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I'm sad to say I can count myself amongst the others that are having serious problems with the LED backlight. I recently decided that it was time to replace my old MacBook and bought a 13" MacBook Air. I used it in the store for a while and it seemed great. I didn't find anything wrong with the higher resolution and didn't notice that there was anything different about the backlight — just that the colors were a lot better and the screen was way more crisp.
I've been using the Air for about a week now, and I have to say: it's an amazing device. Very thin, light, very speedy and runs everything I need without any problems. There's just one problem: I can't look at the screen for long periods of time. I noticed right away that my eyes weren't at ease, as they are with my MacBook and an external screen with CCFL backlight. Apart from it being really bright, I can clearly see that everything is flickering. I don't notice it too much on darker colors, but as soon as there are white parts (so basically every other website and every application), the flicker becomes very noticeable.
I tried everything. I calibrated the screen various times, which helped a lot with color accuracy, but not with the backlight. I turned down the brightness, but this only makes everything dull, and makes the flickering even worse. I tried changing the contrast, but this didn't help either. There are a lot of applications out there to dim the screen, but again: not helping with the backlight. Same goes for the font size — the higher resolution and slightly smaller fonts are fine, and making them bigger doesn't do much with the flickering.
I was hoping this was simply something I needed to get used to, but I'm getting the sad feeling that this just isn't going to happen. After using the Air for more than 30 minutes I get headaches, and my eyes really start to hurt. I do have bad eyes, but I have spectacles that are up-to-date, so that shouldn't be the problem. But when I'm looking at the screen I can literally feel my eyes being strained... constantly. Browsing around a bit and watching 1080p trailers is great, but getting some actual work done is basically impossible. I need to stare at this screen for the better part of the day, and taking breaks every 10 minutes just isn't an option. I'm pretty sure that if I keep this up, it isn't going to be good for my eye sight in the long run.
The problem is that, as far as I know, every screen in the MacBook family has been replaced by a LED backlit screen starting somewhere in 2007. So the late 2006 model MacBook that I have is probably the last one with a CCFL backlight. It's been four years, and for many things it's starting to get too slow. It's overheating with many applications, and it weighs a ton compared to the Air. So working with an updated system with a great design was a big relief. But now I have to decide what to do. I can either keep the Air and hope things get better, with a good chance to ruin my eyes and keep getting headaches. Or I can return it within the first two weeks. But this would mean that there isn't any other MacBook I can use for the foreseeable future, and I'm basically stuck with a four year old system — given I'd like to keep using OS X on a Mac and all my Mac apps. And if my old MacBook would die, I'd have to buy another four year old Mac...
Short version: Meh.
Sorvahr, if you open the Terminal program and copy and paste the following string and hit return, what is the output from Terminal? It should give a model number for the LCD.
ioreg -lw0 | grep IODisplayEDID | sed "/[^<]*</s///" | xxd -p -r | strings -6
On my new MBA 13" it returns:
My LCD does not have any flicker and I am wondering if more than one model number of LCD is in use for the MBA? Maybe some do and some don't flicker, in which case you could return yours for another hoping to get one with the same panel as is in mine. Just a thought.
Weird though that they're using different panels in the same model.
Not at all. Apple never takes the risk of single sourcing critical components because of the possible affect it can have on their product delivery should a single supplier experience a problem or shortage.
Anyway, back to the topic at hand: the MBA I am typing on right now was purchased mid-December 2010, so it's a very recent one. If you are interested, we could try one more test to see if your panel does indeed flicker or not. Instructions follow:
• Right click or Control-click on the below link and do a Download Linked File As... of the linked file.
• Make sure your MBA is set to its maximum resolution, 1440 x 900, in Displays Preferences
• Turn the screen brightness down, using the keyboard control, to around 1/3 to 1/2 of full bright
As for the rest of this procedure, the test has to be done at night, in a completely darkened environment. All lights need to be off in the room. The only thing emitting light should be the MBA's screen. Ready? Then continue...
• Double click on the 1440x900.png file previously saved. It should open in Preview
• In Preview, from the menu select View/Slideshow (Shift-Command-F is a keyboard shortcut if you prefer)
This should cause the whole screen to go dark except for three, white vertical lines that are exactly one pixel wide. Now, dart your eyes quickly back and forth between the left and right lines. If you see the lines breaking up into multiple lines, like a strobing effect, then you have a backlight PWM dimming controller that is running at a fairly low frequency. If you don't see any breakup into discrete, extra lines, but only see a slight smearing of the vertical lines, then you are just experiencing normal phosphor decay and your PWM is running very fast.
Caveat: Even if you see the lines breaking up, indicating a slow running PWM, that's still no guarantee that it has any relationship to the discomfort you are experiencing using the screen. There have been a lot of great follow-up posts in this thread. A few posts back Andrew Larder presented a great list of all the things that could be different between an older MacBook screen and a newer one. I suppose any and all of those could be at the root of eye trouble some people have reported since moving on to notebook computers with LED backlights.
Me too, it's getting so that I don't even want to look at my screen that long. I have never had issues with my sight, but now I am starting to in one of my eyes. Sorta wondering if it might be a some kind of brain tumor from my high radiation iPhone that is making me ultra sensitive to the backlit LED monitors. I went to see a doctor and he said that my eyes are doing things that usually don't happen to people my age. I don't expect Apple to do anything about this until it is a real documented problem. I did read something the other day about them having quality control issues. Anyway, I'm wondering if there are suggestions for monitors to buy that are easier on my eyes? Either that or I might just bid my apple romance of 25 years goodbye. I would like to stay healthy, ultimately, having one life to live here, with one precious, miraculous human body to be respectful to.
Everyone, PLEASE take a moment to post a comment to Apple's Feedback page, telling them about your problem with eyestrain and the LED lights.
It may be the only chance we have to get them to offer LCD screens as an option.
I managed to get one of the last Macbooks with an LCD screen. I had to return my MacBook Pro with a letter from my eye doctor, explaining the sensitivity. The Apple store had just two MacBooks with the LCD screen left in stock. Now everything is manufactured with the LED screen. This is a real problem that Apple need to respond to. Let's let me know that there are enough of us with this problem to at least offer LCD as an option, even an expensive option. Otherwise, I am using my last Apple laptop, not something I look forward to.
LED is poor quality lighting, period. In scientific speaking, it's a narrow spectrum light that tricks your brain to see light that isn't there, much like Diet Coke tricks your taste buds with fake sugar. It's very sad that the flat panel display industry is holding up this unwholesome light as the Holy Grail. I am so afraid my children will not have the choice between a regular LCD screen and a LED-lit screen in the future. Act now before the industry forces you and your family stare into anemic light-emitting diodes in the future in name of energy-efficiency, higher contrast, and longer lamp life. Who cares about these benefits when the eyes are hurting? Listen to your eyes and demand choices! And Apple should take the lead to provide such screen choices on their products
Hi Russ and others,
I just ran across this 2.5 year old thread. I'm not going to read the whole thing, but I wonder if one relatively simple solution has been suggested/tried. Someone mentioned turning the backlight all the way up to stop the "flickering," but then it's too bright. Why not get a film to put over the display to reduce the brightness? Of course the trade-off will be a color shift, but maybe someone makes a light-reducing film that attempts to keep normal color? Just a thought, and sorry if someone already introduced this idea.
Personally, I have my display set to 50% or less as the brightness is what bothers me.
I'm getting the same symptoms, I don't notice flickering, but I do feel nauseous and get a little headache. This is a real downer, I've only had this computer for about a week, and it took a week to deliver, so I'm out of the return period. I got a 15" 2.2 MBP
I'm goin to start to look for an LCD display on an older Macbook....
I just made the choice to switch to the Macbook Pro from my normal Sony computer, and I am also getting the eye strain that resulted in headache. I saw on another discussion board a program called Flux, which changes the lighting on the monitor. So far it has lessened the effect from the screen, but with many people, I wonder if such side effects can cause permanent damage. If it continues, this new Macbook may find its way to Ebay or something similar. Not to mention, I am now operating on the dimmest setting it has to try to subside the effects even more.
I decided to keep my MacBook Air, and hope for the best. I've been working with it for about a month and a half now, and I must say that most of my problems with the screen are gone. After about two weeks of full-time use I suddenly realized that my eyes weren't as strained anymore as they were in the beginning, and working with it the whole day wasn't really a problem anymore.
I can still say without a doubt that the older CCFL screens are a lot easier on the eyes. When I've worked on one of those for a while, the screen on my Air seems a bit uncomfortable at first. But after a few minutes my eyes are adjusted and everything is fine. The lighting in the room is also a huge factor. More light is usually better in my experience.
Bright whites are still the biggest problem. When typing on a forum like this, I usually turn the brightness down quite a bit more than usual. I also still notice that my eyes are are more tired at the end of the day, more so than they used to be with the older screen. But the eye strain and headaches are gone for the most part, and most of the day I don't really think about the whole LED problem anymore.
So, I guess that at least in my case my eyes eventually adjusted. It did take a full two weeks though, and since that's the return time for an Apple Store purchase, it was still a big gamble. I'm glad I stuck with it though. If I had many alternatives I would've just returned it within a week, not realizing that it would get a lot better after a while.
(Disclaimer: I might just go blind within a few months, and not having the eye strain anymore is just the beginning of the end. If that happens, I'll tell someone to type another reply).