Datacolor SpyderTV Display Calibration Kit 
Home Theater Video Processors & Switchers Video Calibration
Written by Mike Levy   
Monday, 01 January 2007

Introduction
Home theater enthusiasts have long known about the need for video calibration. For years, the Imaging Science Foundation has trained professionals to return your set to the standards that filmmakers and broadcast companies expect. Yet the average consumer sometimes might ask why there is a need for video calibration at all. Why don’t video companies with vast resources set the latest and greatest HDTVs correctly at the factory? While most manufacturers have improved their picture quality since the ISF and Joe Kane made us all aware of the necessity for calibrating our monitors, most HDTVs still need calibration out of the box. They are usually set up to deliver the most “impressive” image, not the most accurate. Imagine that you are trying to sell HDTVs under the giant sodium lights at Costco, not in the light-controlled rooms of a high-end custom integrator – you might bump the brightness a little to move some boxes, even if you knew the set might last three years longer and look better at home with a different set-up. SpyderTV is the first solution I know of which attempts to eliminate the calibrator by instead having the computer do the job. The question is, “How do the results compare to what a trained calibrator would do in the field?”

The SpyderTV Datacolor, which retails for a manageable $699, is a computerized method for calibrating your monitor, TV or projection system. When you open the box, you’ll find three DVDs, a manual and a sensor that connects to your computer via a single USB cable. One disc (Spyder 2 Pro) is for calibrating the monitor on your computer, and the other two discs (SpyderTV Pro and test patterns) are for calibrating any TV or projection system in your home. It’s very simple and in many ways a very refreshing idea that is long overdue.

A Brief History On Video Calibration
Back in 1987, when a 25-inch TV was considered large, I discovered Joe Kane in a small room at the Chicago CES displaying his new laserdisc, entitled A Video Standard. Kane explained how it would improve and standardize the image on any monitor by allowing it to be calibrated to the industry reference standard. The televisions that were available at that time were sold with their settings calibrated far off of the standard, with each manufacturer either intentionally or accidentally presenting a color pallet unique to each set.

Intentionally? Why would a manufacturer intentionally set the color incorrectly? Well, now hear my treatise on Lowest Common Denominator marketing. As Kane explained, Sony had done a test where they had average consumers choose the image they preferred from several identical sets that had their color calibrated differently. Sony had varied the color temperature.

What Sony realized through their tests was that they could not make the image blue enough for the average consumer. Sony wisely changed their calibration settings and their sales soared. When the industry found out what Sony had done, other manufacturers followed suit and that was the end of the 6,500K standard. The only problem was that, while the average consumer loved it, movie enthusiasts wanted the colors that directors intended on their films.

What Kane showed me on that day was historic for our industry. A series of events culminated in Joe Kane and Joel Silver creating the Imaging Science Foundation. The need for a reference setting that is close to the standard is now recognized throughout the industry. Today, most sets at least have a setting available that is supposed to be accurate.

Still, there is a need for ISF calibration because there is much more to setting a monitor than just color temperature. The reference black level, gray scale and white level are also important, along with a factor called gamma, which dictates the details of how gray scale (and thus all brightness levels) is presented. There are settings for detail and settings for color decoding. All have needed a trained technician to be set properly – that is, until SpyderTV came along.

The Technology
Television and film work basically the same way. They use the additive color triangle. By using red, green and blue as the primary colors, any visible color can be created. Of course, the devil is in the details. In order to produce all of the colors, the primary colors must be as far toward the corners of the CIE chart as possible.

What Is Color Temperature?
Say you were to take a steel bar (we use what is called a theoretical black body) and you put it in a fire. When it gets hot enough, it will glow. At first, it will be a faint deep red glow, but as it gets hotter, it will go through all of the colors from red to blue. With this information, we can create a graph of which temperature creates which color. Using the absolute temperature scale (Kelvin), we find that the point where equal amounts of red and blue are created is at 5400 degrees Kelvin. This is the reference color for white used in film. All other colors are referenced from this point. Using a triangular graph representing the three additive primary colors, red, green and blue, this point is dead center. For television, the NTSC reference color temperature for white is 6500 degrees Kelvin, which is slightly blue. Keeping to the reference is simple in theory, but very hard to achieve in reality. For consumer CRTs and plasmas, there is a tradeoff between brightness and depth of color that makes a balanced choice necessary. There have been advances in phosphor technology, but achieving the reference primaries for HD is not easy and, because of the tradeoff with brightness, they are rarely used in consumer sets. The same is true in LCD monitors and digital projection systems such as DLP, LCD, LYCOS and SXRD. There the bulb’s spectrum comes into play and the depth of the primary colors after filtering is altered. Very few consumer projectors use bulbs with a spectrum that is wide enough or smooth enough to achieve the reference primaries.

This presents a problem for SpyderTV, since the entire color pallet is changed when you shift the primaries. If the set uses the wrong reference primaries, then every color is changed. If the color temperature is left well above 6500K, as it is on almost every consumer set, then everything has a cast of blue on it, such as bluish sand and bluish faces. The average mass-market HDTV is calibrated to 8500K, with many ranging over 10K at the moment you crack open the box.

Set-up
The first thing I did when I got this system was to calibrate my computer monitor using the Spyder2Pro disc. This part was the easiest, since the computer did almost everything. I loaded the program into my computer (the disc works on both PC and Mac, but I did not try it on a Mac). The program walked me through the steps as I chose the monitor type, color temperature and gamma, and indicated the reference colors or phosphors. I was then directed where and how to place the probe for that monitor. The probe is a neatly designed optical sensor that has suction cups and an adaptor that allow it to stick to a glass face or to be placed on a tripod in front of a monitor or projector. My only complaint is that I wish it had a longer wire so that placement would be easier.

I had to get reacquainted with my monitor’s controls, but in the end, the Spyder2 Prp disc worked easily and quickly reset my computer monitor to the reference 6500K.

SpyderTV Pro
SpyderTV Pro requires a DVD player attached to your TV, and a computer close enough to use that has Windows 2000 or Windows XP. It uses a USB port and requires at least an 800 MHz Pentium II processor with 256MB RAM and 100MB free disc space. For anyone interested in such a calibration tool, these requirements should be no problem.

When I tried to load it into my laptop, which more than meets the requirements, the program would not work. After several phone calls to the company, I still had no solution. The problem seemed to solve itself after my computer automatically downloaded a new Windows update. With the program now working, I first tried it on my venerable Toshiba CRT in the bedroom, and then on my NEC 1100A projector in the media room. While I found the step by step process a little tedious as it walked me through inputting the controls on my set and their numerical settings and limits, after a couple of tries, I got it to work. The program prompts you through displaying the proper test pattern with the sensor properly placed and the room properly lit.

Performance
So, how well did it work? First it set black and white levels by prompting me through the user-available brightness and contrast controls. The settings it achieved were accurate. It then walked me through setting the color temperature through the gray scale by adjusting the low level (or cuts) and high level (or gains) in red, blue and green while prompting me to display the appropriate test patterns. The result was correct for 6500K, while the color temperature control on the set was in the warm or low setting, but then it proceeded to direct me to change that setting to the medium position where my meter read approximately 8500K. That is the same incorrect setting that most sets have when they come from the factory. True, I could just leave the setting at low, but most users would not know that. There were also problems in how it set the color and tint controls. Once again, it prompted me through adjusting first the color and then the tint while displaying either of two test patterns. One test pattern had a blue field in front of the sensor, and the other had a white field. This was the equivalent of a calibrator adjusting the color and tint using the blue filter and a color burst pattern. On both sets, when compared to the ISF method of setting the color and tint, the SpyderTV program had set the color too high and the tint too red.

The Downside
While the SpyderTV idea and overall execution is excellent, the final results are not correct. This could easily be corrected in the programming, but in its present state, SpyderTV does not deliver the reference image it promises to create, which is highly problematic by my standards and for the standards that readers will want to achieve with their HDTVs for film and broadcast content.

Conclusion
I really love the concept of SpyderTV. I hope that they can fix the problems and make this a product worthy of your investment. It literally has the potential to replace the need for a professional calibrator for many consumers at a very fair price. It could be a product that even a big-box, mass-market retail location could use to not only properly calibrate their in-store sets (assuming they wanted to get the settings to the standard), but it is something they could use to calibrate clients’ sets. Personally, I would pay someone $100 to $200 to calibrate my set before I paid for most extended warranties that are all the rage at the big-box stores, but that is just me. Sometimes today’s warranties are pretty compelling.

As for the image Spyder achieves right now, I unfortunately cannot recommend it. Also, since most consumer sets use non-standard primary colors, I don’t know how accurate the final setting can be without the trained eye of a professional calibrator using professional video measurement tools. It’s an interesting toy that could with only a slight adjustment be one of the coolest tools on the market. I am hopeful that SpyderTV will take these comments as constructive, as I think their hearts are certainly in the right place, but the results are simply off.
Manufacturer Datacolor
Model SpyderTV Display Calibration Kit
Reviewer Michael Levy





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