Display Calibration Using SMPTE Colour Bars

We all have seen those multi-colored vertical patterns that many different types of video equipment such as cameras, monitors editing and colour grading software generate, mainly known as SMPTE color bars. Yet, calibrating various displays and monitors using the SMPTE color bars are still a challenging and overwhelming task for many people. Color bars are mainly used to ensure that colours from your video source are accurate and consistent, and they look all the same through different monitors and various display systems.

As a rule of thumb, adding a 2-3 seconds colour bar pattern at the beginning of your footage ensures that you have a common visual reference point that will allow more accurate adjustment of the image on different displays such as computer monitors, TV sets, projector screens, etc. Thus, you can achieve a consistent look of your video, and also you will make sure that it will look just the way you indented to. The following video reveals more in-depth information on how to set up and calibrate any display step-by-step utilizing the SMTPE colour bars.

Most professional cameras have SMPTE colour bars as a build-in feature. However, it’s fine for you to use the colour bar patterns that your NLE generates or the one that you’ve already added to the beginning of your video file. First, turn on the monitor that you’re about to calibrate and allow it to warm up for 5 to 10 minutes. Display the SMPTE colour bars on the screen and turn off the monitor’s colours (also known as chroma) completely. You can also dim the lighting in the room that you are in to make sure that you can see the monitor clearly without any glare.

Look at the pluge pattern at the lower right consists of the three dark bars – superblack, black, and gray. Adjust the monitor brightness until there is no discernible difference between superblack and black, and also, make sure that the gray bar is barely visible.


The next step is to adjust the monitor’s contrast until a smooth gradient scale of grey appears along the top bars. Finally, you should fine-tune the color as well. Take a particular look at the magenta and yellow bars. Adjust the Hue/Tint level, so the yellow bar turns into a lemon yellow, not orange or green, and the magenta bar shouldn’t be red or purple. As-a-rule-of-thumb, colours shouldn’t blend with each other and should have clearly defined edges.

Alternatively, if your monitor/display has a “Blue only” option, you can use  it instead. If your monitor cannot do this, look at the bars through a blue filter. Turn the monitor chroma up until the far left and far right bars have the same brightness. Also, adjust the monitor tint (hue or chroma/colour phase) until cyan and the magenta bars located on the either side of the middle bar have the same brightness as well. Switch off the “Blue only” function and you’re ready to go.


Using this technique will significantly improve the calibration process, and it’s also a great starting point to make your content look consistent and properly displayed from one monitor to the next. After you have set up a few displays, you’ll soon know what proper bars look like, and it will be easier for you to do the adjustments faster and with a fair amount of precision.

[via Wolf Crow]

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One Response

  1. CWR0747 February 17, 2015

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