Bright light! Bright light!

Apple fans, don’t be angry with me, but I recently bought a new 20-inch, widescreen LCD display—and I didn’t buy it from Apple. Sadly, I couldn’t justify the $1000 (plus tax) it would have cost me to buy the shiny aluminum model I’d been eyeing for so long. Instead, I turned to a third-party vendor known for selling decent displays at low prices. I ended up getting a 20” widescreen display with the same 1680 x 1050 resolution as Apple’s 20” model, but for just over half the price.

Despite the fact that my new monitor isn’t an Apple Cinema Display, I’ve been pleased with it. The color accuracy isn’t quite as good as Apple’s, and the form factor isn’t as stylish, but for the price it’s pretty darned nice—it even provides multiple inputs and has picture-in-picture. But it’s got one major problem: It’s too bright.

I don’t mean a little bit too bright; I mean “don’t look directly at it or you’ll go blind” bright. During the day, in a well-lit office, it’s almost bearable, but in the evening I pretty much need to break out the welder’s helmet. I’ve used the display’s controls to lower the brightness as far as I can, but on this particular model, if a level of 100 means “prison tower spotlight,” a level of 0 is still “police car floodlight.” It’s still bright enough to kill a gremlin. (Sorry, bad 80’s movie reference.) And no amount of Mac OS X display calibration has helped.

It turns out that I’m not alone in this experience. I’ve talked to a number of people over the past few days who’ve found their new LCD displays to be painfully bright and have been unable to adjust the brightness or calibration to obtain a more comfortable level of luminescence.

Scavenging the ’net for a solution, I was fortunate to come across Splasm Software’s free Brightness Control (   ). The latest entry into my library of one-function wonders, Brightness Control’s claim to fame is that it provides a simple software slider control for dimming your Mac’s screen(s).

Brightness Control image

All the way to the left (0.0) is a black screen; all the way to the right (1.0) is your monitor’s current brightness setting (“full brightness”). Somewhere in the middle is the pleasant “just right” that made my new monitor’s light levels safe for unshielded use. (The Smooth option simply makes the transitions between brightness levels, well, smoother.)

If you accidentally set your brightness to 0, don’t worry—just press the escape key to restore full brightness. (Or press command+Q to quit Brightness Control; its setting only applies when the application is running.)

Brightness Control isn’t an ideal fix. Because it’s simply dimming the screen, it would be nice to get some increased contrast to compensate for a lack thereof at the lowest brightness levels. It would also be useful to be able to dim multiple displays independently, although I understand why that would be technically difficult. And since it’s purpose is to adjust a system-wide setting, I wish it worked as a preference pane or menu item instead of as an application that remains open (in the Dock and onscreen). But these quirks aside, it’s made my brand new monitor usable, and for that I’m extremely grateful.

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