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

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.