Deep Dive with Derek Smith on CalMAN RGB for Calibrating Apple and PC Displays

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Music provided by – “Bring on the Swing”

When I demonstrate SpectraCal’s CalMAN RGB to other video production types, I hear two questions:

1. From those who already know about display calibration — What’s so special about CalMAN RGB? Aren’t there a number of other products just like this that offer the ability to calibrate attached monitors by creating a new ICC profile for them?  Short answer — SpectraCal has a new approach that is faster and more accurate. This is why I created a long-form podcast to help explain why.

2. From those who want to know about display calibration — Can I use CalMAN RGB for my PC and MAC for video production with attached monitors, LCD and OLED reference monitors, TVs, and projectors? Answer — Yes,with a simple upgrade path. One vendor for all display types.

In this interview SpectraCal co-founder and CTO, Derek Smith, provides a technical history of the evolution of display calibration software for attached monitors on PCs and MACs. He covers in detail the older monitor calibration techniques that use ICC, Direct Display Control, and 1D LUTs (graphics hardware inside the computer), and how all three of these software technologies are managed at the same time in CalMAN RGB to produce faster, more accurate calibration results.

Let’s face it–we don’t want to use these tools; we just want to use our displays, knowing they are calibrated as close as possible to Rec.709 so we can get on with our creative uses of color. Listen in to learn more.

Interview Questions

I have a number of questions about this new product called CalMAN RGB from SpectraCal.  At first I just didn’t get it because there are other products that do display calibration. But the more I worked with the software, the more I realized that SpectraCal has broken free of the legacy way of writing difficult-to-use software. And the algorithms you’re using to automate the process are fast and accurate, which, to me, means you don’t have to be an expert to calibrate your software. If all display calibration products are essentially accurate, I want to use the one that will make the job easy for me and fast!

1. Is the display calibration market going through an evolution?

2. Is CalMAN RGB intended only for people doing graphics on PCs, or is it for the Mac and folks wanting a say in calibrating their iMac or MBP for video production purposes? Can I adjust what gamma I use, for example, or chose what color space I want?

3. I’m curious – there are a number of other products available for calibrating your Mac or PC screens. How is CalMAN RGB different? Can you use it to calibrate other monitors on the network?

4. I had an interview with Joel Barsotti where we talked about how SpectraCal’s calibration algorithms are more advanced than the traditional approach other vendors use. Was this technology included in CalMAN RGB, or is that a more expensive product?

5. Let’s say I want to get a copy and try this out. What would I need to do and what kind of probe does it include or does it work with?

My Story

As I found myself drawn into the mystery and challenge of display calibration, I asked myself  a question: If all vendors’ display calibration software performs the same tasks with near equal accuracy, what feature(s) should I base my purchasing decision on? What company has the best support?

Reminds me of the days when we were debating the merits of text-based editors versus a WYSIWYG interface. With both of them you ended up in the same place, but how much work did you have to put in for the result out? The old guard fought hard regarding the supremacy of speed and accuracy of text-based editors. Mice and Windows just slowed you down, they said, and would never catch on for programming. We now have both types of editors but most people don’t opt for a Emacs-style, text-based editor anymore. I doubt most people even remember Emacs editors, but if you do you’re showing your age, as I am.

And so it goes with the evolution of software tools in the technology arena, and we’re seeing a new wave of display calibration approaches that are finally affordable, fast, and frankly, rather fun to use.

Personally, I am drawn to tools that are not only accurate but are fast and interesting to use.   Why work with boring character-oriented displays for reading data when you can make it more pleasant to look at? Check around and you’ll see some very old-style display calibration user interfaces still out there.

I started using SpectraCal’s tools earlier this year. I’m not crazy about having to run software on a Windows PC but I manage well enough with VMWare on my MacBookPro. Like so many others who have asked before me – why don’t you guys create a dedicated version for Apple computers? The user interface would be a dream to use. But I’m slipping into rough seas with these remarks around platforms. The point is I was able to pick up SpectraCal’s software and use it easily even though it’s on a MSWindows-based PC.

I recognize there are two types of folks on this topic: those who have some hard-earned experience over the years especially with higher-end reference monitors, and the rest of the digital creative community producing amazing work on an iMac or Mac laptop or Windows PC (there are some excellent tools there, too). To borrow a phrase, ‘When the tide comes up, all the boats will rise.’ With color correction/grading software now essentially free, what comes next is growing awareness of color accuracy, only now the product focus is more on the smaller, independent video production groups. They are hungry and must work quickly. They need really high quality but they cannot afford to hire a calibrator every time ……

When I realized SpectraCal’s calibration software is used for all types of displays — from high-end video production to home theater to medical displays — I realized I didn’t need to purchase multiple copies of calibration software from different vendors for different displays. I wasn’t happy about the idea of multiple learning curves.

Secondly, I realized over time that SpectraCal was extremely responsive to users’ needs. They totally get that the vast majority of media businesses doing video production do not have a reference monitor, or at least not yet.  However, everyone needs to move up the production quality curve. So being able to quickly color check and then calibrate every iMac, MBP, and attached monitor for your team seemed like a smart move, especially at such a low price with an accurate colorimeter probe. Knowing that every display in the studio is extremely close to Rec.709 is comforting and, from my experience, reduces confusion when exchanging files with multiple users.

The third reason I’ve been using SpectraCal’s products is that when I tested the other display calibration packages I found them difficult to use, almost arcane, given their character-based user interface. I even purchased some of them in the past but failed at getting good results mainly because I ran out of time fiddling around trying to make them work. Most of these tools assume you already have considerable prior experience in using colorimeter probes, and familiarity with a number of special terms around display calibration. I was rather dismayed when a vendor would say, “Go to our website and just read over all the documents to learn how to do display calibration.” I didn’t have time for that.

So that’s my experience to date with SpectraCal and their products. Now it’s time for me to get back to grading.