Setting up a professional HDTV monitor for accurate color rendition
by Walter Graff

Setting up an HDTV monitor for proper color rendition is probably the single most important thing one can do on location. Here is a simple method in maintaining a color-accurate picture in the field.

1. Allow the monitor to warm up for a few minutes.

2. Block any reflections on the screen and make sure the lighting in the location is not that bright around the monitor and of a 3200k value or close.

3. Switch your camera you are feeding into the monitor into bars.

There are four controls for picture adjustment on a monitor: contrast, brightness, phase, and chroma. In the world of standard definition, you needed to adjust all four. In the world of HD, the phase knob can�t be adjusted, so we'll ignore it and work with the other controls.

The first adjustment you need to set is contrast. Since I am assuming the adjustments I am referring here are being done on field monitors without a probe, using nothing more than your eye and your fingers, there is a bit of subjective interpretation to adjusting the contrast.

4.Adjust the contrast knob until the white box (under the yellow and cyan bars) seems white but not blowing out. Of course this is a very subjective method, so I suggest you go with preset and assume it is correct or simply imagine the white as pure white, not to dark and not blown out. I have heard some people use a light meter up against the white box and a reading of 35-40 foot-candles is about right. I don't suggest this method, as there are too many variables. You'll be close enough if you try this method as not to ruin your shoot.

NOTE: This excercise in monitor adjusting is a good indication to whether your monitors preset value is correct because after you are done with this manual set-up, you can switch between your setting and pre-set to see if there is a difference. The best way of doing this is to make sure where ever you rent from has a well calibrated monitor and just use the preset. If your not sure, try adjusting it. Monitors are very stable, and for the most part, they are entirely accurate in preset but if you can't trust it, then this method will make you feel better.

5. Turn the 'chroma' also called 'color' on some monitors all the way down until the color bars are shades of black and white

Notice the three Picture Lineup Generating Equipment bars on the bottom right called PLuGE bars. The left one is set at -3 units, so it is effectively supposed to be just invisible. The middle one is set for 0 units or 'black' and the right-most bar is set for +3 units and is slightly brighter than what black represents on your monitor.

6. Since digital uses a baseline of zero units for black, adjust the brightness control until the leftmost -3 unit bar just disappears. Remember you�re trying to make black zero units so a subjective adjustment of that -3 bar to just disappear makes the monitor close enough. It�s not rocket science and being off a unit or two isn't going to ruin your shoot.

Finally, we are going to adjust the chroma.

7. First find the 'Blue Only' button on your monitor that makes all the bars turn varying shades of gray, and depress it. When you do, youll notice that you end up with four long vertical bars and four shorter stubby bars dirtily underneath each long bar.

8. Turn the chroma or color knob until the log split-vertical bars on the outermost far left and the long bars at the outermost far right are of equal brightness or hue to the stubby bars under them. Or said in simpler terms, you're trying to get the two vertical bars on top to match the look of the two small sub bars below them. All four bars (two outermost big and two outermost small) should appear to have the same value.

Unless you have a waveform/vectorscope with you or you have the probe attachment for adjusting your monitor, the only way for you to see how accurate your video is is to trust what you have just done. Don't adjust it anymore becuase something looks dark or too red! You have just calibrated the monitor to see color and shades of gray the way the camera does. Shoot with it, and trust that you are seeing things the way the camera is.

And if you are not sure you ar doing this right or dn't think it's correct after you've adjusted it, simmply leave the monitor in automatic. 99.9% of the time your monitor will look perfectly correct if you simply leave it in automatic.

In video, you're monitor when properly adjusted is the only way of seeing exactly what the camera sees. Some people might tell you this isn't true and try to use light meters and all sorts of film carry-overs in getting the picture correct. I say these people have little to no experience working with video and don't know what they are talking about. Your monitor is your friend. It is not a video tap on a film camera. When set-up properly, it IS your judge for what your camera sees. People trying to shoot HD who have only shot film all their lives are usually the ones who make up the urban legends about video out of their fear of not understanding it and try to use what they know about film as a reference. While it's not necessarily worng, it's not necessarily correct either. Just because someone is an award winning film cinematographer and a member of ten professional film organizations doesn't mean they can sit behind the wheels of an HD camera and drive it as well. For years many in the film world laughed at video people who were at a disadvantage when they tried to make the switch to film. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

If you're unsure, don't hesitate to ask someone that has years of video expereince.

Walter Graff

Copyright 2013 by Walter Graff. This article may be circulated and shared as long as the following reference is made: 'This article appears courtesy of Walter Graff-'

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Walter Graff