First World Problems: Geek Edition — Mixing 4K and 1080p monitors (Updated)

Update: Apparently, my initial belief that Font scaling across all monitors was indeed true of Windows 7 and 8, but was changed in Windows 8.1 (and now Windows 10).

This is another of those “writing it so that another overly tech-exuberant geek doesn’t have to spend as long sussing what’s going on as I did” post.

I bought myself a Dell 27″ P2715Q monitor as an “I shipped a product!” present to myself after the release of ComicBase 2015 R2. It’s been a stunning upgrade, and worth every penny of the $500 I paid for it.

The problem comes in that it has so darn many pixels at such a high density, that using some sort of font magnification is virtually required–much as is the case with Apple’s retina displays. Since the monitor itself is so much larger than the 23″ 1080p monitor it replaces, I settled on a modest 135% font size setting as a nice balance between making the font size large enough to read comfortably, and preserving the amount of information that could be shown on the screen.

One thing I hadn’t bargained for is that since I’ve become accustomed to running with a 2 monitor setup, the text on the 1080p monitor I use as a second monitor seemed ludicrously huge in comparison to the text on the big 4K monitor to its left.

For days, I chalked this up to just being part of the learning curve–I thought that part of getting used to such high resolution on the 4K monitor was tricking me into believing that the other monitor was stupidly oversized, and that it’d probably been that huge all along.

Then–duh!–I just realized that the Font-scaling setting in Windows doesn’t apply to each monitor separately. It applies across everything. By making the fonts on my 4K monitor large enough to read, I was simultaneously making the text  gigantic on the 1080p monitor next to it. So large, in fact, that it was unwieldy. (Note: This is true of all versions of Windows prior to v8.1 [or Windows 10] — Windows 8.1 introduced per-monitor font scaling, although the feature is so far virtually unsupported outside of core Microsoft applications).

So what’s the answer? I could, in theory, use the Resolution control on the main monitor to set it to run in something other than its native 4K resolution, but the unfortunate result of doing that is to take the razor-sharp 4K text and render it muddy and indistinct. (LCD monitors really like to be run at their native resolutions, or they have to interpolate pixels, resulting in soft images and text).

Stupid answer #1 would be to get used to incredibly teeny text on the 4K monitor by switching the font magnification off. Stupid answer #2 would be to buy a second 4K monitor if I insist on running a dual monitor setup. Unfortunately, my budget does not currently support such extravagance (hey, I got a kid about to attend UCLA in the fall!)

I suspect the immediate solution will be to either get used to gigantic-looking text on the second monitor, or simply remove the second monitor from my setup. If so,  I suspect I’ll miss the extra space–especially since so much of my work involves separate coding and viewing windows, particularly on remote systems.

In any case, at least I’m no longer confused as to why things look so freakishly large on the 1080p monitor.

Ah… first world problems…

Update: I’ll be trying Stupid Solution #4 for a bit now that Windows 10 has been released, offering per-monitor font-scaling. Which is, to see whether I can manage to create a working development environment using two different monitors at two different font scales. Or, more challengingly, to see if we can get a truly resolution-independent version going of our current development projects. So far, I’m wading through the rather elaborate technical notes on attempting this here. Wish me luck–it looks like the development process is ugly to say the least…

-Pete

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