Datacolor Spyder4 PRO Review
The Datacolor Spyder4 Pro is an affordable display calibration system that will improve your monitor?s image quality. It?s quick and easy to use but the colorimeter needs a longer USB cord.
- Improves image detail and color quality
- Easy to use
- No automatic brightness adjustment
- USB cord could be longer
A well-calibrated monitor is a must for photo editors, designers, and content creators, but there’s no reason for anybody to be working with a monitor that delivers skewed colors or is too dark or too bright. There are a number of free calibration apps that you can use to improve your monitor’s overall image quality, and if you use Windows 7 or Windows 8 you can use the built-in utility to perform a basic calibration. However, if you want to make sure your monitor is consistently displaying accurate colors you’ll have to spend a few bucks on a solution that measures and adjusts things like white point, gamut, and luminance.
The Datacolor Spyder4 Pro offers an affordable way to calibrate multiple monitors so that they all produce consistent color and image detail and stay that way (it’s a good idea to recalibrate every so often as monitors tend to change over time). It uses a colorimeter and software to create a profile for each monitor and measures ambient light to tune your monitor according to your lighting conditions. It delivers as advertised and is a snap to use, but it could use a longer USB cord and an auto adjustment option for brightness settings.
Design and Features
The Spyder4 Pro consists of a colorimeter, a stand, and calibration software. A colorimeter measures color and compares it to a known standard, such as the sRGB and Adobe color standards. The three-legged Spyder resembles a Klingon warship and sports a two-tone gloss and matte black finish. It’s small enough to fit in the palm of your hand and connects to your PC via a weighted USB cord. The weight did a good job of holding the meter in place when hung over the top of the monitor but the 67-inch cord was barely long enough to reach my full sized tower PC situated beneath my desk. Another foot or so would provide some much needed leeway. On the top of the Spyder is an activity LED and an ambient light sensor and the bottom contains a 7-color sensor. A stand is provided for measuring ambient light and for storing the Spyder when not in use.
The Spyder4 Pro works with LCD and CRT monitors as well as laptop screens. Whereas the Spyder4 Express ($119 list) only lets you calibrate one monitor, the Spyder4 Pro supports multiple monitor calibrations and can be installed on multiple PCs. It doesn’t do projector calibrations though; for that you’ll have to upgrade to the Spyder4 Elite ($249.99 list) or go with X-Rite’s ColorMunki Display.
Installing and using the Spyder4 Pro is a breeze. It’s important to make sure your monitor has been on for at least 30 minutes before calibrating and that the software is installed and running before you plug in the colorimeter. The first time you run the software you’re asked to enter an activation code (found on the CD sleeve). You can automatically activate the software via the internet or do it manually. Either way you’ll have to furnish your name and email address to complete the activation. Once activated you are given a license code that must be used if you are going to reinstall the software or use it on an additional PC. (Check out the slideshow for more info on the step-by-step process of calibrating using the Spyder4 Pro.)
The calibration process is wizard driven. The Welcome screen has you check off certain pre-calibration procedures such as warming up the monitor, adjusting ambient light, and resetting the monitor to its default settings. It also offers a handy video tutorial on calibration for the uninitiated. In fact, there are help screens available throughout the process that will guide you through the calibration procedure.
First, select the type of display that you’re calibrating (LCD, CRT, laptop). Then enter the manufacturer and model information on the following screen. You’ll then be prompted to enter the gamut type (unknown, normal, wide), and backlight type (unknown, CCFL, white LED, RGB LED). Next, select the type of controls your monitor has (contrast, brightness, Kelvin presets). If you’re calibrating a CRT monitor you can add an RGB slider control to the list (see preferences), but Datacolor suggests leaving that box unchecked when calibrating an LCD monitor.
A Calibration Settings screen shows recommended target values that include gamma, white point, brightness, and ambient light settings. You can choose your own settings using the dropdown boxes; options include four gamma settings (1.8, 2.0, 2.2, 2.4), four white point settings (5000k, 5800k, 6500k, native), brightness (native, CRT, LCD), and ambient light (on, off). Select “on” for ambient light if you want to calibrate your monitor to match your lighting environment, which is a good idea.
Now, the colorimeter will take an ambient light reading and produce a result with a suggested brightness and white point setting. In my case it suggested a brightness setting of 180 cd/m2 with a white point of 6500k. You will then be directed to place the Spyder4 on the screen. Adjust the weight so that the colorimeter sits flush on the screen with the weight positioned at the rear of the cabinet. The Spyder will now measure brightness, color, and white point and display the actual readings and suggested target levels. If you elected to change the monitor’s RGB setting manually, here’s where you do it. Using your monitor’s OSD controls, adjust the RGB color levels until they match their targets. It may take multiple tries as you have to update the settings each time to see where you are. As mentioned, this option should be left unchecked for LCD monitors. Unless you have an intimate knowledge of how colors interact with each other, you may end up with severe tinting issues.
Next comes the brightness level adjustment, which has to be done manually using the OSD controls. It would be nice to have an automated luminance option similar to the one provided with X-Rite’s ColorMunki Display. The Spyder will now measure the various shades of red, green and blue (from dark to light), and shades of grays (from black to white) and adjust settings accordingly. Once the calibration is finished you then save the profile, which is automatically loaded each time you fire up your PC. Here you can also set a reminder to recalibrate, ranging from never to six months.
At this point you can use a variety of images to compare picture quality before and after the calibration. Each image can be enlarged so you can look for changes in detail and color saturation. The Profile Overview compares the calibrated monitor to other displays in your profile list and shows how accurately it displays colors in the sRGB, NTSC, and Adobe color spaces. You can quit the program or use the Advanced Analysis feature to run individual tests for gamut, tone response, brightness and contrast, and white point when using the monitor’s various picture presets. These tests can be saved as charts, providing a nice visual as to how your monitor stacks up. When it comes time to recalibrate, simply use the ReCAL option at startup and you’ll have a freshly calibrated monitor within minutes.
The calibration process took a little more than five minutes to complete, and the results were outstanding. I tested the Spyder4 Pro on three different monitors and in each instance the calibration provided noticeably superior picture quality than what you get out of the box. Highlight and shadow detail appeared sharper, and the resulting luminance level was easy on the eyes—not too bright and not too dim. Moreover, color output matched up nicely across all three monitors, much more so than before they were calibrated.
With the Datacolor Spyder4 Pro you can calibrate all of your monitors and laptops to deliver consistent color quality across all of your systems. Its ease of use and excellent help options ensure that even novice users can achieve noteworthy results without paying a fortune. I’d love to see Datacolor add an auto-brightness feature and tack on another foot of USB cable to the colorimeter, but neither of these minor gripes prevent me from recommending the Spyder4 Pro to anyone who wants to fine tune their monitor. As good as the Spyder4 Pro is, the X-Rite Colormunki Display is a better deal. It offers support for projectors and ambient light monitoring and features an automated brightness adjustment, which is why it is our Editors’ Choice for calibration tools.
By John R. Delaney, PCMag