Introduction to Reference Display Profiling: Series Overview

May 13, 2016

If you do video color correction, do you know if your reference display is accurate? Learn how to find out. The first video in a series.


Is your reference display accurate? Display profiling (on a budget)

A new client walks in the room for a color grading session and they ask you, “Is your display accurate?”

If you hesitate for a millisecond… you’ve got a crisis of confidence. How can you sell a client on your images if you’re not completely sure that your reference monitor is accurate? And by accurate we mean: The 1s and 0s on the hard drive are accurately reproduced by your reference display.

Unfortunately, this is either a pass / fail question. Either you know. Or you don’t know.

What’s cool is, if you do know the answer to that question – if you do regularly measure the performance of your display – you’ll be able to crow about it to your clients. It’s a mark of your professionalism, it’ll separate you from your peers and you’ll hold yourself with much more natural confidence.

Measuring the accuracy of your display is as critical as backing up your project files.

In this series, I’m not talking about DOING a full calibration… that’s a big job. I’m just talking about the minimum task of display profiling; making sure your grayscale is tracking accurately and ‘within tolerances’.

With the right hardware and software – you can set up your gear, do a profile, read the report and break down your gear in under 25 minutes. That’s all it takes to know if your reference display has drifted out of alignment and needs a full calibration.

Do you think you can take the time to do this for 30 minutes every week or two? Of course, you do.

This series is about how to do regular display profiling (for as little money as possible)

It used to be that the hardware needed profile a display would cost you thousands and thousands of dollars.  Why? Because the step from display profiling (or display characterization) to a full display calibration was essentially nil. The hardware to profile a display would cost $4000 – $6000 and that same hardware is what you’d use to calibrate your display, so either way, you were paying as much as you paid for your first used car.

Today, the profiling and calibration landscape has completely changed.

There’s no reason why you can’t build your display profiling infrastructure for under $750

And that includes buying a cheap Windows machine (or doing Windows emulation on your Mac).

Yes, yes – I hear all you Mac-heads out there! No PC will ever cross the threshold of your grading suite. I’m here to say: Get over it.

If you’re serious about color grading, you need to have the confidence to immediately answer yes to the question, “Is your Display accurate?” And to do that, you need to profile your display on a regular basis. And the two best options for doing that are both on Windows.

If you’re new to this topic, don’t miss Robbie’s introduction to Calibration.

Robbie wrote an excellent and extensive Insight on the various software and hardware used to do a full calibration of your reference monitor. It’s definitely a companion to this series and is a must-read material. But what he’s describing there is not what we’re doing here (although the basic workflow is the same).

What I’m tackling in this series is just the first step in the calibration process.

I’m going to help you figure out the answer to the question: “Does my display need to be calibrated?” or “Is my display accurate?”

In a later series, either Robbie or I (or both of us) will walk you through doing a full calibration. And because doing full calibrations is an extensive topic, with lots of off-ramps and side streets, spending time talking about display profiling is well worth our effort.

Profiling is the necessary first step for calibration since it tells you the Before Calibration. And you can then compare that to the After Calibration; making sure you’ve improved things. Once you know how to profile your display and done it a few times, the next step to doing a full-blown calibration is much easier.

So… let’s learn how to profile our reference displays!

To follow along, you’ll need to download three pieces of (free) software

In this video series I’m going to teach you, step-by-step, how to profile your reference displays using the free LightSpace DPS and the free CalMAN Color Checker. Why both? Because they’re very different approaches to the exact same task. Plus, since you’re new to this you’re likely to make a mistake and having the two different software will allow you to independently verify results (especially if one of them shows your display is horribly misaligned).

Both CalMAN and LightSpace are Windows-only but their Windows requirements are very simple. It doesn’t take a super-new computer to run LightSpace or CalMAN. I personally pulled a retired PC my wife used to run her DVD duplicators. It was running Windows 7 Home Edition and it took no effort, even for a ‘Mac-head-who-never-touches-Windows’, to update it to the free Windows 10 (though I did call my dad for a problem I had at one point in the Windows 10 update process… he was quite pleased to be answering a computer question from me, for once).

The third bit of software you need? DaVinci Resolve. Since Version 10, Resolve has been able to connect to LightSpace and CalMAN to generate the color patches we need to measure for profiling. And the free version can do this – so you don’t need the paid Studio version.

Also – I’ve run LightSpace and CalMAN under Windows emulation on a Mac… and that’s a perfectly valid way of operating. It works.

First, Download LightSpace DPS

On that page, use the pull-down menu to select ‘Free LightSpace DPS (download and license)’. Then, fill out the rest of the information. You’ll get an email from LightSpace with a license key that turns the 15-day demo into the free DPS version of the software that won’t expire (at least, not anytime soon).

Next, Download CalMAN Color Checker

Fill out your contact information. Like Light Illusion, Spectracal will send you an email with a license that permanently enables the one-trick Color Checker workflow inside of CalMAN.

Finally, Download DaVinci Resolve

The free or Studio version, both work with LightSpace and CalMAN. Resolve does NOT need to run on the same computer as CalMAN or LightSpace – or even the same Operating System. In this series, you’ll see me run the profiling software in Windows 10 and DaVinci Resolve in Mac El Capitan.

What about a colorimeter, do you need one?

If you *actually* want to profile your display then yes, you’ll need a colorimeter. Luckily, they’ve dropped in price dramatically. I recommend you buy the XRite i1 Display OEM. It’s available from both Light Illusion and SpectraCal. It works with both software packages and is priced under $300. It’s a terrific entry-level solution.

If you own an FSI display…

I recommend you call and order the XRite i1 Display OEM from FSI directly. Not only will they sell you the colorimeter, they’ll test and profile the actual hardware unit they send you (allowing for even more accurate display measurements, which we will talk about later in this series). Plus, as a service to their customers, you’ll be able to send FSI your i1 Display every year to get it re-measured since the plastic filters inside it will drift and FSI can measure this for you.

If you don’t have a Colorimeter, you’ll use the Virtual Probes

Both apps allow you to run their software using ‘virtual’ meters. You can run tests, walk through the workflow and a get a sense of how the process feels. What you’ll also get is fake results… but that’s fine. The Virtual Probe is simply to allow you to test the software – including getting it to communicate with Resolve – even if you don’t have the hardware to plug into it.

Got Questions? Use the comments!

Display calibration always gets the comments flowing. And while we won’t be calibrating, not in this series, I’m sure there are many specific points you’ll want me to clarify. So ask away!



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