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

See How Easy Calibrating Your Display Can Be?

You’ve heard us say it in every monitor review: we always recommend calibration. It's often a challenge to put into practice given what the required gear costs and the training needed to achieve good results. While it is true that most displays look pretty darned good right out of the box, we have yet to encounter a review unit that didn't benefit from a precise calibration.

It’s important to remember that the science behind the industry’s video standards has two simple directives: display an image that is as true-to-life as possible, meanwhile creating the least amount of eye fatigue for the viewer. By making small adjustments in key areas, even inexpensive monitors can meet this goal. A few years ago, only very expensive professional products played in the accurate color arena. Now, with advances in technology and manufacturing, anyone can have a professional-quality image on their desktop. Products like Datacolor’s Spyder4 systems keep your display emitting industry-standard colors with ease, and without spending a ton of money. You don’t really have to know a lot about the science behind it to get good results, either. The software handles all the patterns and measurements without user intervention, and the end result is a better-looking, more accurate monitor.

And that was the purpose of today's story. We've been using Spyder4Elites for a while now, across several segments and in a number of labs. Everything about the process is so straight-forward that we figured showing you what we go through in each review might encourage more enthusiasts to take calibration seriously and get more enjoyment from their computing experience.

What impressed us the most is how the Spyder4's calibration settings are stored in a look-up table rather than adjusting the monitor itself. If you read our monitor reviews, you know that not every screen has the same available controls, and adjusting the color gamut is usually limited to a few presets, if it's possible at all. The same is often true for gamma, though none of the panels we've tested offer the ability to actually edit the gamma curve. Without software like Spyder4Elite, you're limited to your display’s own menu system.

Of course, the Spyder4 isn't perfect. We'd like to see a redesigned sensor that's weighted properly to ensure it lays flat against an upright screen. And there are other low-priced alternatives to Datacolor's solution, most notably the CalPC package from Spectracal. This bundle includes the X-rite i1Display meter and the CalMAN 5 software suite with integrated pattern generation (we’ll be covering CalPC in a future article). Alternatively, you can also save moeny on Datacolor’s Elite product and get the Spyder4Pro. You give up multi-screen matching, SpyderTune, unlimited choices for calibration parameters, and the screen uniformity tests. But for only £119, it gets the job done. X-Rite's ColorMunki Display sells for around the same price.

Besides the walkthrough, hopefully you’ve also gotten a little exposure to the technical justification behind calibration and color reproduction in displays. Our next installment will discuss this science in much greater detail. The theories of color perception go back to a time when computers filled a room and didn’t even have a video display. These theories are what guide modern color science. Stay tuned!

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  • Menigmand
    I still don't understand why we have to buy a $250 device just to get a proper picture on our screens. Why are they not factory calibrated? After all, in these days, the input is digital, so the display data should be 1-to-1 identical to (for example) game RGB data... I'm sure I'm wrong somehow, but about what?
  • mi1ez
    That was actually a genuinely interesting article! Good work Tom's.

    885869 said:
    I still don't understand why we have to buy a $250 device just to get a proper picture on our screens. Why are they not factory calibrated? After all, in these days, the input is digital, so the display data should be 1-to-1 identical to (for example) game RGB data... I'm sure I'm wrong somehow, but about what?


    The problem is twofold:

    Variance in the panels. Each panel would need to be calibrated individually adding time and cost

    The WOW factor. Many manufacturers will ship monitors with the saturation set too high so when you fist set it up it gives you the wow factor. I believe. This second one might not be 100% true and more of a showroom trick.
  • Will P
    A great article, a good introduction on an often overlooked aspect of the PC setup. Every screen I have ever bought has had a ridiculously high brightness out of the box, which I suppose could be put down to a 'Wow factor' for sure... The kit is expensive though, but if it is going to make every screen you own 20% better and last for 5 years it starts to look like a good investment.

    I was wondering if the re-calibration of the cheaper units (such as the Spyder) can be done with the Spyder itself or do you need specialist kit?
  • timbozero
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it.
    There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost.
    Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?
  • mi1ez
    249904 said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it. There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost. Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?

    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?
  • timbozero
    142373 said:
    249904 said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it. There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost. Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?
    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?


    Is short (for the example I mentioned) , you get several display patterns shown and adjust your screen until they display as they should. You will need to do this a few times for each as some will impact others (you would have to with the Datacolor as well unless it can adjust your monitor automatically afaik). The colours are adjusted the same way but with a filter used by you to help 'understand' the data.

    This is a link to typical testcard used by the Blu-Ray http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/screenshot.php?movieid=16216&position=2
    This is a link to a review of the Blu-Ray on the same site http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Disney-WOW-World-of-Wonder-Blu-ray/16216/

    Hopefully that will help
  • mi1ez
    249904 said:
    142373 said:
    249904 said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it. There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost. Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?
    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?
    Is short (for the example I mentioned) , you get several display patterns shown and adjust your screen until they display as they should. You will need to do this a few times for each as some will impact others (you would have to with the Datacolor as well unless it can adjust your monitor automatically afaik). The colours are adjusted the same way but with a filter used by you to help 'understand' the data. This is a link to typical testcard used by the Blu-Ray http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/screenshot.php?movieid=16216&position=2 This is a link to a review of the Blu-Ray on the same site http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Disney-WOW-World-of-Wonder-Blu-ray/16216/ Hopefully that will help


    So do you have like a physical card to compare with what's on screen?
  • timbozero
    142373 said:
    249904 said:
    142373 said:
    249904 said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it. There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost. Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?
    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?
    Is short (for the example I mentioned) , you get several display patterns shown and adjust your screen until they display as they should. You will need to do this a few times for each as some will impact others (you would have to with the Datacolor as well unless it can adjust your monitor automatically afaik). The colours are adjusted the same way but with a filter used by you to help 'understand' the data. This is a link to typical testcard used by the Blu-Ray http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/screenshot.php?movieid=16216&position=2 This is a link to a review of the Blu-Ray on the same site http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Disney-WOW-World-of-Wonder-Blu-ray/16216/ Hopefully that will help
    So do you have like a physical card to compare with what's on screen?


    No, the only physical item (other than the disc) is a blue tinted filter which is used for one of the several tests.
    Brightness (as an example) displays a test strip and you adjust the brightness until your screen shows certain details but not others (as instructed by the previous 'chapter' of the 'film').
    There are several levels of testing and reading the review I linked will give you more of an idea.

    I did the setup for TV, projector setup (Datacolor products won't work on projectors as the device blocks the very image you need to measure) and my monitor. The projector wasnt far out and made a small difference, my monitor and TV were 'miles' out and the tuning with the disc worked wonders :)
  • mi1ez
    249904 said:
    142373 said:
    249904 said:
    142373 said:
    249904 said:
    It is IMO ridiculous to suggest the spending of near the cost of a monitor to calibrate it. There are several Blu-ray Discs (Disney World of Wonder for example) that will achieve 80%+ of the levels of calibration for 10% of the cost. Was the author sponsored by DataColor or, just wildly out of touch?
    How does a blu-ray calibrate a screen then?
    Is short (for the example I mentioned) , you get several display patterns shown and adjust your screen until they display as they should. You will need to do this a few times for each as some will impact others (you would have to with the Datacolor as well unless it can adjust your monitor automatically afaik). The colours are adjusted the same way but with a filter used by you to help 'understand' the data. This is a link to typical testcard used by the Blu-Ray http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/screenshot.php?movieid=16216&position=2 This is a link to a review of the Blu-Ray on the same site http://www.blu-ray.com/movies/Disney-WOW-World-of-Wonder-Blu-ray/16216/ Hopefully that will help
    So do you have like a physical card to compare with what's on screen?
    No, the only physical item (other than the disc) is a blue tinted filter which is used for one of the several tests. Brightness (as an example) displays a test strip and you adjust the brightness until your screen shows certain details but not others (as instructed by the previous 'chapter' of the 'film'). There are several levels of testing and reading the review I linked will give you more of an idea. I did the setup for TV, projector setup (Datacolor products won't work on projectors as the device blocks the very image you need to measure) and my monitor. The projector wasnt far out and made a small difference, my monitor and TV were 'miles' out and the tuning with the disc worked wonders :)


    It's very much subjective still, rather than absolute. While I agree for most people this is pointless, if you need it calibrated you need it done properly. I wouldn't surprised if you could rent one of these if you looked hard enough.
  • timbozero
    It is not at all subjective, you need to use it to realise that it is 'absolute' but, it is not as accurate as digital metering (only close to).
  • mi1ez
    249904 said:
    It is not at all subjective, you need to use it to realise that it is 'absolute' but, it is not as accurate as digital metering (only close to).


    If you're using your eyes, then it is subjective. You can't say that everyone's eyes are the same, 20/20 or not.
  • timbozero
    *sigh* Think how you will , I am not here to change your mind.

    The brightness test (for example) is done with a graduated display thus :-
    http://static.highdefview.com/wp-content/uploads/review/wow/wow_brightness_thumb.jpg.pagespeed.ce.JIxKCdd3ek.jpg
    There is only 1 point on the brightness adjustment where the correct graduation will match and the only 'downside' (which you could even remotely call subjective) is that it will not be spot on (as a digital meter might be).

    There is another for contrast etc., etc., etc.. Once they are all completed .....

    Ah hell, try it or don't. It made a massive difference to my cinema room and for only 25$ which is a bargain compared to the digital meter (which was my initial point, that it's overkill to buy a meter)

    Peace, Out :)
  • mi1ez
    249904 said:
    *sigh* Think how you will , I am not here to change your mind. The brightness test (for example) is done with a graduated display thus :- http://static.highdefview.com/wp-content/uploads/review/wow/wow_brightness_thumb.jpg.pagespeed.ce.JIxKCdd3ek.jpg There is only 1 point on the brightness adjustment where the correct graduation will match and the only 'downside' (which you could even remotely call subjective) is that it will not be spot on (as a digital meter might be). There is another for contrast etc., etc., etc.. Once they are all completed ..... Ah hell, try it or don't. It made a massive difference to my cinema room and for only 25$ which is a bargain compared to the digital meter (which was my initial point, that it's overkill to buy a meter) Peace, Out :)


    We'll agree to disagree.
  • Flyfisherman
    Very interesting and much needed article, keep up the good work!

    But there is one thing that comes in mind, about the licence of the S/W.
    Is it possible to install the S/W and the colorimeter on more than one computer, or is it locked to the first computer once one has entered the activation code?

    Because I have several computers at home and really would like to use the equipment to do this calibration on them all.

    I assume that there should not be a problem to calibrate two monitors on the same computer?

    Best Regards from Sweden.