More and more photographers are using LCD projectors to show slide shows of their images to groups of clients, friends, or workshop attendees. Although digital projectors evolved from the projectors used to show 35mm slides, they don’t work the same, primarily because digital color needs to be controlled differently than the fixed colors associated with processed film.
How many of us have seen awful color come out of a seemingly decent, modern LCD projector? I have not only attended presentations in which the color has been completely off, but have also struggled with my own equipment.
Luckily, I own color-management software and hardware and have learned some tips to get the best color from a digital projector.
First, let’s talk about projectors. I own an Optoma EP721 DLP Projector that sells online for about $650 USD. Its native resolution is 800 x 600 and it has a 1280 x 1024 compressed resolution. It has 2200 ANSI lumens and can project from as close as 4 feet and as far as 39 feet away.
Out of the box, the color is OK but not great. The highlights are broken up and not well differentiated and the gray balance is off. When I plug it into my Mac a default profile for the projector shows up in ColorSync. I have never been a fan of default profiles, especially when I own the X-Rite i1Pro color-measuring device.
Like the curious cat that I am, I immediately start exploring the settings on the projector itself. Much like computer displays, most projectors come with a default setting for the brightness, contrast ratios, and white point.
On my Optoma projector, the settings allow me to choose from sRGB, Movie,
Presentation, and User modes. Each mode differs slightly. As with most digital devices, I suggest some experimentation to find the best setting.
For my projector I chose the "User" mode. My red bias was set at a high default level, but I am not sure if this is universal. Then, I made sure the brightness and contrast settings were set to a mid level and evaluated this in room lighting that is typical of the rooms in which I usually give presentations on color management and digital imaging. Of course, room lighting can vary greatly from setting to setting so for color-measurement purposes, it’s best to assume that the lights will be turned down low when you make your presentation. In other words, the less light the better.
Once everything is set up for presentation, I set my i1 Pro spectrophotometer and Projector Holder on the projector with the i1 connected to the projection computer. The spectrophotometer then measures and records how much light is reflected off the projection screen and received at the area in which the projector is set up.
I start i1 match and choose Projector Profile - Advanced. The Advanced setting allows me to set up my own white point and gamma. I like 6500K and Gamma 2.2 for my color management lectures as well as for showing movies and photographic slide shows.
The process is pretty easy because the software guides you through the process. The only real issues I have experienced have occurred when I tried to dial-in the projector with the internal hardware. Sometimes, I have actually made the color worse.
So, I have learned the hard way to keep the settings simple. Also I make sure to calibrate and profile in minimal light. This can be difficult to do in some conference rooms. It’s best if you can show your work in a room in which you can control the light.
The results of calibrating and profiling your projector can be beautiful whether you are showing a few family snapshots or a very important client presentation. The right color says you are professional and care about looking your very best.
If you have additional tips or experiences you would like to share with regards to projector profiling, we would like to hear them!