The computer monitor is the most important component in the whole process of creating graphics, photo or video, because this is where the camera output meets the processing for online publishing or print. For this reason alone, no self-respecting enthusiast or professional would leave display color management to chance. The common notion that expensive computer screens are 'factory calibrated' and thus do not require further calibration is utter garbage. The display manufacturer is able to control the qualities of their products and can guarantee that display parameters such as color reproduction accuracy or color uniformity fall within narrow bound (the factory calibration report you're getting is simply a QC test protocol). The calibration of a computer monitor is a process that involves the computer, the video card and the settings of various display parameters (brightness, contrast, hue, etc.) and must be regularly repeated because even the best equipment drifts off with time.
Datacolor and X-Rite are the only two manufacturers in the world that presently offer affordable and easy to use display color calibration solutions for the home and office. Both companies have three product tiers that can be thought of as basic, advanced and top of the line. It is important to know that the technical qualities of the products are nearly or completely identical among all tiers. The differences come from their intended use:
- Basic class calibrators (ColorMunki Smile and Spyder Express) come with extremely simplified wizard-based software that performs the whole calibration automatically. The user is not expected to have any knowledge of color management in order to achieve satisfactory results.
- Advanced class calibrators (ColorMunki Display and Spyder Pro) provide a level of control over the creation of the color profile and can also evaluate the qualities of the monitor being calibrated. In return, they require a degree of familiarity with the color adjustment process, but they also have a fully automatic mode like their less expensive brethren.
- The top of the line calibrators (i1Display Pro and Spyder Elite) are designed to meet all needs of the different types of professionals who might be using them. Taking advantage of their full capabilities requires solid knowledge of color management but they also have less complicated, faster modes for these times when you are in a hurry to get the job done.
There is one fundamental difference between the concepts of Datacolor and X-Rite that you should take into account when choosing the best product for your own needs.
All series Spyder5 display calibrators are identical in terms of hardware. They use the same software, but the advanced functions are only accessible with the more expensive units. This allows you to purchase the product that meets your current needs and upgrade to a higher version only when required in the future. The upgrade path is easy to follow as you get to keep your device and use the same application software you're already familiar with.
The X-Rite products are the opposite: each product tier is a combination of a different hardware component and different software and there does not exist an upgrade path different than selling your old equipment and buying the new one. In fairness however it must be said that the feature set of each product tier is clearly defined:
- If you are an enthusiast on a tight budget and just want your monitor calibrated, get a ColorMunki Smile, be happy and get on with your life.
- If you are a creative professional but don't want to bother learning how color management works, get the ColorMunki Display and achieve professional results without expending any efforts.
- If you are a technical or imaging professional who is knowledgeable about display color calibration, just buy the i1Display Pro like the rest of us.
The choice of a display calibrator that meets your personal needs may look tough but it does not have to be. If in doubt, get in touch with us and we will recommend the best solutino based on your workflow and expectations.