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 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.

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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.