Apple-MacBook-Pro-16-2019-Laptop-Review-A-convincing-Core-i9-9880H-and-Radeon-Pro-5500M-powered-multimedia-laptop.445902.0.html

Edit: I assume that's not changed from the earlier touch bars, but I haven't checked.
240 hz is not a problem for me. It's the same frequency of the Iphone X PWM, and i have no issue with it.
I had to return the MBA2018 and now the MBP 16". I had also problem with the Ipad pro 10.5 so i am still using the old ipad air 2.
 

Boplicity

macrumors newbie
Dec 10, 2019
2
1
I also bought the new Macbook pro after coming from a late 2014 model. I have the same issue.

I'm not sure what the reason is, however, I've noticed that the contrast seems to be pretty bad on the new laptop when I lower the brightness significantly. Sure, it looks amazing at full brightness, but I don't want to stare at something as bright as a lightbulb while working. I much prefer the minimum brightness possible, while still having maximum clarity. I don't think this new screen is very good at lower brightness levels. Though it could be another thing causing the eye strain.

Unfortunately, I'm going to have to return the new laptop. It is that much of a problem. Maybe they'll fix this in next year's model.
 
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bennyprofane

macrumors member
Jun 23, 2015
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This is an interesting topic, if you search around there are a lot of people having issues with all kinds of devices and even operating systems.

For example, there are quite a few users who were fine on Windows 7 and when updating to Windows 10, they had huge problems, usually eye pain and headache, even though there were no changes in hardware. The suspected reason is the change of drivers.

The symptoms can be quite serious and these people have a hard time in finding the right set ups and often struggle with having to upgrade, be it software or hardware.

If you read a bit in the ledstrain forum, you will find that there are a lot of explanations: blue light, pwm, dithering etc.

So, in this case it could be dithering, and some (in other threads) blame it on the AMD drivers.


Luckily, I don't suffer from these problems but having just upgraded from the late 2013 15" I feel a very slight eye strain, so subtle that it's not very noticeable. But it's there, like a very subtle itching and tension.

Today, I have switched back and forth between 15" and the 16" and the 15" somehow feels relaxing after the 16" and the itching quickly goes away.

Not sure what I am going to do now. Love the 16" inch in all other respects, and when carefully comparing photos, the 16" definitely has better colors.




Did you end up returning it?


Edit: I am not saying that there is something wrong with the screen but that some may react to it with different issues. This goes for pretty much any device out there so it doesn't reflect on the quality of this product.
 
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Appledoesnotlisten

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Dec 2, 2017
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Bear with me on this one. I just bought a 16 inch MBP to replace my 15 inch Retina (late 2013). I've noticed something very weird: when looking at the 16 inch screen, my eyes immediately feel strained and the back of my eyes hurt, like when you're wearing glasses that are too strong, or like when you've been staring at something too close to you for too long. When I look at my old Retina MBP, my eyes immediately feel relaxed and I can't feel any discomfort. With the 16 inch, it feels as if my eyes have difficulty focusing, or like looking at a hologram or something that isn't where it "should" be, tricking your eyes. It's hard to explain, it just feels tiring and exhausting to my eyes.

The two screens look almost identical otherwise. I can't tell any significant difference in color, resolution, refresh rate, or anything. I'm using the same "best for retina" settings, NOT the default "scaled" resolution on both machines. So on-screen elements are nearly identical in size on both machines. I'm using the 60 Hz refresh rate on the 16 inch (can't change it on the 15 inch but I assume it's also 60 Hz). I have turned True Tone off and I'm not using Night Shift. They both run the same OS, which is the latest Catalina release. I'm using the same brightness on both displays. I'm looking at them from the same exact distance, and viewing the same content on both.

I can't see any difference between the two screens whatsoever. It's just that the 16 makes my eyes hurt immediately and the 15 doesn't.

Am I going crazy? What the hell could be going on? Is there anything, even in theory, that could cause something like this? Is there any technical difference between the original Retina screens and the new 16 inch screen that may be relevant?
Can it be that the 16" screen size is too big and your eyes are overwhelmed?
I feel that in some cases I prefer 15" and in some cases 16".
 

baryon

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Oct 3, 2009
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Can it be that the 16" screen size is too big and your eyes are overwhelmed?
I feel that in some cases I prefer 15" and in some cases 16".
No way. It's hardly larger than my previous 15.4 inch MBP. And I've used 27 inch iMacs for years before, as well as 17 inch CRT monitors, even TV screens and the LG ultrafine 5K. Never, in my 30 years of existence, has a screen caused me eye strain. I've used computers for 13 hours straight, 5 days a week, with and without glasses, sitting way too close to the screen, turning the brightness way too high, and I have never had any discomfort.

But now, the moment I open my 16 inch MBP, it's like there's this invisible, damaging energy emanating from it. I can sit close or far from it, I can turn the brightness up or down, I can spend 1 minute or 10 hours in front of it, and it hurts like hell. Every minute of using this computer feels like my eyes are going to explode. I have never experienced anything even remotely similar to this.
- - Post merged: - -

Did you end up returning it?
Not yet. I have 3 more days to decide. The issue is that returning it would mean switching back to Windows (previous generations of MBP have the butterfly keyboard, and the ones before are too slow for what I need). It's quite a big and permanent life-changing decision and I was really not prepared to have to make this decision now. This kind of sucks right now. I'm doing tests and so far here are my results:

MBP screen brightness tests
  • Dec 22-23:
    • True Tone: OFF
    • Auto Brightness: OFF
    • Brightness level: 100%
      • NO EYE STRAIN WHATSOEVER
      • Supports PWM theory: max brightness usually does not use PWM
        • There may be other brightness levels that don't use PWM, but hard to determine which ones. Need to test further.
  • Dec 24:
    • True Tone: OFF
    • Auto Brightness: OFF
    • Brightness level: 3 notches below max
      • Some eye strain after 5-10 minutes (feels like wearing the wrong prescription glasses: pressure, strain, I constantly want to look away from the screen)
      • Pain behind eyes when looking from side to side after 30 minutes
      • More pressure and pain after more time
      • No redness
  • Dec 25 (same settings):
    • A little eye strain
    • Does not get worse over time
  • Dec 26
    • Not much eye strain today
  • Dec 27:
    • 6 notches below max brightness
    • No eye strain
  • Jan 1:
    • 3 notches below max
    • Turned off night mode on all websites (= more white backgrounds instead of black/dark backgrounds)
    • This is now definitely worse
    • Noticeable eye strain after 20 minutes when looking left/right/up
      • Pain behind/around eyeballs
      • Feels like invisible burning force is pushing against my eyes from the screen’s direction
    • Maybe lack of eye strain was due to limited white screen areas thanks to dark themes on websites?
  • Jan 2:
    • Auto brightness enabled
      • Noticeable pain after a few minutes
      • Pain behind eyes when looking left/right/up
      • Very difficult to keep eyes on screen, the longer I stare at it, the more it hurts
        • Looking away is relieving, almost pleasurable
  • Jan 3:
    • Auto brightness still enabled:
      • Eye pain after just a few minutes
      • Pain increases with time
      • Screen feels like it’s emanating some kind of damaging light (feels like staring into the Sun despite not being too bright at all)
    • Auto brightness disabled:
      • Less eye strain
  • Jan 4:
    • Auto brightness disabled
    • 4 notches below max
    • A bit of eye strain after 10 minutes

  • In the past few days, I have been waking up every morning with sore, dry eyes, friction pain when opening/closing eyes. Subsides after 10-20 minutes of being awake. This was definitely not happening before.
 
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applesed

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Jun 25, 2012
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Maybe try a different one, or in store, and if it’s the same maybe skip this version.
 

baryon

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Maybe try a different one, or in store, and if it’s the same maybe skip this version.
I'd have to bring it home and test it in a dark room, for several hours, to know whether or not it's really causing eye strain. Even with my own unit some days I can hardly notice it but on other days it feels terrible. It depends on many factors and I haven't manage to nail it down yet. But I doubt my unit is "special" in any way. Pretty sure the eye strain is due to some new technology and it would be the same with all Apple laptops released in the past few years.
 

garrel

macrumors newbie
Dec 9, 2019
16
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Same symptoms. I mean you even used the same words I used to describe the issue. Returned after 3 days. The only pleasure I got from this laptop was looking away from it. On the other end except the screen I think it is a wonderful machine.
I still have the doubt it was my unit, but can't verify that and as you said checking in store is a bit pointless. I tried some other laptops in store from different brands, and have similar effects with pwm screens under 300 Hz. Did also an eye visit and it was fine.
 
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baryon

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Same symptoms. I mean you even used the same words I used to describe the issue. Returned after 3 days. The only pleasure I got from this laptop was looking away from it. On the other end except the screen I think it is a wonderful machine.
I still have the doubt it was my unit, but can't verify that and as you said checking in store is a bit pointless. I tried some other laptops in store from different brands, and have similar effects with pwm screens under 300 Hz. Did also an eye visit and it was fine.
Do you also believe this may be due to PWM? The 16 inch MBP was measured to be at 131000 Hz, which is very high compared to the sub-300 Hz that you mention. But I don't know what else it could be, it definitely feels like it's related to the backlight and not anything else.
 
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garrel

macrumors newbie
Dec 9, 2019
16
10
Do you also believe this may be due to PWM? The 16 inch MBP was measured to be at 131000 Hz, which is very high compared to the sub-300 Hz that you mention. But I don't know what else it could be, it definitely feels like it's related to the backlight and not anything else.
It's hard to say. At that high rate pwm should be fine, but some people may suffer anyway. As far as I know it's not that common, but could be. At this point I think we should check another brand new 16, so we can exclude they were just faulty units. If this is how it is supposed to be, then it's undeniable that a small percentage of users will suffer from led strain on this laptop.
What's causing this... apple should know or investigate. Could be pwm as we said. Or the screen itself, the backlight. It's hard to say. Or software related.
Anyway I've read many complaints about a driver update from intel that's causing led strain to some users (even on win laptops) due to some strange dithering algorithm. You could try and force using only the amd gpu and see if it works. Obviously this will have an impact on battery, but if that is the case would mean a possible fix via software update.
Anyway I think you should return it. I understand your concerns about switching to windows, but you can get over a thousand of things, but not this. You can always buy another as soon as you get the refund and so extend your "evaluation" period and in case even return the new one. I was thinking about doing the same, but between the holidays I couldn't. If I manage to get another one I'll let you know.

p.s. never had a problem with my MacBook Pro 2009. Even after hours of use. With this thing after 5 seconds I was sitting on the floor punching my stomach. It's frustrating because the most important thing on a laptop should be the screen. It's not just apple, all brands. They struggle updating every month cpus that will throttle anyway and forget about the most important things.
 
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bennyprofane

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Jun 23, 2015
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It's hard to say. At that high rate pwm should be fine, but some people may suffer anyway. As far as I know it's not that common, but could be. At this point I think we should check another brand new 16, so we can exclude they were just faulty units. If this is how it is supposed to be, then it's undeniable that a small percentage of users will suffer from led strain on this laptop.
What's causing this... apple should know or investigate. Could be pwm as we said. Or the screen itself, the backlight. It's hard to say. Or software related.
Anyway I've read many complaints about a driver update from intel that's causing led strain to some users (even on win laptops) due to some strange dithering algorithm. You could try and force using only the amd gpu and see if it works. Obviously this will have an impact on battery, but if that is the case would mean a possible fix via software update.
Anyway I think you should return it. I understand your concerns about switching to windows, but you can get over a thousand of things, but not this. You can always buy another as soon as you get the refund and so extend your "evaluation" period and in case even return the new one. I was thinking about doing the same, but between the holidays I couldn't. If I manage to get another one I'll let you know.

p.s. never had a problem with my MacBook Pro 2009. Even after hours of use. With this thing after 5 seconds I was sitting on the floor punching my stomach. It's frustrating because the most important thing on a laptop should be the screen. It's not just apple, all brands. They struggle updating every month cpus that will throttle anyway and forget about the most important things.
AMD also uses dithering, and Mac and Linux use forced dithering which cannot be disabled. The only way to completely avoid dithering is Windows with Nvidia gpu. But since I have no problems with my late 2013 15" or any other Apple product before, I don't think it's the dithering for me, unless it's some different kind of dithering. Apart from PWM it could also be backlight flicker.

Anyway, I decided to return my 16". On the last day before returning it, I kept going back and forth with my 15" and I instantly felt my eyes relaxing when switching to the 15". The 16" wasn't painful to me, just slightly straining but I didn't want to take the risk of having a 5000$ laptop with which I wouldn't be 100% happy with.
It was a bit sad taking it back because I really loved it otherwise and did not have any other problems. It was blazing fast, almost always silent , colour accuracy was better than on my 15" and overall a great experience.

Going to stay on my 15" for now but I really could use an upgrade. At least, I can continue using Mojave.
 
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