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



CalMAN has been reviewed by Secrets recently, so I'm not going to go over it in depth, as that review will do it for you. What I will do is compare it to ColorHCFR and ChromaPure as to their similiarities and differences.

After we calibrated the Samsung, we tried ChromaPure with a JVC RS-25 projector that is at a colleagues house. Since Mark has been using CalMAN successfully for several years, this was an excellent opportunity to compare ChromaPure with what is undoubtedly the most popular consumer and pro calibration software solution on the market. What we have to keep in mind here is that in the end it is all the same data - how it is displayed and how you interact with it in each software is what is different.

ChromaPure integrates with the JVC projector's CMS exceptionally well. The JVC color management system has independent settings for hue, saturation and luminance for each primary and secondary color, unlike the Samsung which uses RGB. This means errors we were targeting to correct inside of ChromaPure corresponded perfectly with what we were seeing on the JVC's menu system.

Mark was very happy with ChromaPure, but noted several differences between it and CalMAN. With ChromaPure we are seeing Tom Huffman's approach to calibration. We see the data the way that he likes to see it be organized and displayed. An advantage to CalMAN is that it is fully customizable. Should you have a particular preference for how you like data to be displayed, you can build this using CalMANs custom screens tool. This type of flexibility is not present in ChromaPure. This is a feature that is appealing to professional calibrators, who develop a preferred method to the calibrations that they conduct. Mark didn't feel that this was a major negative, he has never used the custom menu's and sticks with the layouts given by CalMAN, but it must be noted.

CalMAN is pre-packaged with several "calibration lay-outs" from Novice to Advanced and presents much of its data using a "bulls-eye" approach, vs column graphs that are prevalent in ChromaPure. Instead of seeing each color represented individually (Red Green and Blue for example when you are looking at a grayscale point), CalMAN represents this data in a 3 axis bulls-eye pattern. Errors in any of of the axis will pull you farther away from the bulls-eye - or your target value. This approach works quite well for grayscale and is a very graphically easy way to represent what you need to do. We both found that it was a little tougher for the color calibration, especially on the JVC.

Mark and I both felt that none of the preset calibration layouts in CalMAN presented the Color Management data acquisition (dE, dY, dC, etc) as succinctly as ChromaPure did, especially from an enthusiast vs professional perspective. CalMAN does consider CMS work "advanced" and often beyond the scope of enthusiast calibrators and thus requires a bit more knowledge to work through the data presentation screen then ChromaPure did. All of the information was there, but it was a little harder to see from the graphing exactly what needed to be done. For example: dY numbers tell you that your luminance was off, but it was less clear on CalMAN whether there was too much luminance or too little - dE values are absolute values and so only tell where your errors are and how far your off, not which direction. This was easily identifiable in ChromaPure's bar graphs which were negative or positive depending on which direction you need to adjust the control. Professional calibrators undoubtedly will have an easier time moving around the data - but we both appreciated how well CMS information in particular was graphically presented in the ChromaPure software.

Which to choose if you don't have something right now? Only you can tell if you'll have a preference for the ways in which the two softwares present the data. CalMAN allows you to download a trial version but this version just allows you to see how the software works in a theoretical way - you can play with the software but you can't actually connect with a meter and take measurements. ChromaPure does not offer a demo, but the website has multiple video's so you can see how various things are accomplished.

Beyond that, the two software packages do not overlap 100% in terms of functionality or features. ChromaPure offers free point release software updates while major version updates will be around $50, free support and no extra licensing for professionals, while CalMAN makes you pay for support after the first year and future software versions and is expensive for a professional license. CalMAN also has more options for pattern generation: they offer a low cost pattern generator in addition to commercial targeted units like those from Sencore, and also support for USB/IR blasters that will control Blu-ray players using a variety of test discs (including the free AVS-HD test disc available at AVS Forum). ChromaPure does have support for commercial pattern generators, but these are generally too expensive to appeal to the average enthusiast and lacks support for USB/IR based devices like those supported by CalMAN. ChromaPure does include an internal pattern generator that you can display on your display from your computer if you have the proper output, but this requires unplugging wires and trusting that your computer is either outputting the same signal type as your Blu-ray player, or that your display handles them the same. This emulator is definitely nice, but being able to use a Blu-ray player without doing actual rewiring is something that I think is beneficial to the casual user. We have asked Tom about this functionality and it is on the "to do list", but is currently unavailable.

You certainly can't go wrong with either package - which one you choose depends on how you assign value to the various differences in features.

CalMan Calibration Report