How to Use 4K and 5K Displays with Your Mac

4K displays aren’t necessarily as straightforward of a setup compared to regular 1080p displays. On top of that, Macs tend to not play nice with 4K displays. If a display is not properly scaled automatically, you will be faced with UI elements appearing smaller than they would on a classic 1080p display.

This article will cover how to set up 4K and 5K displays with your compatible Mac and how to adjust colors. Furthermore, it will cover the varied refresh rate in which they are able to do so.

How to Determine If Your Mac Is Capable of Handling 4K and 5K

Most modern Macs released since 2013 will be capable of handling 4K, with varied refresh rates. For certain, all 2016 and above Macs support 4K. While this is true, not all of them will be capable of handling the same refresh rate. It will be best to search for your model number specifically to verify 4K support.

Similarly, most models will be capable of handling 5K at a resolution of 4096 x 2160. This is, however, with a reduced refresh rate of 24Hz.

Choosing a Cable for Your Display

HDMI is a fantastic option for connecting to your display as the needed ports are more common. That stated, it will depend on the version number of your HDMI cable that determines what refresh rate is supported.

If HDMI does not fit to your liking, you may wish to explore other display standards.

A Mac that supports 60Hz cannot display 60Hz on a display with a cable of up to 30Hz support. Likewise, a Mac only capable of outputting 30Hz cannot display 60Hz even if the cable being used can handle 60Hz. This is why it is important to cross-check compatibility between cables, your Mac, and your monitor.

Scaling UI Elements

Connect your Mac to your 4K display by using a desired cable. Power on your display. As previously mentioned, scaling of UI elements may not be up to par – but that is an easy fix. Start by launching “System Preferences” and selecting “Displays.” From this window change the “default for display” option to “scaled.”

If graphical scaling is displayed, the refresh rate will automatically be set, scaling will automatically be set, and you will be able to adjust scaling manually if you prefer. Move the scrubber up or down to make graphics and UI elements appear smaller or larger, respectively.


If graphical scaling is not available, the refresh rate will be adjustable and the scaled resolution will need to be set for the optimum appearance of UI elements. In most cases with most displays the 1920 x 1080 option is best.


By, for example, selecting the scaling of 1920 x 1080, the resolution is now being changed to 1920 x 1080. Elements are instead just being displayed as they would appear on a 1920 x 1080 display. This effectively matches the size of icons and UI elements to how they would appear with the selected resolutions.

Adjusting Color on Your Display

It’s important to verify that all colors on your display are appearing as they should so that your work will appear the same on any device it is viewed. To adjust your display’s color and calibrate your monitor, select “Displays” from System Preferences and select “Color” from the menu bar inside this window.


Select “Calibrate” and follow the on-screen prompts to create what is known as a calibration profile.


Furthermore, you may want to select pre-installed profiles or use the tools built in to your monitor to adjust options further such as brightness and contrast.


Final Thoughts

As the price of 4K displays are lowering across the board, it is about time to upgrade. While 4K and 5K displays and Macs will not necessarily be ready to use upon being plugged in, with a few adjustments you will be able to get back to creating!

Corbin Telligman
Corbin Telligman

I'm a junior at UT Dallas, a tech enthusiast, an adreneline junkie, and a coffee fanatic.

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