How to Show All Possible Screen Resolutions for a Display in Mac OS X

Aug 27, 2015 - 33 Comments

MacBook Pro Retina and 20" External Display, a great Mac setup of a software engineer

Though it’s generally recommended to use the ‘Default for display’ screen resolution option, Mac users who connect their computer to an external display or TV may find it helpful to be able to see, access, and use all possible display resolutions for a particular screen. This can be particularly useful if a display Mis either showing at an incorrect screen resolution, or if you’d like to use a specific resolution that is not shown in the available ‘Scaled’ resolutions list of Mac OS X.

Reveal All Possible Screen Resolutions for a Display Connected to a Mac

This works to reveal additional screen resolution choices for any display connected to a modern Mac, it also applies to all modern versions of Mac OS X:

  1. Open System Preferences from the  Apple menu in Mac OS X
  2. Click on “Display”
  3. Under the ‘Display’ tab, hold down the OPTION / ALT key while you press on the ‘Scaled’ button alongside Resolution to reveal all available screen resolution options for the display
  4. Choose the resolution desired from the complete list of available screen resolutions, then close out of System Preferences as usual

All possible screen resolutions shown for a Mac Display

You must hold the Option key when clicking on ‘Scaled’ to reveal all possible screen resolutions for the external display(s), and if you have multiple external displays in use on a Mac, you’ll want to hold the option key when choosing “Scaled” and selecting a resolution for each connected display.

Show all possible screen resolutions for a Mac display in Mac OS X

For example, here’s the default selection of “Scaled” resolutions shown on a particularly 24″ external display connected to a MacBook Pro:

Mac display resolutions shown, before revealing all possible screen resolutions

Now after holding down the OPTION key while clicking on the “Scaled” radio button, many additional screen resolutions are revealed as available to use:

All resolutions shown for a Mac Display

Though these additional choices become available, they may not necessarily look right, and they may not render correctly, so just because they’re shown as options does not necessarily indicate you should use them for that particular screen.

Note this does not apply to Retina displays, where changing the resolution is a bit different and is only offered in scaled views rather than numerical resolutions anyway.

As mentioned above, sometimes this trick can be necessary to be able to select the proper screen resolution for an external display, which, although it’s pretty rare, can present itself as an improperly set screen resolution, usually at a lower resolution than what the display can handle. If you encounter that problem, sometimes simply using the Detect Displays feature after disconnecting and reconnecting the screen to the Mac can be sufficient to have the external display find and use the proper screen resolution.

Topmost photo of dual screen configuration borrowed from this Mac setup post


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Con Schneider says:

    Thank you very much.
    I hate hidden settings so much :).

  2. Renka says:

    Thank you so much, this is exactly what Ive been looking for :))

  3. Trevor says:

    thank you! still works and helping in 2021!

  4. John Smith says:

    WoW! Pretty Awesome trick saved me a lot of time, thanks for that greatly appreciated as a MAC Noob!

  5. Jake says:

    And this is why I’ve never spent a dime on Apple products. Requiring people to look up how to do basic shi1 like change resolution.

  6. Carole says:

    THANK YOU!!! Just got my new monitor and was really bummed that I couldn’t get the right resolution!!!

  7. Rifky says:

    Hey, Thanks ya!, it help me a lot! ahaha

  8. STEVEN TAYLOR says:

    YES!!! If you want better resolution use the mini display port (thunderbolt) It will give you higher options than HDMI only.

    —–>> *1 HDMI and 1 Thunderbolt port.

    Supports dual simultaneous displays — 1920×1200 on an HDMI display or a DVI display using the included HDMI-to-DVI adapter and 2560×1600 on a Thunderbolt or Mini DisplayPort display or even a VGA display (with adapter). Thunderbolt is backwards-compatible with Mini DisplayPort-equipped displays as well as adapters that are compatible with Mini DisplayPort (DVI, VGA, dual-link DVI and HDMI). It also can support other peripherals that use the Thunderbolt standard, which provides a maximum theoretical 10 Gbps of bandwidth in both directions.

  9. Pat Luther says:

    Well, holding down the Alt key does let me see a lot *more* options. Unfortunately, the resolution of my new monitor (2560 x 1440) wasn’t in the list.
    Any idea how to get any more resolutions listed? :)

    (I should also note that Windows 10 autodetected the same monitor and set the resolution correctly without me doing anything at all. Apple, you’re slipping :)

    • ilan says:

      I have the same issue. I have unboxed my 3440×1440 Samsung monitor, but I get 1080p as the highest available resolution in system preferences. It does more or less mention the right model number (S34J55x). Neither the Option-key nor the Display Menu app resulted in better resolutions.

      And Samsung doesn’t seem to provide drivers for it for MacOS. They say their monitors are ‘plug and play. Well, mine isn’t….

      • Eduardo says:

        I’m having this exact same problem with a space monitor 27″ and a macbook air.

        • EliTheIceMan says:

          I’m having the same issue on an early 2014 MacbookAir. I’ve chased it down to OSX and how it handles the EDID put out by the monitor. I’ve got 2 Windows10 machines that handle the same cable (thunderbolt to HMDI) at the full resolution (2560×1440) no problem. I’ve even booted Linux on the Macbook Air and everything was fine. 1080p is the best I get from OSX.

          I’ll post an update if I get it figured out.

          • Joe says:

            I’ve gotten my Mac to show the correct resolution for my 2560×1440 LG monitor sporadically, but not reliably.

            In fact, as I was in the middle of typing this, I disconnected and reconnected the monitor cable and the correct resolution option showed up. (Maybe the key is to have the dialog open showing the alternate resolutions while you do this — but that’s just a guess.)

  10. IncensePro says:

    Thank you so much for writing the helpful article. On the web, I don’t get a solution to my problem. Even I changed the monitor also but my Mac Mini Monitor resolution cannot be changed. Suddenly I got the solution and be able to fix my monitor resolution. Thanks again to the Admin.

  11. Chris Brown says:

    Thanks, this helped.

    What I din’t get is why Apple still thinks 800×600 is the “optimal” resolution for external monitors/projectors… except their own lol.

  12. JB says:

    Thanks! This is exactly what I was looking for!

  13. Ed says:

    Thanks so much! I was having trouble with a new 4K external monitor that System Preferences was showing its top resolution to be only 1960×1080, even though the previous monitor had also been a 4K. This allowed me to overcome the Mac flaw and choose the proper setting!

  14. Clint says:

    Dear Paul Horowitz:

    Thanks a million for the option/alt cursor over “scaled” maneuver!

  15. Eik says:

    Thanks, I wonder what Mac users did before one could find all those hints on sites like yours ;)

  16. mark says:

    Thanks! Although it annoys me that Apple hides things like this….

  17. JB says:

    Just wanted to thank Laurence for suggesting the “Display Menu” app.

    Only thing that has worked for me as I have been having issues logging in via screen sharing on my old mac mini which I run headless as a media server.

    It was unable to detect a resolution as there was no display connected, the app worked flawlessly!

  18. Kev Jarvis says:

    Thanks for this fix. I have spent a whole day trying to fix one screen res. There is nothing on the Mac forums saying this, so thanks again. Such an easy quick fix.

  19. muhid says:

    Thanks a lot, that was a really great helpful piece of information. Without knowing it I was feeling like what a big trouble I am in.
    But such a small knowledge sharing from you just saved my day.
    Thanks once again for your generous effort to help people like me!
    May peace be upon you…

  20. Cody says:

    I love you. This saved my a$$.

  21. Jair says:

    I have a MacBook Air 13”, and when connecting a Monitor, (which support high resolutions) the Mac will only recognize 800 x 600 and 1020 x 1024, which REALLY looks bad, is there any way to force a resolution? Using the cmd + alt trick, it will only display those 2 options available.

    Thanks in advance!

  22. Chris says:

    Awesome !!!
    MAC is not predictable sometimes :/!

    This helped me a lot!


  23. Thiago says:

    I have the new imac 5k, and there are so few options in resolution, at 5120 x 2880 most stuffs get unreadable, or requires a great effort to read, also the small pointer get so small you barely can find it. at 3200 x 1800 I can use ok but I would like to put more programs at the screen and you barely can but two browsers without conflict.

    There is a way to get some resolution between the 5120 x 2880 and the 3200 x 1880?

  24. Laurence Cedar says:

    ‘Display Menu’ is a small free App that’s way better.

    • Scott says:

      Man! That app fixed my troubles!! I have a JU7500 Samsung 4K as my second monitor and I could only get three potential resolution using the option->scale method. ‘Display Menu’ gave me a LOT more options and the old 1920×1080 60Hz was what I wanted!

      Had to comment on an old thread just to say thanks!!!

    • Sam M says:

      Like Scott said DISPLAY MENU app is amazing helped me fix an old TV monitor that wouldn’t display the correct aspect ratio. Thanks for the tip Laurence!

  25. Wharf Xanadu says:

    Great to know

  26. Wilf Forrow says:

    In the ‘Display’ settings, you can also auto detect display resolutions with CMD + F2 (or if you have reversed the default fn/function keys, fn + CMD + F2).

    It may also help to use CMD + F1 to toggle mirror displays on and off (or fn + CMD + F1).

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