Use HiDPI mode to turn your Mac into a HTPC

Now that the age of traditional TV is nearing its end, more people are looking to hook up ‘smart’ devices (basically some form of computer) in order to allow them to surf the web and watch videos from the comfort of the living room. Whilst many TVs have ‘smart’ features built-in these days, and there are many inexpensive devices that you can plug in for those that don’t, nothing beats the flexibility of having a fully-fledged computer connected to your TV.

If you already happen to have a computer that is compact enough (basically a laptop or a HTPC), and any old 1080p TV, you can of course have that full desktop experience from your couch. However, if you are sitting at any reasonable distance from the screen, the immediate problem you will face at native 1080p resolution is that the text is very small. Navigation, therefore, becomes quite difficult. This is what a MacBook Air connected to my TV at 1080p looks like (from closer to the screen than I would actually sit):

Windows has some scaling options that can work well, but at other times aren’t particularly effective. MacOS, on the other hand, has a pretty good ‘HiDPI’ mode that was introduced when they started including ‘retina displays’ in their computers. Unfortunately, this mode is only visible when you have a high enough resolution screen (1080p does not qualify).

Luckily, there is a terminal command that you can use in order to enable the mode:

sudo defaults write /Library/Preferences/ DisplayResolutionEnabled -bool true

You will need to input your admin password when asked, and then restart the computer. Though this method has been known for quite some time, it was seen merely as a curiosity. However, it turns out that the living room is an absolutely perfect application for this otherwise tiny display area.

When you go into display preferences after the restart, you will see a new option:

The 960×540 (HiDPI) mode will actually be outputting 1920×1080 pixels, but with double the pixels used in the width and height of most objects. This means that the usable screen area is a quarter of the size of a 1080p display, but without any loss in clarity (as you would get if there was an option to use a standard lower resolution like 720p). Enabling this option makes the TV now look like this:

Everything is much easier to read from a distance now, meaning that with a wireless keyboard/mouse/trackpad you can sit back and relax whilst using your computer. Again, since the output is really 1080p, this means that whilst everything in the interface looks bigger, videos will play back in full 1080p. Unlike other media-centre software (like Steam Big Picture and Kodi), this doesn’t require you to go through another application. Everything scales up, so you can use your computer just as you normally would without any limitations.

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