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Display Calibration 101: Step-By-Step With Datacolor's Spyder4Elite

Display Calibration 101: Step-By-Step With Datacolor's Spyder4Elite
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In every monitor review, we recommend that enthusiasts calibrate their screens. The benefits are many, but how can achieve this without spending thousands of dollars on exotic gear? Today, we’ll show you how, and for less than the price of your monitor!

The theories behind and benefits of calibrating your monitor are many. They could easily be the subject of a separate article. In fact, this is indeed the first in a series of stories about monitor calibration. But to summarize, the most important reason to calibrate any display is to achieve consistency between the source of the content and the display used to show that content.

For instance, a camera films a scene using a particular set of standards for color, brightness, gamma, and white balance. The only way to see that material the way the director saw it is to match your display to those standards. Fortunately, there are parameters for video production that are the same as the ones used in games, digital photography, and other content creation systems. A majority of computer displays can come pretty close to these.

At Tom's Hardware, every monitor we review is run through a large array of performance tests, and each receives a full calibration using professional-grade instruments and software. This yields accurate and repeatable results, no matter what type of display we work with. The rub is that we have thousands of dollars invested in our test gear, and that's totally impractical for you to match at home.

We always recommend calibrating your monitor, regardless of what you want to do with it. It’s just as important to have an accurate and balanced image in front of you, whether you’re editing photos, playing games, watching videos, or working solely with productivity apps. Think of this as performance tuning for your monitor.

So, while I have access to a lot of very high-end equipment, our notebook, all-in-one, and tablet teams don't. Instead, they're using Datacolor's Spyder4Elite. This $249 package contains everything you need to calibrate your monitor to a precise standard. In the future, we'll cover calibration with tools from X-Rite and Spectracal, discuss color theory, and dive into the science behind display calibration. For now, though, we're trying to get your picture looking good at an affordable price.

The components needed to calibrate any type of display are the same, no matter how you spend on them. You need some type of measuring device, a software package to control that device, and a way to generate patterns for the device to measure. Let’s start by discussing each component in more detail, starting with the meter.

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  • 3 Hide
    de5_Roy , August 21, 2013 9:45 PM
    very informative. :) 
  • 2 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , August 21, 2013 11:44 PM
    I've been doing this for years.

    However, I wouldn't recommend Colorvision - their support for open source software is pitiful.

    It would be nice to have the option to calibrate the monitor instead of just using colour profiles though. It can get irritating to run the same test on multiple OSs or computers attached to the same monitor.
  • 2 Hide
    envy14tpe , August 22, 2013 12:21 AM
    Thank you so much for doing this article. I think calibrating a monitor (at home) is very important for accuracy.

    I use the Spyder Express 4 and love the results. There are 3 models of the Spyder 4 and buyers need to choose which is best for their use.

    Would it be possible to make the images a larger file so people can see the difference more clearly?
  • 1 Hide
    daglesj , August 22, 2013 5:50 AM
    I have a Spyder 3 Pro.

    Great device when you first unbox it, then not so good when you find the colours and visuals look far worse after you finish with odd tinges and hues.

    Then you read up and find the the devices are not actually calibrated and set properly when they leave the factory.

    Pretty useless. I wouldn't buy another spyder. Look elsewhere for proper results.
  • 0 Hide
    Traciatim , August 22, 2013 5:54 AM
    I've been looking at picking up a calibration tool set for a while so I liked reading this article. My question though is that I want to use my setup to calibrate TV's for friends, Monitors, Laptops, multi monitor setups, TV's with PCs and Multiple other devices attached . . . I was looking at getting the Spyder4 Elite and the TV HD upgrade but it seems like if I calibrate a TV with a PC attached using the TV HD version and then try to do the PC with the software then is that going to mess up the previous settings?

    If anyone has any experience with these tools in multi-use and multi-display scenarios or has a better option on what tools to get I would really appreciate any info.
  • 0 Hide
    WyomingKnott , August 22, 2013 6:02 AM
    "All modern fixed-pixel displays create images in RGB format." Sharp states that their Aquos line has a yellow sub-pixel. It might be interesting to compare one of their TVs to a similar RGB panel.
  • 2 Hide
    Someone Somewhere , August 22, 2013 6:12 AM
    None of the connections allow it to receive data with a yellow channel though, so it's all interpolated in the display.
  • 1 Hide
    ddpruitt , August 22, 2013 6:26 AM
    Great article, I always try to do this with monitors and displays. Most are set up so horribly out of the box and people always use what feels good instead of what's right. I have never used a color calibrator because there's so little factual information. I'll probably ending getting one of these now.
  • 1 Hide
    ojas , August 22, 2013 7:27 AM
    I wish you could cover some free/open source software, $249 is still a bit much for some like me...plus exchange rate is getting painful these days :( 
  • 1 Hide
    master9716 , August 22, 2013 7:48 AM
    The Before Picture looks More Realistic
  • 1 Hide
    Vladimir83 , August 22, 2013 8:04 AM
    Indeed very informative article.Its just pit full that I like many others couldn't afford even this entry level equipment.Having said that,will be really grateful if (in some future article) is covered the story behind input(VGA vs HDMI vs DVI).I suppose that many other readers will be interested in this.
  • -2 Hide
    JackNaylorPE , August 22, 2013 8:29 AM
    Any reason why when THG does these tests for their review articles ya can't make the resultant ICC profile available to their readers like they do here ?

    http://pcmonitors.info/reviews/asus-vg248qe

    Quote:
    To use our ICC profiles, do the following.

    1) Download the appropriate ICC profile below and save it to a suitable place -

    AMD GPU users
    Nvidia GPU users

    2) Set the monitor to ‘Standard Mode’ at 144Hz. The following settings were used to create the profiles but feel free to adjust if necessary -

    Splendid= Standard Mode
    Brightness= 24 (gave 160 cd/m2 on our unit, adjust as required)
    Contrast= 75
    Color Temp= User Mode
    Red= 100
    Green= 90
    Blue= 89

    3) Follow these instructions on how to activate the ICC profile. In that article you’ll also find a link to download a useful and very small utility called ‘Display Profile’ which you can use to toggle between ICC profiles. This is useful if you want to switch to default colour settings (essentially no ICC profile active) when running certain applications (games etc.) that don’t use the profiles properly.
  • 1 Hide
    Integr8d , August 22, 2013 11:12 AM
    Quote:
    The Before Picture looks More Realistic


    It's not about what looks more realistic. It's about reproducing, as closely as possible, what the photographer or designer or director saw on his or her monitor. In other words, of you're calibrated and they're calibrated and the picture still looks like crap, you can actually blame it on the other person for having such bad taste.
  • 0 Hide
    Integr8d , August 22, 2013 11:16 AM
    At work, I use a PR-670 and a beast called the CS-2000. I like the 200 that you have pictured. The 2000 is like an anvil, however. For home stuff, I use the little xrite Display Pro. At the minimum, it nails the white point.
  • 1 Hide
    hp79 , August 22, 2013 12:50 PM
    Where's the actual before and after photos? It would have been much better to add what you guys got after the calibration instead of just using their over exaggerated before-and-after marketing slide.
  • 0 Hide
    ceberle , August 22, 2013 1:31 PM
    Quote:
    Thank you so much for doing this article. I think calibrating a monitor (at home) is very important for accuracy.

    I use the Spyder Express 4 and love the results. There are 3 models of the Spyder 4 and buyers need to choose which is best for their use.

    Would it be possible to make the images a larger file so people can see the difference more clearly?


    The Spyder Elite and Pro use the same sensor. The differences are in the software only. The Spyder Express doesn't have the ambient light sensor and the software is more limited. The actual sensor hardware is the same on all three probes.

    -Christian

  • 1 Hide
    ceberle , August 22, 2013 1:38 PM
    Quote:
    Indeed very informative article.Its just pit full that I like many others couldn't afford even this entry level equipment.Having said that,will be really grateful if (in some future article) is covered the story behind input(VGA vs HDMI vs DVI).I suppose that many other readers will be interested in this.


    Signal input is something we'll cover in future calibration articles. In a nutshell - VGA, being analog, will vary from display to display. Some will roll off the highest resolutions, some will render levels or colors incorrectly. There is no rule that applies to all screens. HDMI and DVI should, in theory, be the same. If you send the same signal through both inputs on the same display, the measurements should be identical. And in practice, they almost always are. In fact, we've never seen a case where there was a difference in color accuracy.

    -Christian
  • 0 Hide
    ceberle , August 22, 2013 1:42 PM
    Quote:
    Where's the actual before and after photos? It would have been much better to add what you guys got after the calibration instead of just using their over exaggerated before-and-after marketing slide.


    It's very difficult to show actual calibration results in a photo. Your monitor would have to be calibrated first off. Even then, the difference to your eye would be quite subtle. You can see by our out-of-box measurements that most monitors are pretty close already. The main thing is to know which presets to use; which is information we always provide. We'll experiment and see if we can put some usable photos in future reviews.

    -Christian
  • 1 Hide
    emccalment , August 22, 2013 2:36 PM
    This morning I didn't know this existed!! Now I must have one!!!

    Except that I'm too cheap to drop $250 for a slightly better picture. That, to me, still seems like a lot of money unless I'm replacing my transmission.
  • 0 Hide
    merikafyeah , August 22, 2013 7:05 PM
    My free, ghetto approach to calibration:

    1. Take a picture of a bright, multi-colored object. (preferably with prominent primaries, e.g. reds, greens, blues, and yellows.)

    2. Place object next to monitor.

    3. Bring up picture you just took of said object.

    4. Adjust display until result closely matches real life.

    For best results, lighting is key. When indoors, always try to use light bulbs with a color temperature of exactly 5500K. These are generally called "daylight" or "full spectrum" bulbs and are the sweet spot for maximum color reproduction.
    Bulbs like these are best: http://www.amazon.com/27W-Photo-Light-Bulb-5500K/dp/B0015DIOXQ/

    Sadly, most bulbs sold nowadays are either 2700K (way too yellow / warm) or 6500K (too blue / cool). Remember, 5500K is the sweet spot for color accuracy.
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