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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  • 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.