Every consumer-grade monitor that you buy has its default picture settings dialed in by the manufacturer to look absolutely terrible in your office. This is because monitor manufacturers know that properly-calibrated displays appear washed out under bright showroom lighting. Getting the best out of your monitor therefore calls for toning down the gaudy default settings to suit milder home lighting conditions.
Read on to learn how to optimally calibrate your display with nothing more than your eyes and freely available calibration tools.
Dialing in Your Display’s Settings
First and foremost, you must figure out the native resolution of your monitor. Setting the computer’s resolution to that of the display is essential for accurate results. Dial the brightness setting of your display down to 35 percent. This number might seem arbitrary, but the optimal brightness setting (luminance value of approximately 120cd/m2 for a typical display) for most displays is around this mark. Reduce the contrast setting to 70 percent. Don’t worry about getting things perfect at this juncture. We shall do that later with the aid of calibration test patterns.
The following step will seem counterintuitive, but turn off all picture enhancements and other gimmicks. No exceptions. This includes settings such as contrast enhancement, digital noise reduction, dynamic backlight control, motion interpolation, LED local dimming etc. Most displays have the option to change the color temperature or white point setting. This should be set to 6500K. This value can be labeled as “normal” or “mid” temperature in your monitor’s settings menu.
Make Good Use of User Presets
Remember, your monitor calibration is relevant to a specific lighting condition. A display calibrated for bright daylight setting will be unsuitable for dim nighttime lighting conditions. It is therefore recommended to calibrate your display under the desired lighting conditions and save the settings under user presets. That way, you can quickly cycle through the correct calibrated preset for your desired ambient lighting conditions.
Finally, be sure to leave the monitor switched on for at least thirty minutes before calibrating it. Doing this ensures consistent and accurate results.
Using the Free Calibration Tool
There are plenty of free monitor calibration tools available, but few are as convenient and comprehensive as the Lagom monitor test suite. There’s no application to install here. Heading over to the Lagom monitor calibration website presents a number of pages with different calibration patterns along with a primer on how to use each one of those. This guide will skip most of these calibration pages and only focus on the ones that matter.
Just be sure to view the page in full screen mode, which can be activated by pressing the F11 key in most browsers.
1. Adjusting Black Levels
We start off with the black level pattern. This displays swatches that vary from a single level above black, which is the darkest one labelled 1, to the purest white one identified as 255. Decrease the brightness setting in your display to the point that the background (surrounding the swatches) goes from grey to black.
If the background already appears pitch black on your display, increase it until it becomes slightly grey, then dial it down a notch until it becomes black again. You know you’ve dialed the brightness level right if any further reduction fails to have any effect on the background.
This is where we fine tune your display to strike a good balance between black detail resolution and overall accuracy of black reproduction. Pay attention to the first ten swatches labeled from 1 to 10. With the brightness setting adjusted to make the background pitch black, you are highly unlikely to be able to differentiate between the background and all ten swatches on a regular LCD display. If you can do that, you can move on to the next step.
If you have a regular LCD monitor, you will have to increase the brightness level of your monitor until you can differentiate at least six swatches from the background. Increasing the brightness setting might improve black detail resolution, but it will come at the cost of accurate black reproduction. The blacks will appear grey as a consequence.
Where you leave the brightness setting on your monitor is down to personal preference, depending on whether you prefer to maintain the accuracy of blacks or want your display to resolve details better in darker scenes.
2. Setting Optimal Contrast
Next up is the white saturation pattern. This pattern is instrumental in dialing down the white levels of your monitor or its capability to resolve brighter details. The secret to getting this right is adjusting the contrast setting of your display to the correct level. To do that, turn the contrast levels to the highest possible setting on your display without causing the white test image to bloom at the borders.
You’re looking at swatches that range from values of 200 to 254, with the pure white background being 255. With the contrast set to the highest possible value while avoiding blooming, you’ll notice that the brightest swatches on the bottom row will have disappeared. Reduce the contrast level on your monitor one step at a time until you can see the last four swatches labelled 251 through 254. You’ll find your optimal contrast setting once the swatch labelled 254 becomes visible.
Some displays will not be able to distinguish between the white background and all the swatches on the bottom row. In that case, stop reducing the contrast level when the last possible swatch (254) is visible. That is the optimal contrast setting and the limit of your display’s capability to resolve details in brightly lit scenes.
3. Fine Tuning Contrast and Brightness Settings
The contrast test pattern comes in handy to fine tune your brightness and contrast settings. Increase your display’s brightness setting if you can’t see the darkest gradient swatch labeled 1 on the left side. Make sure you don’t increase the setting to a point where the black background begins to appear grey.
Make a note of your current contrast setting and check whether the last three gradient swatches on the right side labeled 30, 31, and 32 are distinguishable from one another. If not, try increasing or decreasing the contrast setting until the resolution between these swatches improves. If it doesn’t make much difference, you’re better off reverting to the original contrast setting that you noted earlier.
4. Sharpness and Gamma
The sharpness pattern is best viewed from as far away from the display as possible. The idea is to look at the pattern from a distance and adjust the sharpness setting on your display until the image appears uniformly grey. The two images above and below show how the sharpness pattern blends together at the correct sharpness setting, when viewed from a distance.
Enjoy Your Calibrated Display
You have calibrated your display using nothing but your naked eyes and a free, but powerful, calibration tool. This level of calibration is good enough for productivity, gaming, and movies, but you will need a colorimeter if your display is a professional monitor meant for color accurate work on a computer.