Welcome to ‘Kagoo Explains’ - a series of short articles de-mystifying some of the confusing terminology used to describe tech. This week we’re looking at two aspects of how colours are displayed on TVs, monitors and projectors: colour gamut and colour accuracy.
Colour is one of those things that seems simple, but once you start to look closer, it gets really complicated, really fast. You start with ideas of primary colours mixing together, and you quickly end up like this XKCD comic. An in-depth dive into colour theory is a job for another day: as far as this article is concerned, there are 2 important points to know about colours:
There are a lot of different colours in the visible spectrum
The more colours you have, the harder it is to differentiate between one shade and another
Upgrading The Rainbow
Despite what the children’s song may have you think, there are far more than the 7 colours that make up the rainbow. Indeed, it’s estimated that in the ‘sRGB’ colour space (the standard collection of colours that are used for the majority of modern design) there are 16.7 million colours, and there are many more beyond that!
With this in mind, the ‘colour gamut’ of a TV or monitor refers to the number of colours it can display. The wider the gamut, the more colours are available. This is important because if your display tries to show a colour that isn’t supported, it will instead use the closest alternative. This means that videos and images may look different than they should - for instance a rose may look slightly more orange than red if the requested colour falls outside the available colour range.
As a rule of thumb, the extra colours added as a monitor’s colour gamut increases tend to be richer and more saturated. These deep, vibrant colours help to make images and videos seem more lush and dramatic - greatly increasing your viewing experience. Conversely, viewing the same video on a TV with a thinner gamut will feel more washed out.
Therefore the higher the gamut of a television or monitor, the closer the displayed colours will be to the ‘real’ colours. This is an integral part of the second concept: Colour Accuracy
What You See Is(n’t Always) What You Get
Colour accuracy is a simple measurement of how faithfully a colour is reproduced on a device. As we’ve seen, the colours depicted on your television may not always match what was intended - the gamut is a possible reason, but there are several other considerations. These may include:
Gamma - how smoothly colours transition from dark to light
Contrast - the difference between the darkest and the lightest shades
Temperature - how ‘cool’ (favouring blue-ish shades) or ‘warm’ (favouring brown-ish shades) the colours on the monitor are
All of these factors may affect the final accuracy of a displayed colour. Depending on your monitor or television, the changes may be stark, or so small that they are barely noticeable. Indeed, many people won’t immediately notice the difference between different levels of colour accuracy - when you have 16.7 million colours, the subtlety between two shades of lilac becomes miniscule.
However there are one group for whom colour accuracy is of the utmost importance: graphic designers and photographers. If you are trying to create a high-quality image or video, it’s crucial that the colours you’re seeing on the screen accurately represent the ‘true’ colours. No-one wants to spend hours obsessing over a specific shade of green for a high-paying client’s advert, only to find that on publication, the green is actually closer to blue!
Design professionals therefore require the colours on their screen to be accurate & predictable - that their shade of green will always be the same colour. So to guarantee the highest colour accuracy possible, there may be a need for some display calibration.
I’m In The Middle Of Some Calibrations...
While the largest majority of monitors and televisions will work just fine straight out of the box, they will still benefit from a bit of tweaking. Display Calibration is the act of setting up a monitor so that the gamma, contrast, temperature, etc are set at optimal levels for maximum colour accuracy.
There are numerous guides on how to effectively calibrate your monitor, and Windows 10 contains a built-in colour calibration tool that will maximize colour accuracy with ease. For televisions, the methods will vary depending on the brand and model - however TechHive has a great general guide on basic adjustments.
Whatever method you choose, a properly-calibrated screen will allow for the best visual quality, meaning your TV or monitor can really shine - whether you’re sketching digital art or watching YouTube videos. And if you feel like you need an upgrade, check out our listings of the best TVs and PC Monitors on the market!