It’s often surprising, with the best will and intention, how trusting we can become. Through experience, we take it for granted that the color balance, brightness and contrast levels we see on LCD screens fitted to our digital cameras only vaguely match the scenes being imaged. But it can be critically important to determine during a live shoot and subsequent playback that the shadow detail and contrast, for example, is compatible for the material being imaged, or that the overall lighting remains consistent from scene to scene, and that skin tones and textures will be reproduced faithfully and accurately.
And during editing, assembly and color grading, we need to be sure that the images we’re viewing accurately represent the color gamut being output to the final release media. Off-the-shelf, consumer-grade monitors can provide reasonable results, but anybody who has ever visited one of the larger consumer retailers and seen a wall of screens displaying the same program material soon realizes that there’s a startling number of color variations from model to model.
To really know what’s happening to the video material being imaged and manipulated, a cinematographer or filmmaker needs to use a reference monitor both during image acquisition and subsequent postproduction. Several companies offer suitable production monitors; here, we’ll consider solutions from THX and Dolby, two companies who are more known for their work in sound than video.
THX CineSpace Color Management Suite and Certification Program
In addition to testing and certifying a series of LCD, LED and plasma monitors—plus Blu-ray players and AV receivers—THX now offers the stand-alone cineSpace Color Management Suite, a modular technology that the firm recently acquired from Cine-tal Systems. Rick Dean, a senior vice president at THX, stresses, “cineSpace ensures a consistency of experience. Picture and sound are critically important to creating the art form directors are envisioning when telling their story. A key to delivering this artistic vision is to provide the postproduction community with powerful tools that enable them to accurately profile and match colors to the intended reference palette, from cinema to the home.”
The cineSpace suite is comprised of a combination of software applications that either run on a computer’s graphic card for a specific video application or on an independent video-processing engine such as the Davio or Pluto; additional manufacturers also provide such DSP engines, with cineSpace supporting a wide array of programmable settings for the specific display device. In essence, the graphic cards and DSP engines use predefined corrections created by the cineSpace suite of software, or LUTs (lookup tables)—that correct the display’s output and hence ensure accurate color balance and levels across the entire gamut.
It’s even possible to set up LUTs that will mimic the appearance of 35mm film, for example, so we can see what the final transfer from a digital file may look like when transferred to a target Kodak film stock. LUTs also can be used to emulate a videographer’s favorite color-management system/CMS to determine what a file may look like if treated in a predefined way during a digital intermediate process, for example, or while being treated to a sepia tint.