Spyder4TV HD Tri-Stim Colorimeter and Software Calibration Package

Can Datacolor's inexpensive calibration suite deliver a perfect picture?

by hodg100
Home AV Review

5

Recommended
Spyder4TV HD Tri-Stim Colorimeter and Software Calibration Package
SRP: £100.00

Introduction

Clearly image fidelity is something we take very seriously here at AVForums. Put simply, there’s wrong and there’s right when it comes to the presentation of film and television. Regular readers of our TV and Projector reviews will have the seen the lengths to which we go to ensure the displays are as close to industry standards as is possible. We’ve even just launched our PicturePerfect campaign, intended to get the nation watching better pictures by means of making a few simple adjustments. So when datacolor got in touch to offer us the opportunity to review their new Spyder 4TV HD colorimeter and software package, the timing could not have been more perfect – we even forgave them for the missing vowel in the word colour.

The Spyder 4TV HD package carries a suggested retail price of around £100 and when you compare that to the amount our testing equipment and software costs, it’s a very insignificant sum. Of course, if it doesn’t improve on the picture you already have, then it’s money wasted that could have been spent elsewhere, such as on a basic set-up disc like DVE or Spears and Munsil. That said, the package is really in two parts, the Spyder 4TV HD Colorimeter, itself, along with accompanying software meaning that if the software is flawed, at least you will have a meter to utilise in other software packages, including Calman, Chromapure and Color HCFR. For the purposes of comparison we will be using our usual Klein K-10 colorimeter along with the Calman 4 Pro calibration software. Let’s see if we can get Picture Perfect for less than a ton?

Box Contents and Set Up

The Spyder 4TV HD comes neatly packaged along with 4 discs, 2 securing cords, the ‘SpyderWeb’ shell - used for cradling the meter snugly against the TVs screen – and a Quick Start Guide. The discs comprise of test patterns in PAL, NTSC and Blu-ray format along with the set-up disc that works for Mac and Windows. The meter, itself, is very lightweight but feels well-engineered and features 3 soft ‘feet’ to avoid scratching the front of your display.

To get started, one simply needs to install the set up disc in the computer, attach the meter and then run through a basic wizard where the drivers and software are then installed. That’s it, you’re then ready to go. Attaching the meter securely, and snuggly, to the front of the display might not prove so simple however and the included SpyderWeb cradle and bungee-like securing cords take some working out, especially as the included instructions on securement are quite sparse. The attached USB lead is 3 metres in length, which is quite generous, and features a slide-able counterweight to ensure the sensors are flush to the screen – you don’t want stray light getting in and upsetting the readings! We should probably whisper it but we got quite frustrated with tethering and untethering the Spyder 4 during the review process and found a combination of the counterweight and some blu-tac, attaching the USB lead to the top of the TV bezel, sufficient for dependable readings.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

For the purposes of the review – and because most of our viewing is HD these days – we chose to use the Blu-ray test pattern disc fed in to a Samsung BD-E8500 that we’d verified as not messing with the video signal when in its Standard picture mode. At this initial stage, the software helpfully gives you a checklist of items you should have to hand before beginning the process, which is a particularly good idea for those new to this kind of thing as it can be quite daunting, at first. However, there is one fundamental mistake in the checklist where it asks you to ensure you have selected the Standard Picture Mode of your TV, over Dynamic, Cinema, Sports etc. This is contrary to the advice we give with the PicturePerfect campaign, where we suggest Cinema, as we know that it will invariably give you a better out of the box picture than the other modes mentioned.

Not only that, all that extraneous processing you probably don’t need is far more likely to have been automatically disabled by selecting Cinema/Movie than in the Standard/Normal modes. In our example here, the TV’s Standard mode had Dynamic Contrast and Edge Enhancement enabled by default – neither of which are desirable for accurate pictures. We’d advise anyone reading this review that goes on to purchase the Spyder 4 to ignore the datacolor guidance and select your TV’s Movie/Cinema/Theatre/Hollywood/THX or ISF modes here! Following that you are asked to enter the display type (from CRT, LED/LCD, Plasma, RPTV and Front Projector) and it’s important you get that right as it will impact on the way the device measures the display.

Calibration Process

After completing those initial steps, detailed above, you’ll be asked to note down your current settings for Brightness, Contrast, Colour, Tint (Hue) and Colour Temperature Pre-set as well as the range of those adjustments in your display. Whilst the first four of those should be relatively easy to find, the colour temperature setting is often hidden away in a sub-menu of the display and we feel it would be helpful if the software offered some guidance on this. Furthermore, once you have located your colour temp options, it’s important to make sure you edit the Colour Temperature options built into the software to match those of your display, to avoid complications further down the line. We chose to perform the testing on a Samsung LE32C530 - as we felt it a better match for the target audience of the package than a top-end set – and its Colour Tone (read temperature) options are Cool, Normal, Warm1 and Warm2 against the in-built Low, Normal and High options.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

Once you’re satisfied the Spyder 4 is correctly in position, the software then asks for you to conduct some measurements for its ‘before’ analysis which simply comprises of taking readings of a full screen black pattern and a windowed 100% white pattern. The usual procedure is to use full screen patterns for LCD but windows for plasma and we’d suggest to datacolor that it would be a better approach to have distinct patterns for the different technologies. Now the initial readings have been taken, the Spyder HD software begins to guide you through a series of adjustments, beginning with contrast.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

The software will ask you to take 7 contrast readings at 0 and 100% and, various points in between, as it attempts to calculate the most accurate setting for your display but we’re not sure those calculations are very sound. The software determined that a setting of 48 was appropriate for the display, yet our prior calibration with high PLUGE patterns, the Klein meter and Calman software indicated double that, at 96, was the correct setting to be seeing all the way up to peak white without clipping or discolouration. Effectively, the Spyder software had halved the dynamic range of our TV but, being as we wanted to approach this from the point of view of a novice, we left ‘as was’ and moved on to the next adjustment.

Provided you have correctly identified and edited the Colour Temperature options at the checklist stage, the software will now ask you to measure the corresponding pre-sets in your display to identify the most accurate and we’re happy to report the Spyder 4 correctly chose the Warm 2 colour ‘tone’ of the Samsung with no difficulties.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

The Brightness control of your TV is misleadingly labelled, it’s actually the control of the black level in the display. Without blinding anyone with science, the industry standard for video black is level 16, on a scale of 0-255, where 235 is reference white and 255 peak white. Information below level 16 is known as blacker than black and above 235, whiter than white. We certainly don’t want to see the information below level 16, as it can contain noise generated by the camera, the material was shot by, as well as detail the director didn’t want you to see, so it’s probably the most important control to get right in your display.

The conventional method of setting brightness is by using a low PLUGE pattern where bars just above and below reference black are placed and the user/calibrator adjust the brightness control until the bars below black are invisible and the bars above black, just discernible in the lighting conditions of the room. Using a meter to set Brightness isn’t really a sound method and we’d suggest datacolor include a pluge pattern for this purpose, going forwards. That said, the software and meter were only one click out, from correct, but it would have been better by PLUGE. The same could be said of Contrast, to be honest.

The wizard will then take you through a very similar process, in essence, to adjust Colour and Tint. Strictly speaking Tint – sometimes labelled Hue on a display – is an unnecessary concession to the, US-centric, standard definition, NTSC system that historically suffered colour issues necessitating user adjustment in the home to get things looking right, from one broadcast to the next. However we will sometimes tweak it if our secondary colours are a long way off and it doesn’t bring the primary’s too far out in lieu of a proper Colour Management System.

To set colour luminance with the Spyder 4TV HD is similar to methods used in other set-up discs, only the blue filter worn over the eyes to set the blue on a colour bars pattern to match the luminance of white, is replaced by the hopefully more accurate method of measurement by a specialist device. This is done by means of measuring a white window on a blue background, alternating with a blue window on a white background with the colour slider of the TV at varying settings. To set Tint is exactly the same process only with alternating cyan and magenta patterns and measurements taken with the Tint slider in different positions.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

There are some other patterns included on the disc, including 20%, 50% and 80% grey patterns for more advanced users to attempt to calibrate white balance and there’s a very good sharpness pattern for setting, well, Sharpness, that we think should have perhaps been included in the wizard but, in reality, anybody wanting to take calibration further will need a more bountiful supply of patterns. With the process complete, as per datacolor’s explicit instructions, we move on to analysing both the results of the software and reliability of the meter.

Results – Software

Greyscale and Gamma

We’ll start here by comparing the out-of-the-box default settings of the C530 against what the set up process managed to achieve, beginning with the all-important greyscale and gamma results.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

The Samsung, by default, ships in Dynamic picture mode which results in far too much blue energy in the greyscale and pictures look bleached as a result. As the chart on the right illustrates, simply changing the Colour Tone to Warm2 has resulted in reducing Delta Errors from the 11-20 range down to an average of around 4.5. Our eyes can perceive tints to the neutrality at around an error level of 3 and most importantly, the mid-scale – where most of our viewing is – is tracking nicely with most errors only just above that threshold. It’s not perfect and the gamma is tracking too low near black meaning we’re seeing too much detail in the dark portions of the image. There’s potentially two reasons for that - first, the Dynamic Contrast setting is on and, secondly, we can’t be sure that such an inexpensive meter is accurate at such low luminance levels. We will verify both possibilities further down the page.

So it’s a win here, of sorts, although we could potentially have achieved something similar by following our Picture Perfect campaign which has no need for measuring equipment. Let’s see how the Spyder 4 compared to just a basic set-up involving selecting the correct picture mode and colour temperature:

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

The good news for datacolor is that it’s another victory for the Spyder, at least on paper. The major drawback of the images the Spyder 4 tuned TV is producing is that it lacks the dynamic range of the basic setup. With a contrast setting of just 48, against 95 at default in Movie mode, it simply lacks the punch and dynamism. In fairness, Contrast is set a little too high in Movie, as we can see from the spike in the gamma where both the blue and red channels are running out of energy (clipping) but it would only take a few clicks back to rectify that. There’s also the fact Edge Enhancement is on by default in the Standard mode the Wizard suggested so our eyes tell us we’d have been better off simply making some very basic adjustments. Datacolor need to rethink the contrast calculations in the software or consider including some PLUGE patterns to set Brightness and Contrast. Had we used patterns in our basic set-up, the gap would have been a fair amount wider.

Colour

Moving on to the colour reproduction, we obtained these measurements for out-of-the-box vs Spyder 4TV HD derived:

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

As we can see from the first chart, the OOTB Dynamic Mode is pushing the luminance of all the colours, bar yellow, to extremes resulting in a very garish palette. Green is also heavily over-saturated and the Cyan and Magenta secondary colours are a long way off hue. We can immediately see improvements in the Spyder adjusted charts on the right. It’s not perfect, by any means, red is under-saturated and too bright and is making Magenta over-illuminated with it (Magenta is a mix of Red and Blue) but the software has done a very good job in dragging Magenta and Cyan more on hue and generally improved the crucial luminance results – our eyes are more capable of seeing luminance errors far easier than they are problems with hue and saturation. So it's a win for Spyder but let's see what simply changing to the Movie mode would have meant.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

It’s a very close run thing, in actual fact. The default Colour ‘Space’ setting of the Movie Mode is Auto against the Native found in the other modes, accounting for the disparity in the charts. Obviously it’s a little bit more restrained than the Native space, in terms of luminance particularly, but on the downside, red is again far too bright and under-saturated resulting in some pallid skin-tones. On balance, it’s a win for the basic set-up but only narrowly and it’s a little ironic given the sounder method the Spyder 4 HD used compared to its setting of greyscale and gamma. Perhaps datacolor needs to provide suggestions, per manufacturer, for Colour Space/Gamut options.

Results – Colorimeter

Greyscale and Gamma

For the purposes of this exercise, it’s only really necessary to compare the relative measurements of the Spyder 4 against those of the Klein K-10. Beginning with the greyscale and gamma once again.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

As we can see, the very inexpensive Spyder 4 has done very well, considering it’s about 1.60th the cost of the K-10. The Spyder is under-measuring the green channel and clearly has some issues with measuring luminance in the darker portions of the greyscale but we can confidently say a greyscale calibration using only the Spyder would have resulted in a far more accurate picture than the default settings delivered. It’s certainly not good enough for the professional calibrator but should be good enough for the amateur ‘dabblers’ out there.

Colour

There are two types of colorimeter, Tri-Stim devices and Spectrophotometers. As the nomenclature might imply, Tri-Stim’s measure three colours - Red/Green/Blue- whilst Spectro’s will measure a much wider range of colours, with some taking over 900 measurements of the colour spectrum. Both meters fall in to the Tri-Stim category but the K-10 is known to have excellent colour accuracy for a device of that sort.

Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD
Datacolor Spyder 4TV HD

As with the greyscale comparison, the Spyder’s biggest problem is in measuring green accurately but it has actually performed extremely creditably indeed so, again, there’s no doubt a full calibration using the datacolor device would have resulted in noticeable improvements to colour fidelity.

Verdict

7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

Pros

  • Reliable measurements above 30% stimulus
  • Surprisingly accurate colour performance
  • Price is very good
  • We like the ethos behind it!

Cons

  • Software suggests 'Standard' picture instead of 'Movie'
  • Suggested contrast setting was a long way off
  • Attaching securing cords to TV can be fiddly

Spyder4TV HD Tri-Stim Colorimeter and Software Calibration Package

To be honest for a cost of around £100, we weren’t expecting great things from the Spyder 4TV HD calibration package but it did exceed our meagre expectations. The Colrimeter, although lightweight, felt reasonably well engineered and the inclusion of 3 calibration discs is quite generous. The package is really a two-fold affair with the calibration software set-up process running alongside the meter, which is also supported in other calibration software packages. If we were judging solely on the accuracy and advice offered in the software, we’d probably recommend you look elsewhere but the surprising accuracy of the Spyder – particularly with colour work – means it’s well-deserving recipient of an AVForums Badge.

The Spyder 4 software did result in our test display having a more accurate picture than the out-of-box settings afforded but we could have done equally as well, or better, by making a few simple adjustments to Picture Mode and Colour Temperature and using simple PLUGE patterns to set the Brightness and Contrast. Where the Spyder package really scored a hit with us was with its measurements in our Calman software, that whilst not up to the accuracy of our Klein K-10 meter, would certainly have delivered a full calibration worthy of the effort. The Spyder 4TV HD isn’t going to provide a calibration up to the standards that more expensive equipment would provide and, at this price, it’s hardly fair to expect that but for the amateur calibrators out there, it will certainly bring about major improvements to your display.

Recommended

Scores

Verdict

.
.
.
7
7
AVForumsSCORE
OUT OF
10

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