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basICColor Discus calibrator review

  |   Articles and reviews, Colour management, Hardware review, Monitor calibration, Review   |   4 Comments

Review: basICColor Discus

Monitor and projector calibration, with ambient light measurement



We’ve looked at a number of monitor calibration and profiling solutions in the past, all have their strengths and weaknesses. Last year a new ‘no holds barred’ solution was announced by German company basICColor.

discus monitor calibrator

The Discus has been designed to meet the demanding requirements of high end users in press and proofing. It also provides calibration of the newer wider gamut monitors, that can be problematic with some existing older products.

Keith has tried the Discus on both our older Apple Cinema Display and an NEC SpectraView Reference 271 [review] wide gamut 27″ monitor. This was kindly loaned to us by NEC UK. This was arranged by the UK supplier of the Discus, Native Digital who also loaned us the Discus to try out… The examples shown here are using Apple Macs, but the software generally works in the same way on Windows machines.

the Discus colorimeter from Basicolor

Monitor Profiling

I’ve looked at numerous monitor calibration and profiling products over the years, and this one is firmly positioned towards the top of the market.

basICColor, the company behind the device, is known for its colour management products aimed at the higher end of the market. At around £800 for just the device itself, it’s perhaps beyond what I’d consider appropriate for my own work as a professional photographer.

However, in the market it’s produced for, paying several thousand pounds for a monitor and several thousand for printer driver software is not uncommon…

What do you get

The Discus is a solid bit of kit – literally. It weighed in at ~340g (12oz.) and the electronics are encased in a solid aluminium shell. There is a comprehensive reference manual provided.

It comes with a 270g counterweight, which I’m assured is a real ice hockey puck (I’ve never seen one before)

Move your mouse over the image to see the measurement side of the device.

That’s also a real tape measure as a strap. The strap is detachable if you were using the tripod mounting bush at the bottom (standard 3/8″ thread with 1/4″ adapter) for projector profiling and measuring ambient light.

Even the angled sides of the device are to assist in assessing the lateral lighting of your measurement area. This from the manual:

In an “open” environment (e.g. at the control panel in the pressroom) you would want to know about the influence of the lateral ambient light. In order to facilitate the relevant measurements the housing is fitted with two 45° bevels and the edge of the housing is rectangular to the bottom. Thus you’re able to measure under 5 different angles without any auxiliary means: Paper plane / Paper plain ± 45° / Paper plain ± 90°. In an ideal environment there will only be changes in the illuminance level, not in color.

Specifications (from basICColor)

  • Encapsulated optics and thin-film glass filters of the sensor guarantee long term stability of the measurement values. Each instrument is calibrated individually and can be re-certifed over and over.
  • The built-in temperature sensor in basICColor DISCUS compensates for incremental heating during the measurement session.
  • With a basICColor DISCUS you are equipped for all measurement tasks. It performs contact and tele-measurement with the built-in laser point, as well as measurement of ambient light.
  • Up to 128 loadable calibrations mean the basICColor DISCUS is ready for any type display. If a new display type comes out, the basICColor DISCUS is easily adaptable via firmware downloads to keep up with new developments.
Features
  • Measure modes: Contact, tele and ambient light measurement
  • Optical design: highly sensitive colorimetric sensor with long-term stable thin-film glass filters, elaborate optical path for large measurement spot even in contact measurement
  • Aperture angle in contact and tele measurement: ± 2°
  • Measure spot in contact: ø ca. 7mm
  • Measure spot in tele, distance 1m: ø ca. 7cm
  • Measure spot in tele, distance 10m: ø ca. 70cm
  • Filter wheel with 3 positions: Tele and contact measurement with filter thread (lens hood, filter…); integrated ambient light cover for light measurement (aperture angle: 180°); calibration position and protection for optics and laser pointer
  • Contact measurement: mounting suspension with tape measure
  • Tele measurement: 3/8″ tripod socket, laser pointer, tape measure
  • Light measurement: 3/8″ tripod socket, laser pointer, coplanar uni-body housing for measurement of lighting, flat ambient light measurement with paper surface at a distance of only 27mm, 2 positioning aids at 45° for repeatable appraisal of stray light
  • Unibody housing for added robustness and thermal stability

Measurement range:

  • Luminance: 0.05 to 2,500 cd/m2
  • Chomaticity: 0.05 to 2,500 cd/m2

Accuracy:

  • Luminance: ± 2% 1 digit (1~500 cd/m2)
  • Chromaticity: ± 0.002 illuminant D65
  • Chromaticity: ± 0.0025 CCT 4000-15000K
  • Chromaticity: ± 0.0065 for other colours
  • Calibration: PTB traceable
  • Flickering: Measurement according to VESA standard
  • Interface: USB 2.0
  • Power: 4.7 to 5.5V DC via USB
  • Parameter storage: 8 different base calibrations (5 occupied by factory setting), 16 positions for user calibrations, can be arbitrarily combined with factory calibrations: 128 combinations
  • Timing: max. 10 measurements/second for low sensitivity. Max. 4 measurements/second for high sensitivity
  • Temperature compensation: 10°C to 50°C
  • USB cable: approx. 1.8m
  • Dimensions: diam. 97mm, height: 27mm, weight: 310g
  • Included: instrument with laser pointer and integrated ambient light diffuser, socket adaptor 1/4″ to 3/8″, mounting suspension with integrated tape measure, bag.

Software

The basICColor software is not currently included with the device, so I had to download a demo license and install it on the desktop Mac Pro I was using for testing (V4.2.4 tested). The software is tied to the computer you set it up on. As of writing the Discus is also supported by NEC SpectraView Profiler (you will need to get the version that supports the Discus).

For monitor profiling I’d slightly tilt the monitor back to get good contact. The software guidelines suggest performing any measurements in the dark.

different measuring devicesThe picture shows a rather cluttered desk, since the 23″Apple monitor is just behind the NEC one.

NEC SVR271 monitor – short review

The small monitor to the right is an old one I normally use for palettes and the like.

It’s quite old, but the Discus and basICColor were able to get it to a very respectable state – noticeably better than any previous attempts.

The software supports several different measuring devices.

If you look below the monitor on the desk, you can see an i1 Pro spectrophotometer and a Spyder3 colorimeter, both of which I use regularly.

The software handles any calibration that the device might need.

selecting an i1 pro with the software

Below, I’ve selected the NEC monitor, since the Discus option allows you to specify the type of device you are measuring (right).

The Discus has it’s own calibration setting that you are prompted to select before proceeding.

The measurement unit has a rotating disk, that switches between calibration and measurement positions.

Moving from calibration position to measuring (move mouse over image)

I’ll not go into all the measurement options for basICColor here, other than show the range of tonal response curves available as options when calibrating.

There are a lot of brightness and colour related options available.

I normally work at D65, gamma 2.2 and a brightness of 110 cd/m2 with the Apple monitor – this gives a bright enough image for my work environment and good enough soft proofing and comparison when using my PDV-3e lighting stand.

Setting the NEC wide gamut monitor to L* may be recommended, but the effect on coloured interface elements was to make the screen look too brightly coloured – such trivia should not bother anyone in the quest for best Photoshop image quality, but as I said, I just don’t do the sort of ultra precise sorts of work. A gamma of 2.2 looked better and had minimal effect on what I could see in images in Photoshop.

The software can take 5 to 10 minutes to do its stuff. For the NEC display, you are adjusting its internal lookup tables (LUTs) as well as creating a profile.

The device is supposed to be fully temperature compensated, allowing for reliable operation between 10C and 50C.

For both the NEC and my cheaper monitors, the software took quite some time iterating the greyscale values, stepping between different levels and adjusting settings.

The process works by displaying known values to the screen and then measuring just what is displayed.

If you are measuring a screen at a distance then the software can work in full screen mode, and there is and offset aiming chart for the built in targeting laser.

If you calibrate your screen from a short distance away then the calibration reflects the whole environment. You need a stable viewing environment and a non gloss screen to really benefit from this approach – this from the manual:

“You will encounter a major difference between contact measurement and close distance measurement in the shadow details. Monitor calibration with close distance measurement yields better shadow details because the incident light on the monitor will be accoun- ted for and will be compensated. The objective is to assess the entire workstation in step with actual practice (including monitor, ambient light and hood).”

The sensor has a +-4.5 degree viewing angle, although there is an optional lens (not tested) to reduce this to 1 degree.

Once the software has finished and you have saved a profile, then you can measure just how accurately everything is working.

This ‘Validation’ phase requires that you quit and restart the basICColor software – then recalibrate your measuring device when it’s seen for the ‘first’ time.

Not sure why it’s needed, but this just seems a pointless step – you don’t do the profiling often, but it’s one of those minor irritations you find in software…

Some results

The results of calibration/profiling are evaluated from just one point on the screen – there are no measures of screen evenness.

I’ve shown some of the output charts from different setups. I’ve also included a link later to a zip file of profiles that I created, just in case they are of interest to anyone – let me know if you find anything of interest in them!

First up, my Apple 23″ Cinema display, using an i1 Pro

Below, the same display, but with the Discus

With the NEC monitor and the Datacolor Spyder3 colorimeter (note that this was an early version of the S3, so I’d expect current versions to be even better)

With the NEC monitor and the Discus (L*)

And lastly, the NEC and the Discus, but this time with an Gamma 2.2 tone curve.

I did loads more different settings, but there are only so many graphs like this I’m going to include…

Using this software, the Spyder3 generally surpassed the i1 Pro, particularly in the darker colours.

The Discus produced the best profiles for all screens I tested, and indeed, even though the sensor has gone back, I’m keeping the Discus profile for my Cinema display and 2nd display, since both are better in neutrality and shadow areas than I usually get – not by much, but I believe I can (just) see some of the differences when editing images. I only tend to calibrate my monitors every month or so, and will see what changes. I’ve been considering replacing my Apple display this year, and the results from using the NEC for a week are interesting. I’ll write up more about this when I have the spare cash for a good new monitor, or the Apple one dies…

Using the Discus – projectors & ambient

Unfortunately the basICColor software will only work on one computer, so my plans to test projector profiling and profiling my MacBook Pro were thwarted.

However, I’m told that the basICColor software currently costs £85 for the first license and £42.86 for additional copies, so I can see that some organisations might want to extend its use to laptops and projectors. Given that some other projector profiling solutions are licensed for the device and not the computer, I do wonder how many would make wider use of the discus?

I did plug the projector into my main computer and test the software with an image projected onto a wall, but this is hardly a test likely to reveal much of interest.

The device includes a red laser to assist in alignment and measurement accuracy when performing remote readings (monitors or projected images)

…I did mention that I’m perhaps not in middle of the target market for this software and hardware

Discus - built in red laser

The ambient light measurement options are similarly limited, so any viewing booth you might want to measure needs to be suitably close for a long USB cable…

After calibration of the device you need to move the ambient light measurement filter over the sensor

Move mouse over image to see

I’m assuming that the main use of the ambient light measurement function is for viewing lighting and the like, since projectors and projection screens vary a lot, and I’d suggest they rarely require the precision and repeatability that this device is capable of.

Conclusions

I don’t often compare products, but with the basICColor software, this device produced the best looking profiles I’ve seen on my Apple Cinema display. It handled the wide gamut NEC Reference 271 display perfectly.

However, as I’ll freely admit, my work does not require the levels of extreme accuracy and repeatability that is often found in some design, proofing and print environments. I don’t need to check that the calibration and uniformity conform to elements of ISO 12646 or the requirements of printing standards organisations such as FOGRA

If you are getting grey desks and walls, custom lighting, and spending thousands on monitors, then this device is squarely aimed at you. If you work in an environment where putting a red coffee mug on your desk will affect your work, then at last a colorimeter to meet your needs is here.

I don’t have access to the expensive colour measurement devices needed to test just how accurate the Discus actually is (since one would cost several times what I just paid for a car) so you’ll need to do your own testing.

The device has taken some time to appear since its announcement at Photokina last year (2010) and at the moment is only supported for general use by one software package.

The basICColor software that I tried is easy to use, although the licensing method means that calibrating laptops and projectors is a less attractive option, particularly given the availability of other packages offering projector calibration without such restrictive licensing.

The Spectraview software supplied with the NEC display currently does not support the Discus, but we’re told that a compatible version can be supplied via basICColor (FOC).

A superb bit of engineering, even if some of its finer points are perhaps a little wasted on me ;-)

Summary

Precision USB connected colorimeter for monitor and projector profiling, with ambient lighting measurement and support for Normlicht adjustable lighting.

Software requirements

  • Apple Mac – G4/5 and Intel, 10.4.11 or higher
  • Windows – Intel PIII or 4 XP, SP2 or higher
Info
  • Some Discus created monitor profiles (zip)
More colour management and printing related information

For information about printers, paper reviews and profiling (colour management) see the Printing section of the main printers and printing page, or use the search box at the top of any page. All colour management information is indexed on the main Colour Management page.

Some specific articles that may be of interest:  

  • Why don't my prints match my screen? A short article showing why there is more to getting your prints to match your screen, than just calibrating your monitor. It's the vital first step, but you do need to consider some other factors for best results.
  • Why are my prints too dark - some basic suggestions to this common problem.

 


Buying anything from Amazon (not just what's listed) via any of the links below helps Keith and Karen keep the site going - thanks if you do! [Amazon UK]

 



 
  • jmv_colorado

    I know I’m late to the party here, but this page is one of the only reviews and articles on the Discus colorimeter that can be found, period. It got me started on my journey to find something better than the monitor calibration workflow I was using.

    I came to point out that there is an entire world of much higher-end colorimeters and spectrophotometers that the film, movie and television industries use to calibrate their computer and reference monitors. So I take a bit of umbridge with the statement “If you work in an environment where putting a red coffee mug on your desk will affect your work, then at last a colorimeter to meet your needs is here.” There is MUCH MUCH better software and hardware out there for calibrating monitors than the Spyder and i1 devices we’re used to. The photo and design industry circles have not caught on to them.

    Everything I knew about calibrating my monitor changed after I found the Light Illusion website (the makers of LightSpace CMS calibration software). They have competitors like ChromaPure and CalMan, but Light Illusion’s LightSpace seem to be the best and an industry standard. Little did I know, I could use a basic version of LightSpace and use my i1Pro 2 spectro to calibrate the inexpensive i1Display Pro colorimeter to your exact monitor (commonly called creating an “offset”). You then use that offset data with the i1Display Pro to profile the monitor and create a calibration profile. The results are much more accurate than the Discus alone (especially across different monitor types). And using LightSpace over something like Basiccolor Display 5 or i1Profiler is a massive step up in taking color calibration more seriously in and of itself.

    Here’s what Steve @ Light Illusion says about the colorimeter situation: “Offset matrices are included with all Tristimulus probes [i.e., colorimeter] as the filters used cannot be matched to all different display technologies. These included offsets are usually generic, and will not in themselves be accurate for different displays of the same ‘technology’. So, the best approach is to use a Spectro to generate an offset matrix on the actual display you are going to profile/calibrate.

    That obviously begs the question, why not just use the Spectro to do the profiling/calibration?The reason is that unless you are going to spend a lot of cash (and I mean a lot!) the Spectro will be slow, and probably not good at reading dark colours.”

    I hope this was helpful to someone!

    • kacoooper

      Thanks for the comments – this review is indeed about six years old, so my opinions and understanding of the market have changed somewhat ;-)

      However, it is still (IMHO) overkill (and quite expensive overkill at that) for most (but not all) people in photography that I work with, either professionally or otherwise. Note that none of our existing reviews apply to video (an area I have no involvement with).

      Now, there definitely -are- industries where such things matter and the expense can be justified, but as a working commercial and architectural photographer, I’m not in one of them.

      Knowing (and it mattering) how a bright red coffee mug affects things is one sign that you are in the market for such kit and software ;-)

      I looked at the basic Lightspace software, but unfortunately it’s Windows only, which rules it out of any testing here I’m afraid (we only review Mac or Mac+Win software).

      Also at £575+VAT I’d want good reasons to suggest why people would want it (remember I don’t do video related stuff). Now that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t happily look at such software, but just that as someone who doesn’t sell hardware/software I approach reviews of expensive kit and software with a bit more scepticism (and curiosity) than some ;-)

      • jmv_colorado

        Keith, I absolutely understand your perspective. I didn’t mean to slander your understanding of color management or the age of the article. Quite frankly, the article is still totally relevant because the hardware/software for calibrating monitors in the design/photo industry have largely went unchanged in the last 6 six years. It’s the same ‘ole i1Display, Discus, Spyder, or ColorMunki. A version change here or there, but that’s it. Which is surprising in and of itself.

        I think the point is that it should matter. The software that photographers are using to “calibrate” their monitors is woefully bad and unsophisticated. People are constantly complaining about how terrible i1Profiler is, and yet there aren’t many alternatives. When i1Profiler or Basiccolor Display “calibrates” your display, what is it calibrating it to? It’s total mystery meat. All it’s really doing is setting the white balance and possibly the white/black points. When it gives you that satisfying green “check” of validation at the end, how do you even know if that’s accurate? Your colorimeter could have presets loaded in it that are incompatible with your monitor and completely (at worse) or those presets could be the right type but way off for your particular screen (best case). It could tell you you’re within 0.1 dE, when in reality you’re at 15 dE and you’d have no clue. The Discus is a step up in this regard because it includes more accurate and a wider variety of presets to match more monitors (plus the temperature regulation), but that’s about it. The whole process is still very rudimentary compared to the calibration process the video industry is using. Why is their work any different than our work? It’s not. We still produce designs and photos that are used in billions of places, likely with more visibility than your average video/movie.

        There’s very little reputable information out there about colorimeters vs. spectros. The print industry is all over their high-end calibration with spectros and profiling their presses… the video guys are all over their calibration using colorimeters that are calibrated by accurate spectros so that the entire industry is calibrated to a single known standard… and the photo/design industry is waving in the wind with hardware and software that barely function and very few people in the industry care or know any better. Personally, as an “imaging & photo tech” graduate, graphic/web designer, and commercial photographer myself, I think we can do better. At least I know I can do better, whether or not any other professionals care remains to be seen.

        As far as LightSpace is concerned, yes it’s pricey. And yes it’s Win only. I just got VMWare running on my Mac in 15 minutes and LightSpace now runs like any other Mac app. Not really a big deal once you get over the intimidation factor. I don’t think it has to be video-only thought, that’s what I’m saying. That’s traditionally been their focus, but I don’t do any video-related work either. That’s not the point. The software creates highly accurate 3D LUTs that fully characterize a monitor’s output, and then calibrate that to a known color space and white balance, creating an ICC profile along the way.

        I find it interesting that pro photographers (and even non-pros) are totally willing to spending solid 5-figures on lenses, bodies, lighting, etc., and a couple grand on an NEC or Eizo wide-gamut monitor or two… but then cheap out on calibrating that whole kit so that the images you just spent $20k in gear creating look 100% correct.

        • kacoooper

          Oh – no offence taken! I much appreciate your comments.

          I’m just checking out the new BenQ SW320 4k monitor and this question does raise itself. You need to use the BenQ software at the moment to set the hardware LUT, but it has the same issues in the areas you mention with respect to measurement devices.

          The colour management equipment market has definitely slowed over recent years – it’s been quite some time since any new kit to look at has been around.

          One ‘problem’ in selling advanced kit to photographers is that ‘100% correct’ is a relatively meaningless term to them and something that does not have a quantifiable cost/ benefit – I can clearly see the benefit of my £2000+ TS-E17mm lens ;-)

          I know that I rarely do work requiring ultimate colour accuracy (good looking trumps accurate almost every time). I do know if I’m on a job that needs colour precision, but they are infrequent and I’m less than convinced that the clients understand it either – if that’s so for me, then how do you convince your average working photographer to spend money?

          My second monitor is still an Apple 23″ cinema display (with my firewire iSight camera plugged in to it) – that said, the SW320 is a very nice bit of kit and dwarfs it :-)

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