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Color Accuracy

By Art Feierman

Projector Color Accuracy

If you’re looking for a projector and reading this, there’s a very high probability that you are a bit more discriminating than most folks.   Best I can tell, the vast majority of people buy LCDTVs, despite the fact that most everyone will tell you that Plasma’s have better picture quality.  Most folks get their set home, turn it on, and watch in whatever mode it came in.  If they were lucky, the cable guy or satellite guy came out to set up your box, and might have improved the picture.   Most folks are more than happy with any mode the LCDTV offers.

Welcome to projectors, where serious folks are looking to have color accuracy and picture quality as good as a good movie theater’s.  In some ways a home projector does better in fact.  Some projectors are pretty darn good at color right out of the box.  For most of us projector enthusiasts, what most folks would consider great on their LCDTV we find to be “decent”.

Most projectors we review have a pretty extensive set of controls allowing for really good calibration.

If you are new to home theater projectors understand that with most projectors great color is very possible.  You have four choices:

  • Hire a professional calibrator  $300 - $600+
  • Get into the game, drop some real cash, get the tools, learn, and do your own calibrations
  • Try our calibration settings.  If they improve the picture, we did good.  Since calibrations are affected by lamp variations, things don’t always improve, but then you don’t have to use our settings if you don’t appreciate them.  Also sometimes during the build cycle, the manufacturer upgrades firmware, and with it may make changes to their color tables.  If our measurements are based on different color tables they won’t look great.  This doesn’t happen often, but now you are aware.
  • Do nothing.  Pick a mode out that’s good for your movie viewing, and watch.  You might want to find a second mode as an alternative, that’s brighter for other content.  Or, you can pick one mode and go with it “typical LCDTV style”.


When it comes to calibrating a projector there are three primary areas to calibrate:

  • General image settings such as brightness, contrast, color saturation
  • Grayscale balance which is getting red, green and blue in their proper balance to achieve a color temperature of 6500K (Kelvin).  It should be at that temperature, (or close) from the brightest whites to the darkest grays/blacks
  • Calibrating individual colors – Red is supposed to be pure red, with no yellow for example, but many reds appear a bit red-orange if there’s yellow.  Or perhaps the red has a tinge of purple, which would indicate some blue present.  We use the CMS (color management system) to correct each color for hue and saturation.  With these individual colors all correct, the final picture will be more accurate than just having the grayscale in balance.  I sometimes refer to this part of the calibration as “the last 5%”.   It is only in the last year that we started calibrating the individual colors in most home projector reviews.  Some lower cost projectors (and some more expensive ones may not even have a full CMS.)

As I indicated, your new projector should at the least have one mode that’s very good “right out of the box”, in terms of overall picture.  Even if less than ideal, skin tones, and skies, beach balls and gray walls can still look pretty right on.

Some projectors offer a THX mode.  That pretty much guarantees a really good picture, color wise, although not necessarily the most accurate.  We comment on “out of the box” color in each review.  Some projectors are rather excellent, some respectable, and once in a while we review a projector where the best of it’s modes is still pretty sad.  Still just about every projector I’ve played with in this day and age will do color, skin tones and overall picture better than most good LCDTVs, and if you calibrate your projector – no contest.

Again, we recommend that if you are not going to have your projector calibrated, that you try out our settings, save them in one of the projector’s user memories (most have at least one), and compare.  There’s nothing to lose but five minutes or so of your time, nothing to learn.  The payback could be a substantially improved picture.

We also let you know how well each projector calibrates.  Mike – our calibrator provides some information on each calibration page, about the experience, and the quality of the results.

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