Datacolor Spyder2Express
Simon Baker, 8 April 2007

 

 

Twitter: Stay up to date: @TFTCentral |    Forum: Discuss this review  | RSS Feed: Review Alerts

To get the most accurate and reliable colours out of your display it is important to consider that calibration will be necessary. The colour profiles and settings will vary greatly from one monitor to another, and from one PC setup to another. As such, there is no universal setting which is right for a particular screen, and the accuracy of produced colours really can vary significantly. When you receive a new display, the settings are quite often not suited to real use. Brightness is often turned up to the maximum, and colours are normally set at a factory default of 50/50/50 (RGB). Displays often come set up out of the box ready to show off bright and vibrant colours, which many casual users might find attractive. However, anyone who is interested in the accuracy of the produced colours, or working with a properly configured screen will realise that these default settings are not really desirable. There are some software methods available which can help to a degree, and in fact many monitors now come packaged with some form of colour control software (like Samsung's MagicColor and Natural Color Pro for instance). These can be useful to the average user to at least get more comfortable settings for brightness, contrast and the colour levels. However, results can vary and do not ensure truly accurate colour reproduction from the screen.

To achieve proper calibration, users who do colour critical work, or need to match profiles with printers, cameras and scanners, use hardware colorimeter devices. These vary in price considerably and often are a large investment for the average user. The colorimeter we use at TFT Central is the LaCie Blue Eye Pro, a highly regarded and popular professional device based on a hardware tool from Gretag Macbeth. We use this tool in all of our monitor reviews to measure colour accuracy and to calibrate the screens properly. However, this colorimeter is expensive, and most users would probably find it hard to justify the price. There are alternatives available however, and the device reviewed here is one of them. The Datacolor Spyder2Express is well priced at around 50 / $70, and has become quite popular as a result. I was interested to see how reliable the device is in practice and how it compares with the LaCie tool.

  

 


Package and Contents


Above: Spyder2Express device and counter-weight shown

The Spyder2Express came well packaged and accompanied by a software CD (driver and calibration software), and brief fold out quick-install guide. The device itself looks sturdy enough, but is a bit larger than the LaCie device, but a bit lighter. It features a long USB cable and a somewhat hard to move counter-weight. After a bit of force, the counter-weight could be positioned at a suitable point, and once you have moved it, you're probably unlikely to need to reposition much in the future. The back of the device features a detachable plastic section as shown in the images below. This is referred to by ColorVision as a "baffle". Without this section attached, the suction cups are exposed ready to attach to a CRT screen. With the back in place, the colorimeter features a more padded and cushioned area so that the device can be rested comfortably against a more delicate LCD screen. The software was quick and easy to install, and the device was immediately recognised and installed by Windows once connected via USB. No problems there at all.


Rear view of the Spyder device, with baffle removed. Click for larger image

The Software required the serial code to be entered upon its first use, and once into the GUI there were minimal options which needed configuring. Entering the 'preferences' section allows you to select the frequency at which calibration reminders occur and that's about it. The software guides you through the calibration process in a nice user friendly way, with clear instructions about how you should begin, including advice on ambient light and monitor warm up periods. For an LCD, the screen should be left on and given time to warm up for at least an hour before calibration is attempted, or colour accuracy is measured.

 


Default Setting Measurements

I restored my graphics card and display, the Dell 2405FPW, to default factory settings before calibration with the Spyde2Express was carried out. As a control, I will use the LaCie Blue Eye Pro and LaCie's software suite. This will allow me to reliably measure how effective the Spyder2Express calibration was, and measure the display at various intervals using LaCie's DeltaE measurement process.

As a reminder of what we are aiming for with an LCD display:

- The recommended luminance of an LCD screen in normal lighting conditions is 120 cd/m2
- Gamma should be at 2.2 which is the default for computer monitors
- Colour temperature should ideally be 6500k which is termed "daylight"
- Colour accuracy should obviously be as good as possible

At default display and graphic card settings, the results of the testing using the LaCie Blue Eye Pro are shown below:


Dell 2405FPW - Default Settings

 

Default Settings

Brightness (cd/m2)

192

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.27

Contrast Ratio

711:1


As you can see, gamma and luminance were quite a way off at 1.8 and 192 cd/m2 respectively. Colour temperature was not quite right, being too "cold" at 6138k.
The DeltaE graph is on the right hand side, and is designed to show the difference between the desired colours and those actually shown by the monitor. This is represented by the bars for each colour, with lower bars being preferable. The lower the DeltaE reading (shown along the Y-axis), the better, in terms of colour accuracy. LaCie describe the DeltaE readings as:

  • If DeltaE >3, the color displayed is significantly different from the theoretical one, meaning that the difference will be perceptible to the viewer.

  • If DeltaE <2, LaCie considers the calibration a success; there remains a slight difference, but it is barely undetectable.

  • If DeltaE < 1, the color fidelity is excellent.

At default settings, the Dell 2405FPW showed an average DeltaE reading of 3.8, and so colours were overall significantly different to those desired. Black depth was not too bad at 0.27 cd/m2, and this gave a useable contrast ratio of 711:1. In pratice the colours did look a little dull and washed out, and brightness was too high. Obviously for many users, this is probably an acceptable configuration, but for any colour critcal work this would not be acceptable.

I also did the same with the Viewsonic VX2245WM monitor which I currently have for testing, again results at default settings:


Viewsonic VX2245WM - Default Settings

 

Default Settings

Brightness (cd/m2)

238

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.40

Contrast Ratio

595:1

As with the Dell screen, the VX2245WM was poor at default settings, with excessive luminance (238 cd/m2) and poorly adjusted gamma (1.7). DeltaE was 5.1 on average, certainly not accurate enough for any colour work. In practice the screen felt far too bright (default monitor brightness in the OSD was 100%) and the colours felt washed out as a result. This screen clearly needed some degree of calibration before use.

Let's see how the Spyder2Express faired in calibration...


Calibration Process


Software Stage 1 showing selection of user controls via the monitor. Click for larger image

The software package guides you through the steps of calibration. First of all you are asked which controls are available via your display. Since contrast adjustment is not available on the 2405FPW while using DVI, I have selected just "brightness" as a configurable option. Pop up boxes like that shown often appear to help explain the options and what you are looking to achieve. You are warned before calibration begins that the "baffle" should be attached for LCD displays.


Software stage telling user to connect the baffle. Click for larger image

After choosing these few options, the software asks you to connect and position the hardware device. This needs to be done quite carefully on an LCD since the edge of the device are plastic and not really protected by any foam or cushioning. Be careful positioning the device on the screen evenly to avoid scratching the coating.


Spyder device attached to the screen and running software calibration suite

The software then measures the screen in several stages, beginning with black depth, then progressing through red, green, blue and grey shades, before measuring the colour temperature at the end. This measurement stage takes around 5 minutes to complete.


Final software stage informing user that the ICC profile is created and saved

You are then told that calibration is complete, and an ICC profile is automatically created, saved and set as the default for the monitor. You're not given a calibration report of any measurement of DeltaE values unfortunately, but this kind of detail probably couldn't be expected from a device at this price range anyway. You are presented with a before and after image allowing you to click "switch" to see the difference that has been made in colours and brightness / contrast. Interestingly at no point was the monitor itself adjusted via the controls or OSD, rather the Spyder2Express changes the settings and appearance of the image purely by software and via an ICC profile and adjustments made to the graphics card's look up table (LUT). At the final stage of the software you are informed the display is now calibrated and white point and gamma have been adjusted accordingly. There were not any options in the software to determine what settings you were aiming for however, so I was interested to see whether the desired 120 cd/m2 luminance, 2.2 gamma and 6500k colour temperature were achieved.
 


Before and after image provided to observe calibration success

The Results

Dell 2405FPW - In practice, the colours looked better than at default settings, and appeared nice and vibrant. Brightness was more comfortable and the temperature felt considerably "warmer" than before. However, I did feel that perhaps this was a little too vibrant and perhaps that colour accuracy might have been a little compromised to achieve a more vibrant and "friendly" appearance to the colours.

Viewsonic VX2245WM - The colours looked much better and more even after the automated calibration from the Spyder2Express. The screen felt more comfortable to the eye and vibrancy was boosted across the colours. To the eye, there certainly looked a decent improvement.

 


After Calibration

Testing the new settings with the LaCie Blue Eye Pro and their software produced the following results:


Dell 2405FPW -
Spyder2Express Calibrated

 

 

Spyder2Express Calibrated

Brightness (cd/m2)

204

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.26

Contrast Ratio

785:1

Gamma was adjusted from 1.8 to 2.5, but still remained a 14% deviation from the desired 2.2 level. Gamma affects middle tones; it has no effect on black or white. If gamma is set too high, middle tones appear too dark. Conversely, if it's set too low, middle tones appear too light. A display gamma of 2.2 is the standard for the Windows operating system and the Internet-standard sRGB color space. The Spyder2Express seemed to have adjusted the gamma too far which was a shame. Colour temperature was also adjusted further away from the desired 6500k setting to 6097k despite the monitor feeling "warmer" in its colour tones. Lumincance was also increased from 192 cd/m2 to 204 cd/m2, again, too far away from the desired 120 cd/m2 level and probably uncomfortable for use in normal lighting conditions. You can always change the monitors brightness setting however (since you are not asked to during calibration) and since many screens come at 100% brightness by default, this is probably necessary in most cases. The Dell 2405FPW was set at 50% brightness by default.

DeltaE values remained too high as well, with an average value of 3.4 and a maximum of 7.2. There was only a slight improvement in colour accuracy overall (average DeltaE was now 3.4 instead of 3.8) as recorded by the LaCie tool. However, the colours were more even, with less difference between requested and desired shades in some tones, and more in others. Across the DeltaE graph there was a more even pattern, and in practice the screen now looked better to the eye. Black depth was improved a little to 0.26 cd/m2, and useable contrast ratio was also increased to 785:1.
 

And the Viewsonic VX2245WM...


Viewsonic VX2245WM -
Spyder2Express Calibrated

 

Spyder2Express Calibrated

Brightness (cd/m2)

248

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.37

Contrast Ratio

670:1

Again the screen showed a more even colour variation and with this screen, quite a decent improvement in colour reproduction over all. DeltaE was reduced on average from 5.1 to 2.3 and colours displayed were now only slightly different from those requested. LaCie would consider this calibration a success. Gamma was adjusted well from 1.7 to 2.3 and colour temperature was tweaked a little from 6357k to 6412k, now only being 1% away from the desired 6500k. Brightness remained too high, and was actually increased a little to 248 cd/m2. Again, we were not asked to change anything in the monitor OSD, and so for this model, the brightness setting remained at 100%. Black depth was improved a little from 0.4 to 0.37 cd/m2 and contrast ratio was therefore improved to 670:1. Overall, colours looked much nicer to the eye, and were more vibrant and even. The Spyder2Express performed quite admirably with the VX2245WM, and helped improve colour accuracy and make the colour reproduction more even across the range. It wasn't perfect, but I felt the Spyder made a good job and considering the process was all automatic, I was quite impressed.

 


LaCie Calibration

To show what can be achieved with high end colorimeter calibration I hooked up the LaCie Blue Eye Pro and ran through their calibration software. The results were far more impressive:


Dell 2405FPW -
LaCie Calibrated

 

LaCie Blue Eye Pro Calibrated

Brightness (cd/m2)

120

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.23

Contrast Ratio

522:1

Gamma, colour temperature and luminance were now all pretty much spot on, and the screen felt much more comfortable to the eye at this reduced brightness. DeltaE was on average now 0.6 with a maximum of only 1.8. This was a real improvement over default settings and also quite a vast improvement on those calibrated using the Spyder. Black depth was improved as well to 0.23 cd/m2, linked largely to the now lower luminance value. To the eye, you could see an improvement and colours looked even and well represented. The colours felt a little less "cartoony" and vibrant than they had before with the Spyder calibrated profile, which is most probably where the colour accuracy difference comes from.


Viewsonic VX2245WM -
LaCie Calibrated

 

 

LaCie Blue Eye Pro Calibrated

Brightness (cd/m2)

120

Black Point (cd/m2)

0.26

Contrast Ratio

462:1

Again, colour accuracy was improved to very impressive levels using the LaCie tool. Even though the VX2245WM is based on a TN Film panel, colour accuracy was excellent, with a DeltaE average of 0.7. Gamma, colour temperature and luminance were all pretty much spot on and black depth was now improved as well from 0.37 to 0.26 cd/m2. Again, the LaCie Blue Eye Pro showed the quality of calibration possible with a high end colorimeter.

 


Conclusion

  

The Spyder2Express is certainly a well priced device and very easy to use. Installing the software was easy and the calibration process was all automated and basic to carry out, albeit perhaps a little longer than I would have liked. However, this really could be used by anybody and no complicated changes were required manually. The device did manage to improve the colours of the screen, with a more even colour calibration and a marked improvement in how they were perceived to the eye. Colours looked bright and vibrant and would probably be attractive for the majority of average users. This is often how screens come set up by default, with true accuracy sacrificed for "pretty" and "friendly" colour schemes. I was quite impressed with this result however as it helped configure the screen to a comfortable setting and improved the appearance of colours in normal use. Testing more thoroughly with the LaCie Blue Eye Pro revealed that colour accuracy was not perfect when calibrated with the Spyder, and certainly no match for the enhanced calibration techniques of the Gretag-made device. If you need to do colour critical work then I would suggest investing in something more expensive than the Spyder, but this is probably common sense anyway. For an average user, the Spyder might be a nice investment to help you set up your screens and other devices to a comfortable level, but remember that real accuracy is still not achievable without more advanced methods.

Links:
    Datacolor.com
    Computers Unlimited (UK distributor)

 

 

Back to Top

 

Sections
______
 

Reviews

Articles

News

Forum

Buying Support

___________

 

TFT Selector

Specifications Explained

Terms and Functions

Technologies

Frequently Asked Questions

Resources

_______

 

Panel Search Tool
Settings and ICC Profiles Database

Monitor Panel Parts Database

Laptop Panel Parts Database

Links

About

_____

 

Contact

Donations

Store

Advertise

 


    Copyright, TFT Central.                 Privacy Policy and Cookies

 

     Search TFT Central