The monitor is cheap as chips of course, connected via a VGA connector. But for the money, it offers very decent performance. To really stretch its legs, I decided to try to colour calibrate it, using my lab X-Rite i1Pro calibrated spectrophotometer. This is basically a reference-quality tool for measuring light, colour, reflection and so forth, and it comes in a kit costing thousands of pounds, together with all the mounts and adapters for putting the device onto screens, measuring paper or cloth, or even how a projector is working.
Calibrating the screen
LaCie's blue eye pro: at $399 it's one of the cheaper monitor calibrators on the market
While I’m a big fan of the professional X-Rite calibrator hardware, its software is shaky (to put it politely). Finding Windows 7 64-bit support is difficult and the firm doesn’t update its software fast enough for my liking – so I was pleased to hear about LaCie’s Blue Eye Pro
Fire it up, run the appropriate device white-level calibration, then mount the calibrator onto the front of the screen. You can either run a test process that tells you how far out your screen is, or do a full calibration run, which generates the appropriate ICC profile file. This is then loaded into the screen driver, and your graphics card and screen combination will be as good as that hardware is ever going to manage.
Measuring the data
The software outputs a PDF file showing all the measurement data, so you can fiddle to your heart’s content. Overall, this is a great piece of software, which seems to be regularly updated. It works fine with a range of spectrophotometric analysers, and the LaCie bundle costs only a few hundred pounds. If you’re serious about colour then you really need to have something like this.
Of course, nothing can beat the performance of a top-end professional-grade screen, and my favourite item in this category is the 30in Eizo model. You can tell these boxes are on a different plane of performance because their calibration capabilities let you adjust the values stored on the screen itself, rather than just fiddling with the values in the Windows driver on the graphics card.
This is a whole different level of pro-performance, and it comes with a price tag to match, but I see that Eizo is now producing monitors that have calibrator devices built into the screen itself. You can even set it up to calibrate itself at 3am daily if you wish.
Just remember that out of the box monitors are often far from correct in their colour reproduction, and that you need the tools to help establish a trustworthy baseline. If you’re carrying out only basic photo editing tasks, you might well decide that this isn’t necessary for your work, but if you’re tempted to rebalance the colour of a photo, ask yourself the question: “what colour is it really?”