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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  • 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
  • Vladimir83
    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.
  • JackNaylorPE
    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.
  • Integr8d
    73730 said:
    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.
  • Integr8d
    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.
  • hp79
    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.
  • ceberle
    699111 said:
    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
  • ceberle
    1285579 said:
    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
  • ceberle
    47809 said:
    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
  • emccalment
    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.
  • merikafyeah
    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.
  • ceberle
    775985 said:
    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.


    This is actually not far from the way displays were calibrated before colorimeters and spectroradiometers were in use. A device called an optical comparator was used. It's basically a light box with a color and grayscale chart inside. The charts are lit by a bulb that has a precise color temperature, typically 6500 Kelvins. The operator would adjust the display (a CRT of course!) by eye until it matched the comparator.

    -Christian
  • envy14tpe
    730274 said:
    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.

    You can get the Spyder Express 4 for $100. However, it limits you to calibrating one monitor per computer.

    There are 3 Spyder4 models: Express, Pro, and Elite.
  • j19861986
    i1 Display Pro is more accurate than Spyder 4
    and is better buy for "accuracy"...
  • Someone Somewhere
    If it's anything like the Spyder2Express, you can calibrate multiple with a little fiddling around renaming the profiles.