Make Your “Colorblind” Computer See As You Do; Datacolor’s Spyder3Elite/Pro And Print Profiling Products

You read the headline right--that new, off-the-shelf computer you just bought is colorblind! Even though your computer sends RGB color information to its display so colors will appear on the screen, the computer does not know what colors its user is seeing. That seems like a contradiction, unless you realize that personal computing hardware and software grew like topsy through the disparate efforts of many different competing companies who had little reason to cooperate and agree to merely the barest, essential standards. In fact, it was only recently that the major players like Microsoft, Adobe, and Apple sat down together and formed the ICC (International Color Consortium) to agree on a universal digital color standard. But even with that, every device--like an LCD display, a scanner, a printer, as well as components like video cards--reproduce what is referred to as "device independent" color. And even though the same RGB data numbers are fed to each device, the color reproduced is different. That is why your computer is "blind" to the very color it reproduces.

The new Datacolor Spyder3 colorimeter is smaller and sleeker, providing more convenient handling. It is accompanied by a small, unobtrusive pedestal stand so the sensor may be located on a desktop close to a display to continuously monitor the ambient light falling on the screen. This aids in adjusting output performance to accommodate changes in the working light environment.

You may not realize it but you have the means to teach your computer how to see. In both Microsoft Windows and Apple operating systems, built-in software will facilitate what's known generically as "color management." The color management system is very simple. It accepts files called "profiles," which are the result of measuring the color a device like a display or printer reproduces, then comparing those measurements to the ICC color standards. The profile defines the variations from that standard so the computer knows exactly what you are seeing on screen plus what should result in prints made with a profiled printer. In this review we'll look at the new Spyder3Elite/Pro and Print products. They are the next--improved and refined--generation of the most popular profiling devices and software available.

The Spyder3Elite is designed for the way photographers work and is capable of calibrating and profiling CRTs, LCDs, notebook computer screens as well as computer-driven projectors. The Spyder3 can measure the ambient light falling on a screen and it can be used to continuously monitor the work light environment and adjust the display to compensate for changes. The price of the Spyder3Elite is $279. There is also a Spyder3Pro that is designed for serious photographers priced at $169.

New Features
After the ICC was formed and a color standard was agreed upon, Adobe was the first software company to make available a product that would actually "translate" between color devices like scanners and printers. The product: Photoshop Version 5.5. Photographers had to use their visual perception to adjust a color photograph to an ideal balance, so the monitor was the center around which the whole system had to function, thus the monitor's color characteristics had to be known, measured and recorded, and become a part of the translation to get predictable color results from input through processing to output.

Today, too little recognition is given to the few small companies that came together as ColorVision, now Datacolor, and produced the first Spyder monitor measuring device and its easy-to-use, wizard-driven software, all at a price individual photographers could afford. With the profiles the Spyder produced, Adobe's Photoshop could be used to manage color with precise translation between all profiled devices, input and output. This latest set of Spyder products is the third generation of the technology, improved in accuracy and efficiency, applicable to more devices from older CRTs to LCD displays, laptops, and computer-driven digital projectors. Even easier to use for the novice while also offering many more advanced control functions, and considering inflation in the last decade, Spyder3 is even more affordable.

Looking at the back or business side of the Spyder3 colorimeter, the actual area of the sensor light intake is significantly larger than the previous model, while the attachment suction cup for CRT attachment is singular, reduced relative to the previous model. The larger area of the light receptor, combined with the Spyder's seven light sensors, makes measurement more accurate.

With Spyder3 the range of products includes two versions of the Spyder3 screen measuring and profiling hardware/software packages, and Spyder3Print, which is an equally effective hardware and software package for measuring and profiling print output. The Spyder3Studio combines both display and print profiling in one package at a most agreeable cost for what is offered.

The Spyder3Elite is Datacolor's top-of-the-line display profiling device and software intended for professional users. The sensor is smaller in overall size, and more easily adaptable to its now extended uses, but with a much larger sensor area with more efficiency and speed in reading from its exclusive seven-sensor design. The Spyder3 now has ambient room sensor capability, which can be used in two ways, either to continuously monitor and adjust a display for changes in room illumination, or to provide a specific measure of ambient light to guide a user to adjust the lighting environment if that kind of control is available.

Although there is an Easy mode for using the Spyder3Elite software, the software wizard also offers an Expert Console that supports defining the exact aim points the calibration should achieve. Thus, you can accommodate specific needs as well as exactly match the output performance of multiple displays, even attached to different computer systems.

To facilitate room light monitoring as well as to measure the output of a digital projector, the Spyder3 comes with a small separate base pedestal with a built-in tripod socket. The actual use of the Spyder3 sensor has been made simpler by having just one suction cup for CRT profiling and a more effective counterweight to use with LCDs.

The Spyder3 wizard software is also more efficient, providing a very easy option that requires just following and responding to brief, on-screen instructions to automatically calibrate and profile your display. There are also more advanced options providing more specific control--now in just a single screen window access--for users with specific requirements and needs. To periodically recalibrate a display once the initial calibration and profiling is done, a new ReCAL option has been added to make periodic proofing maintenance even easier and faster. Once a user has made a display profile there is a new SpyderProof function with very much improved "before and after" image guides to evaluate specific kinds of screen performance, like complexion tones or black and white.

To accommodate the advanced user, and those who need to produce matched performance with more than one display, the Information read-out dialog provides specific results before and after calibration for all dimensions of display performance.