Ever since I was introduced to the wild world of color printing, the issue of proper color calibration of the display has always been an issue for me. Most poor man's calibration measures required visual calibration, sometimes known as “eyeballing,” which wasn't a viable option for me for a very OTLish reason: I am red-green color weak.
A couple of months ago when I bought this MacBook Pro, the first thing I noticed was that its white point was way off, almost looking like a 10-year-old CRT monitor with its yellowish hue. Then I noticed that it was the factory color profile that Apple supplied with the monitor that was off, but unfortunately, reverting to the sRGB profile did not help. Actually sRGB made things worse, by rendering everything in ghostly bluish tone. I tried to run Apple's ColorSync calibration wizard, which didn't do even a remotely good job in the basic mode, and in the “expert mode” its control sliders didn't have a sufficient range to kick things back into normal gear (at the extreme that was closest to the “neutral” color, things were still distintively blue).
I saw other people complaining about the same thing on Apple's discussion forums, and concluded that it wasn't just my MBP but a widespread problem, and knowing Apple (as much as I love them) I knew it wasn't going to be fixed anytime soon—after, all, how many people are actually anal enough about the color balance to think about recalibrating their monitors?
Then I was on my way back from Davis (off-topic: MUGA has PIU NX2 and PIU Pro now) when I decided to check out the Apple Store at Northridge Mall (because I heard the store was pretty large and slick). There I saw all these accessories that weren't on the display on other Apple Stores in the area; one of those accessories was Pantone huey™PRO, which I decided to buy, and I don't regret that decision at all.
Pantone huey™PRO is a small stick that incorporates two types of sensors: Primary color sensors (for RGB), and an ambient light sensor for measuring the brightness of the room. It is designed to be laid flat against the monitor surface to measure the monitor's light output, and it features suction cups so it can stick to the monitor surface for 2-3 minutes while the calibration is in progress. Its ambient light sensor also serves a useful purpose: The stick can sit in a cradle next to the monitor, and it sends the ambient light information back to the computer so it adjusts the brightness response accordingly. (Typically in a brighter environment a human eye tends to lose the ability to discern the darkest shadows on the spectrum, so the software for huey™PRO can adjust the brightness curve to slightly exaggerate the difference among those dark shades.) Unfortunately the USB cable attached to it isn't a retractable one, but the included cradle has a groove around which the excess cable length can be wrapped, and the cradle also collapses/folds so it can fit in the accessory compartment of a laptop bag. Installation is really simple, and follows the standard USB gadget installation sequence: 1) Load the CD-ROM and install the software, 2) Plug the device in when the software tells you to do so, and 3) Enjoy.
The included huey™PRO software (which itself is called hueyPRO too) works both on Windows (XP and Vista) and Mac OS X (10.4 or higher). I don't know for sure whether the Mac OS X version is a universal binary or not, but I believe it should be, considering that how many people still keep using their PowerPC-based Macs for their graphics/publishing/printing needs. On the Mac OS X, it does not start up automatically upon login, but once it is started it remains resident with a small icon on the system tray. (By the way, the icon is ugly as f**k, being little more than just a gray and white box, sometimes with a large X-shaped marking; Pantone should've thought more about it if it wanted to target the Mac user base. _-_)
Calibration is done through a simple wizard, which first asks for your monitor type (CRT or LCD/laptop), then measures the ambient light level, then goes onto the actual calibration of the monitor, during which the sensor should be attached to the screen as closely as possible. At the end of calibration you are given a chance to compare the new, calibrated monitor profile against the standard sRGB profile (the difference was HUGE on my laptop monitor), and a chance to set the white point (D50, D65 and D75) and the gamma (1.8, 2.2 and 2.4). The white point and the gamma default to D65 (“mid-day sunlight”) and 2.2 by default; Mac users might want to switch the gamma to 1.8, which is the long-time Apple default that all Mac OS versions adhere to. On the other hand, I'm a recent convert from Windows so the gamma value 2.2 seemed more natural to me. (The program does suggest that 2.2 is better if the user needed to work on web design or digital photography.)
I finished calibrating my laptop LCD panel, and during its course I found one major annoyance: The program displays a nested series of epicentric rings (both in/near the pure white and in/near the pure black) in order to ensure discernability of shades in those extreme ends. And that calibration is still largely manual (requiring “eyeballing”); what's worse, it does not consider the fact that most digitally-driven LCD displays (be it a laptop display panel or a DVI/HDMI-driven LCD) don't come with separate brightness and contrast control, which it directs the user to adjust in order to make the image to display right. I was at a loss of what to do when it asked me to change them, so I just had to pretend that everything was right so the program doesn't ask me to go through that calibration process.
Despite the flaw, the resulting color was superb. I pulled one of the reference color pictures (a landscape of Yosemite taken a few years back) and compared the printed picture against the calibrated screen, which was set in colorimetric mode rather than the usual “perceptual” mode. There was not a single spot that differed between the two, except the extreme end of the color gamut which my LCD display could not reproduce. When put back in the perceptual rendering mode, the displayed picture was so neutral it felt I was looking at the real scene, albeit in colors a little subdued/faded.
Once the calibration was finished, huey™PRO started working in its ambient light sensor mode. In this mode, the color profile that huey™PRO created is modified real-time as the ambient light level changes. One thing to note is, though, this is only for the overall brightness/“gray response” curve; huey™PRO does not re-adjust color balance when there is a significant change in the overall color balance of the ambient light, for example, when the desk light is changed from “cool white” fluorescent to warmer halogen/tungsten, or even worse, yellowish, low-wattage incandescent; in such a case, a recalibration is necesary. (This is also noted in the control panel.)
On Mac OS X, the color profile that huey™PRO creates can be found under System Preferences > Displays > Color > Display Profile. At the end of the calibration process you pick a name for the profile, and the software suffixes the name with a parenthesized string that reflects the current preference (color temperature, gamma and ambient light level, e.g. “D65 G2.2 A130.75”). One thing caught me briefly off-guard was that, when I switched to one of the other profiles (in my case it was a factory profile for my LCD monitor in order to compare it against the new profile and see how accurate it was), the huey™PRO color profile disappeared. This is because huey™PRO apparently does not tag the profile it creates with the unique monitor ID, and the Display preference panel filters the profile out of sight because the “Show profiles for this display only” box is checked on the right. Once I cleared the box, I could see and switch back the huey™PRO profile again.
There is a separate System Preference panel for huey™PRO where you can change a couple of things:
Switch to/from the uncalibrated, “native” color profile.
Note that huey“PRO's usage of the word “native” is somewhat dubious (at least on Mac OS X), as it seems to use the standard sRGB color profile rather than the default device profile which should really be called “native”. If they wanted to avoid being overly technical, they should have called the sRGB color profile the “native” profile.
Pick a reference color temperature (D50/D65/D75).
Adjust gamma (1.8/2.2/2.4).
Reset all settings.
This seems to erase all System Preference data for huey™PRO, and removes the system tray icon as well. Next time I started huey™PRO, I even had to accept the licensing agreement again. :-p
Turn on/off Room Light Compensation.
This can also be done directly from the system tray menu. When the compensation is turned off, the calibrated profile behaves as if it were in a completely dark room, as indicated by the change in the profile name: The “A” value drops to 0.00.
Adjust the Room Light Compensation frequency.
The valid choices are: 10/30 seconds, 1/2/5/10/15/30 minutes or 1/2/4 hours; 1 minute is the default. The system tray menu also offers “Adjust for Room Light Now” which exactly does what it says.
Whether to remind the user to recalibrate the screen, and how often (1-14 days).
I wish it allowed for a longer calibration period, like a month.
I am thinking about getting a new LCD monitor of those “high color” variants (the Gateway FHD2400 is my top pick for now, by the way, but if you are thinking about getting one too, you should hurry as it is being replaced by a stripped-down, bare-bone successor, FHD2401). Once I have that, the first thing I am going to do is to run huey™PRO on it; then I believe I will feel the true power of that wide gamut the monitor is capable of.
The retail price of huey™PRO seems to be around $130. Online vendors have it at around $90-$110.
P.S. (Semi-)off-topic: On the box I saw “Pantone/x-rite” as the brand name, with “/x-rite” in small letters. Knowing that X-Rite was a company that specialized in colorimetric devices, I thought Pantone has acquired it and assumed its product line (in fact, huey™—the predecessor of huey™PRO—was made by X-Rite). But the result of some more research about it was quite surprising: It was X-Rite, not Pantone, that acquired the other; Pantone is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of X-Rite. (Of course X-Rite did not dare to dissolve the company itself; who would dare to do it to a industry giant that became nearly synonymous with colorimetry and color matching?)