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If you’ve bought an external display for your Apple Silicon M1 or M2 Mac and found that the resolution is poor or the picture is blurry, here are some tips on how to fix it.

There are various issues that can affect Mac users with external monitors but one of the most common is terrible image quality when connected to M1 and M2 Macs although Intel Mac users have also had problems.

Many M1 and M2 MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini and Mac Studio owners have found that text and icons can appear tiny, blurry or fuzzy when connected to external monitors that support less than 4K.

Other problems Mac owners have struggled with include flickering, color problems and lag on external displays.

Although it has affected all types of external displays, it mainly affects cheaper QHD monitors with resolutions of less than 4K especially 1440p which cannot reproduce the retina quality display of the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.

This is why we strongly recommend only buying an external display for an M1 or M2 Mac that supports 4K or more such as one of these external displays.

Even 4K and 5K isn’t quite as good as Apple’s retina displays but a 4K or 5K monitor will look a lot better than anything below that.

On many displays with 1080p or 1440p resolutions, Apple Silicon Macs cannot support high resolution modes and do not scale well.

The result is text and web page elements that look either too small or blurry magnified images on your external display.

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Why External Monitors Look Blurry On M1, M2 & Retina Macs

The reason why the image on external monitors connected to M1, M2 and retina MacBooks sometimes looks so bad is basically because external displays can’t support the Retina high pixel density mode (HiDPI) of a Mac.

Only Apple’s own Apple Pro Display XDR (which supports a stunning 6K and 1600 nits of brightness) and Apple Studio Display can support HiDPI but they don’t come cheap at $5,000 and $1,600 respectively.

However, even on some external monitors that offer 5120 x 2160 resolution, the image from Apple Silicon M1 and M2 Macs may still appear blurry particularly on ultra-wide displays.

The reasons for this are technically complex but are basically because Apple Silicon M1 & M2 chips are based on ARM architecture compared to the older Intel Macs which are based on what’s called x86.

ARM based Mac use different graphics drivers to Intel Macs which don’t play well with anything other than Apple products such as Apple’s own displays, iPads and iPhones.

Intel x86 processors can still enable HiDPI on non 4K and 5K displays and allow you to configure the resolution.

Apple Silicon M1 and M2 Macs do not support configuration of the external display resolution or aspect ratio which means you need third party software in order to manage the monitor.

How To Fix External Display Issues On M1 & M2 Macs

To fix the display problems with external displays on Apple Silicon M1 and M2 Macs you need to use third party software.

There are a few different solutions and here we’ve looked at the best ways to fix external display problems on Apple Silicon Macs in order of ranking.

BetterDisplay (Free)

The best way to fix image problems on external monitors is to use a free app called BetterDisplay (formerly known as Better Dummy).

BetterDisplay works by “unlocking” your screens making them fully scalable natively with an HiDPI resolution slider to freely scale the desktop size.

This means that for monitors that support less than 4K, it can even “trick” the monitor into using HiDPI. This basically fools your M1 or M2 Mac into thinking you’ve connected a 5K display to it.

BetterDisplay works on the latest version of macOS Monterey plus the new version of macOS Ventura.

For all monitors, it allows you to configure the resolution you want the display to use.

fix blurry images external display mac m1 m2 - betterdisplay

Other advantages of using BetterDisplay are:

  • Converts your displays to fully scalable screens
  • Allows brightness control
  • XDR/HDR upscaling (which means you can set extra brightness beyond 100% on compatible displays)
  • Full dimming to black
  • Create and manage virtual displays
  • Create Picture in Picture windows of displays
  • Manage display settings easily from the menu bar

To unlock scaling and HiDPI resolutions on Apple Silicon Macs with the M1 or M2 chips, just follow these instructions.

  • Download and install BetterDisplay by dragging it to your Applications folder.
  • Click on BetterDisplay in the Menu Bar and select Settings from the gear icon at the bottom of the Menu.
  • Go to the Displays section and check the box Edit and manage the system configuration of this display and Allow smooth resolution scale on the display you want to make smoothly scalable. If you’ve got multiple monitors, you’ll have to do this for each one.
  • Click on the Apply System Display Configuration button at the bottom of the screen. You’ll need to enter your Mac admin password and then reboot for the changes to be applied.

betterdisplay m1 mac resolution scaling fix

  • When your Mac restarts, you can then use the resolution sliders in the BetterDisplay app menu to scale the desktop until you find the resolution that looks best.

Note that base level M1 Macs can only be configured up to 6K  although Macs such as the Mac Studio with M1 Pro, M1 Max or M1 Ultra chips can go beyond this.

This would only be a problem for users with ultra-wide screens trying to go beyond a horizontal resolution of 3072px HiDPI.

For most M1 & M2 Mac users, this should fix any blurry, pixelated or low resolution image issues when connected to an external display.

If it doesn’t, then you can also try using BetterDisplay’s Dummy mirroring method.

This creates a mirrored dummy of your original display which you can then use to unlock the resolution scaling in your external monitor.

Note that dummy displays have a maximum refresh rate limitation of 60Hz and there is no HDCP or HDR support.

To create a mirror dummy display on your M1 or M2 Mac follow these instructions.

  • In your Mac’s Menu Bar, click on the BetterDisplay icon and then select Display Settings Create New Dummy.

betterdisplay m1 mac dummy display

  • Select the Aspect Ratio of the monitor you are using from the list that appears which for most users will be 16:9. BetterDisplay will then create a new virtual high resolution monitor. If you have more than one monitor, you have to repeat this process for each monitor.
  • Go to the Apple logo in the top left of your screen and select System Preferences > Displays > Display Settings and you’ll see a list of your dummy monitor and real monitor. Select your real external monitor from the list.
  • Click Use As and select Mirror Dummy For 16:9. You may notice your monitor flashes while it applies this change.
  • Hold down the Option Key and click on Scaled under Resolutions and then try experimenting with the resolutions that appear such as 1952 x 1098, 1936 x 1089 or 1920 x 1080 to see which works best for you.

You should then see the dummy display mirrored to your display where you can then use the slider to change the resolution.

Note that you may find that BetterDisplay sometimes doesn’t work when you wake a Mac from sleeping. And unless you set it to launch it on startup, you’ll have to reconfigure it every time you use it.

SwitchRes X

switchres x

SwitchRes X gives you more control over the resolution your Mac uses with an external monitor.

SwitchRes X isn’t as effective as BetterDisplay but it has recently been updated to support M1 and M2 Macs.

At the moment, SwitchRes X allows you to do the following on M1 and M2 Macs:

  • Set display rotation & display underscan
  • Set the brightness of internal displays
  • Set your display in gray levels
  • Define custom scaled resolutions for external displays, though this is limited to resolutions smaller than native. You cannot create complete custom resolutions, only scaling is supported by Apple.
  • Get information about the current timing that defines a resolution
  • Export the EDID if the display does support it

SwitchRes X is worth installing if you haven’t been able to find a solution with BetterDisplay but be aware that it’s currently more effective with Intel Macs than Apple Silicon Macs.

RDM

rdm resolution m1 m2 macs

RDM is a similar solution to SwitchResX but is even simpler to use.

RDM sits in your Menu Bar and allows you to instantly change the resolution of your Mac’s external display including on both Intel and Apple Silicon M1/M2 Macs.

RDM is particularly popular with MacBook Pro users as it lets you use the MacBook Pro Retina’s highest and unsupported resolutions on external displays.

For example, a Retina MacBook Pro 13″ can be set to 3360×2100 maximum resolution which is more than Apple’s maximum supported resolution of 1680×1050.

Those resolutions that are highlighted with a lightening strike mean that the resolution is HiDPI level or twice as dense in pixels.

If you want to use RDM daily, then you’ll need select the option “Open At Login” so that it works as soon as you boot your M1 or M2 Mac.

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