DIY HDTV Calibration Software Overview: A Comparison of ColorHCFR, ChromaPure, and CalMAN



With all of these products I was able to get a far more accurate display than when I started. ColorHCFR was the cheapest, but it hasn't been updated in over a year, doesn't have a well designed workflow, and lacks support for some recent meters. ChromaPure and CalMAN were both fantastic solutions for the home theater enthusiast. ChromaPure is very straight forward in it's process, but lacks the customization that CalMAN offers. However, for the home user that simply wants to calibrate their display quickly and easily, it's very easy to get going and get fantastic results in a single evening, with no steep learning curve. However, if you are going to be working with the program on a daily basis, and want it to fit how you work, as well as customize the information that you give to clients in the reporting tool, then CalMAN will have the features that you are looking for.

How does this compare to having an ISF Calibration done? ISF Calibrators are going to be able to access the service menu in your TV, which should allow them extra adjustments to get the picture dialed in even closer to reference. Additionally, many TV's are starting to include ISFccc modes that end users don't have access to, but allow an ISF technician to setup separate Day and Night modes, so you can easily have a perfect picture if it is bright or dim in your room, and they will often calibrate multiple inputs so if you have different source components that have different color profiles (SD and HD content have different color spaces, which some components can handle differently), then they will set the inputs up to ideally match the source component. Also, it's far easier to sit back and watch someone do this for you, then to spend hours, or even days, trying to dial it in perfectly, as I must have spent a week or two the first time I tried to use ColorHCFR.

Finally, if you pay $450 for a calibration, you can be sure that the ISF Tech is going to show up with far more accurate measurement equipment than if you buy the $350 CalMAN or ChromaPure packages for home users. Some of the difference is speed, but all the calibrators I have talked to get their instruments adjusted yearly, as the meters can drift over time leading to less accurate results. Additionally, the meters that an ISF technician would use start at the cost of an i1Pro ($800) and move up to thousands of dollars with models from Orb, Photo Research, and Minolta.

In the end, these home packages and consumer level meters allow you to get your picture calibrated closer than you ever could have on your own before. Using Video Essentials or AVIA Gude to Home Theater might help you deal with some basic settings in your TV, but the adjustments they can do don't compare to what's possible with a CMS and a meter. If you have a DIY attitude, I would recommend giving it a try, as you will probably find the results that you can achieve very pleasing. You also might see how much of an improvement it can make, and then want to bring in an ISF technician to do a full calibration, since for the cost of a couple other tweaks (nice cables, a better power source) you can get an improvement that no one will be able to deny!


Chris Heinonen is a Senior Editor on the SECRETS Team.

Mark Vignola is the co-author of this feature on DIY Calibration.  He holds a PhD in Molecular Genetics and is a research scientist at the Duke University Medical Center.  Mark is an  almost full-time video enthusiast, particularly interested in video display science and acoustics of home theater.