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There have been several repetitive questions about how to use a Color Management System (CMS) to achieve accurate color for those lucky enough to own a display that has one. The purpose of article is to layout in as non-technical way as possible how to do this. Along the way, I'll explain how to set Color/Tint without using filters and how to set Brightness and Contrast without making subjective judgments against test patterns.

Equipment needed
  • Colorimeter. This is a USB device that you point at the display so it can read the color and light output of the display and then connect to a laptop computer. The most accurate device under $1000 is the X-Rite i1Pro, though it can be a pain to use. A close second is the X-Rite Chroma 5, which is sold only through OEM channels that also sell calibration software. A much less expensive option that is only a little less accurate is the X-Rite Display 2, also sold as the Pantone Eye-One Display LT for less than $150. I would avoid any less expensive colorimeters, as they will not offer what I consider to be a reasonable degree of accuracy.
  • Calibration Software. You need this to interpret the data that the meter receives. Aside from the very expensive professional tools, there are 3 good choices for amateurs and Prosumers: HCFR, CalMan, and ChromaPure. HCFR is freeware. CalMan is commercial software that costs about $200, depending on selected options. ChromaPure is also commercial software of my own design which also costs $200 and up depending on options.
  • Test Patterns. Finally, you'll need some way to get a test pattern on the screen. The easiest way to do this is with a DVD. The GetGray disk, which can be downloaded and burned to DVD for about $25. I also have created a very simply calibration disc that provides all the patterns necessary for the steps in this guide. See below for a download link.
  • Light Meter (optional). I have found that a AEMC CA813 illuminance meter is very useful for front projectors and for all measurements that do not require color readings, such as contrast, black level, gamma, and color decoding. It is an accurate, inexpensive standalone tool that is also very easy to use.
Once you have the items in this list, you are ready to calibrate your color.

First, some basic principles and terminology. Color performance is measured in two ways:
  • Gray scale tracking. This is the aspect of color performance that gets the most attention. It concerns the display's ability to provide a neutral shade of white, all the way from darkest black to the brightest white. If the display can't do this, then it will all of the colors will look very unnatural.
  • Color Gamut. This is the range of colors that the display is capable of rendering. The gamut is popularly represented by a triangular pattern called a CIE chart or chromaticity diagram. This chart plots colors as xy coordinates. Color also includes luminance, which does not appear on the chart so it must be represented separately. The xy coordinates on the charts plot the primary colors (red, green, and blue) and the white point. The secondary colors (cyan, magenta, and yellow) are derived from the primaries and the white point. All of these points have specific definitions for both standard and high definition. All commercially available video material is mastered according to these standards. If the display cannot reproduce the gamut accurately, then the image will suffer. In recent years it seems that digital displays have gotten increasingly inaccurate in this respect. The only way to fix it is with a Color Management System (CMS). A CMS can make a profound difference to the performance of the display, but few offer one and of those that do not all work properly.
It is important to understand that these aspects of color performance--though in some ways interactive--are for the most part independent. You can have good gray scale tracking and an inaccurate color gamut. The bottom line is that each needs to be adjusted separately.

  • xyY - A common method for precisely measuring color performance. x and y are the coordinates that plot out a color on the triangular CIE chromaticity chart mentioned above. This graphically represents the established definitions of the color spectrum. Y is the brightness of the color. This is not plotted by the xy coordinates.
  • Saturation - the colorfulness of the color relative to its own brightness. A color's saturation is displayed on the CIE chart as the distance from the white point. Add saturation to a color and it will begin to appear excessively deep and rich-red becomes crimson. Undersaturate a color and it will begin to appear as a less colorful version of a similar brightness--red becomes pink.
  • Hue - the primary characteristic of color that allows us to distinguish one color from another. A color's hue is measured by its angle to the white point. When a color's hue is off, its appearance will seem contaminated by other colors. For example, red that is too yellowish will begin to seem orange. Blue that is too reddish will begin to appear purplish.
  • Brightness - the luminance of color. The brightness of color (or white) can be measured by a simple light meter.
  • Color Decoding - This term refers to a process that is used to lower bandwidth requirements by encoding the native RGB signal into YPbBr (analog) or YCbCr (digital) and then decoding back to RGB prior to display. There are different encoding/decoding standards, so sometimes a poor design may lead to color decoding errors. These errors are primarily seen as primary colors with incorrect brightness and/or secondary colors with incorrect hues. All commercial displays include a Color and Tint control. These are basically color decoding controls, though their effectiveness is extremely limited because Color adjusts the brightness of ALL of the colors and Tint effects hue of ALL of the secondaries. The problem is that displays all-too-often have color decoding errors that effect the colors differently. For example, you could adjust Color/Tint to get the correct brightness of blue and the correct hue of cyan, but the brightness of green and red may still be inaccurate. You could adjust the color control to get red right, but then blue and green would be inaccurate. See the problem? A full set of color decoding controls addresses this problem by offering color/tint controls that operate on red/magenta and green/yellow independently. Then you can use the main Color/Tint controls to adjust blue/cyan.
For all practical purposes the color performance of a display device can be adequately described by the three characteristics defined above--saturation, hue, and brightness. These are abstract concepts and sometimes a picture really does say a thousand words, so here are examples that illustrate the three characteristics of color.




In each of these examples, the green on the right is adjusted by approximately the same amount in the direction of first lower saturation, second yellowish hue, and third lower brightness.

How are these concepts related?

The xy coordinate of a color establishes its saturation and hue. The Y value establishes its brightness. The correct xy coordinate for all primary and secondary colors is defined by reference points on the triangular CIE chromaticity chart. If the color deviates from the reference point by appearing shifted towards other colors on the chart, then its hue is wrong and needs correcting. If a color is shifted closer to or father from the white point on the chart relative to the reference, then its saturation is wrong and needs correcting. Finally, if the color is too bright or too dim relative to the establish standard (not shown on the chart, but determined mathematically), then its brightness is wrong and needs correcting.

Color Definitions

Of these definitions, only the xy coordinates for the primary colors and white point are absolute. The secondary colors and luminance values are DERIVED from the primaries and the white point. If your primary colors measure according to these standards, then this list correctly states the proper specifications for brightness and secondary hue/saturation. However, with a different set of primaries, you would want to shoot for a slightly different set of brightness and secondary hue/saturation targets. The math required to figure out these relationships is too complicated to go into here, but good calibration software should take all of this into account.

Although there are no hard and fast rules about this, I would make color adjustments in the following order:

- Black and White levels
- Gray scale
- Color/Tint
- Color gamut

When finished, go back and remeasure these parameters, because changes in one parameter may have affected the readings for another.

What's wrong with the ISF description of color?

I am a graduate of the ISF seminar, and I think that the organization has performed a valuable service at educating the public about the importance of accurate video. However, the ISF description of color is not entirely clear.

An often-repeated claim by ISF literature is that the characteristics important to image quality can be ranked in the following way:
  1. Contrast
  2. Color Saturation
  3. Color Accuracy
  4. Resolution
Ranking resolution and and contrast in this way seems about right to me, but what in the world is meant by "Color Saturation" that is different from "Color Accuracy"? As I lay out above, all of the standard gamuts have specifically-defined standards for saturation, hue, and brightness. So saturation is just one aspect of color accuracy. Perhaps, this refers a to the fact that a lot of people prefer oversaturated primary colors. If so, then this is an endorsement of color inaccuracy! Surely, ISF doesn't mean this. Perhaps it refers to a purely subjective quality of color that has not been quantified by the established standards. However, color is a fairly well-understood phenomenon. There is, so far as I know, no important aspect of color beyond the characteristics of saturation, hue, and brightness that remain unexplained.

Thus, it seems that "Color Saturation" is either a ghost or simply a poorly-expressed reference to something already known. Some of the statements I have heard ISF personnel make suggests the latter. I think that this may just refer to the brightness of color. If so, then the reference is redundant. Brightness is just one aspect of color accuracy, along with gray scale performance, hue, and saturation.

Thus, the ISF rank of characteristics that are important to image quality really just boils down to:
  1. Contrast
  2. Color accuracy
  3. Resolution
Furthermore, even this revised list is not, I think, quite right. It leaves out two very important aspect of image quality: sharpness and clarity. These concepts are not the same as resolution. Two 1920x1080 displays (equal resolution) can and often do exhibit different degrees of sharpness and clarity. So, what do these concepts mean?

  • Sharpness is the quality of an image that gives it clearly defined boundaries. This should not be confused with the type of artificial sharpening that you often see in poor DVD transfers an excessive use of the sharpness control on the display. These only result in ringing and edge enhancement, which makes the image worse instead of better. A good example of sharpness can be had by comparing a good plasma or LCD display with a good CRT. CRTs can look very nice, but they simply cannot complete with the sharpness of a plasma or LCD.
  • Clarity is the quality of an image that appears when the image is free of artifacts. These artifacts come in a wide variety of types and for a wide variety of reasons. They include: poor focus, poor geometry, poor convergence, chromatic aberration, ringing, moire, line twitter, and interference/ghosting/snow (for over-the-air broadcast).
Problems with image clarity are result of the quality of the optics, processing, or mechanical alignment, and involve the display adding something to the image that is not originally there. Problems with sharpness can be influenced by the resolution, optics, and other inherent properties of the display device, and involve the display removing from the image something that was originally there.

The importance of these two factors is perhaps best illustrated by thinking back to the first time you saw a good plasma display fed by a good source. Compared to CRT images, plasmas could produce an image with startling clarity and sharpness that results in an almost scary looking-though-a-window quality that CRTs simply cannot match. The important fact to note for this discussion is that these relatively early plasma displays offered lower resolution, much lower contrast, and often worse color accuracy than the CRTs of the day and they still could look better, sometimes much better.

Another important factor to consider, especially when comparing the importance of sharpness/clarity to contrast, is that these qualities are persistent. This means that they are decisive factors in image quality all of the time. The same cannot be said for contrast. Many types of common images--such as brightly illuminated live sports--are relatively unaffected by the contrast of the display. Contrast becomes increasingly important as the image gets darker, and is thus not a persistent characteristic of image quality, though still a very important one. The same can also be said of color accuracy. Color representation is a persistent quality of the image. If faces are red and the trees glow with a neon green, good contrast won't help.

For this reason, I would rank the elements that contribute to overall image quality in the following way:

  1. Sharpness/clarity
  2. Color accuracy
  3. Contrast
  4. Resolution

Why can't I fix oversaturated colors by simply turning down the main Color control?

This issue comes up often in the context of popular displays that exhibit a strongly oversaturated gamut. The JVC RS1/2/10/15 front projectors are perhaps the best example.

Lacking a full-featured CMS, one is tempted to try to alleviate the problem by simply turning down the main Color control. Turning it down slightly may help somewhat, but anything more than a very small adjustment is likely to make the color worse rather than better. Why? The reason has to do with the fact that, contrary to popular belief, color controls are not engineered to adjust saturation. They are Chroma gain controls. Turn the color up, you increase the chroma of the signal. Turn the Color down, and you decrease the chroma. Although related, chroma and saturation are not the same.

Perhaps the best way to think of the difference is this: Imagine a red patch of color illuminated under a strong, bright light and then imagine the same patch seen under a dim light. As you change the lighting conditions, the red appears more or less colorful. This is chroma. However, the saturation of the color does not change even as its brightness changes dramatically. It will not plot differently on the CIE chart, despite the fact that it is less colorful and significantly dimmer.

Interestingly, the reverse is not true. If you lower the saturation of red, the chroma decreases to approximately the same degree. A less saturated red seems proportionally less colorful, but a less colorful red is not necessarily proportionally less saturated. Consider the two examples below.

Example 1: Chroma change

Example 2: Saturation change

The first example mimics the effect of turning down the main Color control. If you turned the Color control all the way down to zero, the the patch would finally lose all of its colorfulness (and saturation) and retain only some residual brightness, appearing as a shade of gray.

The second example mimics what occurs when we decrease saturation using a CMS. The brightness stays relatively constant (it may actually slightly increase), but it loses colorfulness as well.

This should make clear why turning down the main color control is not a good strategy for addressing oversaturated colors. What this does is similar to what you see in Example 1. It will reduce the saturation of the colors, but it will also significantly reduce their brightness. What we need is what is simulated in Example 2.

However, the main color control IS a good tool for adjusting color decoding problems. Unfortunately, it works equally for all of the colors, when what is generally needed is color-specific adjustment.

Note: "Chroma" is a term that has somewhat different meanings depending on the context. Those familiar with video engineering will understand chroma to refer to a rather general concept of color. Video signals contain chrominance and luminance. However, in color science "chroma" has a more specific meaning, which is "colorfulness of a area relative to a similarly illuminated area of white." Color scientists use the term "colorfulness" to refer to what video engineers refer to as chroma.

Luminance vs. Illuminance

You obtain these figures somewhat differently depending upon whether you have a direct view/flat panel/rear projection display or a front projector. For direct view/flat panel/rear projection displays, just attach the probe to the screen and measure directly. The software will measure either in imperial fL (foot-lamberts) or in metric cd/m2 (candelas per meter squared or nits). If you measure in nits, just multiply the output by 0.292 to get fL. If you measure in fL, then multiply by 3.426 to get nits. Nits and fL are both a measure of luminance, which is an emission or reflection of light from a flat, diffuse surface. All colorimeters and spectroradiometers natively measure luminance.

If you have a front projector, it is a little more complicated. First, a good illuminance meter is useful for this. Illuminance is a measurement of light that falls on or illuminates surfaces. Thus, while reading light off the screen would be a luminance measurement in nits or fL, measuring light directly from the projector's lamp would be an illuminance reading in Lux. Front projectors are about 1/3 the brightness of a typical flat panel, thus the black level measured off the screen is very low. Unless you have an expensive luminance meter, such as the Konica Minolta LS-100 which can accurately measure very low luminance, you may get more accurate readings by taking an illuminance reading directly from the lamp. The AEMC meter cited at the beginning of this tutorial is a good choice.

Just place the meter against the screen facing the projector's lamp and read a 100% output pattern in Lux. Then divide the Lux by 10.76 and multiply by the real* gain of the screen to get the fL for the projector. To get the lumens of the projector's lamp, just multiply the lux by the screen area in square feet and then divide by 10.76.

* Note: a screen's real gain will often be lower than its advertised gain. Manufacturers routinely inflate a screen's gain rating. Stewart is the only company I know of whose gain ratings are reasonably accurate.

ΔE Color Difference

The purpose of ΔE (dE or Delta-E) is to provide a single number that we can use to grade color accuracy relative to some standard. The smaller the number, the more accurate the color. ΔE can be used for both gray scale and primary/secondary color evaluation.

ΔE is based on one of two color appearance models, Luv or Lab. Both of these models were adopted by CIE in 1976 and they yield slightly different results. Luv numbers scale a little higher and place a greater emphasis on red, while Lab numbers place a greater emphasis on blue. In 1976 when CIE was considering the adoption of a color appearance model that offered a more perceptually uniform standard, CIE had originally wanted to adopt Lab only, but the industries that CIE represents argued against a Lab only solution. They were concerned by the fact that Lab fails to offer a linear chromaticity diagram. For this reason, historically most video ΔE values have been expressed in Luv (which does offer a linear chromaticity diagram in u'v' units). However, since 1976 most of the research on the CIE system has relied on Lab only.

In 1994 CIE adopted another even more perceptually uniform standard--based exclusively on Lab--that is referred to as CIE94. It scales much smaller and reduces somewhat the 1976 Lab emphasis on blue. It also offers an easy analysis of the Chroma, Hue, and Lightness components of color error that can be useful. Finally, the CIE94 formula treats lightness very differently than the 1976 color difference equations. Both Lab and Luv 1976 models predict that you can substantially reduce perceived color error caused by oversaturation by simply lowering the lightness of the oversaturated color. According to the CIE94 formula, lowered lightness does NOT mitigate the effect of oversatuturated color. Rather, it just makes the color appear darker. So, which is correct? To my eyes the CIE94 model gets it right, but there are many in video industry that continue to rely on CIELUV.

Since 1994, there has been much additional work, and in 2000 CIE adopted yet another ΔE model, known as CIEDE2000, but it is a VERY complicated formula and has not been widely adopted outside of the textile industry. Future work points to a new universal standard, the latest version of which is CIECAM02. However, a color difference formula for CIECAM02 has not been officially endorsed by the CIE. So, for now, we are probably best served by the original 1976 and 1994 models, with the 1976 Luv model continuing to be the most popularly cited (though not necessarily the best) standard for video applications. I use CIE94 for all dE reporting, but to a large extent this is a matter of personal preference.

I provide a spreadsheet at the bottom of this tutorial that allows you to calculate CIELUV, CIELAB, or CIE94 ΔE values using SMPTE-C or Rec. 709 values against your own test data.

So, how do we measure color performance?

For years the most popular method of specifying the color of white has been in terms of color temperature, with 6500K being the spec for neutral white. In recent years, the inadequacy of this approach has become evident. The great weakness of color temperature as a specification of the color of white is that it assesses only the relative strength of red and blue—reddish whites yield a lower color temperature and bluish whites yield a higher color temperature. This ignores green altogether, which means that a very greenish white or magenta white could both be 6500K. Furthermore, color temperature is useless in any case when assessing the accuracy of primary and secondary colors.

ΔE offers a much better approach. SMPTE has established a standard for the color accuracy of Digital Cinema, which is 4 Lab (1976) units or less. (This is approximately equivalent to 1.5 CIE94 units for color.) This seems like a reasonable tolerance. Unfortunately, we are left with the problem discussed above: which ΔE standard are we to use? SMPTE offers no guidance as to why they selected CIELAB.

Consider this oversaturated, but dim, shade of green:

x0.296, y0.678, Y0.535

How far from the Rec. 709 standard does this green deviate? Using ΔE as a guide it is very hard to say. CIELUV reports that this green has a ΔE of 11.4, which, though far from perfect at just under three times the allowed color error, is not too bad. However, CIE94 reports that the same green exhibits a 1994 ΔE of 11.2, which is over seven times the allowed color error. This is a huge error. Two ΔE systems report radically different results for the same color!

Thus, although ΔE remains a very useful tool, it is probably wise to supplement it with a more objective measurement of color error. I believe that the best available is simply % deviation from specification. Using this standard, we can add to our ΔE number that relative to the Rec. 709 standard the green above is:

Lightness: -10.9%
Saturation: + 17.3%
Hue: +0.1%

Add to this the requirement that no color should exceed +- 2% error in lightness, saturation, or hue. Even this method is not perfect. The human eye is not equally sensitive to lightness, saturation, and hue errors, nor is it equally sensitive to errors in each of the primary and secondary colors. For example, red errors are much more easily noticed than blue errors. ΔE tries to accommodate these factors, but as we have seen the different ΔE formulas yield different results.

Test Patterns
I provided a download link at the end of this post for a file from which you can create a calibration DVD with all of the necessary test patterns discussed here. There are two important rules to keep in mind.
1. When you use color and white test patterns, ensure that they are the same level of stimulus. For example, use 75% white test patterns with 75% color patterns and 100% white test patterns with 100% color test patterns. The same rule applies to windows and full fields. Use one or the other. Don't mix and match.
2. Use window test patterns only for CRT and plasma. For everything else, you can use either one.

Setting White Level (Contrast)

The Contrast control determines the peak output your display will provide. Set too low you lose image punch and lower contrast ratios. Set this too high and you lose color accuracy and detail in bright scenes and you may suffer from eye strain.

The standard method for setting Contrast requires that you look at a test pattern that has a just-below-white stripe against a white background. You are supposed to set Contrast as high as you can without losing the ability to distinguish the just-below-white stripe from full white. I included such a pattern on the calibration DVD.

However, there are a couple of problems with this method.
  • Some displays, especially LCDs, will never suffer from loss of high level detail even with Contrast set to 100%. This method will recommend a setting that is much too high.
  • This method does not take into consideration color performance. Many displays will lose their ability to track a neutral white at high output levels with Contrast set as high as this method recommends.
Thus, I think that a better method for setting Contrast is to just set it at a level consistent with good color performance and reasonable light output for a given display device. What's a reasonable level?
  • CRT tubes: 30-40 fL
  • Plasma: 30-40 fL
  • LCD flat panel: 30-40 fL
  • Digital rear projection: 30-40 fL
  • Digital front projection: 12-16 fL

Setting Black Level (Brightness)

The typical method for setting black level is to use a pluge pattern that displays just above and just below black information against a black background. You set brightness so that the just-above-black is barely visible and the just-below-black is invisible.

However, if you have calibration equipment there is a less subjective method for setting brightness.
  1. Set the contrast as described above and then measure and record the Y (luminance) of a 100% white test pattern.
  2. Display a standard pluge pattern and set brightness by eye as best you can. You may find that it is hard to distinguish between one or two ticks on the brightness control by eye alone. If so, continue to the next step.
  3. Display a 10% test pattern.
  4. Adjust the Brightness setting so that this test pattern measures as close as possible to 0.6% of the Y (luminance) of the 100% white window. This sets your gamma at 2.22 for the the 10% stimulus level. In the great majority of cases this will be the correct setting for Brightness.
  5. IF this adjustment falls within the one or two tick range you arrived at by eye alone, then this is the correct setting. If not, then leave brightness where it was using the purely subjective method. In short, use the objective method to refine the subjective method, but the subjective method defines the range of possible adjustments and that range should be VERY small.
Note: Since I originally wrote this, the AVSHD disc has released a very advanced version of the pluge pattern that allows the user to set black level with perfect accuracy by eye alone. If you have access to this disc, then use it. Because it is so precise, it makes using objective measurements to set brightness unnecessary.

There is one problem with the method just described. How do we set black level for broadcast sources where no test pattern is available? Fortunately, there is one approach that will get a correct black level even without a test pattern, but you must have a recorded source of broadcast material, either from a DVR or DVD.
  1. Record a television source that includes a "fade to black" sequence that typically occurs in between commercials or between commercials and network programming.
  2. Play back the sequence and pause at the "fade to black" section.
  3. Using a colorimeter or a light meter, measure the light output of the black screen.
  4. Adjust the black level up and down. You will find a place where additional adjustments of the Brightness setting will not affect the light output of the panel. That point just where the panel's light output becomes responsive to increases or decreases in the Brightness setting is the correct setting.
*Gamma is primarily a choice about shadow detail vs. darkness of blacks. A 2.5 gamma will give a higher contrast ratio and deeper blacks, but it will also reveal less information in dark scenes. I recommend a gamma in the 2.2-2.35 range.

Setting Sharpness

This one is simple. Just use the sharpness pattern to look for ringing or faint outlines along the edges of the horizontal and vertical lines in the test pattern. Set the Sharpness control to the highest point you can that minimizes ringing (you may not be able to eliminate it entirely). On some sets, the sharpness should be set to zero. But for most it is usually at about the 1/3 point. I include a test pattern for setting sharpness on the calibration DVD.

Setting Color/Tint

The standard method for doing this involves looking at a SMPTE color bar test pattern through a blue filter. This method has 2 drawbacks. First, at best it is an approximation of the correct setting. Second, and more importantly, for some displays it simply does NOT work. On some plasmas in particular I have noticed that this method will recommend a grossly inaccurate setting. Here's a foolproof method for setting Color/Tint that does not use filters.

  1. Point the colorimeter or light meter towards the screen and display a 100% white test pattern.
  2. Measure the Y value (luminance) of white.
  3. Display a 100% Red test pattern, and measure the Y value here as well.
    You will notice that as you move the Color control up and down, the Y value of Red increases and decreases, but white stays the same.
  4. Set the color control at the point where Red measures closest to 21% of the white reading.
Note: It is not really important whether you use 75% or 100% patterns in this test, so long as you use the SAME level of intensity for both.


  1. If you have not already done so, adjust the gray scale and get it as close to D65 (x=0.3127, y=0.329) across the entire range as possible.
  2. Point the colorimeter towards the screen and display a cyan test pattern.
  3. Put the Tint control at its neutral mid setting.
  4. Use the software controls to plot cyan on a CIE chart.
  5. Adjust Tint up or down until the reading places the hue of cyan as close to the target on the CIE chart as possible (it is useful if the software has a continuous reading mode, so you can see changes you make to Tint in real time).
  6. If you had to substantially adjust Tint from the neutral point to get an accurate hue of cyan, then check the other secondaries. You may have to select another setting that gets all 3 secondaries as close to correct hues as possible.
Adjusting the gray scale

Briefly, gray scale adjustment simply involves adjusting specialized controls that allow a display to track a neutral shade of white throughout its entire range from the blackest black to the whitest white.

Unlike a good CMS, which is rare, virtually all displays have gray scale controls. Sometimes they are in the user menu, but often they are buried in a service menu that can only be accessed by a specific key sequence on the remote. The goal is to get an xy measurement as close as possible of 0.3127/0.329. The calibration software will provide these raw numbers and some type of graphical representation of RGB balance relative to the target gamut. Ideally, you woukld like to see red, green, and blue all balanced equally at 100%. That is the definition of neutral white for the selected gamut.

To calibrate the gray scale:
  1. Aim the meter at the display.
  2. Select a 80% stimulus window on the calibration DVD.
  3. Adjust the RGB Contrast controls until RGB is balanced at 100% or until you read x0.3127, y0.329.
  4. Select a 20% stimulus window from the calibration DVD and use the RGB Brightness controls to balance RGB at 100% or achieve x0.3127, y0.329.
  5. Repeat the last two steps as many times as necessary until both the 80% stimulus window and the 20% stimulus window measure neutral gray. This may take several sets of measurements.
  6. Finally, take an entire series of gray scale measurements at 10% intervals from black to 100% to ensure that the display tracks gray accurately throughout the entire range.
Sometimes you may find that even though 80 and 20% stimulus are neutral gray, the mid range 40-60% stimulus is not. This means that your display won't track a good gray scale and you have to make some compromises. The general rule of thumb is to focus on getting the mid range to track neutral gray. Then get the low end right. Sacrifice accuracy at the top end if you have to.

Note: There is no industry-wide accepted terminology for gray scale controls. You may see RGB Contrast/Brightness, RGB Gain/Bias, RGB Gain/Offset, RGB Drives/Cuts. They all mean the same thing. Contrast, Gains, and Drives are for adjusting the bright end of the gray scale. Brightness, Biases, Offsets, and Cuts are for adjusting the dark end of the gray scale.

Adjusting Color using a Color Management System (CMS)
  1. Point your colorimeter towards the screen and display a white test pattern, and then take a reading.
  2. Display a red test pattern AT THE LEVEL OF STIMULUS AS THE WHITE TEST PATTERN, and then take another reading.
  3. Repeat the previous step until you have measured all of the primary and secondary colors.
  4. Use the software controls to plot the Lightness, Saturation, and Hue of all of the colors.
  5. Adjust these values for each of the colors, one by one, using the CMS until Lightness, Saturation, and Hue line up as close as possible to the references for your target gamut (see those references above). It is helpful if the software has a continuous reading mode so your changes can be viewed in real time.
Note 1: You probably won't be able to get all colors lined up perfectly, but get them as close as you can.

Note 2: Some software only plots changes that are visible on the CIE chart. This allows you to get saturation and hue right, but it doesn't tell you how your changes affect the brightness of the colors. Unfortunately, some CMSs automatically change the brightness of a color as you adjust its saturation. This will give you a good looking CIE chart, but you could actually end up with LESS accurate color than when you began.

The human eye is not equally sensitive to all colors and all color differences. For example, it is more important to get red and green right than blue. It is also more important to get correct hues than correct saturation.

Adjusting Gamma

First, it is important to understand that not all displays even offer the controls to directly calibrate gamma (Panasonic plasmas, for example). Having said that, there are several ways to change a display's gamma response.

  • First, ensure that you have already calibrated white level, black level, and the grayscale. These steps alone can often get you a long way towards a good gamma response.
  • Experiment with different picture presets. Use the preset that offers the best gamma response. "Best" is defined as the flattest response within a range of 2.2-2.35.
  • Experiment with different gamma presets. Some displays offer a gamma selector that is independent of the picture preset. Just select the one that offers the best response.
  • Best of all, a very few displays will allow you to directly calibrate gamma by changing the output at each level of stimulus. Again, select a value at each level that results in the best gamma response.
That's it. Now you should go back and remeasure the white/black levels, grayscale, and color gamut. There may have been interaction between the various adjustments and you may have to go through two or three rounds of measurements until all are correct.

Calibration DVD

I have created a very simple calibration DVD that has all of the test patterns you will need. I have tested it against other well-known discs for quality control. You may download and use it free of charge. The disc includes:
  • 11-point grayscale in windows and fields
  • Alternating 80/20% windows and fields for initial grayscale adjustment
  • 75% RGBCYM patterns in windows and fields
  • Just-below-white pattern for setting Contrast and a just-above-black pattern for setting Brightness
  • Window and field test patterns for checking gamma.
  • A test pattern for checking sharpness.
You navigate through the individual patterns by pressing the Chapter Forward button.

I have provided the necessary DVD files in 2 formats:
  • For those who have Nero, you can download a zipped *.nrg image file. After downloading and extracting to your hard drive, just double-click the file and it will open in the Nero Burning ROM.
  • I also provided zipped generic DVD files. After downloading and extracting to your hard drive, you can use DVD Shrink and DVD Decrypter freeware (or many other programs) to burn them to disc.
After zipping, these files are only a little more than 1-megabyte, so it is an easy download.

Download Nero image
Download generic DVD files
Download Nero image in PAL format

What you also need

All displays include adjustments for Color, Tint, Brightness, Contrast, and Sharpness. You can use test patterns from calibration DVDs to correctly adjust these parameters. However, to calibrate a display you must go beyond these basic adjustments and that requires two additional items:
  • Calibration equipment, which I discuss at the beginning of this article.
  • A display that has controls that go beyond the basic user adjustments listed above. This is the single biggest impediment to getting a good calibration. Most displays simply lack the controls necessary to calibrate them fully.
In addition to the basic user controls, most displays have gray scale controls, though they are often hidden in the service menu and sometimes labeled with obscure nomenclature. Sometimes manufacturers offer even less. Some modern displays--the JVC RS1 comes to mind--have grayscale controls that are easily identifiable and accessible in the user menu, but which adjust the entire range of the gray scale at once, rather than offering separate controls for darker and lighter shades of gray.

Color decoding and the resulting color gamut errors are routine among modern displays and the great majority lack controls to adjust these critical parameters correctly. Thus, before you consider whether you want to get your display calibrated, you should first ensure that it CAN be properly calibrated with the controls it offers. Many, perhaps even most, cannot.

With this in mind, I thought it would be useful to maintain a database of displays that include a full compliment of calibration controls. At a minimum this includes independent control over the bright and dark ends of the gray scale, and at least one of the following:
- color decoding controls
- a full-featured 3-axis CMS for all primary and secondary colors

If you have a full-featured CMS, then you don't need color decoding controls.

If anyone knows of additional displays, I'll add them to the list.

Front Projection
  • JVC RS20/25/35
  • Planar PD 8150
  • Samsung SP-A800/900
  • Sharp XV-Z20000 (DLP)
  • Epson Home Cinema 1080 UB/6100/6500UB/7100/7500UB/9100/9500 (LCD)
  • BenQ W9000/10000/20000 (DLP)
Rear Projection
  • Mitsubishi 1080P Diamond Models (DLP/LCD)*
  • Samsung (DLP)
Flat Panel

  • Samsung PNxxA550 and up plasmas
  • Samsung PNxxB650 and up plasmas
  • Samsung LNxxA550 and up LCDs
  • Samsung LNxxB6/750 LCDs
  • Samsung UN55B6/7/8000 LCDs
* Includes adjustments for color decoding and hue in the user menu, but saturation can be adjusted only in the service menu.

393 Posts
This was a great read! i wish i had some of the equipment to pull of a color calibration, I've got a sharp aquos 120hz LCD television and would love to see how accurate my personal preferences are to the calibrated outputs.

Premium Member
3,777 Posts
Very helpful. Thanks for all your work! Have fun. Dennis
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