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

CRoebuck

macrumors member
May 16, 2014
60
40
Hi everyone,

TLDR: I strongly suspect it's a dithering algorithm issue in Intel drivers.

I posted several months ago in the other thread regarding eye strain with the 16" MBP but recent findings have got me posting here too. Long story short I have a 2017 13" MBP TB model. Never had any issues with eye strain, soreness etc. However Upon trying any flavor of 2018 / 2019 15" or 13" MBP I immediately noticed soreness, a sensation of "hard to focus" and often noticed movement/flicker in surrounding text or images. I've tried several examples of both 13" and 15" (maybe a dozen) and noticed these effects in all. I also noticed returning to my 2017 (or my 2017 Surface Pro 5) gave immediate relief. I assumed the different panels (A03E versus A034) in the 13" MBP between 2017 and 2018 was the cause. Then in late 2019 I upgraded the version of Windows on my Surface Pro, can't remember the exact version, and immediately noticed a similar effect. Literally within 10 minutes, my eyes were sore and the machine almost unusable. I rolled back and the problem was resolved. I then rolled forward and it returned. So I tried installing ditherig, a Windows EXE for switching off temporal dithering and found it made both versions of Windows appear great (as much as Windows can be ;-) so I formed the conclusion that this is an Intel graphic driver issue whereby the dithering algorithm has been changed somewhat and now gives me a problem. Fast forward to May, my 2017 has been a champ, no keyboard failure either and I upgraded from 10.15.4 to .5 and WHAM !!!! I have eye strain and soreness and difficulty focusing. I am rolling back as we speak and am even more convinced this is a graphic driver issue. Why did the 2017 work for the past 2 years whilst 2018/19 have been unusable for me??? Who knows but I do know I'm working on a Surface Pro for now and wondering whatever can I do once my 2017 dies (or gets a forced update)........
 

hungryghosty

macrumors regular
May 14, 2020
123
57
Interesting. I was wondering if I should look at the 2020 MacBook Air 13" as an alternative to the Pro (as it uses a different display panel) but from what you're saying it sounds like it might also be affected by this issue.

"I immediately noticed soreness, a sensation of "hard to focus" and often noticed movement/flicker in surrounding text or images."

That's exactly the issue I found with my 2020 13" MacBook Pro and why I returned the device.
 
Last edited:

CRoebuck

macrumors member
May 16, 2014
60
40
Interesting. I was wondering if I should look at the 2020 MacBook Air 13" as an alternative to the Pro (as it uses a different display panel) but from what you're saying it sounds like it might also be affected by this issue.
That’s certainly my observation. A machine that for 3 years has been fine is suddenly, following an update, exhibiting behaviour that was evident in the many 2018/19 models that I’d previously tried and rejected.

I should say that I’ve also tried a 2017 15” that was also fine.

during this time I also made note of panel identification numbers / part numbers and noted that for 2017 there were at least 2 suppliers for 13” and 15” models each but for 2018 onwards there was juat one part for each size. I’m not sure if this has any relevance.

I should also say that several Windows updates had similar effects however the option to disable temporal dithering always remains and so far always has the desired effect.
 
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simonmet

macrumors 68030
Sep 9, 2012
2,587
3,488
Sydney
How do you disable temporal dithering in Windows? I’ve not had issues but I’m keen to see if I can notice any difference.
 

CRoebuck

macrumors member
May 16, 2014
60
40
How do you disable temporal dithering in Windows? I’ve not had issues but I’m keen to see if I can notice any difference.
It can be done via the registry and there are guides on the web to do this or you can use a tool such as 'Ditherig' (note the mis-spelling) which I found over on the LEDStrain forum along with a ton of useful information from fellow sufferers. To be clear this seems to be an industry-wide movement towards using dithering and is not just Apple.

You'll also see on that forum that there are people out there trying to do the same for Mac OS (disable it) but these efforts have yet to yield a solution.
 

simonmet

macrumors 68030
Sep 9, 2012
2,587
3,488
Sydney
It can be done via the registry and there are guides on the web to do this or you can use a tool such as 'Ditherig' (note the mis-spelling) which I found over on the LEDStrain forum along with a ton of useful information from fellow sufferers. To be clear this seems to be an industry-wide movement towards using dithering and is not just Apple.

You'll also see on that forum that there are people out there trying to do the same for Mac OS (disable it) but these efforts have yet to yield a solution.
Thanks. It looks like Ditherig is just for Intel graphics, which Boot Camp (frustratingly) doesn’t use, but I’ll try the Registry edit out of curiosity to see if I can notice anything.
 

hungryghosty

macrumors regular
May 14, 2020
123
57
It's a really odd feeling when looking at the screen of my 2020 MBP as superficially it often looks fine but after reading for a few seconds I notice text around what I'm focussing on shimmer/flickering/shaking as though it isn't stable.

Also, it feels like a strain trying to focus on the text I'm reading. When focusing on the display if feels like I'm going almost cross-eyed. As though what I'm trying to focus on isn't stable and is constantly shifting in and out of focus. Very strange as I've never noticed any issues with any kind of display in the past and I have an up to date eyesight prescription?

If it is an issue with the Intel drivers would that also mean we'd see the same issue if we connected an external display to the Macbook as presumably it would use the same dithering algorithm for the display?
 

CRoebuck

macrumors member
May 16, 2014
60
40
If it is an issue with the Intel drivers would that also mean we'd see the same issue if we connected an external display to the Macbook as presumably, it would use the same dithering algorithm for the display?
You're describing exactly what I experience. Often the menu bar text appears to move when I'm focussed on something elsewhere, I catch the movement in my peripheral vision so to speak.

Certainly, I do notice on my 2 external Dell 2K displays. Likewise plugging the Surface in via the Surface dock gives a very comfortable experience.
- - Post merged: - -

Thanks. It looks like Ditherig is just for Intel graphics, which Boot Camp (frustratingly) doesn’t use, but I’ll try the Registry edit out of curiosity to see if I can notice anything.
I know bootcamp uses the DGPU rather than dynamically switching between AMD Radeon or Intel iGPU like Mac OS does BUT my understanding was that from a hardware perspective actually BOTH are used with the video feed at least electrically always going via the iGPU. I may be totally mistaken here (anyone?). I have tried using GFX CardStatus to force the dGPU on a 15" to always use dedicated graphics and I still suffered (although anecdotally not as bad)
 

hungryghosty

macrumors regular
May 14, 2020
123
57
Certainly, I do notice on my 2 external Dell 2K displays.
- - Post merged: - -



I know bootcamp uses the DGPU rather than dynamically switching between AMD Radeon or Intel iGPU like Mac OS does BUT my understanding was that from a hardware perspective actually BOTH are used with the video feed at least electrically always going via the iGPU. I may be totally mistaken here (anyone?). I have tried using GFX CardStatus to force the dGPU on a 15" to always use dedicated graphics and I still suffered (although anecdotally not as bad)
I take it that was a typo and you meant to say you don't notice the issue on your Dell displays?

That's an interesting question about the 16" model as in MacOS is switches between the Intel/AMD GPU? Would the text dithering algorithm vary depending on the GPU being used?

It annoys me that my local store is still closed with the pandemic as I really want to go in and compare the 13" Air, 13" Pro and 16" Pro models to see if I can see this issue on any/all of them or whether it was purely just the 13" MBP I bought last week being faulty!
 

Tozovac

macrumors 68000
Jun 12, 2014
1,793
1,729
Very helpful thread, from which I may hold off updating my 2013 MBA quite yet, unfortunately. I have never had eyestrain issues using my “low quality” MBA by itself or with a 30” cinema display. I do feel more eyestrain using my iPad Air 3 than my MBA, for which as far as I can tell from some quick research does not do the things the retina MBP’s are doing that cause eyestrain.
 

alexbzzz

macrumors newbie
Mar 17, 2020
9
22
Munich
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: - -



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.
Could be large amounts of infrared coming out of it. I first saw this with a Panasonic plasma TV and then with the OLED iPhone XS. All give out the same feeling as you described and in the case of the Panasonic you can actually feel it on your skin when you sit next to it as if being tanned.

I guess the new wide colour displays for some reason also give out infrared.

Edit: come to think of it, there’s a similar sensation when going out in a cloudy but brightly lit environment. Your eyes would open up but the clouds still allow the infrared radiation through. Just a guess says it’s harmless and maybe actually beneficial.
 

danwestbrook

macrumors regular
Oct 11, 2007
169
57
Surrey, UK
Anyone done any testing in macOS Big Sur? Just installed it on my 16” MBP. Only been using it a short while but already feels like it’s not hurting my eyes as much as before. Could be a placebo effect, wondering how others have found it?
 
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son2018

macrumors newbie
Jun 10, 2020
2
0
Anyone done any testing in macOS Big Sur? Just installed it on my 16” MBP. Only been using it a short while but already feels like it’s not hurting my eyes as much as before. Could be a placebo effect, wondering how others have found it?
A month later, is it still better?
 

danwestbrook

macrumors regular
Oct 11, 2007
169
57
Surrey, UK
A month later, is it still better?
So I don’t use it as my main machine as it’s not compatible with some apps due to Big Sur but yes I’ve got to say the times I do use it I’ve not noticed my eyes getting as sore so quickly if at all. There is a way to install Big Sur in a separate APFS partition so you can dual boot to either Catalina and Big Sur.

I’d say give it a go and love to hear your feedback!
 

macretinahurts

macrumors newbie
Apr 12, 2020
10
4
Here is my update:

I had a terrible experiences with my Macbook Pro mid-2015 15 inch. Which caused a serious eyestrain problem for me. My eyes couldn't keep looking at the screen for a long time, and my eyes couldn't easily focus. I can not remember it happened before Apple replaced the screen panel for me or after it (due to the Staingate, Apple replaced the screen affected for free). Anyhow, the screen I have now on my mid-2015 15 inch has hurt my eyes for a long time.

I recently ordered a 16inch macbook pro, it turns out the 16 inch is much easier for my eyes!!! I also tried 13-inch, it also didn't cause eyestrain. I guess the retina screen causes eyestrain is not because of PWM etc. Maybe there are some defects about the backlight. I am not sure. But definitely some macbook panels do cause eyestrain, maybe these panels are from different supplier. The free replace of my macbook pro 15inch (mid-2015) didn't provide me a good quality screen and caused a huge problem for me... Now I am pretty happy with my new Macbook pro 16 inch.

The good idea is buying a macbook from Apple.com and try it within 14 days to figure out whether your eyes can get use to it or not. Hopefully, someone can figure out the real cause of the eyestrain from retina macbook.
 
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alexbzzz

macrumors newbie
Mar 17, 2020
9
22
Munich
After the latest update today I switched it on (2017 MBP 13 2thunderbolt) and it felt immediately different, more relaxing on the eyes. Maybe something was changed.
 
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