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

Datacolor's Spyder4Elite Display Calibration System

For some time, we've wished for an easy-to-use, wizard-based monitor calibration solution. Professional suites like CalMAN work well, but require much more in terms of setup, configuration, and know-how. Datacolor makes its at-home calibration system, the Spyder4Elite, available to a number of Tom's Hardware's editors for tablet, smartphone, all-in-one, and notebook testing, and it satisfies this component of our reviews well. So, we thought we'd go over the process we use to generate results.

Included in the $249 package are Datacolor’s latest Spyder tri-stim colorimeter, a CD with all of the necessary software, and a desktop cradle that also functions as a tripod mount adapter. This extra part allows you to calibrate projectors by facing the meter towards the lens or taking readings reflected from the screen (which is our preferred method).

Along with sporting an affordable price tag, the Spyder4 also features a dead-simple software package that handles both measurements and pattern generation. In fact, it’s so simple that we only needed about 15 minutes to install the software, connect the meter, and calibrate our AOC I2757FH.

The meter connects via USB and has a weight on its cable so you can easily hang it from the top of your monitor. The feet are soft foam and are intended to make contact with the screen so that all ambient light is sealed out from the sensor. This is important because even a tiny amount of stray light can contaminate a reading.

The software itself is wizard-based and runs you through every step of the calibration. Simply answer the questions, follow the directions, and you’re done. A profile is generated for your display and then interfaced with your video card. You can turn the profile on and off from the Spyder4 entry in the Windows system tray. The meter also includes an ambient light sensor, which factors your workspace’s light level into the calibration process. This not only helps with color accuracy, but brightness as well. Setting your monitor to the proper brightness level improves your perception of the image, and reduces fatigue and eyestrain. Though we always use 200 nits as our standard, you may want to go higher or lower depending on your particular environmental conditions.

After the initial calibration, Datacolor's software continues to run in the system tray. Every one to 60 minutes (your choice) the meter will check the ambient light level and warn you if it has changed significantly, at which point you can change calibration profiles if you want. The software will also log calibrations, and tell you when to recalibrate at regular intervals. In our experience, LCD monitors don’t change that much over time, but professionals meeting exacting standards will want to take advantage of this feature.

For those who like to tweak, Spyder4Elite lets you specify any value you want for color, gamma, grayscale, and brightness. Also, at the end of the wizard, there is an option called advanced analysis that lets you run any individual test you wish, including screen uniformity. And if you just want to take a quick reading from a separate device like a cellphone or tablet, the meter function lets you do that as well.

Now we’ll run through the Spyder4Elite's wizard to see just what’s happening in a typical monitor calibration.

Christian Eberle
Contributing Editor

Christian Eberle is a Contributing Editor for Tom's Hardware US. He's a veteran reviewer of A/V equipment, specializing in monitors. Christian began his obsession with tech when he built his first PC in 1991, a 286 running DOS 3.0 at a blazing 12MHz. In 2006, he undertook training from the Imaging Science Foundation in video calibration and testing and thus started a passion for precise imaging that persists to this day. He is also a professional musician with a degree from the New England Conservatory as a classical bassoonist which he used to good effect as a performer with the West Point Army Band from 1987 to 2013. He enjoys watching movies and listening to high-end audio in his custom-built home theater and can be seen riding trails near his home on a race-ready ICE VTX recumbent trike. Christian enjoys the endless summer in Florida where he lives with his wife and Chihuahua and plays with orchestras around the state.

  • de5_Roy
    very informative. :)
  • Someone Somewhere
    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.
  • envy14tpe
    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?
  • daglesj
    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.
  • Traciatim
    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.
  • WyomingKnott
    "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.
  • Someone Somewhere
    None of the connections allow it to receive data with a yellow channel though, so it's all interpolated in the display.
  • ddpruitt
    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.
  • ojas
    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 :(
  • master9716
    The Before Picture looks More Realistic