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neuralengine

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 13, 2020
137
64
I just got an M1 MacBook Air and I'm finding everything on the screen looks pretty fuzzy and soft.

I've seen the threads about fuzzy text on external displays with M1 Macs but I’m talking about fuzziness on the built-in screen.

Basically, the text and graphics always look down-/up-scaled, even when choosing the “Default” scaling and, importantly, when choosing the 1280x800.

On my 5K iMac, when it’s set to the resolution that’s exactly half the pixel count (2560x1440), everything is crisp. On this MacBook Air, none of the resolution settings look that crisp. They all look the same in terms of fuzziness, just scaled up or down. In fact, the default 1440x900 scaling looks a bit better than the other ones, despite not being a true 2:1 scale. It doesn't look much worse than the scaled resolutions on the iMac but I find it odd that there isn't one that's really crisp.

What's going on here? Is this something to do with the M1 chip, Big Sur? Could there be some hardware defect with this particular one? I can't think of anything that would cause consistent fuzziness throughout the entire screen. Are Apple doing something to optimize for the new default scaled resolution?

Comparing screenshots of the same webpage on my iMac vs this MacBook Air, the output is identical so this happens at some point after the OS has drawn the video buffer.

What's even weirder is I downloaded a tool to set the display to the full 1:1 resolution (2560x1600) and that looks fuzzy too!

Unfortunately I can't compare this to another M1 MacBook Air due to the Apple Stores here being closed for walk-ins due to COVID but I did compare it to a 2012 MBP and the MBA is clearly fuzzier. Not by a lot, but by a noticeable amount.
 

Slartibart

macrumors 68030
Aug 19, 2020
2,933
2,672
Open a terminal and type (followed by retur):

defaults -currentHost write -g AppleFontSmoothing -int 0

to deactivate font smoothing. Note that you can adjust the level of smoothing more granually by changing the number at the end of this command. The "0" disables font smoothing, while "1" enables light font smoothing, "2" enables default medium smoothing, and "3" enables strong smoothing. For example, if after disabling font smoothing you want to return to the default setting, replace the "0" at the end of the command with a "2."
 

neuralengine

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 13, 2020
137
64
Thanks! I’m aware of that preference but I never change it so I don’t think it’s what’s at play here when comparing between different retina screens.

I had the thought that maybe Apple now uses an additional scaling step on the 13" displays and treats the display as though it were physically 2880x1800, (maybe in an attempt to improve the scaling artifacts on the now-default 1440x900) in addition to the 2x scaling they already do to make Retina happen. They did something similar on the iPhone 6s Plus where (from my very basic understanding) the software layer “saw” the display hardware as having more pixels than it physically did and the display output was downscaled ~13% at a later step so you never truly had 1:1 or 2:1 resolution on anything.

But now I’m thinking it’s more to do with the two displays just being different, and my eyes being used to the iMac. The more time I spend with the Air the less fuzzy it looks. It could just be the difference in panels and contrast ratios.
 

xraydoc

Contributor
Oct 9, 2005
10,844
5,323
192.168.1.1
Thanks! I’m aware of that preference but I never change it so I don’t think it’s what’s at play here when comparing between different retina screens.

I had the thought that maybe Apple now uses an additional scaling step on the 13" displays and treats the display as though it were physically 2880x1800, (maybe in an attempt to improve the scaling artifacts on the now-default 1440x900) in addition to the 2x scaling they already do to make Retina happen. They did something similar on the iPhone 6s Plus where (from my very basic understanding) the software layer “saw” the display hardware as having more pixels than it physically did and the display output was downscaled ~13% at a later step so you never truly had 1:1 or 2:1 resolution on anything.

But now I’m thinking it’s more to do with the two displays just being different, and my eyes being used to the iMac. The more time I spend with the Air the less fuzzy it looks. It could just be the difference in panels and contrast ratios.
Mine is razor sharp. So either you've got a defective panel or you've got amazingly good eyesight.
 

neuralengine

macrumors regular
Original poster
Jul 13, 2020
137
64
Mine is razor sharp. So either you've got a defective panel or you've got amazingly good eyesight.
Yeah it could be this panel has slightly lower contrast, it is a refurb. I think it really comes down to perception of sharpness due to contrast. The actual pixels, up close, are just as sharp as on the iMac.

I haven’t really noticed it since those first few days. It’s been a week now, the display looks super sharp to me and I don’t notice much of a difference switching to and from the iMac anymore. So I think it was just a perception thing.

This is quite possibly the best laptop (and possibly the best Mac) I’ve ever owned. It's just an incredible computer and even if the panel were slightly defective I wouldn't want to part with it the time it takes to fix/replace it.
 

CheesePuff

macrumors 65816
Sep 3, 2008
1,446
1,553
Southwest Florida, USA
Yeah it could be this panel has slightly lower contrast, it is a refurb. I think it really comes down to perception of sharpness due to contrast. The actual pixels, up close, are just as sharp as on the iMac.

I haven’t really noticed it since those first few days. It’s been a week now, the display looks super sharp to me and I don’t notice much of a difference switching to and from the iMac anymore. So I think it was just a perception thing.

This is quite possibly the best laptop (and possibly the best Mac) I’ve ever owned. It's just an incredible computer and even if the panel were slightly defective I wouldn't want to part with it the time it takes to fix/replace it.
You still get the normal warranty as a refurb from Apple, if it is bothering you I would exchange it, then you would at least know if it is just how the panel is in the MBA or not.
 
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