The hallmark of a great display is how sharp or bright it looks and how accurately it showcases colors. When one or more of those attributes are off, it’s safe to assume the hardware is faulty or the display is not calibrated well – it’s usually the latter (particularly if the device is brand new).
Calibration is usually a pain point with computer monitors. Professional video editors and graphic designers cannot afford incorrect hues in their productions or client projects.
Unfortunately, the tale is similar to projectors, albeit not as critical. In other words, it’s not rare for grass to look yellowish or even blue in the visuals projected.
But is “projector calibration” as pertinent a topic as it’s made out to be? Can people not calibrate their projector and still be happy with what they see on their screens?
For answers to the above questions and much more information, keep reading.
What Does Calibrating a Projector Mean?
Most projectors are plug-and-play. You need not install specific driver software tools to start using them.
But for the visuals to look accurate or do complete justice to what’s playing on the screen, a fair bit of fiddling with the various aspects of the scene is essential – including contrast, brightness, color, sharpness, and tint levels.
There’s also another important cog in the wheel: color temperature.
You’d be dealing with red, green, and blue colors when playing with color temperature. If you like your visuals to be warmer, increase the red temperature. If you are a fan of cooler images, bring the red down and push the blue levels up.
Getting the color temperature right or to your liking is pretty much the whole job complete. Contrast, brightness, etc., are relatively simple to ace and serve as icing to the calibration cake.
In case all of this sounds complicated, do not fret. If you have played with the settings of your LCD or OLED TV or monitor screen, you would know what you’re doing.
Not to mention, the above brightness and RGB contrast adjustments can be located in your projector’s user menu or may be hidden in the service menu.
Using Third-Party Tools
Increasing the contrast, reducing the brightness, boosting the color, etc., in the settings are basic, less technical methods to calibrate projection.
The slightly complicated approach involves using third-party tools, such as the Minolta’s CL-200A Chroma Meter.
The CL-200A measures the color temperature of your projector’s white LEDs, along with delta value changes and color coordinates. The tool’s sensitivity range is 0.1 to 99,900 lux.
When checking your beamer’s RGB and luminance settings, it’s recommended to use the Chroma Meter or a similar tool for accurate adjustments.
Do All Projectors Need Calibration?
Ordinarily, projectors are not ready for action right out of the box.
Whether you’ve bought a budget projector or a truly high-end machine, the chances of specific picture settings being too high or low for your liking are solid.
With the higher-end models, however, calibration issues are pretty rare. After all, you get what you pay for!
If the picture settings with your projector are off, it means the contrast could be set to soft or low by default; the brightness could be a bit too high; and/or the colors could be muted or too intense.
You don’t need a discerning eye to determine that the visuals are different than usual. It’s typically quite evident, particularly with budget projectors.
And if you are a stickler for accurate colors and want the brightness and contrast levels to be on the dot, you’ll find the visual discrepancies even more glaring.
There’s No Standard
That said, there are no right or wrong picture settings – or there’s no “right calibration”.
Most people set the brightness, contrast, color, etc., based on their preferences and not according to expert recommendations or some industry standard (which doesn’t exist, by the way).
And the picture settings that most people end up with may seem off to the “purists” or “experts”.
For example, if a user likes the visuals to be extremely bright (because they use the projector during the day or with all lights turned on), brightness levels higher than average may be suitable for that individual.
Even in color reproduction, some people (for some reason) don’t fancy original colors. They would much rather have extremely vibrant images, even if those are not true to the content.
And, for a more fun viewing experience, some people won’t mind or set the green grass to look blue or purple. Yes, such people exist.
Long story short, calibrating a projector doesn’t mean you are making the picture settings right or correcting them. It’s adjusting the different aspects to your requirements.
Therefore, even premium projectors provide the calibration settings feature in their product not because they do not believe they can calibrate their projectors right but because they realize “to each their own”.
If you like the factory-set picture settings and do not feel the need to calibrate anything, that’s fine.
Should I Calibrate My Projector or Leave It Alone?
If you are still unsure or torn between “to calibrate” or “not to calibrate” your projector, consider a few things.
If your projector is a high-end device, you can pretty much leave the settings untouched – especially if you are pretty content with what you see on the screen.
But if you bought one for cheap, you would feel the need to play with the picture settings almost instantaneously.
Even if the visuals don’t look too bad, it’s worth playing with the picture settings of your inexpensive projector. Once you’ve set things to optimal, you’ll be surprised by the apparent boost in picture quality.
Why is Calibration on Inexpensive Projectors Inherently Poor?
Now that you understand and appreciate the need to calibrate a projector, the question that could be on your mind is, “Why are cheap projectors not decently calibrated in their factories themselves?”
To reiterate, there is no “calibration standard”. However, with economical projectors, calibration could be outrageously bad or not ready for use by even the most forgiving projector users.
The primary reason why this is the case is, you guessed it, “cost”.
Calibration is not an automated process. For projectors to be fine-tuned for picture quality, each unit must be individually worked on by an employee. And to ensure the calibration is done correctly, an inspection phase may also have to be put in place.
Moreover, the calibration team might need a specific environment to work in, which would mean more expenditure. All of these factors add to the projector’s cost and its retail price.
Companies that strive to offer projectors at the lowest possible price and keep their competitive edge intact choose not to care much about calibration.
And because there’s no perfect “calibration”, and buyers are likely to alter the settings regardless of how painstakingly the maker tried to set things optimally, most companies forgo the task and eventually put the onus on the end consumer.
To conclude, projectors usually need some calibration. Luckily, calibrating a projector is relatively easy. You just need to have the drive and be willing to do it yourself.
Back in the day, when projectors were relatively new to the market and consumers didn’t know much about how they worked, calibration was a task purely carried out by professionals who charged a pretty penny.
Over the years, users have gotten familiar with the device and have taken it upon themselves to dig in and set things up. The plethora of information on the web as articles (like this one) and videos have helped their cause considerably.
Catherine Tramell has been covering technology as a freelance writer for over a decade. She has been writing for Pointer Clicker for over a year, further expanding her expertise as a tech columnist. Catherine likes spending time with her family and friends and her pastimes are reading books and news articles.