DIY HDTV Calibration Software Overview: A Comparison of ColorHCFR, ChromaPure, and CalMAN



The first calibration program I used was ColorHCFR, which is a free software package that anyone can download, and supports a wide variety of sensors. With a sensor such as the i1LT, you can get going in calibration for under $150, but how easy is the process, and what kind of results can you achieve? There are a couple of good guides available on the web for using HCFR, which is very useful since the majority of the program support files, and the official forums, are in French. Additionally, the software has not been updated in over a year at this point, so no one is ever really sure when support of the software, or support for new meters, will stop. For my use of this, I followed the guide that Kal at CurtPalme had put together, and as I'll refer to that some in this review it could be good to look it over as well.

While ColorHCFR is powerful and fairly flexible in what it can support, it also isn't the most intuitive software to use. Many of the choices you are presented with (such as Display) have a list of choices that aren't explained to you, but if you pick the wrong one, it will completely mess up your results, and your calibration won't be correct. It also doesn't provide you with a logical workflow of how you would go about calibrating a display. All of the measurements are there, but you'll need to know in what order you should take the measurements, and how you adjust the settings on your display to fix those results. Really, without the guide from CurtPalme I would have been lost during my first calibration and not known what to do. Now that I've done this a few times, it's easy for me to come into ColorHCFR and know what I need to do, but for a first time user, it's a very daunting interface.

That said, once you have any idea of how to get around inside of ColorHCFR, and what you need to do to fix your measurements, it is a very quick and powerful tool. Everything you need is presented on one screen, and it includes it's own internal pattern generator, so if you have a laptop with an HDMI or DVI out, you can easily connect your laptop to your display and it will cycle through the patterns and take the measurements for you. If you don't have this, then there are test patterns available for you to use, most notably a disc on the AVS Forum that users have created that is specifically designed for ColorHCFR, CalMAN, and ChromaPure. However, going from pattern to pattern, remembering to pause the Blu-ray disc, can get very tiresome, and takes far longer than using an automated pattern generator, so if you are using a laptop, I'd recommend getting a USB to HDMI adapter for $50 to make the process far, far easier on yourself.

Once you take measurements, they are easy to flip through using tabs at the bottom of the window. This makes it quite easy to look and see what you've already fixed, and what you still need to go back and work on some more to get it right. You'll often have to flip back and forth, making sure to measure things again after making later changes, as when you adjust one thing, it can easily affect other things that you might have already set. You many only need to adjust it a tiny bit now, but they could easily require it. Also, one thing that is lacking from ColorHCFR is any ability to do before and after measurements, and then any reporting on that. You'll want to make sure to save your measurements before you start adjusting in a different file if you wish to go back and review the data later. This won't matter for people that are doing this for themselves and just care about the final result, but for professionals that want to present the end user with a report after their service is completed, it could be a big issue.

Overall, ColorHCFR is powerful enough to get the job done, and with it's free entry fee, support guides available online, and large community of people using it, the cheapest way to calibrate your display as all you need to provide is the meter. However, it is not the easiest tool to figure out, doesn't have a workflow for you to do, and lacks any sort of reporting feature. Unfortunately as you can see in the attached graphs, when you save a graph inside of ColorHCFR, the reference measurement color is light grey on white, so they are a bit hard to read.