Calibrating Any Monitor With basICColor Display 4.x
Calibrating your monitor is essential to get an accurate representation of the colours you want to output on a printer. Calibration is only possible with CRT monitors and some of the more expensive LCD monitors, such as the Eizo GC range and LaCie's current 300 range of models. These monitors have a 10-bit or better Video Colour LookUp Table (LUT) which also makes them behave better with regards to colour representation.
While you may not always have the means to buy a monitor that you can calibrate - or you simply don't want to throw out your still perfect performing 4-year old LCD, you can still profile the monitor, which enables you to at least use it for more or less accurate photo proofing with Photoshop. What if I told you there is an application out there that does more with the video card's LUT than most packages do - even the very expensive ones? It is called basICColor display 4.1.1, it's a German product, and it works wonders. The secret sauce? Software calibration. Not as good as hardware calibration, but better than no calibration at all.
basICColor 4.1.1 is Color Solutions' monitor profiling software. It comes with the "Squid 2", an OEM'ed version of the GretagMacbeth Display 2 colorimeter. If you already have a Display 2, there's no need to buy the basICColor display with the Squid 2. You can also buy it without. The software works with other manufacturers' colorimeters as well. It will even work with a Spyder2Pro, and at the other end of the spectrum, with the Eye-One Pro. When used with the latter, you can show a spectral diagram of your display.
Fast Profiling Performance
basICColor display 4.x is a multi-monitor solution out-of-the-box. At startup, the software will detect when you have more than one monitor connected to your computer, and will automatically open as many windows as there are monitors. The main window is easy to use. It has a phased interface, meaning you only get to see what is relevant at each particular phase in the calibration/profiling process.
basICColor display 4.x is fast too. I was stunned by its speed, especially so as the application will go through a calibration round before profiling your display. It should therefore take at least twice as long as with other programs, but it's actually faster than both MonacoProfiler and ProfileMaker Pro.
You can have the software calibrate or only profile your display. If software calibration causes problems with your video card, you can turn it off. I can't report any problem with my ATI Radeon 9800 SE, but other cards might dislike display 4.x tampering with their Tone Response Curves. The software is aimed at professionals, and therefore can be set up by the operator entirely. However, beginners - or impatient people - can start calibrating using the "Express" button, which sets the application to manufacturer defaults and is the fastest way to get a profile quickly.
If you know what you're doing, you can decide yourself what the software is supposed to calibrate / profile against. This is done by going through a column with pop-up menus at the left side of the window. For example, you can decide to calibrate to ISO 3664 and 12646 standards, or use one of the preset calibration settings such as "Office", "Photography", and "Prepress".
The profile can be a LUT-based profile or a less accurate matrix profile. When selecting to calibrate the hardware on a monitor that supports hardware calibration, you can sit back and look at what display 4.x does for you. The interaction between the software and the monitor will be totally automatic, and the calibration curves will be uploaded into the monitor's lookup tables.
With software calibration, the values of the calibration are uploaded to the video card, and less influence can be exercised on how the monitor itself behaves. Nevertheless, the calibration round is pretty efficient. I'll get to the results in a minute. What happens when the software calibrates, is that your black and white point are set, and your grey values are iteratively determined and the Tone Response Curve adjusted accordingly.
This iterative process is what makes basICColor display 4.x more accurate than competing products. You can see this for yourself as soon as the whole process is over. The software then allows you to validate your profile and see the deltaE values of measured colour patches - after the monitor has been calibrated and profiled. On my LaCie photon20visionII, the deltaE on the left display was all in the green (less then 2) and on the older right (replacement) display only 3 patches are in the yellow area (less than 4).
This by itself doesn't tell me how the monitor performs. So, I used a few tricks I learned from the master himself, the now late Bruce Fraser. I created a grey gradient and visually checked the quality of the calibration/profile. The grey ramp should not have any discoloration. On the left monitor, this was the first time the ramp was indeed as neutral as Switzerland. The right monitor had slight coloration - but my feeling is that this is a bad monitor, period.
Testing The Calibration And Profile
Then I tested the result visually with a black area shown full-screen and a black patch in the middle that I changed in value by using the Curves in Photoshop. This test shows how well the monitor has been calibrated. Most calibration results will start showing a difference between the black and the grey area in the middle when the Curves value has shifted upwards to +4 or even +5. With MonacoProfiler I managed to see a difference at +3. With basICColor display 4.x the difference started at +1, which is incredibly good.
basICColor display 4.x can do more than just calibrate and profile your monitor. It will show you your ambient lighting, and measure it against ISO standards. If you have a viewing booth it will check that as well. If you are lucky enough to have a Just Normlicht viewing booth, some versions of display 4.x will even calibrate and profile the viewing booth, so both your monitor and booth will be calibrated on a one-on-one basis.
Finally, you can edit your calibration curves in display 4.x, but as this feature rapidly results in your calibration messed up, I did not play with it.
If you're serious about monitor calibration and profiling, basICColor display 4.x is an absolute must-have. I am thinking about photographers, prepress people and even graphic designers. This software is vastly superior to even the more expensive competitors, and it works with almost every colorimeter or spectrophotometer. It therefore deserves an Editor's Choice.