CalMAN 4 Calibration Software Review
November 2011 - Art Feierman
CalMAN 4 Calibration Software Introduction
Most video calibrators are familiar with the CalMAN calibration software. It is the preferred software used in THX training and is probably the most widespread-used calibration software. Spectracal, the company who created and developed the software, has been constantly updating and improving their software for years. While previous upgrades were merely improvements to an existing software package, CalMAN Version 4 is a complete redesign of the software, bearing little resemblance to the previous versions. Version 4 is also more than just a sleek modernization of the software interface. The big news is that interactive control has been added. This means that when the CalMAN 4 software is used with certain video processors and displays, the software can take the readings from the calibration meter and automatically apply the needed corrections.
The CalMAN 4 software supports all of the commonly used calibration meters and has settings to match it to the display technology (LCD, DLP etc.), test pattern source (DVD, BD or signal generator) and for front projectors, readings off the screen can be accounted for as well. The software also has the ability to control DVD or Blu-ray players by sending out the appropriate IR signal to switch to the next test screen, after the meter taking a reading. This allows for automated grayscale runs with supported sources.
CalMAN 4 is offered in a number of different user levels, starting with CalMAN DIY (for the casual user), CalMAN Enthusiast (for advanced home users), CalMAN Expert (for the professional user) and CalMAN Commercial (for the full time calibration user). In an unfortunate departure from previous versions where reports could be generated from even the basic software, only the Expert and Commercial versions of CalMAN 4 allow for full reports to be generated and exported in PDF form. For this review, we were provided with CalMAN 4 Expert.
Using CalMAN 4
Opening the program, the user is run through an overview of the how the software works and how it can be modified to suit their needs. Then, the user goes through a number of setup steps covering the calibration meter used, the display type and the source of the test patterns. As the software retains the choices made, the user need only change things that differ from the last calibration (like the display type). At this point, you’re ready to select one of the many available workflows. Workflows are a preset series of calibration screens that vary depending on whether you’re doing an interactive calibration, a standard calibration or an ISF advanced calibration. Regardless of the workflow chosen, each page’s graphs and charts are fully customizable to suit your needs. For example, in the RGB balance graph, you can choose anything from a 2-step grayscale (30 and 80 for your initial calibration adjustments) to a full 21-step (0 to 100 in 5% increments) grayscale range. If that level of customization still doesn’t suit you, you can also create your own custom workflow. Starting with a blank canvas, you simply add your desired charts or graphs. They can be positioned any where you want and resized to fit. Previous versions of CalMAN had this custom workflow feature, but I always found it awkward to use. Creating a custom workflow with CalMAN 4 is a snap. For purposes of this review, I selected the ISF Advanced workflow.
Once you’ve chosen (or created) a workflow, you then can run a pre-calibration check of grayscale and color gamut. What’s particularly nice about the calibration screens (or pages) is that they are all listed in a tree menu on the left and can be accessed at any time from there. So, if you want to skip certain operations (like adjusting color gamut if the display device doesn’t have a color management system), you can do so. Also, almost any chart or graph that’s part of a screen can be modified by highlighting it and clicking on the “Properties” tab along the right edge of the screen. Prefer a bar graph to a line graph? Changing from one to the other can be done in a couple of mouse clicks. Another nice feature is that if you wish to do multiple grayscale runs without wiping out any of them, you simply click on a “+” tab to create a new (duplicate) workflow.
If you follow the workflow progression, after running the pre-calibration check, the user is directed to adjust brightness and contrast per the usual test patterns, then check luminance and adjust contrast again to achieve a luminance level in a range appropriate for the ambient lighting conditions. Next, if the display offers multiple gamma settings (as most do), the proper gamma setting for the room’s level of ambient lighting should be selected (and checked). If the display has a CMS (color management system) those settings can then be adjusted and checked. The text accompanying the graphs correctly point out the need to keep the absolute luminance of the primary colors in balance and also the correct hue of the secondary colors. To that end, the user is directed to keep the levels in the Delta L and H graphs at a minimum. This can be difficult depending on the particular CMS. In a well-designed CMS, the adjustment on one color shouldn’t affect the others. In reality, however, they don’t always work that way. This is where having a display or processor that works with the interactive features of the software would greatly speed up calibration time.
Once you’ve adjusted the color balance, you can move on to adjusting grayscale. Again, the provided charts and graphs are very useful for dialing in a correct RGB balance and keeping Delta E to a minimum. Once done with grayscale, the user goes back and checks contrast, brightness and luminance again (as they can be affected by grayscale adjustments). Finally, if no CMS adjustments were performed, the display’s color and tint controls can be adjusted. Finally, the display’s sharpness control should be checked.
At this point, a post-cal capture of grayscale and color gamut can be run to complete the calibration and provide information for the next step, reporting. CalMAN 4 is capable of creating either a full multi-page report of pre and post-calibration grayscale and color balance, or a quick, one-page overview of grayscale. Either can be exported to PDF form for easy printing and presenting to the customer.
CalMAN 4 Summary
CalMAN 4 represents a big step forward in calibration software for both the amateur and professional calibrator. The professional will appreciate the customization and reporting capabilities of the software, while the amateur will benefit from the guidance provided. We were not able to test the interactive control capability at this time, but we expect we’ll have a compatible display at some point in the future and will update this report at that time.
As a long time user of CalMAN 3x, my pet peeve with that software was that it was difficult to create your own custom workflows. You had to essentially try different items from a long list and see if that particular chart or graph met your needs. After a lot of trial and error, you could get the desired combination, but it was often easier to just stick with one of the default workflows. CalMAN 4’s customizability makes it easy to create your own workflow, since you can select from a smaller group of charts or graphs and then modify them to your liking.
There’s no doubt that Spectracal has listened to feedback from their users and incorporated that feedback into CalMAN 4. It’s a well-thought out piece of software that speeds up the calibration process (even without interactivity) and I look forward to using it on future projector calibrations.