I didn’t expect this to work, but wow, it does. Genius.
The recent Black Friday sales included a decent price on a new LG OLED 65” TV, so I replaced the family’s old 55” OLED (still going strong) and we’re very happy. Obviously these decisions are personal, but there have been a few moments in my life where I’ve experienced something new and then couldn’t go back to the old version:
- Good surround sound compared to the sound from a TV’s speakers.
- Driving a Tesla compared to a car with a combustion engine.
- AirPods Max compared to most other headphones.
- OLED TV compared to anything else.
Honestly… don’t try an OLED if they’re not on sale, because you’ll want one. Infinite contrast and truly black blacks absolutely make a huge difference, and it’s not just pixel-peeping nerds like me that can spot the difference. HDR is great for bright areas in high-end TV, but OLED is unbeatable for darker areas in anything. The latest MacBook Pro 14” and 16” come with MiniLED displays that come very close, and they’re excellent, but there are currently zero affordable external OLED displays around the typical 2 7”-32” size used on a desktop. Apple’s excellent Pro Display XDR isn’t affordable, and Apple’s more affordable Studio Display isn’t OLED.
Hang on though. What about the old 55” OLED TV? It’s got perfect blacks, HDMI input… the only problem is that it’s huge. Can I make it work? My MacBook Pro M1 Max 16” can drive three screens without any problems, and I have long, capable HDMI cables that work just fine. So I cleared a smaller table, raised the height with a sturdy and convenient box, and plugged it in.
It is glorious. Unusably huge, far too close, but glorious.
Surely it’s too big?
The main concern here is ergonomics. My old setup was ergonomically pretty sound: the MacBook Pro on a stand, with a 27” LG IPS 4K screen next to it, at around the same height, with only a small gap between the screens, and both screens used equally. Replacing the existing monitor with the huge TV would throw the ergonomics way off; I’d be constantly looking to one side. Body positioning is important; I’ve had neck and arm issues in the past, and I’ve made enough safety videos about correct placement of monitors that I’d be asking for trouble using a screen that big.
So can I keep all three monitors, and use the TV only while reviewing finished videos? That’s a better plan, and helps me keep my distance. If I’m not using the giant screen all the time, I can keep my main monitors for regular tasks, stay in a decent ergonomic position, and simply slide my chair back to a better spot to review on the TV. OK!
Though there isn’t enough physical room to fit all three monitors in a line, my 27” can pivot to portrait, and that means I have just enough space. Vertical orientation can actually be pretty great for writing and reading longer documents, showing the Browser in FCP, and scrolling through your social media platform of choice. Not every screen can do this, and you’ll need to change the display’s orientation in System Settings or Preferences, but it’s easy enough.
Retina scaling and beyond
As well as screen orientation, you’ll want to pay close attention to the scaling that macOS applies to all your screens, because it can make a huge difference to usability. For many years, all internal Mac displays have been Retina-class, using multiple real hardware pixels to display a lower “looks like” apparent resolution with far smoother text and UI elements. At least originally, video displayed in Final Cut Pro and images in Photoshop bypassed this scaling and used the true 1:1 pixels in the display for image data.
This isn’t always how it works today. When Retina was first introduced, the default scale was 2:1, so four real pixels (two horizontal by two vertical) became one smooth virtual pixel. A 4K display showed the same information as a 1920x1080 display, with much smoother text and UI. But somewhere along the line, the default scaling factor used in some of Apple’s laptops shifted, to show more pixels on screen. The MacBook Air M2, for example, has a native resolution of 2560x1664, but a default “looks like” resolution of 1470x956, not the 1280x832 you’d see at 2:1.
To achieve this, all output is scaled to a virtual resolution that’s higher than the true resolution, then scaled down to fit the display. The scaling algorithms are very good, and most users won’t notice, but using a scaling factor other than 2:1 means that media apps can’t show the true pixels 1:1. This may or may not matter to you.
While the excellent screen in my MacBook Pro does use a 2:1 scale factor by default, scaling to a higher virtual resolution can make all the difference with a large external display. If you set a 4K display to look like 1920x1080, that gives you 2:1 scaling, but a somewhat large user interface. This is the case on my 27” 4K monitor, and it’s much worse on a 55” TV; for reference, the iMac offers a 4K resolution in a 24” screen.
So what to do if the UI is too big at 2:1? If you’re feeling crazy, there’s a 1:1 mode where you use the full native 4K resolution, and while that might work for some, it makes the UI a little small for me. After some experiments, I’ve found that scaling to a virtual 5K screen (looks like 2560x1440) offers a good UI size, with only a very slight loss in sharpness. And not only on the TV: I’ve been using this virtual 5K retina option on my 27” for a while, and on that display, windows are about the same size as on my MacBook Pro. It’s like a 27” iMac display, but not quite as crisp.
Yes, there’s a warning that a scaled resolution may affect performance, but I haven’t really seen a problem yet. If you’d told me a few years ago that my laptop would be driving 16.6 million virtual pixels at at least 60fps (and 120fps on the laptop!) I’d have laughed, but I’m here today, and it works fine.
Other software settings
In FCP, you can use the second screen functionality to place the Browser on the vertical screen, use the laptop screen for the Timeline and Viewer, and use the TV as full-screen A/V output. Assigning a shortcut to “Toggle A/V Output on and off” is an excellent idea, and I’d recommend ⌥⌘F.
However, note that to see a native 3840x2160 A/V output, you’ll need to set the TV to full 1:1 resolution. That’s an instant switch on Apple silicon Macs, so it’s no big deal.
For other apps, the best resolution will depend on how big you want the UI to be, because almost any app can zoom its content up and down, and you might find the virtual 5K option handy. Photos look terrific on an OLED, so Lightroom, Pixelmator Pro and the new Affinity Photo all work well. Size really does matter; I’ve never seen details as clearly as I can on this monster display.
Colour is an area you’ll have to tweak a little, using both the Mac’s built-in colour calibration and the TV’s built-in options. On the Mac, you can still use the Display Calibrator Assistant, though most options are hidden by default. From the Colour profile menu, choose Customise at the bottom. On the next page, hold Option as you press the plus button at the bottom, and there you go: Expert Mode. Head through all the options and save a new custom profile at the end.
On the TV side, LG does come with enough settings that you can match an existing Mac display pretty closely, but you’ll have to head into the Game or Expert modes to be able to find them all. For a relatively quick fix, bring up the same test images on all your screens at once and tweak away, paying attention to both colour and gamma differences. If you’re producing work to be viewed online, you probably want to match your Mac’s built-in display, to match the widest range of colour-managed devices, but true hardware calibration is a good idea if you’re mastering to a broadcast standard.
One thing that hasn’t worked well is HDR support. In macOS, HDR seems to still be buggy, even on the latest macOS Ventura, and I’m seeing obvious banding in HDR videos that look great on my MacBook Pro’s display. So far, I haven’t been able to get rid of it (across Safari, Chrome and FCP) so if you’re distributing HDR today, you’ll very likely still want to use a hardware box and a more professional calibration solution. This is, after all, a repurposing of a family TV in a home office.
Another small weirdness I’m experiencing is that sometimes, the A/V output display, on the TV, is rotated 90° to the left. There’s no reason that should be happening, and it’s fixed after a restart, but maybe I’m pushing things too hard.
The last thing to be aware of is that OLEDs can suffer from burn in, so you’ll want to avoid leaving a static image on-screen for an extended period. Make sure your screen saver is active and set to start after a few minutes, activate it manually when you take a break, and turn off your TV if you won’t be using it for a while. If you’re planning to use a huge TV most of the time, consider hiding the menu bar and dock by default, move your windows around, and rotate your desktop wallpaper regularly, perhaps every five minutes.
With smaller OLED panels finally becoming available, more OLED monitors will soon be released, but larger TVs will remain cheaper for some time. A 42” LG OLED is now just US$900 (even less on sale) and I’d consider one really carefully before buying a non-OLED monitor — sometimes larger really is better. Consider your ergonomics carefully, but even a giant TV can work well as a part-time option.
If you’ve never considered OLED before, I think the time has come. As more of our smaller devices switch to OLED (or Mini LED) we’re going to need to make sure we’re looking at our work on similarly specced devices. That means you have to upgrade. Right? Time to get the family a new TV.