[TaoColorist] A Special Offer: How to accurately test your reference monitor

Published: Tue, 09/24/13

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The Tao Colorist
Special Edition

Curated links of news, reviews, thoughts, career advice, and humor 
for professional Video / Film Colorists & Finishers. Delivered Sunday.

Issue: Special Edition                                                           A TaoOfColor.com Publication

  Publisher: Patrick Inhofer                                                   Managing Editor: James Wicks

From the Publisher

No. The Tao Colorist Newsletter has not moved to Tuesdays!

But the Tao Colorist Newsletter does have a new sponsor - SpectraCal - and at the end of this email we have a super-special offer for you! This offer it too good to place in our normal jam-packed newsletter - hence, this special edition...

(Do you remember that CineGrain offer from 18 months ago... yeah, this SpectraCal offer is THAT good.)

Read on for an offer that will save you nearly $800!

And feel free to share this Special Offer on Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and wherever else post pros hang out! They'll thank you for it.

SpectraCal Says Hello to You

SpectraCal is the Tao Colorist Newsletter's newest sponsor, joining our long-time sponsor Flanders Scientific! 

SpectraCal specializes in monitor calibration solutions - offering tools (hardware and software) to test, profile and calibrate reference monitors.

At the end of this article is a special offer from SpectraCal. It's designed for Tao of Color readers. And i t's a serious discount on an entire display testing system! 

Test... then Calibrate

I have a confession... I have NEVER calibrated my reference monitor! Never.

Not once.

Calibrating is expensive because the tools to properly do it are expensive.

Instead, I hire people to calibrate my monitor. 

(Aside:  One reason my current reference monitor is an FSI is the lifetime factory re-calibration included with their monitors (I just pay round-trip shipping). When my display needs to be calibrated, I let the experts at FSI calibrate my display.)

But how do I know: WHEN should I have my display re-calibrated?

For many years, I relied on my gut and the calendar. Every 3-4 months I'd get the display calibrated. I had no idea if it needed it - but... better safe than sorry. 

And I've probably wasted some cash doing it this way, calibrating when it wasn't necessary - only because I didn't know any better.

Problem: How do you know it's time to re-calibrate your monitor?

As Tao Colorist Newsletter readers know - you can't trust your eyes for monitor calibration! Definitely not to confirm that a monitor is bright enough, or the colors are accurate. 

To do that job, you need tools to objectively 'test' your reference display

Testing lets you know your display's current state - providing you with the necessary data to decide if it's time for a re-calibration. 

Your goal should be to test your display on a regular schedule and only get your display re-calibrated when it's truly necessary.  No more often, no less often.

So - how precisely does this process of testing a display work ?

The Formula for Testing Your Display

If you're like me, you have a general idea of how display measurement works - but are light on the specifics. 

(Aside:  Remember: The end goal is to ensure your reference monitor does a good job displaying the color space you want it to represent (which, for most of us, is the REC 709 specification). In addition, you want to make sure the monitor is outputting enough light and that the display tracks accurately from black, through gray and up to pure white (gamma response).)

Let's sum up the basic requirements to properly measure a display... these components add up to what I'm calling: 

The Display Testing Formula:

1. The Meter : The first ingredient in our Testing Formula? Gear that physically 'reads' your display. That's the job of the meter (sometimes called a probe). It answers the question of: What RGB values, gamma and brightness is my display really outputting? Historically, this can be the most expensive bit of gear when calibrating a display (and why I don't do my own calibrations).

The meter takes readings and feeds them back to software which then generates a profile of the accuracy of your monitor. For more on this topic, listen to 2nd half of this interview with Bram Desmet of FSI , recorded a few years ago.

2. The Pattern Generator: If the meter is to be useful, you must feed the meter a known, precise and accurate set of images for it to 'read'. We're not talking color bars here, but a wide variety of color swatches at a variety of brightness, hues and saturation levels. And these patterns need to be very very precise to get an accurate measure of your display's response within an entire color space.

3. The Software: The final ingredient in our Display Testing Formula: We need software to bring the first two ingredients together. The software will:
  • Control the Pattern Generator, knowing precisely which pattern is being sent to the display 

  • Take a reading from the meter and . . .

  • Compares these two values: The known RGB values of the test pattern and the RGB values the meter is reading. 

The software generates a value - the Delta E - which is the difference between the known values of the reference pattern and how the monitor is actually displaying that pattern. Generally speaking,  the bigger the Delta E value, the less accurate your reference monitor and the more your display is in need of calibration.

That's it.

That's the Display Testing Formula and the three components you need to test if your display is due for re-calibration. But there's a challenge when putting this Formula into action...

The Challenge: Cost

So why aren't we all testing our displays with regularity?


For years, each of those ingredients in The Formula were very expensive. And as a group, they were cost-prohibitive. At the low end - putting together an accurate meter, pattern generator and software - you could expect to spend between $5,000 - $10,000+ on a professional solution to test your reference display.

For most of us, that's a ton of cash. And so we rely on the calendar and our gut to decide when it's time to re-calibrate.

As I've recently discovered... there's a better way.

The SpectraCal Solution

A few months ago, a good friend of the Tao, Tom Parish, turned me on to what SpectraCal has been doing to offer an affordable Testing system. After further research, it turned out Tom had given me excellent advice. 

SpectraCal has re-priced each of the three Display Testing components to meet the specific need of an affordable, reliable system to answer the question: 

Is it time to re-calibrate my reference monitor?

Let's break down SpectraCal's solution:

1. The Meter: SpectraCal's C6 Color Analyzer

The C6 meter was a two-year collaboration between X-Rite and SpectraCal to create a very accurate sub-$1,000 meter solution. Priced just under $700US, it can profile 10-bit displays at much higher precision than consumer meters and at a reasonable price. This meter does the job we need it to do.

(Aside: You can read more about this analyzer here. Also read  how it compares to the consumer X-Rite i1Display analyzer here.)

Meters are only one part of our 3-part Testing Formula.  Hardware Pattern Generators, the next ingredient, are very expensive!

Aware of this problem, SpectraCal recently released a solution that is very very cool...

2. VirtualForge: A SOFTWARE Pattern Generator

Radically reducing the cost of this ingredient in our Formula, SpectraCal recently released Virtual Forge for Mac. It's a $500 Mac-based software product replacing SpectraCal's own $4,000 hardware pattern generator, the VideoForge. That's an 85% price reduction!

(Robbie Carman  wrote this quick blog post about VirtualForge on the Tao's sister site, MixingLight.com)

From SpectraCal's website: "Connect the VirtualForge app to CalMAN video calibration software over the network and the right pattern will automatically appear on screen when you need it. This is the perfect tool for any broadcast, production, or post-production professional who needs to check, evaluate, calibrate, and/or profile their facility's monitors and projectors."

All you need is a Mac that can output SDI (add an AJA T-Tap or BlackMagic UltraStudio for Thunderbolt on a laptop) and you've got yourself an affordable, professional pattern generator at a price never seen for these devices.

3. CalMAN Color Checker: Testing Software (for peace of mind)

An affordable Meter and Pattern Generator aren't enough if the software to analyze this data is several thousands of dollars. And since we're leaving the calibration to professionals, we don't need to overpay for calibration software... we just want to pay for software that can tell us if our displays are accurate (or not).

Guess what? SpectraCal has us covered with a 'lite' version of their CalMAN line of calibration software, named CalMAN Color Checker

Standalone, CalMAN Color Checker is a $400 solution that doesn't offer any calibration features but DOES test and let us know if our displays are in need of calibration.

SpectraCal's Bundle Offer to Tao Colorist Readers

I've been impressed enough with this Testing Formula that I invited SpectraCal to become a Tao Newsletter sponsor. Only our second in three years. And they accepted!

As part of this relationship they are offering a special (limited time) package deal that gets you what you need to test your display and be confident of its accuracy (and know if it's time to hire a professional).

This is a special bundle consisting of:

  • CalMAN Color Checker Software ($395 value)
  • Virtual Forge Video Pattern Generator ($495 value)
  • SpectraCal C6 Color Analyzer ($695 value)
  • AJA T-Tap, Thunderbolt to SDI / HDMI convertor with Thunderbolt cable ($315 value)

How much? $995!

Ridiculous, right? That's an $1900 package at a nearly 50% discount! And 1/2 of that bundle is physical hardware components.

An Upgradeable Bundle

As your business grows and as your confidence in testing your displays grow - you may find yourself upgrading different components of this bundle.

Maybe you'll upgrade your color meter or decide you want to also do the calibration (and not just check for accuracy)?

No problem. CalMAN Color Checker can be upgraded to enable its calibration features. The software (even without an upgrade) recognizes a huge range of color meters (even those $30,000 analyzers).

We don't have to worry about getting locked in to these components. This bundle, ingredient by ingredient, can grow as we grow.

Click here to take advantage of this great offer! It ends midnight October 31, 2013.

A Tech Note

Virtual Forge (the pattern generator) is Mac-only, while the CalMAN Color Checker Software requires a Windows computer.  These two computers are meant to talk to each other during the calibration process.  

But what if you don't have a Windows computer?

SpectraCal sent me this amazing bundle to try out... and I'm a Mac-only guy. With help from SpectraCal, I got all of the components working on one Mac with the help of a Windows Virtualization application.

It took a bit of doing to get this to work... so I'll be putting up a Tao of Color blog post in the next week with a step-by-step on how you can run this entire package on a single Mac yourself. Look for the link to that post in the Newsletter this coming Sunday.

Th- Th- That's ALL Folks! See you on Sunday. Happy Grading!

FCC Disclaimer: Links in this email to Amazon.com, B&H Photo, or ToolFarm.com are Affiliate links that help support the TaoOfColor.com. FSI and SpectraCal are paid sponsors and BlackMagic Design is a current client. We thank you for your support.

Patrick Inhofer
Published by:
Patrick Inhofer: Photon-Wrangler, Fini.tv | TaoOfColor.com | MixingLight.com