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Color gamut - what's the deal?

Last response: in Computer Peripherals
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December 12, 2010 10:04:10 AM

Color gamut is a measure on how large the color range of a monitor is. Almost all consumer models can display 72% of NTSC, which is also the range that Windows uses by default. High-quality screens can display deeper colors to a varying degree, eg. 96% of NTSC would give you much deeper green and red colors. However, here's an issue.

If Windows or the application used a wider range by default, your run-of-the-mill 72% screen couldn't make a difference between "true green" and "almost true green but not quite", displaying the same color for those. But if the software sticks to the 72% color range, there is no benefit from having a 102% or whatever monitor!

So how does this work in practice and what's the benefit of having a monitor with a wide color gamut? Does the application just tell the (graphics card?) device driver to switch to a special wide-gamut mode, eg. "today you'll be displaying 102% of NTSC"? I suppose you'd have to run fullscreen or you'd get conflicts with similar requests from other applications. I can imagine such features being important for image manipulation and typesetting etc. applications which could benefit most from a different color gamut. But are such features available at all in games, or web browsers?

Or do Windows and Linux just figure out the color gamut of your monitor and switch their mode to a wider gamut globally?

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a b C Monitor
December 12, 2010 12:58:27 PM

Think of colors being displays as a % saturation. Imagine applications requesting colors at 100% saturation. However 100% saturation on a wide gamut monitor is higher than on a normal gamut monitor so everything would look oversaturated.

This is where calibration comes in. Applications can detect the ICC profile of the monitor and request colors with lower saturation to compensate. So 80% saturation might be enough instead of 100%. If you don't calibrate, your monitor will always be oversaturated.

Wide gamut is good when doing photoediting where dSLRs can take pictures with much higher gamut.


Most wide gamut monitors have an sRGB mode to limit color gamut.
Theres also many monitors below standard gamut. Despite all the monitors reporting a dead on 72% color gamut. Many of them actually fall out of the spec. White LED monitors for example are lower at 68% despite what manufacturers tell you. Same thing with contrast ratio, all manufacturers will tell you 1000:1 but it is under 99% of the time.

Its always better to get a wider gamut monitor and calibrate.
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a c 196 C Monitor
December 12, 2010 9:21:56 PM

Wide color gamut kinda helps with color printouts. It makes it easier to print out pictures / graphics that has virtually the same colors that is displayed on the screen. Of course both monitor and printer has to be properly calibrated. This issue is basically due to the fact that monitors use Red, Green and Blue (RGB) to create the various colors. However, a printer uses Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (CYMK) to reproduce colors.

I actually prefer normal color gamut, but the monitors I have are wide color gamut so it took a bit to get used. Even when calibrated the colors looked a bit greenish compare to my old normal color gamut monitor; which I no longer have.

While most wide color gamut monitors do have sRGB mode to limit color gamut, the colors can still be off, but more importantly many monitors do not allow you to calibrate in sRGB mode; at least that was the case when I was doing a lot of in depth research for a monitor (2008).

Games use whatever color pallet the developers want to use. Of course the colors will look slightly different on a normal vs wide color gamut monitor. Games are not programmed to be color aware unlike programs like Photoshop and Adobe and probably Firefox web browser.
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December 18, 2010 8:00:49 PM

So a lot of it boils down to software support. Monitors with wider gamut could give us better colors, but you will get this advantage only to the degree that your software supports it.

Some bigger browsers, at least Safari and Firefox support color space awareness:

http://www.smmug.org/index.php?q=node/522 (follow the link in there too for some nice examples)

For media players, the situation seems more painful but I take these features are just round the corner, we might see them during the next monitor's lifespan:

http://www.avsforum.com/avs-vb/showthread.php?t=1045556
http://www.artstorm.net/journal/2009/07/color-managemen...

For gaming... maybe not anytime soon, or just spotty support from some titles. If/when wide-gamut monitors become widespread, there is more pressure to introduce this feature in gaming and the many other applications that could draw some benefit from a wider color space.

So, in the end it seems to depend on how many people there already are that rely on these features in the same type of applications that you use, and how long the expected lifespan of your monitor is.
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a c 196 C Monitor
December 20, 2010 2:39:33 AM

varis said:
If/when wide-gamut monitors become widespread, there is more pressure to introduce this feature in gaming and the many other applications that could draw some benefit from a wider color space.

So, in the end it seems to depend on how many people there already are that rely on these features in the same type of applications that you use, and how long the expected lifespan of your monitor is.


Wide gamut monitors are already widespread. I really doubt there is much pressure to feature color awareness in games. It's not a big selling point and if you need more than 15 seconds to explain what the color aware feature really does then it's really not worth it.
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December 23, 2010 4:07:59 PM

I would have thought that a lot of gamers are on cookie cutter TN panels aged anything between 0 and 10 years - how long have wide-gamut monitors been available in the mainstream anyway?
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a b C Monitor
December 23, 2010 5:06:11 PM

Wide-Gamut monitors are not mainstream. Main stream monitors are by companies like Asus which makes nothing buy low end TN panels mainly because they are cheap.
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December 23, 2010 5:10:53 PM

+1 to Jaguars first post. I'm not expert but it really boils down to software support to make the wide gamut usefull.
From my research some software programs make wide gamut look really screwy, with the reds in particular look way oversaturated or "atomic".

I think that 8 bit panels (IPS Panels produce 16,777,216 colors) have a much better picture than 6bit (TN Panels produce 262,144 colors) due to the dithering process that 6-bit panels use, all within normal color space.

Wide gamut panels are primarly for field specific professionals that use photoshop etc exclusively, for the rest of us sRGB is really what we need and want.
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a b C Monitor
December 24, 2010 1:57:26 AM

Cameras can take pictures in Adobe RGB color space and printers can print beyond sRGB color space too.

So if you like to take pictures or do color prints. A wide gamut monitor would be quite useful.
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January 23, 2011 11:22:51 AM

Best answer selected by varis.
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