GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor

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GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor

Out of the box the majority of monitors are far from perfect when it comes to color, brightness, and motion blur calibration. With a few simple tweaks you can fix all that, however, and finally see games as developers intended. One thing to acknowledge though: calibration is a subjective process because our eyes and brains can perceive color incorrectly (see: white-gold, blue-black dress), and because of color blindness and other issues. So even when a professional monitor calibrator is telling you that settings are correct, you may feel differently.

With the above in mind, try giving recommended and calibrated settings a few days to settle in. If you still feel uncomfortable or unhappy with the results, modify them in small increments until you’re content. And remember, your results will be limited by the quality of your monitor and the panel technology it’s using: IPS typically has superior viewing angles and colors, and TN is more responsive and less prone to motion blur.

Back-Up Old Settings

You’ve potentially used incorrect settings for several years, and to you they look AOK. The changes we’re making could be drastic, and you may dislike them greatly. As such, go through your monitor’s menus, Windows’ options, and the NVIDIA Control Panel, jotting down old settings and any changes you’ve made in the past. That way, you can revert the changes we’re about to make and return to the incorrect settings you’ve grown to love.

Prep Your System & Room

Before you start your calibration efforts, install the latest NVIDIA display drivers from GeForce.com, set your screen resolution to its native resolution, for example 1920x1080 on a 1920x1080 monitor, and let your monitor warm up for 20-30 minutes (some may take longer, others less so) to ensure it's operating to its full capabilities. If you're unfamiliar with changing resolutions, right click the desktop, select "NVIDIA Control Panel", navigate to the "Change Resolution" tab, and select the resolution in the list that says "(native)".

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - NVIDIA Control Panel Color Resolution Options

In your room, eliminate any glare from windows or artificial lights, but keep the lighting bright enough that you can see the keyboard and your surroundings. If your screen is typically engulfed in glare, look for ways to reduce that on a permanent basis to improve results and reduce eye-strain, and if that's impossible boost the monitor's brightness post-calibration to compensate.

Correct Your Viewing Position

All monitors have a listed Viewing Angle in which the picture is supposedly clear and usable. In reality though the quality of some monitors can drop drastically the second you move off-center. Therefore, to ensure you have the best possible picture, and can calibrate your monitor correctly, switch your position permanently to one in line with your monitor, with the entirety of the screen in your field of view.

To not do so will hobble your experience and prevent effective calibration, making it the most important change in this guide. Your back and neck will probably thank you for the change, too, especially as you get older.

Use Professional Reviews As A Starting Point

TFTCentral, Display Lag, and Prad produce some of the most detailed monitor reviews on the Internet, and in those reviews their knowledgeable editors often provide recommended monitor settings and ICC color management profiles.

Generated from professional-grade calibrators these are fantastic starting points for your own personalized settings, and in many cases are good enough to use without any further tweaking:

Step 1) Locate settings and profiles. Check TFT Central’s Database first, and if no luck Display Lag and Prad’s reviews second. If you’re still unable to find your monitor look on the manufacturer’s support page for ICC profiles, and try a generic Google search using calibration. If that’s too broad, add quotation marks to force a search for that specific phrase. And if that fails, skip this section and be prepared to spend some quality time in calibration apps.

Step 2) Install the ICC profile. Copy the downloaded file to C:\Windows\system32\spool\drivers\color, then run colorcpl.exe to open the Color Management window (alternatively, navigate to Color Management in the Control Panel).

Step 3) Tick the "Use my settings for this device" check box.

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - Tick the ”Use my settings for this device” check box

Step 4) Click "Add…" and locate the relevant profile. If you don’t see it select “Browse” and navigate to C:\Windows\system32\spool\drivers\color.

Step 5) Your new profile will appear in the window under “Profiles associated with this device”. If there’s more than one, click the new profile, then click “Set as Default Profile”.

Step 6) Click the “Advanced” tab, then click “Change system defaults…”.

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - Click the “Advanced” tab, then click “Change system defaults…”

Step 7) On this carbon-copy of the Color Management window, click the “Advanced” tab, and tick “Use Windows display calibration”.

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - On this carbon-copy of the Color Management window, click the “Advanced” tab, and tick “Use Windows display calibration”.

Step 8) Repeat the process on your second, third, and forth monitors if you’re a multi-monitor user.

Step 9) Close the Color Management window(s).

Step 10) Finally, modify each monitor’s settings using their On-Screen Displays (OSD). Some can be unintuitive, so it is recommended to keep the manual on standby. If the panel’s particularly advanced you may be able to create multiple profiles or presets, and tweak power user settings that give you greater control over the picture. If you’re unsure what a setting does, consult the manual or ask online.

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - An example of a monitor On-Screen Display
OSD image courtesy of TFT Centeral

Tweak With Free Tools & Tests

The quality and properties of monitors can vary from one unit to the next in production runs, so you may find the recommended settings above are ‘off’, or perhaps you simply wish to tweak to your personal liking. The easiest way to do this is to utilize a variety of online tests, and the “Calibrate display” tool in the “Advanced” tab of the Color Management application we were using above.

Online, the go-to location for any monitor tweaking is Lagom’s suite of test images. There, you can calibrate Contrast, Sharpness, black levels, and many other aspects of your monitor’s display. But what you won’t find is a good motion test, which is particularly important for gamers using modern monitors equipped with motion blur, input delay, input lag, zero lag, and other similarly named modules that reduce blurring on fast-moving objects.

Some of these modules can merely be turned on or off, but others, like BenQ’s AMA, have a variety of modes. Using Blur Busters’ Motion Tests and Prad’s PixPerAn you can see the impact of these modules and determine which result you like best.

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - Blur Busters' Motion Test
Blur Busters test image courtesy of TFT Central

At the conclusion of Windows’ display calibration you can also access ClearType Text Tuner to adjust the clarity of text in Windows, which is particularly important for any heavy-duty readers or typists. Alternatively, you can skip the “Calibrate display” tests by running cttune.exe directly, or by searching for ClearType in Windows 8.1’s Start Menu.

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - Windows' ClearType Text Tuner

Go Professional

The only way to get 100% technically-perfect results for your monitor is to buy, rent, or borrow a professional color calibration tool, such as Datacolor’s Spyder4, Pantone’s ColorMunki, or x-Rite’s i1Display Pro. They’re not cheap (prices start at $99), but if you’ve already invested in a G-SYNC Surround setup or 4K monitor the extra cost will ensure you get the absolute best results. Just remember, the technology may say that the calibration is perfect, but your eyes may not believe it, or you may simply prefer a different look.

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - Monitor Calibration Device
Calibration devices rest on your screen while working their magic, and take into account external factors such as ambient lighting, too.

NVIDIA Control Panel Color Adjustment

In the NVIDIA Control Panel you can quickly modify the current appearance of video content and the desktop, and easily revert the changes. This is particularly helpful if you need to change the appearance of an application temporarily, or want to permanently adjust your video output but not your carefully calibrated desktop.

GeForce Garage: How To Calibrate Your Monitor - NVIDIA Control Panel Color Adjustment
Simply right click your desktop and select the NVIDIA Control Panel top open the window.

Please note that some games and applications will override calibrations and Control Panel tweaks. To workaround this problem, you can try CPKeeper and Color Sustainer.

Conclusion

By this point your monitor’s picture should be looking better than ever before. You may initially feel the look is bad or wrong, but give it a few days and you’ll probably change your tune once your eyes adapt. If all else fails, you can always go back to your original setup. If you stick with it though you’ll see games as developers intended, and get more accurate color reproduction in videos, movies, TV shows, and pictures.

If calibration can’t fix your complaints, however, consider a brand new monitor with superior color reproduction, reduced input lag, wider viewing angles, and zero motion blur. At the time of writing, TFT Central rates the Acer Predator XB270HU 2560x1440 G-SYNC IPS-panel monitor as the “new king of gaming monitors”, and on Display Lag the BenQ XL2430T, BenQ XL2420G G-SYNC, and ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q G-SYNC TN-panel monitors are tied in the all-important Picture Quality, Input Lag, and Response Time categories. If you don’t need anything quite as fancy though there are plenty of other great monitors out there that should provide a superior experience, reducing eye strain and making your games and multimedia look better than before.

For more guides that help you get the most out of your PC, and help you build a brand new system, check out the GeForce Garage homepage. And next week we'll show you how to set up a Surround multi-monitor gaming system in the final episode of our Cross Desk modding series.

Got any other monitor calibration tips that we didn’t cover? Want to see a GeForce Garage guide on a specific topic? Let us know in the comments!