Not too long ago I sat down with Steve Shaw from Light Illusion, the world’s leading provider of colour management tools and services across all sectors of the film, TV and Broadcast industry.
I first met Steve through the Lift Gamma Gain forums where I lurked whilst spec’ing out my hardware and calibration solution for my coloring suite. This is a great community forum for anyone looking for help by colorist professionals and advanced users. I reached out to Steve to ask if he would be interested in an interview for my blog, and he agreed! I hope you enjoy it.
Q. Steve, Light Illusion provides a standard for display calibration and color management within film and broadcast industries. What’s one thing Light Illusion provides that may not be well known by others and you’d like to share with my readers?
A. I guess just the history of those involved in the company – we are all of a film and TV background, from owning our own post facilities, such as Men In White Coats and Axis Post, to having worked with the likes of ILM, Cinecita, Cinesite, etc, as well as working with manufacturers such as FilmLight, Quantel, SGO, and may more, all on the ‘colour’ side of things.
We got into ‘Calibration’ as a need for ourselves, not as business in its own right.
That does mean we understand colour from a different perspective to those companies that only have backgrounds in software development/manufacturing.
Q. Shopping for a new monitor I happen to see an 8K resolution monitor on the BHPhotoVideo website, it was a 31″ display which struck me as quite bizarre. What do you think about products like these and do you see any fit for them either for the consumer, or TV/film/broadcast industries now or in the future?
A. Seriously? 8K on a screen that size you would have to inches from it to gain any benefit?
Honestly, for the majority of the world’s population, based on their home seating arrangements, home viewing environment, and the quality of their eyesight, anything beyond HD is wasted!
Our home is a classic – my wife and myself are now in or fifties. We have a lounge with a sofa that is some 4 to 5 meters from our 46” TV, in what is a more dark than normal viewing environment, especially at night.
We struggle to spot if we are watching SD or HD – let alone 2K, 4K or 8K!
The section at the end regarding resolution… and the graph…
Q. What do people really need to know about resolution and display monitors when picking them for professional work?
A. Resolution is far less critical than colour accuracy…
In most cases, it really is that simple.
Q. For many who are setting up editing bays or coloring stations, perhaps they are working in HD or 4K – would they need different monitors depending on the resolution of the footage they are working in? Are you better off picking a 4k monitor even if most of your work is finishing in HD from 4K source footage? Does an editor need to see 4k footage in 4k or can he just edit it in HD? What would he be missing?
A. See previous answer…
So long as there is a ‘technical’ QA monitor for ‘resolution’ issues, performing creative work is often not resolution critical at all.
Q. I want to talk a bit more about color calibration, because I think it’s a hugely misunderstood area for many working within photography and video industry. First, when manufacturers claim monitors are calibrated from the factory and even issue a certificate – what do people buying these monitors really need to know? ie. can they just plug it in and start using it without any type of other calibration process?
A. Unless the manufacturer is a high-end supplier, the display calibration will be basic, and poor. It is just not cost-effective for manufacturers to actually perform accurate calibration as it takes too long.
And you can forget the ‘Certified’ calibrations using names such as Technicolor – the ‘standards’ they accept as being with allowable tolerances are a joke. It just marketing.
Separately, all colour critical work MUST be performed in a managed environment, with correct lighting levels, wall colours, etc. It is critical the the displays is never ‘adjusted’ (made brighter for example) to overcome an incorrect viewing environment.
Q. Dell, HP, and several other display manufacturers nowadays seem to sell a higher end “professional” grade monitor for photo/video work, something like the Dell UP series – can these be used for professional color work / what type? (i.e. photo, video, web, vs theatre, disc authoring, etc.)
A. As previous answer, no mass-market display manufacturer will spend the time taken per display to generate accurate calibration. It is just not cost effective.
They will profile a ‘sample’ display, and generate a generic calibration from that (often very basic) and apply to all the monitors of the same type.
Also remember most such displays only use a 1D LUT and 3×3 Matrix for calibration, not true 3D LUTs, so they will always be limited in the level of calibration they can attain.
Q. I guess the question is however, can these higher end monitors we see from BenQ, Dell, HP actually be used for professional color accurate work? i.e. how would they compare, or what’s missing on them compared to say a $5000 Flanders Scientific monitor? Perhaps this is more about the bit level of the monitor, how low nits it has to have for proper black level, screen uniformity in general, color gamut???
A. That is actually a very difficult question to answer.
The ‘suitability’ of a display to be user for critical colour applications depends on a number of things, that must all be ‘suitable’…
Such as screen uniformity, volumetric linearity, stability over time, a gamut that can made ‘accurate’, lack of ABL/ASBL type issues, etc.
And there needs to be a way to use 3D LUTs, either within the display directly, or via an external LUT box, etc. a 1D LUT & 3×3 Matrix calibrations will not cut it.
(And just because the marketing material says LUTs are used for calibration means nothing, unless they are 3D and the user can access them. User calibration is a key requirement, due to the inherent drift and ageing all displays suffer).
Things like bit depth are less of an issue. I’d rather have a colour accurate, stable, uniform, 8 bit display, than an ‘ok’ 10 bit one.
Black level is also a very interesting point, as you can easily be too black.
For example, we recommend our customers set their OLEDS to a min 0,03 nits, or they will likely over-compensate when grading the shadows. (OLEDs also have issues coming out of black, so a bit of a lift is a good idea anyway.)
Q. What’s the basic hardware, software and process of working with a PROPER calibrated display? (monitor, 10-bit card from the computer, cal wand, cal software, loading result calibration LUT into display).
A. Actually, the only critical component is the display, assuming the signal path is ‘clean’, combined with viable calibration hardware and software. The minimum we would recommend for professional calibration would be a LightSpace LTE + i1 Display Pro package.
Ideally, the display should have 3D LUT capability, but an external LUT Box can be used, or even output calibration LUT capabilities within the creative software.
Q. In terms of displays, what’s needed to do professional color correction on video going to theatres, networks, and possibly other distribution platforms? In other words, work that is extending beyond online viewing like YouTube or Vimeo? For example nits, screen uniformity, gamut / color space.
A. All colour work should ALWAYS be done on a critically calibrated display, regardless what the final deliverable is. It is the ONLY way you can ever be sure what you deliver will match the original artistic intent.
Just because you cannot ‘manage’ the end viewer’s display quality, you should NOT use that as an excuse to be less critical yourself in managing colour. Two wrongs do not make a right!
Q. Apple’s retina displays seem to be very high in both resolution and color, it leaves many thinking they can be used as professional displays. Can it?
A. No displays that cannot be ‘calibrated’ can be used for colour critical work.
Q. Display technology continues to evolve in terms of the specs we’re seeing on cameras or monitors, etc.. what do you think has been the real improvements in the last 2-3 years? i.e. Color gamut, HDR?
A. Not HDR! Like a lot of ‘changes’, the concept of HDR is more of a solution looking for a problem.
I never had anyone say to me ’I wish my TV could show brighter highlights’ but with the same overall general screen brightness’…
The biggest change has actually been the larger screen sizes, irrespective of resolution, so you can have a far better viewing experience.
Steve, I really want to thank you for taking the time to answer some of these questions today! All the best to you and Light Illusion now and in the future!
My coloring suite
Here’s a look at my coloring suite setup, thanks to Steve and Lift Gamma Gain for all the advice and help!