mac: Getting UHD 4K HDR Streaming Working on Apple Silicon MacBook

Well, this is actually much harder than you think and it is not super well documented (and most of that documentation is not for the latest MacOS Sonoma), so here goes.

Change UI to “More space”

The first problem is that with the MacBook Pro’s XDR panel, the native resolution is basically 4x more dense than what the user interface is told. For instance, the 14″ MacBook Pro I have has an actual screen resolution of 3024 x 1964 but by default, this is set at 1512 x 982 which is exactly 2 real pixels for each “pixel” it thinks it is displaying. The reason for doing this has to do with dots per inch. The Mac interface would be really, really small at native resolutions, so instead, the display is set to an effective lower dots per inch. The native resolution on a 14″ is 254 dpi.

The thing you have to do is figure out what the maximum resolution you need so you can distinguish the pixels from the perfect viewing distance. I’m guessing this is about 18″ from the screen. The human eye can only resolve a limited field of view. This is why the higher the resolution, the closer you need to be to see the difference. For example, to actually see 8K resolution on a 77″ inch screen, you need to be 24″ away! That is one reason why at normal distances, you can’t tell the difference between 8K, 4K, or even 1080p. Your eyes can resolve the small size of the pixels that are at most 1/60 of a degree apart.

If you use the Stari calculator, you just enter the diagonal and the pixel height and width and you find out this is 255 dpi and the visual acuity distance is 1.1 feet to really use the full resolution. The other two variables are the minimum distance (because your eye can see a 140-degree FOV, so you shouldn’t be closer than 0.7 feet or farther than 1.9 feet so that the FOV is not too small.

Note that I normally use the 1.7x resolution even though it causes pixels to be off because it does give more real estate for the smaller 14.2″ display and my eyesight is not bad.

How to get the 3K resolution with “show all resolutions as a list”

OK, in order to enable this, go to System Settings > Display > Advanced > Show resolutions as a list and then System Settings > Display > Show all resolutions, to get all the possible ones and scroll up to the highest one. This is going to make the User Interface basically unreadable.

In contrast, if you leave it at the 2x setting, the same math shows it has a 128 dpi and you can see the problem. At less than 2.3 feet away you can see the individual pixels. This is more than 1.9 feet away, so you should change the resolution to the native and deal with the really small screen size.

A decent compromise that causes some internal scaling of the panel is the more resolution 1800×1169 resolution this is a 1.7x scaling x 1.65x scaling but gives a nearly perfect 2.0 visual acuity distance (maybe that is why it was selected), so this is very close to the 1.9 feet maximum distance required.

Personally for very good content in bed, I just snug up the laptop close to me (the otter position!) and use the 3K for good display content at 1.1 feet. And then on an airplane, I use the 1800×1170 resolution to get a good view at 2.0 feet.

Change the Color to P3-1600 nits

OK, the second thing to do is to make sure the MacBook Pro panel is enabled for HDR, so make sure in System Settings > Display > Preset is set to Apple XDR Display (P3-1600 nits). For the M1 and M2 Mac this will give up to 500 nits in SDR mode, but what is better is that in HDR mode, with a 100% driven screen, you get 1000 nits and the peak is 1,600 nits. Compare that with a typical HDR television which

The newer M3 Macs give you 600 nits in SDR and the same HDR specifications.

Only YouTube and NetFlix give you HDR

The bad news is that because these displays are not fully copy-protected, most of the other streaming services give you just HDR. Reddit seems like the best source here but as of November 2023:

  1. NetFlix. You can get UHD 60gps with Dolby Vision (their version of HDR and note if you search for HDR, you will get HDR movies, but the icon will say Dolby Vision which is a little confusing). This has to be with Mac Safari. Also, note that offline doesn’t work at all.
  2. Youtube. YOU can get UHD HDR 4K in Safari and Chrome and 8K 30fps works fine. To make sure this is working on YouTube, search for HDR and when you play, the gear icon should say “HDR” on it. And if you right-click on the video, choose “Stats for Nerds” and you can see it working away. The 8K only works if you display this on an external display as an aside, on the MacBook Pro, you only get 2160p HDR 4K, but it does look great

Then there are the down-level ones where the basic advice is to get an iPad with an XDR display:

  1. Amazon Prime Video. This is only 1080p SDR in Safari and 720p in the Prime Video application. So don’t use it! The support page doesn’t talk about HDR nor about how crippled the application is. Ugh!
  2. Disney+. This only allows 1080p SDR in Safari and Chrome and does not allow offline
  3. Max. 1080p SDR in Safari and note that Max application is an iPadOS port so is only 720p offline and can’t full-screen videos so get rid of it.
  4. Hulu. Hulu is even worse, it is only 720p HDR, so use your iPad M1 if you have one.
  5. Peacock. This one is even worse, they don’t have any UHD content at all and no HDR
  6. Plex with Infuse. Apparently, you can stream from Plex using the Infuse client
  7. IINA. See below, but if you can browse to it from the file manager or via HTTP it can playback files on servers, although there is not a nice user interface.
  8. VLC. This doesn’t currently handle HDR.
  9. Kodi. Kodi Matrix added HDR support and the client does work on nVidia connected to my LG CX display and it looks spectacular. Note that this supports static HDR formats like HLG or HDR10, but not the proprietary Dolby Vision or HDR10. It runs on Linux. Kodi Neo is the v20 release. For Mac Kodi, I’ve mainly discovered that it doesn’t deal with MKV files properly, so more investigation is needed.

The Best Choice: Download an MKV and use IINA at 3K display mode

IINA. It took a while, but this is working fine, it’s an open-source application that now has HDR playback. For a while you had to download a branch build, but now v1.3.3. includes it natively. It is easily installed with brew install iina

This is really the best solution that I’ve found, first of all, if you rip your Blu-rays and transcode, then you get pretty compact stuff and it is really brighter than the sun.

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