Enabling HiDPI on macOS


Photo by Michael on Unsplash

Disclaimer: Instructions here are provided without any warranty. It’s a collection of steps. Also, I’ve only been able to enable a couple of HiDPI resolutions, but not all that I anticipated to.

This is mostly a post to remind myself of the trouble I’ve been going through to enable HiDPI on an external display. My HP Envy 27 was a problem child from the very beginning. Apparently, it’s not supported in macOS environments, which I only found out later. Who would have thought that a monitor can have system requirements? Insane! 🙄 There were a couple of suggested solutions though: using different cables and ports (HDMI 1, HDMI 2, DVI), and rebooting macOS with and without the display attached. At some point it just worked, and I could enable a 1440x900 HiDPI resolution with RDM (Retina Display Menu). HiDPI resolutions are indicated with a little lightning icon:

Retina Display Menu RDM

Then I wanted to start streaming on Youtube, which recommends a resolution of 1920x1080. Most of my supported resolutions had an aspect ratio of 16:10. Only 1280x720 was 16:9. I already knew that one tool that allows adding custom resolutions on macOS. However, after giving it another try to add 1920x1080, all of my HiDPI resolutions stopped working. Never change a running system, I guess!.

Forcing HiDPI resolutions

It seems that Apple makes it particularly hard to make any changes beyond their beliefs. Display resolutions are no exceptions, and are guarded by their System Integrity Protection. Now here is a step-by-step instruction how to add custom resolutions:

Disable Apple’s SIP

Turn of your Mac, reboot while holding down Command+R. Wait for the recovery mode to finish loading, then open Utilities | Terminal:

Terminal in Recovery Mode

Afterwards, enter the two commands csrutil disable – which should be confirmed by a message – followed by reboot.

Mount System Folder

Since macOS Catalina, we additionally need to mount the /System as being writable. The command of choice is sudo mount -uw /. Be assured that there is another reboot planned at the end of the instructions.

Determine Display IDs

For the next step, we need to determine the DisplayVendorID and DisplayProductID of our display. The command ioreg -lw0 | grep IODisplayPrefsKey will give a list of all the active devices:

"IODisplayPrefsKey" = "IOService:/AppleACPIPlatformExpert/.../AppleBacklightDisplay-610-a03e"
"IODisplayPrefsKey" = "IOService:/AppleACPIPlatformExpert/.../AppleDisplay-220e-3417"

As far as I know, AppleBacklightDisplay usually denotes the notebook’s own display. The postfix can be read as -<VendorID>-<ProductID>. In my case, the vendor ID is 220e and the product ID is 3417.

Add System Overrides

Enable-HiDPI-OSX is a project hosted on GitHub that allows adding overrides in the most convenient way I’ve seen. There’s also another website, but for me it didn’t really work well.

First we need to download the enable-HiDPI and restore script:

curl -o ~/enable-HiDPI.sh https://raw.githubusercontent.com/syscl/Enable-HiDPI-OSX/master/enable-HiDPI.sh
curl -o ~/restore https://raw.githubusercontent.com/syscl/Enable-HiDPI-OSX/master/restore

chmod +x ~/enable-HiDPI.sh
chmod +x ~/restore

Now gather up all your courage and execute sudo ./enable-HiDPI.sh, which initially asks us to select the display we want to change resolutions for:

         Table of monitors
  Index  |  VendorID  |  ProductID
    1    |    0610    |    3ea0
    2    |    220e    |    1734
Choose the display to enable HiDPI[Exit/1/2]:

After making our selection, we need to provide the resolutions we want to add. Unfortunately, the interface is not really intuitive, but we need to specify the resolutions one-by-one:

Enter the HiDPI resolution (e.g. 1600x900, 1440x910, ...), 0 to quit: 1920x1080
Enter the HiDPI resolution (e.g. 1600x900, 1440x910, ...), 0 to quit: 1440x900
Enter the HiDPI resolution (e.g. 1600x900, 1440x910, ...), 0 to quit: 1280x720
Enter the HiDPI resolution (e.g. 1600x900, 1440x910, ...), 0 to quit: 0
[  OK  ]  Backup /System/Library/Displays/Contents/Resources/Overrides.
[  OK  ]  Done. Reboot then use Retina Display Menu (RDM) to select the HiDPI resolution just injected!.

In my case, the applied changes are saved to /System/Library/Displays/Contents/Resources/Overrides/DisplayVendorID-220e/DisplayProductID-3417:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<!DOCTYPE plist PUBLIC "-//Apple//DTD PLIST 1.0//EN" "http://www.apple.com/DTDs/PropertyList-1.0.dtd">
<plist version="1.0">

There’s an article describing how those values are encoded, but for me they seem to be a bit too short. Whatever! I also copied the scale-resolution entries to my MacBooks own override file located at /System/Library/Displays/Contents/Resources/Overrides/DisplayVendorID-610/DisplayProductID-a03e, to allow setting the same resolution on both.


While changing the override files back and forth, it seemed that even though the 1920x1080 resolution doesn’t work, it had to be added to make other resolutions work. I have absolutely no explanation for that, but at this point I’m just happy to have a few HiDPI resolutions back.


For the YouTube streaming I’m now using a display resolution of 1280x720 with recording resolution of 1920x1080 for the output. Anyways, this seems to be a much better choice, since I don’t need to change font sizes in every application.