Secrets Q & A

CalMAN Calibration Bootcamp: A Crash Course in the Science of Calibration

ARTICLE INDEX

Introduction

In May, 2010, Senior Editor Chris Heinonen and I published an article here at Secrets looking at some of the popular consumer targeted video calibration software options. We tried the free HCFR program as well as the incredibly popular CalMAN platform marketed by SpectraCal, and a new entry, ChromaPure. After this review was published, the folks at CalMAN publisher SpectraCal asked if we'd be interested in trying their new version 4 software, a major revision from the version that we had tested but was still in Beta testing at the time of our review. What's more, SpectraCal had begun traveling around the country doing one-day "Calibration Bootcamps" as a means to introduce installers and enthusiasts to calibration and this new software: would we be interested in attending? Given that one was not 3 miles from my house, I jumped at the opportunity.

The Calibration Bootcamp was conceived as a one-day seminar format vs. the multi-day ISF or THX certification seminars. The intent is to introduce both A/V professionals and enthusiasts to the basics of calibration and how Calman v4 worked. It is not intended as a replacement for the more thorough certification seminars, but rather as an introduction to color science and the state of the art in equipment and software.

CalMAN software is available at SpectraCal's website.


Bootcamp - Introduction to CalMAN Calibration

The course that I attended was taught by SpectraCal Sales President Jeff Murray. Jeff is a veteran of the industry hailing from the Sencore side of the SpectraCal equation. Our venue was a conference room in a hotel in Durham, NC. The crew from SpectraCal had clearly been up early that morning because by 8AM they had set up several workstations. Each station had an LCD panel, various light meters and video devices, including video processors, pattern generators and Blu-ray players.

We began with a general introduction to why we care about a calibrated picture and introduced the concept of the "directors intent". Those who are familiar with calibration DVDs from Avia or Joe Kane will be familiar with this concept. When we reproduce video material, we are looking to mirror what the creator of the material intended us to see. Life in The Matrix is meant to look green and distinct in color from the 'real world' in the movie "The Matrix"- this was an artistic choice made by the Wachowski's. Video engineering groups have outlined a set of definitions to assure that the The Matrix looks the same on every display. Unfortunately, it is often the case that displays are not reflective of these standards. Why? Because TV manufacturers have found that our brains, often subconsciously, have preferences for picture characteristics that are away from the standards. In addition, they know that their TV's are going to be displayed in brightly lit showroom floors - an environment vastly different from your living room. In order to take advantage of both our preferences and this retail environment, display manufacturers specifically set-up TVs to be appealing to us in these settings, often in gross violation of the standards that I described above. The result is an inaccurate reproduction of the video material and a departure from the original artistic vision of the content creator.

Once we were introduced to why we should want a calibrated picture, Jeff then talked about how displays of any type reproduce a picture (and the rules that they are supposed to adhere to) and quickly moved into the basics of calibrating the traditional user controls: Brightness, Contrast, Tint, Color and Sharpness. We then turned quickly to basic 2-point gray scale using a meter and the CalMAN software. After the lecture we were turned loose on the various calibration stations to try out what we had learned. Each of the work stations had a 1080p LED LCD around 42 inches in size. The sets had been selected because they had a core set of calibration features: the ability to calibrate gray scale, blue only mode for setting color and tint, and a color management system (more on that later). The sets were from Samsung, Mitsubishi and Toshiba and were in the middle of the their respective manufacturer product ranges. I don't know the exact model numbers, but Jeff commented that none of these sets were particularly high-end.

Right off the bat, all of the displays were connected to QuantumData 780 pattern generators. These are high-end, field ready, touch screen pattern generators. The generators were being controlled via USB by the laptop computers on our stations so that when we called up a program in the CalMAN software, it automatically changed the pattern accordingly. There were a variety of meters around the room, from very high-end to more modest, enthusiast-targeted models. My station had a Klein K-10 ($7000) and a Chroma5 ($~700 - and the meter I use at home). Other stations had Kleins and/or X-rite i1Pros.

CalMAN has several pre-programmed layouts and we loaded up the "Basic ISF Calibration" work-flow. Technically, an ISF calibration includes 2-point grayscale and setting of the basic picture controls (Color/Tint/Brightness/Contrast). As we navigated through the workflow on the software, the necessary patterns came up on our screen accompanied by text descriptions of what our goal was for each pattern. For grayscale, we interacted with the meter, CalMAN and the TVs settings for high and low gray point, iterating back and forth until we had correct settings for both. As Jeff promised, by lunch we had done a full 2-point ISF calibration.

Post lunch the discussions got more advanced as we were introduced to the ins and outs of human sight and how this pertains to various color measuring technologies. How our eyes perceive color, and specifically changes in color directly relates to the means in which we attempt to quantify color for reproduction purposes. In addition, it also relates to the way in which we measure colors as they are being reproduced. Different meter technologies take different approaches to this task - each having specific advantages and disadvantages. We were introduced to the main meter technologies and talked about why and how one technology is chosen over another. By giving us a solid background in how we see and measure color, we were then able to move onto the most complex topic of the afternoon: advanced Color Gamut Calibration.


CalMAN 4 and Automated Calibration

Truly one of the most exciting things that was demoed at our training session was CalMAN's new, interactive, calibration technologies. By taking advantage of recent advantage in video processing technology, CalMAN 4 is able to begin automating the calibration process. First a few notes about video processors.

The value of external video processors has somewhat diminished over the last few years. Originally conceived as scaling and de-interlacing solutions, these boxes used to be essential to producing a decent picture by expertly taking the multiple resolutions that existed in any home theater, and processing them in the best way possible for display on TVs that had less than stellar processing capabilities of their own. However, over the last few years, with advancements in video processing becoming less expensive and very competent implementations of video processing capabilities showing up in everything from Blu-ray players to receivers, adding external video processing devices became less valuable for all but the highest-end installations. In addition, with the dawn of 1080p panels and Blu-ray discs, we have seen a matching of resolutions in our sources to the native resolution of the panel, meaning scaling and de-interlacing is less essential. However, there has been a resurgence in the relevance of video processor technology in the last three years.

While our TVs are more advanced in characteristics such as resolution, they continue to fall short in accurate color reproduction. TVs have always shipped with large inaccuracies in colors, but advances in processing power have allowed video processors to begin to pick up the slack. Now, external video processors not only work to optimally process resolution, but also act as external calibration boxes, adding a level of picture control that allow many TVs to achieve accurate colors that otherwise would have been unable to. While at the beginning these features were only available in the highest-end VP solutions, they are now readily available in pieces costing only a few hundred dollars in the case of the AV Foundry VideoEq (an external "calibration" box which can do color calibration, but no scaling or de-interlacing). Even though many displays are beginning to ship with complete color control settings, Jeff pointed out that in their testing, these controls were often poorly implemented and/or insufficient to produce an accurate picture. Therefore, there is still a need for external calibration solutions.

The interactive calibration feature that we were able to play with allows the CalMAN software to take advantage of the advances in video processing capabilities that I describe above by automatically integrating data collected from a color sensor with changes being made on an external calibration system. The software is able to take measurements off of a display using a color sensor, and then make necessary changes using an external calibration box and measure the subsequent results. I will save specifics of how this system works to our full review of CalMAN 4 (videos of the process are available at the SpectraCal website for those interested) - suffice it to say: this technology appears to represent a significant advancement in the speed and efficiency by which one can calibrate a display. It has obvious advantages for the time-constrained professional looking to get on to the next job quickly while still providing a thorough calibration of their installed displays. We look forward to playing more with this system so that we can give you more details about how it pertains to a home user.

Right now the only devices that CalMAN 4 supports for this interactive feature are external calibration devices such as video processors from Lumagen and DVDO, but SpectraCal promises that they are beginning to work with display manufacturers to try and place this type of interactivity directly in the TVs, alleviating the need for an external processor.

Enthusiast vs Professional

The course that I attended was first and foremost for A/V professionals, though it was certainly accessible for an enthusiast. SpectraCal is also offering an enthusiast bootcamp, though one was not offered in Durham due to lack of interest. While the material presented was not too advanced for an enthusiast, the length of the class might have been a bit much for someone only wanting a brief introduction. I would encourage SpectraCal to continue to look at offering this type of introductory training as they grow. The ability to effectively communicate to non-professionals the value of calibration is an important service.


Conclusions

From my write-up it sounds like this course was somewhat of a one-day sales pitch for the CalMAN platform – and it is. But it is also an effective and thorough introduction to the nuts and bolts of color science and video calibration. If you have only used the test pattern on Avia or a THX certified DVD, you will learn about why those discs do what they do. You'll also learn about the next steps required to get a good picture beyond what those discs are capable of providing. Think of it as adding not only the "why" but also the "what's next" to the standard calibrations that many have been doing for years.

The one day calibration boot-camp is a terrific way to get introduced to the basics of complete color calibration without having to commit to an expensive, multi-day training program or sort through endless, often confusing, data of unknown quality that is available online. While not a substitute for these longer courses, I found that the information provided was more than adequate to give someone an appreciation of what is involved not only in calibrations, but in the breadth of technologies that are now available to make the process more intuitive and efficient. I encourage SpectraCal to keep offering this type of course in the future. If one of these is in your area and you have even a casual interest in calibration, consider checking one out. The complete list of cities can be found at: http://spectracal.com/training.html

Regarding CalMAN 4, it appears to be a very exciting development for the calibration industry. The interactivity advances that SpectraCal has made with this software platform will undoubtedly be very attractive for industry professionals working with tight schedules and budgets. SpectraCal has kindly offered us a review copy of CalMAN 4. We will be doing a full review of CalMAN 4 and evaluating how the interactive controls translate from a professional environment to a home user or enthusiast environment.

FEATURED COMMENTS

Interactive
Written by Ron , August 24, 2010

Theoretically, the interactive aspects of the Calman4 platform are exciting, however, when working in "real world" applications with external processors such as the newest Video EQ, Lumagen and DVDO products all with built-in gray scale and color management systems, they have been continually fraught with issues that have yet to be rectified. Along with several others who have described problems on the Spectracal forum, I have given up on trying to use the interactive program with my VideoEQ Pro.

I am looking forward to the "advanced" Chromapure calibration system(reviewed earlier) which has been designed by an actual calibrator and considerably simpler to follow with quicker and more accurate results.

In my experience, the problem with the latest configuration of Calman is that it was primarily designed by computer "geeks" although very impressive in presentation and "look", is considerably more difficult to use.

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Calibration with a PC?
Written by Craig Upshaw , August 24, 2010

I use a large format printer at work for creating advertising and marketing materials. We use a system that is based on an eye-one device that looks like a mouse and associated color generation software. Plug in the eye-one, fire up the software and the calibration process begins. You have to manually make adjustments to the screen controls. What you end up with is a tremendous improvement in computer display accuracy. From a practical standpoint, most LCD monitors are too bright and prints made from an uncalibrated screen always come out too dark, so this is a way to guarantee accurate output.

Since PCs have become much cheaper than in the past, why not use one as your video processor along with the software that is available from at least three sources to manage your LCD display?

I calibrate all of our monitors at least monthly. LCDs change over time, making calibration a process rather that a set-once-and-done action.

NEC has some new monitor solutions with built-in calibration that is totally independent of any computer process. Clearly, this has advantages and may become the norm for most higher end LCD screens.

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Excellent!
Written by Robert Jones , August 24, 2010

Having recently attended the full 2 day ISF Level II training with Joel Silver and Jeff Murray and Widescreen Review's Terry Paullin on site at Monster Cable - and thus on location with each of us, up close and personal - I find the opportunity talked about here to be very enticing. Even if you are not a professional in the field and just want this knowledge for yourself and your own display, the meat of what Joel talked about will be there, and the benefit of the hands-on training of everyone at Spectracal, as they were for us.

Nothing can replace the incredible depth of experience Joel Silver of ISF brings to the table from his lifetime passion for having displays do their thing right for all of us, but having Jeff Murray not just being the head of Spectracal in some office somewhere but there at the controls and hopping on each and every little thing that was challenging to any of us - from use of the very sophisticated analyzers and signal generators to hangups with the various personal laptops brought into play by all of us (each of which seems to have its own "personality"...) Jeff was on it, and 100% successful at keeping things on track at all times, no matter what the issue. Jerry Palleschi, formerly of Sencore and now with Spectracal, kept us all on track and well organized offsite, before and after the actual event.

If you feel personally in need of this kind of calibration wizardry - as all of us calibrators are these days - I know of no better way of getting the necessary training on these things than by being in the adept hands of SpectraCal and its elite cadre of calibration operatives.

Robert Jones
aka Mr Bob
Image Perfection

  • CLICK TO VIEW MORE COMMENTS

    Internal Calibration
    Written by ChrisHeinonen , August 24, 2010

    I've been hoping for the past couple years that we would start to see some higher end displays that ship with their own calibration device, much like receivers now come with their own calibration microphone. As you can get lower end calibration devices for well under $100, the cost to a manufacturer for a standardized one wouldn't be that much I suspect.

    It would need to have it's own look-up table calculated and programmed into the set, and unfortunately they drift over time, but to be able to just plug in a device to the TV, have it run through it's own patterns, and then adjust it's settings is where I'd like to see things go. They won't be perfect, just like Audyssey isn't perfect, but it'll be an improvement.

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    Chromapure "advanced"
    Written by Mark Vignola , August 25, 2010

    We will be reviewing the new Chromapure "advanced" as well as the already mentioned in depth review of CalMAN 4 - this is a recent development. In our review of CalMAN 4 I'll be working with the interactive feature "in the field" vs in the lab like the bootcamp with an DVDO iScan Duo. I'll definitely be talking about my experience with that feature.

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    Backgound on myself and our team at SpectraCal
    Written by Derek Smith , August 30, 2010

    I have been an enthusiast for over 30 years now starting with audio and in the last 15 years with video. In my early audio days I was designing speaker systems including the cabinets and the electronics side of things amps and crossovers. In the early analog days we did not have very much in the way of setup tools but I did have 10-20 channel equalizers with pink noise generators with microphones for setting up a system. Fast forward to today and my speaker system a 7.1 with dual subs is one that I designed and built 12 years ago including the cabinets, subwoofer amps and crossovers. I took me two years to design, test and build this system and is on par with high-end systems. These where being built for a home theater I had yet to build but since my roots are in audio I knew I would enjoy them even before the video side of things where ready. On the video side of things I have been on the leading edge and latest technology as they came out starting with Super VHS, Laserdisc, Toshiba's first DVD player, Toshiba's first progressive scan DVD player, modified DVD players for SDI and now HD DVD, Blu-ray. Over that time I have owned no less than 6 medium to high end projection systems all of which I have calibrated myself starting with a Pioneer Elite PRO-610HD and now a Runco Q750i.

    The reason CalMAN and now SpectraCal exists today is because of the enthusiasts background of everyone one on my team we all have a similar story to mine and we are now some 22 strong. Just about everyone in our company is ISF or THX certified and many are now instructors.

    Since everyone in this industry starts out as an enthusiast we feel very strong about education. This is why people like Joel Silver and Jeff Murray are very important to this industry because even today after all these years they still have the same passionate, thanks guys.

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    spectracal
    Written by winston churchill , April 14, 2012

    I find Calman an interesting bag of mystery. On the one hand consistently over the years I see the product line shifting to different levels of misinformation. I had a the tristimulus pods with the colorpro5000 when it was Sencore and advised that my eyes were telling me the hardware was inaccurate at the lower ire levels. Was told that my eyes were wrong. I was then told that the new hardware was improved. How so I asked. Response was that he prior hardware was not very accurate at he lower ire levels. Then came the otc 1000 which was sold as a hubble by xrite far cheaper than the otc. They told me the otc1000 was different hardware. It wasnt. Was told it was the defacto piece of hardware to use and the life cycle would be x number of years. Now a couple of years later they will give me 200.00 for a trade in for the otc1000 that was about 5000.00. They state that the plastic ipro display 3 is faster and more accurate but can't give me specs that described the difference in accuracy. So yeah there is some products that they sell which were developed with WDC and it is simply a cheap harddrive with a few commands that is sold for 600.00. Hundreds as described in the article until you take a look at the software for test patterns. The upgrades are not all inclusive but rather seperate 500.00 upgrades each and that cheap hard drive turns into a 5000.00 investment. This sort of tactic makes me not want to buy anything from Calman and may be the reason why Jeff Murray is no longer part of the company other then some training connections but clearly outside of calman. Its unfortunate that there is some competition by way of products like chromapure that have zero history of gouging. I can only be fooled so many times.