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Spyder4TV HD review
TV and video display calibration
The Spyder4TV HD from Datacolor allows you to precisely adjust the display of your TV, video monitor or home cinema systems (normal and HD).
It uses the same basic sensor that we've looked at for calibration of computer monitors for precise control over colours and brightness - an essential step for any serious photographer.
In this review, Keith Cooper is looking at just how this process works for a TV display.
The examples shown here are with the sensor plugged into his Apple laptop computer, but the software generally works in exactly the same way on Windows PC machines. The system works with LCD, LED, Plasma, OLED, CRT and Front projectors.
Looking at a picture on your TV, how do you know that the colour green you are seeing is the one intended by the programme maker?
Is 'pure' white on your screen a reliable or accurate representation of white? Is it too warm (yellowish) or too cool (bluish).
Having your TV or home cinema system set up correctly should enhance your viewing experience. If you're going to the trouble of setting up a 'home theatre', then it's definitely worth getting the best from your display.
There are some very expensive bits of kit around that directly measure and adjust some TV display systems, but in general they are expensive and specialist devices.
Datacolor, with the Spyder4 TV/HD have produced a simple device and software that allows you to make many measurements yourself, using a professional grade colorimeter, that is also widely used in professional photographic and design studios to calibrate computer monitors.
Are you looking to get more involved with video production? Well, a decently set up reference monitor really helps in ensuring that your output will look its best on other displays.
Whilst editing on a computer with a calibrated monitor is important, it still helps to be able to see your output on a 'real TV' monitor.
The test disks alone would be of use, if you were showing a video and wanted to be sure that the monitor was set up correctly.
The device is supplied in a display pack and includes:
The top of the unit has a sensor for measuring ambient light levels, whilst the counterweight can be slid along the cable to balance the weight of the sensor if using it without the cord mounting.
The software installs easily from the supplied CD and has a basic web activation system which provides you with an activation key, linked to the sensor serial number.
This is the number you should use if you install the software on another computer.
Note that this does not restrict you in using the sensor with just one computer.
The installer checked for updates before running, so it was the latest software update I first installed.
The colorimeter (sensor) has padded feet, so as not to mark screens in any way
I tested the Spyder4TV/HD with the measuring device connected to my MacBook Pro.
The device is attached to your TV display or video monitor with the attachment cover - the springy cords run through the holes in the cover.
The cords loop over the corners of your TV.
You can see the measurement setup below, with the sensor plugged into my laptop.
A closer view, taken as I'm just sorting out the right adjustment controls (note the dot moire pattern, which is just an artefact from my camera)
The TV settings I'll be altering during the calibration process.
I've started up the measurement software on my laptop...
In the screenshot below, the software is showing a checklist for what I'll need to do.
I've now put the correct disk into my player (a PAL DVD in this instance) and selected play.
The DVD menu is subsequently used to select the appropriate patterns for the software/sensor to measure on the computer.
Remember that there is no direct connection between the TV and computer, so it's up to you to let the computer know when the correct pattern is set up and playing.
This includes telling the software what sort of TV or display you are using.
At any point you can select the help option in the software and find out more details about what is happening and why you are doing it.
I've now added some info about the TV - this information makes it easier to come back to previous setups, if you want to repeat the process.
I should at this point mention that the TV is a 42" plasma display - standard definition, dating from a few years ago - it predates HDMI sockets...
There are a number of adjustments I can make on the TV, but it suffers from adjustment sliders that have no numeric values. I'm leaving the range at 0 to 100 and guestimating the values.
Do read the help for this operation, since it covers many different settings types (and mine is the worst for accuracy)
My TV doesn't have a tint control, so I've de-selected this option.
There is however the option to change setting names to match your TV. Mine is warm/neutral/cool rather than the default low/medium/high
Once I'd set things up, I started the adjustment process - immediately I'm warned to reduce ambient light levels.
I'll come back to this, but suffice to say I don't usually watch TV in the dark.
The measurement process consists of a series of measurements of test patterns.
After measuring the initial starting setup, the software moves on to other settings
Here's the measurement device during one test
Afterwards I need to adjust the TV settings.
The software will tell you what to change and by how much.
Do make sure that the adjustment menu is cleared before measuring the screen - the screen below did not give a good measurement (but you can step back in the sequence to repeat measurements).
The adjustments for my own TV used just the first four patterns.
With each pattern, you end up making several (up to 7) different measurements.
The sensor isn't touched at all during the process.
At the end of each sub-set of measurements, an 'optimum' value is presented.
You can get a graph too - the precise meaning of this is not entirely clear, but if you see any sharp kinks in the lines, it's possibly indicating that you might have made a mistake in the screen settings or measuring process.
Finally, all is done...
You are presented with an optimal set of settings for your particular TV.
It's worth printing out the report and saving the settings (particularly if other people are likely to alter anything).
Now you can look at some before and after images.
These are on the DVD
The blacks are a little too black here (remember though that this is a photo of a TV screen)
The white settings are fine though
The colour was too intense though.
It seems that my TV suffers from 'Red Push' - once I'd got over the shock of all those teeth, I was able to reduce the colour to an acceptable level.
The DVDs contain a whole load more test patterns that may be of use in setting up your system.
I looked at the 'sharpness' tool and found that I'd got things set up a little soft for best results.
The package worked well, given the age of the TV I tested it with, and left me with a TV noticeably better looking than before.
However, as someone who tests a lot of colour management equipment, used in professional photography, the whole process felt rather imprecise.
That's because I'm forgetting that this is a TV I'm setting up (and an oldish one at that) and not some system for precise colour editing ;-)
Buying the Spyder4 TV HD
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When I view the procedures in the right context, I realise that it's actually a very well thought out approach to a rather tricky thing to do well.
I should have remembered the times as a student that I used to service and repair colour televisions, as a part time job, where everything was done using insulated screwdrivers, poking around in the back of TVs that had tens of thousands of volts in all too easily accessible locations.
If I'm viewing TV through a computer system, then I can directly calibrate my screen with a device such as the Spyder4Pro, which can set everything up. With a normal TV, there is no way to do this, so I need the test patterns on DVD.
I mentioned that the software picked up on ambient light in the room when I first started. The settings that the package suggested were fine (once I'd turned down the colour) but only in a darkened room (for the brightness or black level setting).
It so happens that I rarely ever watch this TV in the dark, so I had to bump up the brightness setting (the blacks test image helped here) so that I could see detail in shadows.
This review first published in April 2012
If you've any questions or comments - you can discuss this article in its Google+ thread
TV calibrator with support for different display types and projectors.
Manufacturer details: Datacolor
Comparison of calibration options (from Datacolor)
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