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Ask any imaging professional or enthusiast about their digital imaging workflow and the words “colour calibration” will undoubtedly crop up in the conversation. However, ask a number of these people to describe exactly what it is that they do and I can pretty much guarantee their methods will all differ in a number of ways, apart from one fundamental goal – the desire to bring all of their imaging hardware and software together under a unified colour-matched umbrella.
Now, how to do this properly has been a long-running and continuing debate that started ever since colour film and colour displays were brought to market. How is colour perceived? Does an output device produce a comparable image to the input device? Does the software accurately handle colour? Does the final image look like the original scene? These are the type of questions that worry users, especially those in the pre-press sector or those fully versed in digital photography or graphic design and animation.
Whether you fall into one of the aforementioned job descriptions or if you simply like to produce your own pictures at home on your printer, there is one component of the digital imaging workflow that is generally regarded as the most important piece of hardware – the monitor. This is the device you use to evaluate those pictures you’ve captured from your scanner or digital camera and in my opinion it’s the first device you should calibrate.
If I tell you the number of times I‘ve been asked the question, “Why do my prints look nothing like the images on my monitor”, then you’ll understand why I believe monitor calibration to be such an important task. If you can’t place any faith in the colours it reproduces there’s basically no point in conducting any colour calibration to the rest of the components in your imaging setup.
In the past (and to this day I might add), many monitor manufacturers overlook calibration altogether and basically leave the user to calibrate the monitor themselves whether it be a CRT or LCD. This is why a number of third party companies have stepped in and have produced hardware or software packages that allow you to calibrate your monitor by creating ICC (International Colour Consortium) profiles that are specific to the actual display you are using. These are then employed by the operating system at start-up (Mac OS), or are made available when ICC aware software applications (Photoshop, etc) are fired up. Such examples are Adobe’s Gamma utility that comes with the companies Photoshop software or the various photo sensors, colourimeters, and spectral photometers that are available that actually take measurements directly from the monitors screen.
However some monitor manufacturers are fully aware of how important their displays are in the world of image editing, and consequently they’ve taken the proverbial bull by its horns and seriously entered the colour management market.
One such company is NEC/Mitsubishi that back in September 2004 announced a new range of LCD monitors that are geared towards colour critical applications. All members of this range fall under the company’s sub-brand “SpectraView” and the first to market are the 19in SpectraView 1980 which I have here, and the 21in SpectraView 2180. These will be followed by the launch of a 21in LED backlight version (the SpectraView 2180WG) in 2005, which the company claims will have the widest colour gamut in the history of flat panel displays. For now though, let’s take a closer look at the SpectraView 1980.
First of all, the SpectraView 1980 is actually an S-IPS (In Plane Switching) TFT MultiSync 1980SXi that has undergone the SpectraView treatment (the aspects of which I’ll explain later). Many of our readers will also instantly recognise NEC/Mitsubishi’s angular design that we saw in the both the 2080UX+ and the 2180UX models we’ve reviewed. Personally, I like the overall industrial look of these monitors but I know that some will prefer monitors with smoother lines. Of course, it’s largely down to personal preference, but what you can’t argue with is the range of adjustability that these monitors offer. A spring-assisted height adjustable range of 130mm will make sure that all users will find a comfortable eye-level to work with, whereas a swivelling base that can almost complete a 360 degree turn will find favour with those that love to show the information on their screens to others seated around them. In addition, there’s the neat ball and socket arrangement between the neck and the back of the panel casing that allows for a full tilting arc of 30 degrees, plus 90 degrees worth of rotation for a portrait view.