Getting my monitors in line

I got super interested in colorimeters a year or so ago. I have had this 2009 Panasonic plasma TV since, well, 2009. And I've always loved it and it's still going strong.

Except it was always kinda enthusiastic about the red.

This particular TV gave you no color controls save the "color" (saturation) and "tint" (hue) controls that were basically holdovers from the CRT era. So I was never really able to mess with it, and I was always kinda scared of the AV experts' warnings about service menus.

But I finally worked up the courage to cross that line a year or two ago once I discovered the local library would loan you a colorimeter.

Long story short, I got bit by the display calibration bug, and spent hours reading forums and using HCFR to audit my TV with test patterns streamed to my Apple TV. And I eventually found that infinitesimal adjustment that got the red where I wanted them.

Lately, I've been beta-testing macOS Sonoma, and one of the new features there is wallpaper that smoothly animates when you lock your screen, then slowly comes to a halt when you unlock it. Silly, I know, but I don't care, I love it.

I did notice, now that my screens were playing beautiful aerial footage, the colors between my monitors were off. And, perhaps worse, the shittier of my monitors (the cheaper 32" Samsung, not the Liquid Retina XDR on my MacBook Pro) was crushing blacks.

So I decided to calibrate all my monitors. This included

  • the built-in display on my M2 MacBook Pro
  • the built-in display on my 2018 Intel MacBook Pro
  • my cheap 32" Samsung
  • the less-cheap-but-still-not-great 27" Dell on my desk at work

I'm not going to go into a lengthy guide for all this, because it exists. Everywhere. And so many people are so much better than this than I am and I hope they don't read this, please don't read this, please.

But I would like to talk about the settings I used, because some of the standard advice left me very unhappy (very dark screens, mostly!)

  1. Build one target and use the same one for everything, based off a photo profile. I applied this target to every monitor.
  2. White point to CIE D65. Pretty uncontroversial.
  3. Luminance to 250 cd/m² (nits). This is a huge deal right here. It took me forever to find a Reddit thread that said this sort of thing was what I actually wanted. So much advice kept saying "oh man, never go over 120" and I actually like to have lights on in my room. 120 was way too dark.
  4. Custom contrast ratio using something that sounded very official—ICC PCS black point. The main alternative was native contrast. Image Science's guide spoke about the possibility of using a custom black point to match multiple monitors, which sounded like something I wanted to try. I liked the results.
  5. Gamma of 2.2. More or less standard. I was afraid I was going to have to mess with this to try to bring out dark details until I discovered the luminance effect, which is what I really needed.
  6. None of the other bits and bobs appeared to be worth changing.

I always have auto-brightness off and no automatic dimming or similar. I did turn True Tone off. (Actually, I kept forgetting it was on and having to recalibrate as a result. Always check your settings, kids.)

The calibration software I used had specific settings for backlighting—mini-LED in the XDR vs. white LED in the others, so I set that appropriately per-calibration. I don't know how important that was. I wasn't about to fuck with it, frankly; it was above my pay grade.

Then, for each monitor, I factory-reset it if possible, then told the calibration software I had brightness controls and (where applicable) contrast controls to try to nail a basic hardware level first. In retrospect, when adjusting brightness, comfortable levels were 200+… that should've been a tip I needed higher luminance, maybe.

I did not do RGB adjustments. Well, I tried it once, but all the screens were pretty much on-target already, and it didn't seem like something I needed.

And several minutes of colors flashing in front of a sensor later, I've got profiles for every monitor. I need to write down their hardware settings yet. After this blog post.

So, is what I did gonna be your thing? Maybe, maybe not. Is it Professional Grade™? Hahahahaha. But I am super happy with it.

It has not turned my cheap Samsung into an XDR display; but the colors match and the details aren't disappearing. I'm pretty happy with this.

Which doesn't mean I won't keep playing with it, because that's what I do. Naturally.

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