I operate a multi-room facility that uses a range of displays from different manufacturers. What is the best way for me to calibrate my monitors for consistency from room to room, and to ensure my client is seeing what the finished product will ultimately look like?
I am always happy to hear that someone cares enough to actually set up their monitors correctly. There are two schools of thought on reference monitoring. One group believes you can correct on any type of monitor since that is what the end viewer will be using. The other group, of which I am a member, believes that all working professionals’ monitors should be as closely matched to each other as possible. A colorist or client should be able to walk into any professional suite and see the same image.
In reality, there are too many places in the path from your color correction suite to the poorly-adjusted, overly-green TV in granny’s living room to ever be able to expect a true picture match. However, every show that granny watches should be equally green on her TV. To obtain that level of consistency requires standards. Fortunately the ITU and SMPTE have created video monitor standards which can be found here: http://standards.smpte.org/.
That said, what would our industry be without clashing standards? To answer your question, we will stick with US television delivery. This means ITU-R BT.709.
I would say there are three business models involved: the large facility with an engineering staff that handles monitor calibration; the middle-sized facility, like the questioner’s, with assorted monitors of varying types and limited resources to get them all matching; and finally, there’s the individual with just one monitor in his suite. We’ll skip the big guys, as they are covered by engineering, and start with the individual.
A decent monitor probe and calibration software may be out of the individual colorist’s price range. Not to mention the technical savvy to use the tools. Fortunately, there is a lot of information on monitor calibration online, and a quick Google search reveals them. At minimum though, you need a monitor that is adjustable and has a “blue gun only” mode, which allows you to tune it by eye. I would also recommend at least a yearly visit by a professional monitor calibrator.
Coming back to the original question, how do you get multiple monitors to match? In this case, a decent color calibration probe and some level of calibration software are needed. Here, we use the i1Display Pro by X-rite. While this is an inexpensive professional probe, it has served us well. Our primary color evaluation monitors are Sony OLEDs. Sony provides free auto calibration software that works with the i1 probe and is simple to run. Bi-annually, we also have a professional calibrator come in and adjust all the monitors to guarantee accuracy.
Outside of the Sony OLEDs, there are other monitors with built-in calibration, like TVLogic, and manufacturers who will recalibrate your monitor for free, like Flanders Scientific (you pay the shipping). You may also turn to higher-end calibration software, like CalMan from SpectraCal (http://studio.spectracal.com), or go the more technically challenging but free route with HCFR Colormeter software, which is available at Homecinema-fr.com.
The bigger issue is getting the non-OLEDs to match. In each suite there are professional plasmas for the client to watch. Part of what makes these monitors “pro” is the increased level of control over adjusting them. Since we use Panasonics (no longer being made) that have an SDI input option, we know we are seeing the same image as the OLED monitors and external scopes. This means that using a black, 50 percent gray & white signal out of our color software allows us to adjust the plasmas to match the OLEDs in each of these areas.
As with the questioner, we have many different models throughout the facility. The consumer-level monitors are the worst, as they lack much individual control. You have to bounce around between various cryptic settings, like “dynamic,” “vivid,” “standard,” or “pro.” It takes some fooling around to figure out how these relate to gamma and white-point settings. Since these monitors are usually HDMI, you may need an SDI to HDMI converter, depending upon your setup. Some of these converters allow you to add LUTs to adjust the signal to compensate for your monitor’s shortcomings. A good example of this is Fujifilm’s IS-mini (www.fujifilm.com), which is supported by Fuji’s cross-platform software. This adds another layer of complexity and is a case where a professional calibrator can really help.
Equally important in this discussion is the area behind the monitor. It needs to be an 18 percent neutral gray, lit by a D65 light at 10 percent of the brightest level the monitor is set for. Also, the entire room should be color neutral and dark so that it doesn’t affect the colorist’s or client’s eyes.
As far the final part of the question: “to ensure my client is seeing what the finished product will ultimately look like” — this is impossible! Once it leaves our room, it is subject to the vagaries of distribution. All we can do is make the image look as perfect as possible in our controlled environment.
Terence Curren is the founder of AlphaDogs in Burbank, CA (www.alphadogs.tv).