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How to Test and Calibrate Your PC Monitor

Get the Most Out of Your Monitor by Calibrating the Settings

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How to Test and Calibrate Your PC Monitor

The LG W2252TQ Flatron Monitor

Courtesy of LG

Introduction

Most of the time, when you crack open a new monitor or display for your computer, you don't experience any glaring problems in terms of color or tint. But as monitors become more and more sophisticated (and larger), and they start being used for more diverse applications, tweaking them for performance has become more important.

If you're a graphic designer, video editor, or someone who just watches a lot of videos, DVDs, or even TV on your computer, you'll probably start to notice the need for a little tweaking. Follow the simple steps outlined in this article, and you'll find yourself well on your way to a dazzling video experience.

Testing Methods

There are a few different things you can do to evaluate your monitor's performance, ranging from the simple and subjective to the professional and complex. We'll break them down into two categories: the Regular Joe Tests and the Advanced Calibration Techniques.

  • Regular Joe Tests

The best thing to do to make sure your computer screen isn't too dark, too bright, or otherwise imbalanced, is to simply find some good source material and watch it, adjusting your monitor to your personal taste as you go along. You'll be able to adjust your screen's color and brightness settings by playing with the buttons on the face of the monitor. Consult your owner's manual for precisely how they work. If you're using a laptop (or a desktop as well), you'll find additional controls in your Windows display settings.

The definition of "good source material" is less subjective. Plenty of gamers like to adjust their settings as they play their favorite games, but video games are notorious for unique lighting and wacky color schemes. The best thing to do is watch normal-looking video clips from a high quality source (read: not YouTube). Try About.com's video section or Hulu.com. Watch something with standard, realistic lighting, like a sitcom on Hulu.com. If you're a movie buff, watch some films with dark scenes and make sure it's not too dark. Adjust the way you like it.

  • Advanced Calibration Techniques

People who want to use their monitor for professional purposes (or those who are simply persnickity video buffs) may want something more realiable than their own preference to make sure their monitors are giving them the best picture.

Several programs exist to help you tweak and calibrate your settings from objective source material like color diagrams and test patterns. Two of the best known are the Passmark's Monitor Test software and Display Mate diagnostics program. Passmark's Monitor Test is available to download for a free trial period, while Display Mate must be purchased in order to download.

For an even more in-depth look at monitor calibration with an angle toward publishing, check out About.com's Desktop Publishing guide to calibration.

Common Terms Explained

Some terms monitors use in their settings menu can be confusing or redundant. Here's a quick explaination of common settings for adjusting your monitor.

  • Color - This means just what it says: do you want more or less color on your monitor? Increasing or decreasing the color setting will affect the color saturation of your monitor, meaning how deep and bold the colors are. Just turn it up all the way to see how there can be such a thing as "too much color."

  • Tint - The tint setting is one of the more flexible settings in terms of definition, and what it does to your monitor really can vary based on the manufacturer. Sometimes it seems like a more temperamental brightness setting. On other displays, it can affect the color as well as the dimness. Generally, we're talking about color hue, and you'll know when you've got it right because the picture will be as 'realistic' as possible.

  • Brightness - Here's the only setting more self-explanatory than color. Changing this will make your screen darker and brighter, and it really is a matter of personal preference. Most people tend to find comfort in the 75% range. Try it when your computing room is both dark and well-lit to make sure both work.

  • Sharpness - There is some vagueness of how much your monitor's settings can actually help your sharpness. So much of it depends on your resolution, and the quality of the material you're looking at (say, a High Definition movie vs. a YouTube video, or a professional photograph vs. one your little cousin took). Generally, this will make the edges of your picture darker and more defined. Having this set too low results in a soft, hazy picture.
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