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

Color Meters 101: How We Measure

Color meters take on many forms, but they all fall into two categories: tri-stimulus colorimeters and spectroradiometers (also known as spectrophotometers).

Tri-Stim Meters

The less-expensive option is the tri-stim, and that's the type of meter included with the Spyder4Elite. It employs sensors that read light through colored filters. The sensors themselves are simple photodiodes that read only the luminance (brightness) of the light falling on them, and return a particular voltage. The colored filters separate the light into the color primaries so that a spectral analysis can be performed by the meter’s firmware. A value for each color is then returned to the software, which gives you the final numbers in any one of several formats.

Tri-stimulus meters like this are a great value and work very quickly. A measurement typically takes only a second or two versus 20-30 seconds for a spectroradiometer in low light. In fact, many professionals profile their tri-stim device to a spectro in order to shorten the calibration process. Tri-stim meters are also small and light, making them easy to set up and use for those quick touch-up calibrations favored by photo and graphics pros.

The disadvantage is accuracy and repeatability. If you take a series of readings from a single test pattern, you’ll quickly find a slight variance in the results. Most meters take and average multiple readings to mitigate this, but ultimately, a spectroradiometer is a more precise and accurate instrument for measuring your display.

Another downside is, as luminance meters, they are not the best choice for measuring color. Color accuracy in a tri-stim is determined by the quality of the filters used, and this can vary. The filters also change over time requiring the instrument itself to be recalibrated every so often. Their best use is for measuring luminance and grayscale, also known as white balance. Since this is the only adjustment available on the vast majority of computer monitors, it isn't perceived as a major shortcoming for average users, especially considering that correcting the white balance on any display will consequently have the additional benefit of improving its color accuracy.

Spectro Meters

At Tom’s Hardware, we use the X-Rite i1 Pro spectrophotometer, which, at just shy of £1000, is still the least-expensive device of its type. For around the price of a new Honda Civic, you can get spectroradiometers from Minolta, Photo Research, and a few other companies. These are super-precise instruments that come in large chassis about the size of an old camcorder. The i1 Pro we use is much more compact and very easy to use with any direct-view or projection display.

The spectro measures the actual wavelength of incoming light to determine its spectral properties. No colored filters are used. The difference in price between the i1 Pro and its pricier brethren is related to the resolution of the instrument’s sensors. The i1 measures down to 10 nanometers, while the other meters are in the three-to-four range.

Now that you have an understanding of the hardware needed to calibrate your monitor, let’s see what it is we’re actually measuring when we calibrate.

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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.