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I recently had the good fortune to inherit a very small form factor computer (Mac Mini). I've hooked it up to the TV in our living room with an all-in-one keyboard/trackpad combo, and it's working well. While TV is not too small, it's not overly large either, and I'm not happy with my ability to read normal text on the screen from the couch or recliner.

To help with this, I've already done several of the usual tricks for increasing the visibility of items from across the room, including increasing font size as much as I feel like is safe without breaking user interface elements. Now I want to see if I can increase readability by changing the font face.

Can anyone recommend a good, highly-readable font face? I know of several that were designed specifically with print and signage in mind, but screens have different challenges than signs and print (i.e. limited resolution, pixel grid, different lighting conditions).

The machine in question is dual booting OS X Mavericks and Windows 8.1 (Living room PCs seem to be the one place I've found so far where the "Metro" visual style really shines), so fonts for both kinds of systems are welcome.

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Interesting. It might seem you will find this information useful: graphicdesign.stackexchange.com/questions/27229/… –  Benteh Apr 18 at 20:59
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I have a Mini set up as a media server as well. I simply use the Mac's Accessibility Zoom function for areas difficult to read. The Mac OS doesn't really allow a great deal of UI font customization. –  Scott Apr 18 at 21:23
    
A large part of readability is your own preference, the distance you are from the screen, the type of screen, etc. As such, I don't think we can reliably recommend one particular font that will help in your very specific situation. –  DA01 May 20 at 3:55

2 Answers 2

My answer may be less nuanced, but I've always found "Impact" or a simple "Arial Bold" to be great for "long distance" reading. Mostly because they're bulky.

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I spent some time on Google looking at options, and learned several things.

  1. Changing the font on Windows 8.1 now requires a registry edit. Look in the HKEY_LocalMachine\Software\Microsoft\Windows NT\CurrentVerson\FontSubstitues key, specifically MS Shell Dlg and MS Shell Dlg 2. This is something that has had easy UI support way back as far as at least Windows 2.0 (yes, before Win3.1), but now requires registry-fu to accomplish.
  2. It's considered better to stick with fonts that are built into your system, rather than installing a font specifically for this purpose, as some restore/recovery tools may remove the font and leave your system in a weird place.
  3. The two font faces I found recommended most often were Verdana and Trebuchet MS.
  4. OS X also requires the Apple-equivalent of a registry edit to change font faces.
  5. Both Mac and PC have free third-party tools available to make this easier, but I'm not inclined to install software to accomplish something I'll do once and forget about.

On the Windows side, I know from prior experience with Verdana, I know that while it may be more readable, it's also just plain bigger than other fonts. (Don't believe me? Try using it to make your next term paper bigger seem longer and be amazed). As I had already set the font size as high as I felt comfortable doing without breaking UIs that only allowed specific pixel sizes for text, I didn't want to go with a bigger font face. Therefore, my choice in Windows was Trebuchet MS.

I'm less-well versed on Macs, such that I'm not as comfortable yet making that kind of change: I don't know how to recover if I screw something up so that there is no font to render, I don't know quickly which fonts are available. Apple also tends to care a little more about font selection in the first place, such that there's likely less improvement to be had, and they have keyboard shortcuts built in for zooming. So at least at the moment, the OS X side of the machine still has the default font face. I probably will make a change, because after some practice using the zoom shortcuts I'm not loving the solution. I might use Verdana here, simply because I'm confident it's available.

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Microsoft is slowly making windows harder to use on this front. They removed the editor to modify the right mouse menu entries for file types in vista. Also something that existed since forever. Its mainly because they went to make sure basic users need to buy everything form somebody else, or possibly a misguided attempt to follow Mac philosophy. Commercialization as theography :( –  joojaa Apr 20 at 6:17
    
Verdana and Trebuchet are fine typefaces, but were designed specifically for use at small sizes on screens. (In other words, any documented advantages are likely all pertaining to the fact that they were hinted well for 10-14px size uses.) –  DA01 May 20 at 3:59

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