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ColorMunki Display review
Monitor and projector profiling and calibration, with ambient light measurement
Keith has recently been looking at both the ColorMunki Display and the i1Display Pro from X-Rite. The devices are physically similar, but use different software for calibrating and profiling monitors and projectors.
In this comprehensive review, Keith looks at the ColorMunki device in some detail, and also addresses the question of just why you'd want to calibrate your monitor in the first place.
The examples shown here are using Apple Macs, but the software generally works in the same way on Windows machines.
If you're comfortable with why calibration is a good thing then you can jump to the ColorMunki Display Info
When you look at your monitor you are seeing a mixture of light produced from red green and blue dots (have a look with a magnifying glass if you've never done it before)
Look at a white part of the screen, and you'll see all three dots glowing.
It's this mixture of light that allows the screen to display a whole range of colours.
If you want pure red, then just light up the red dots (at full brightness) and you will have a red screen. The same goes for pure blue and green.
You're seeing the blue/green/red patches above as produced by your monitor. BUT - how green is the green on your monitor? Is it a more intense (saturated) green than mine or less? Is it quite the same hue of green?
What about white?
Our eyesight is tremendously adaptable, so if I'm sitting in a room lit by tungsten light bulbs, the white paper of my book looks white. If I walk outside and read my book, the paper still looks white.
This change in 'warmth' of whites is known as the colour temperature, and is what you alter if you adjust the 'white balance' of a camera or image. The precise make-up of a white for any given colour temperature is strictly defined.
I often get asked for suggestions about learning more about the nuts and bolts of Colour Management.
My usual suggestion is Bruce Fraser's Real World Colour Management. My own copy is well thumbed. It's my first port of call if I'm asked a question and I feel I don't quite understand an issue well enough to be absolutely sure of an answer.
Check latest price/availability from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.ukRWCM 1st Edition RWCM
RWCM 2nd Edition RWCM
See some other books Keith has on the shelf, on our Books Page
It turns out that there are a whole range of lighting conditions that we can perceive as 'white light'. I'm not going to go into the technicalities of our visual system, but there are a similar range of lighting (R+G+B) mixtures that will be perceived as white on our screens.
If we represent the precise colour of any pixel on your screen by an RGB 'triplet' of numbers (each from 0 to 255), then a value of [255,255,255] is pure white
[255,255,255] is the value that is sent to the screen for a pixel to appear white. However, the precise mixture of light that we see making up that pixel is dependent on the actual colours emitted by its red, green and blue dots.(three coloured dots making up one pixel)
Since I don't know the real values of the coloured light, I've no way of knowing exactly what [255,255,255] will emit on my screen - or yours.
In the shadows
If I look at a landscape photograph on my monitor, then what's in the shadows is obviously darker than the brighter areas.
The problem is that I don't know whether the shadows are too bright or too dark relative to what the camera captured when I took the photo. Is my monitor changing the contrast?
If I'm just looking at pictures on my own computer, then this doesn't matter much - I can adjust things to look right on the screen.
The problem comes when I want to do something else with the photo. If I adjust the photo and send it to be printed, then I have no idea what effect my adjustments will have had.
If the monitor darkens shadows, then I'll be tempted to lighten them. If I send this lightened image to be printed, then there is every chance that the shadows that looked fine to me on my monitor will be too light when printed.
Getting it right (or at least a lot better and more consistent)
Fortunately, most display manufacturers put quite a bit of effort into making sure that what your screen displays, matches up quite well from a contrast and 'whiteness' point of view.
The range of colours visible, can vary quite a bit between different manufacturers and models. The display technology itself (type of back lighting for LCD screens for example) can alter aspects of monitor performance too.
Most people don't notice the problems when viewing TVs and monitors due to the superb adaptability of our eyesight. So, unless you are buying a very expensive display, there is a limit to how much any additional accuracy is worth to the manufacturers.
The software and measuring device you get with a monitor calibrator, enables you to measure the performance of a particular display (profile its behaviour) and allow you to nail down some of those variables I've mentioned - to calibrate your display to known standards.
The most obvious benefit comes from if you want to print your images (either yourself, or via some third party).
How can you expect predictable and consistent results from editing your images, when you've no idea if your monitor is displaying the right range of colours, whether what you see as white on the screen really is white, or if your monitor is making shadows look too dark.
The first step in getting things right more often, is to profile and calibrate your monitor.
There are many more articles on this site which go into a lot more detail about printing and colour management.
The key new hardware features are listed by X-rite as:
Software has also moved on from the old i1Match software used previously for monitor calibration and profiling.
The new device uses the all new ColorMunki Display software
X-rite lists new functionality as:
The device is USB powered and includes an integral diffuser that swivels out of the way to reveal the front lens element of the measuring unit.
The diffuser is used to measure ambient lighting, and serves to keep the sensor clean if you decide to leave the device permanently connected, in order to use the 'ambient light compensation' feature of the software.
The cover can also be used as a stand for projector calibration (see later).
The base of the unit has a standard (1/4 inch) tripod fitting that you can use to position the sensor for measuring projectors or for non contact measurement of monitors.
In normal use, the counterweight on the USB lead is used to balance the device on your display.
The software installed easily on my OSX 10.6 Mac Pro (works under 10.7 Lion too).
Note that there is quite a lot of stuff installed on your disk, besides the application itself. I'll come back to some of these other items later.
The Windows install is very similar - the software functions just the same.
I'll start off with looking at how monitor profiling and calibration works.
It's better if you make sure that your monitor has been running for half an hour or so before profiling, since it takes a while for most to warm up and stabilise.
The ColorMunki Display software give you two basic options at startup.
I'll start with my monitor...
If like myself, you've multiple monitors attached, then the software lets you pick which one to work with.
There are two modes available at this point: Easy and Advanced
I'll show the more advanced options later, but 'Easy' actually defaults to settings that are perfectly fine for the majority of users.
By all means explore the options, but remember that with most, if you don't know what you should choose, it's usually best to go with the defaults.
Next up, the software will prompt you to measure the lighting levels where you are working.
The sensor needs the diffuser in place to do this, but will remind you if it's wrongly set up.
There are animated videos available to help explain many steps, such as this for the best place to place the sensor.
It also shows where not to place the sensor.
After measurement, you are given the light level.
65 lux is rather dim - but then again I prefer to do editing work in a dimly lit room... (a few hundred is more usual)
The sensor needs to be placed in contact with the screen.
The correct place is shown on the display.
I've tilted the screen back a bit, so as to get better contact.
The front of the sensor is covered in a soft material, so there should be no risk of marking your screen.
When I took the photo to the right, the only light in the room was an ordinary tungsten lamp.
Since I've adjusted the white balance of the photo to show the screen as neutral grey, the diffuser is reflecting the ambient room lighting, showing just how orange it is.
This is the same light that if I read a book under it, the paper would seem white to my eyes.
One more reason why people who say 'I can adjust my monitor by eye' are invariably mistaken.
The screen then goes a number of different colours for a few minutes...
At the end of the process, you are prompted to save the profile that the software will build for you.
Unless you experiment with a lot of profiling hardware and software like I do, then the default name is just fine.
Why all the colours displayed on the screen?
The software knows what pixel values it is setting for all the pixels of the screen at each step. It knows what the sensor has measured.
The profile for the monitor is what gives the pixel values real meaning.
I might intend [0,255,0] to be a bright green pixel, but the profile is what allows me to know exactly what colour green that pixel really is.
The really good thing is that once it's there, you don't need to activate or select the profile, to make use of it. All the complex transformations and calculations are carried out by the operating system of your computer.
Once created, the profile 'just works'.
The calibration settings are also taken care of here. I'll mention this a bit more later, but if you've used the default 'Easy' setting, there is no more adjustment required.
With old CRT monitors, they drifted (and faded) over time, so re-profiling was necessary quite regularly.
With newer LCD monitors, this change is much less noticeable.
The software gives the option to re-profile every so often. For my own work, I carry this out every few weeks, but if I left it for a month, I'd not be unduly worried.
People of a more precise nature may derive satisfaction from profiling every few days - I don't do absolute colour critical work, so I'd rather be out taking photos... ;-)
The reminder can also be set via the ColorMunki 'DisplayTray' - which on Macs appears in the main menu bar at the right.
This particular part of the software seems rather clunky to myself, in its design.
I'll look at it in more detail later, but it's something that is common to both the ColorMunki Display and the more advanced i1Display Pro.
After you profile has been created, there are a number of before/after test images to look at.
If your monitor was previously uncalibrated and unprofiled, then the difference may be quite striking - if you are just re-profiling, then you would not expect that much of a change.
If you're new to all this, then be prepared for quite noticeable changes and a feeling that the new version of your display doesn't look any better.
This is perfectly natural - remember how adaptable our eyes are. Just go away, make a drink or whatever, and when you come back to the computer the new version should look just fine.
There is one last feature of the 'Easy' process that I should address: 'Ambient Monitoring'
This is where your ambient light levels are continually measured and you are offered the opportunity of having your profile re-built, on the fly' to compensate.
I can see why this might be of interest, but I take the view that if you are serious enough to be bothered by ambient lighting changes, then you should pay more attention to your work environment rather than mess around with your profiling settings.
I've shown below one of the 'Help' displays for the software, explaining this option.
You might think I got here by clicking on the help menu option along the main menu bar at the top? Nope, that just brings up the standard Mac help, of no real relevance to what I'm doing.
The ambient monitoring can be controlled via the 'tray' (note another usability fail for that little yellow message box that won't shift).
I tried to see good reason to use it (apart from a features marketing perspective) but I'm going to suggest that most users are best to ignore it.
The profiles created are really good as-is and I'm not struck by the idea of random (and unknown) variations to how my screen looks, just because someone dumps some papers on my desk and covers the sensor, or moves it when 'tidying' my desk.
Easy mode works just fine for most people - but what if you want a bit more control over monitor profiling settings?
There are some settings that you can adjust to refine the profiling process for you particular monitor(s).
If you select 'Advanced' then you can choose the white point for your monitor (i.e. which particular mix of colours will make up 'white').
D65 is the usual choice and matches the performance of most LCD displays.
D50 and D55 are sometimes used in print proofing situations, but I'd emphasise that unless you know why you need them, then stick to to D65.
Native is a setting where there is no adjustment of the display's white point. This used to work well on my old G3 Apple PowerBook, and may work for some old LCD displays. It's also suggested for projectors, but I'll return to that in a bit.
You can also set the brightness of the display.
Since I work in relatively dim surroundings I often go for a value of 100-120 cd/m2
You can get the software to suggest a value, based on an ambient lighting measurement.
There are two more additional sets of measurements that are available.
As I mentioned before, I'd rather concentrate on my viewing environment and add things such as a viewing hood to my monitor (easily made from some matt black art board).
These optional settings can work, but I'm just not comfortable with adding unpredictable variation to the results of what seems to be a very accurate measurement device.
Flare measurement is carried out after the normal profiling measurements.
When I deliberately made the room quite bright around the monitor (below), the 'flare profile' did seem to increase shadow depth and definition on the monitor.
Two other preference settings are worth looking at if you want better quality profiles.
The characteristics of different display technologies can affect profiling accuracy.
If you know the backlight type for your monitor, it's worth making sure it's correctly set.
This is more important for so called 'wide gamut' displays.
One other point I noticed was that the software defaults to altering final luminance by altering what are called video LUTs
This is where the final brightness is adjusted via settings on your video card.
In general I'd want to avoid this.
I'd rather have my monitor fractionally too bright, rather than limit the range of output from the video card.
It might be OK when matching a second monitor, if it doesn't have the appropriate controls, but I turned it off for the Apple display above.
Ambient lighting and print evaluation
One suggested use for ambient lighting adjustment is to set the screen brightness correctly for evaluating prints.
One of the animations makes what in my mind is a gross error, in suggesting that you'd ever evaluate prints by putting them next to a monitor to compare.
This is potentially OK if you have a very precisely controlled lighting environment and have the monitor set precisely to the same colour temperature as the viewing lighting - but you need the i1Display Pro for this.
Since this is rarely going to be the case, for the average photographer, I'd reiterate what I said earlier about not having print and screen directly in view at the same time.
I use a basic viewing stand to evaluate prints - look at the clear difference between the stand (white point ~D50) and laptop (~D65)
If these were at 90 degrees to where I was sitting, and I had to move my head to see either, then in the time it took to move, my vision would adapt to the difference and the print would appear to be almost identical to the soft proof on the laptop.
The important bit about such a proofing setup, is to match screen brightness and print brightness, and here the ColorMunki approach is sound.
One slight problem though - where do I put the measurement sensor to measure illumination?
The two positions above gave very different readings.
Measuring illumination levels is not a trivial task.
If you're using a simpler viewing set-up, such as the Ott-lite based GrafiLite below, then beware of just putting the sensor under it.
It gives a really high reading and your monitor is likely to be set to a very high luminance - probably too high,
If you are going to get into more serious soft proofing and print evaluation, I'd suggest learning more about colour management, so that you know why you are doing things, not just following a list of instructions.
The principles of colour management and why you use it are really not that difficult - sure, there are scary amounts of maths if you want to get into it in detail, but all those calculations are of no relevance to most photographers and graphic designers.
Fortunately it's all running on your computer, and that maths is what they are good at.
The ColorMunki Display device should not be thought of as just the cheaper solution.
Used with care it should easily provide profiles that match the quality of the more expensive i1Profiler based i1Display Pro.
A second display
Having set up one monitor, it's a simple operation to do a second.
The software offers assistance in matching a second display to the first, if you wish.
You go through exactly the same measurement process as you did the first.
I use such a monitor for palettes and other stuff, to give me more space on my main monitor - it's only a 15" 1024x768 LCD of unknown make, but it's been matched quite closely to the main monitor.
If the second monitor is just for palettes, then having it a bit dimmer than your main one will lessen its effect on how you see the main monitor (you don't want it brighter)
Your second monitor might be a projector...
I tested projector profiling using a Sony VPL-CX21 XGA projector connected to my MacBook Pro laptop - once again the software is very similar under windows.
The base of the device has a 1/4" standard tripod mounting underneath, so you will need to tilt your tripod head to point the sensor at the screen.
I've set this up at home, at night, since projector profiling works best in a dark room.
The ambient diffuser can be used as a stand, if you've somewhere it can rest during the process.
You can just follow the on screen instructions for projector calibration.
The aiming and positioning of the sensor is relatively precise.
The software will tell you if it thinks that you are pointing the sensor in the wrong direction
I've left the room lighting at a low level, just for this photo - I turned it off during profiling.
Native whitepoint is suggested, since it will tend to result in a brighter image and in normal viewing environments the brightness of the screen is such that you adapt to its actual whitepoint quite easily.
As with monitors, the screen changes colour during measurements.
The slight colour unevenness is an artifact of my photo (clipping), not the projector.
The profile is created after the measurements.
There are no ambient lighting or flare options for projectors.
You may want to alter the controls 'by eye' on the projector before the process, since I've found that getting the projector looking reasonably OK before calibration can make for better final results.
Comparison with i1Display Pro
I've a more detailed look at the i1Display Pro in another review, but here are the key differences between the two packages:
(Data from X-Rite)
The ColorMunki software is designed to be (and is) simpler to use, but is essentially doing the same thing, if you stick to the simpler options.
The i1Display is much more useful if you need to more accurately match lighting and screen for proofing, and it offers the capability to increase the range of colours used in the profiling process.
The ColorMunki software (deliberately I'd suspect) runs slower, making the i1Display Pro quite a time saver if you had to profile a dozen devices in one go (around an hour by my estimate)
If you were looking for evaluations of how well your monitor is doing and how much its performance has changed over time, then the i1Display Pro is the only choice of the two.
Both seem somewhat limited in display gamma options, offering no arbitrary setting or specialist curves such as L*. The i1Display Pro does offer a Gamma of 3.0 - one though, that I've never come across any use for.
Advances in monitor technologies are covered by this new device (along with the option of updating aspects the device for future display technologies)
As a monitor calibrator, it works effectively, and profiles compare perfectly well with those from the more expensive i1Display Pro. I've no indication that the measurements taken with the ColorMunki Display are in any way inferior to those from an i1Display Pro.
If you were using the old Pantone Huey, then this device is a gigantic leap forward in capabilities and accuracy.
Buying the ColorMunki Display
We make a specific point of not selling hardware, but if you found the review of help please consider buying the ColorMunki Display, or any other items at all, via our links with Amazon or B&H
Buying the i1 Display Pro
The ambient monitoring and 'flare' options work perfectly well, but I can't personally see any circumstances where I'd want to use them.
The concept of my monitor setup changing of its own accord is just not one I'm comfortable with ...YMMV
The software help is effective, but not always comprehensive.
I'd have liked to see more background explanation of why you would use features - or even that help item on the main menu returning any relevant help.
That said, the animated sequences are simple and genuinely helpful.
I can't see many places where at its 'Easy' setting, the software and hardware could be made much more simple to use.
The software installs quite a few background processes, that look for the device being plugged in, or handle ongoing ambient light measurement.
These perform important functions but personally, I found these mildly irksome and removed all the startup items on my Mac - of course this means that I have to fire up an extra bit of software (ColorMunkiDisplayTray) when I want to use the calibrator, but I regard that as a minor issue compared to one less coloured icon along the top of my screen that I can't disable.
Remember that I do quite a lot of testing and experimental work on my machines, so having assorted processes running for an application I might only run every few weeks is just one more potential conflict.
The ColorMunki Display hardware is not yet supported by any third party software, so if you run an open source application like ArgyllCMS, then support may be some time off.
Projector profiling quality
The picture below is a photo of my projector screen, showing one of the before and after images.
To my mind the 'after' projector profile is overly saturated and loses detail in highly saturated areas (do remember that these are photos of a projected image, and you are seeing them on the web)
I repeated this test with an i1Display Pro and an i1Pro spectrophotometer and found that all three were very similar, which is not surprising given the common computer code that is probably being used in the the ColorMunki Display software and i1Profiler.
It so happens that the 'before' version was an experimental test profile that I'd been tweaking to get results optimised for this projector.
The ColorMunki Display profile was still a vast improvement on the native performance of the projector, but in this case I feel it was optimised to 'look good' to an audience rather than for accuracy.
I should point out here that projectors can be very fickle to get the best out of and can take quite a bit of adjustment before profiling to get the best results.
Such precise adjustment is probably only worthwhile in a fixed location with the same screen and room lighting. My projector was last used on a white wall of a client's office in London - hardly optimal.
I was very pleased at the range of functionality offered in what is the lesser of the two specialist monitor profiling packages from X-Rite.
The range of continuous adjustment features (flare and ambient compensation) are interesting, but features I'd just never use.
For the advanced amateur or professional photographer, the ColorMunki Display offers all of the monitor and projector profiling capability they could want.
Monitor profiling is a vital part of improving the quality and consistency of your work - the ColorMunki Display makes an excellent first step.
Article history - first published July 2011
July 2011 - Info about i1Display 2/LT support under Mac OS 10.7
If you've any questions or comments - please let us know, or leave a comment on our blog
Monitor calibrator with support for multiple monitor systems and projectors.
Uses ColorMunki Display software for calibration and profile creation.
Manufacturer details: X-rite
ColorMunki Display includes an end user license agreement (EULA) allowing a single user the ability to install and run unlimited installations of ColorMunki software on any number of computers that they own.
The views in this article represent those of Keith Cooper.
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