Datacolor SpyderTV Solution
TV Calibration Made Easy!
The DIY TV calibration system that leaves the guesswork out!
SpyderTV by Datacolor is a colorimeter based 'software-driven' easy-to-use solution to help home users optimize their video display settings. Being colorimeter based means the video calibration process is not subjective to the human eye perceived levels of color, contrast, and brightness.
The first colorimeter solution was released by Datacolor in 2005. Since then, we have seen a number of improvements, with the latest being Spyder3TV and Spyder4TV HD. These are practically the same except that the HD version comes with a Blu-ray disc as the source for the test patterns instead of a DVD. Main improvements include improved software capable of calibrating both direct-view and front projection systems, and a more precise seven-sensor device.
This Datacolor TV calibration system is a relatively inexpensive solution for DIY system calibrators even though (as expected) it is more expensive than the typical Blu-ray set-up disc. The whole issue is: Does it deliver what it promises?
Spyder4TV HD Colorimeter-based
A relatively inexpensive and simple to use display calibration system designed to help you correctly adjust brightness, contrast, color, tint, and color temperature of both direct view and front projection systems.
More info available in this review
Datacolor SpyderTV colorimeter and software promises to deliver an easy-to-use TV calibration solution at a relatively inexpensive price tag. Spyder4TV HD shown here is presently selling online at just $123.
At this price tag, it brings TV calibration to the home user at the fraction of the cost of an ISF calibration package.
Mind you, this is not an exact replacement to an ISF package but at this price bracket, Datacolor has come up with a product that fills the enormous gap between a full-blown professional video calibration solution costing a few thousand dollars, and home theater set-up DVDs and Blu-ray calibration discs selling at under $30. This does not imply that set-up discs such as the Spears & Munsil Blu-ray disc or Disney WOW reviewed on our site here, do not provide you with the necessary tools to help you optimize your system.
These calibration Blu-ray discs come with a comprehensive set of video test patterns and audio test tones that can lead to an excellent system calibration. Yet calibration discs do so in a passive way in that when it comes to some of the video calibration test patterns, you have to rely solely on your eyes. In other words, the calibration process is somewhat subjective to your perception of the results seen on the screen. Instead, the SpyderTV solution makes use of a sensor (colorimeter) to get accurate measurements for contrast, brightness, color, tint, and color temperature. The sensor is placed in direct contact with the front of your television screen (in case of a direct-view display) and approximately 1-foot away from the screen surface while facing the screen in the case of a front projection setup.
The sensor analyzes the test patterns as appearing on the screen. Based on the information it sees, the software running on your computer instructs you how to adjust your settings accurately without any guesswork. In other words, the Datacolor solution provides the user with a scientific means to make the necessary video adjustments in an accurate and repeatable fashion. But...
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As already highlighted above, this should not be taken to imply that the Datacolor SpyderTV solution is a direct replacement to a professional set-up Blu-ray disc or calibration DVD.
First and foremost, the set of video test patterns supplied with SpyderTV—Spyder3TV and Spyder4TV HD—though sufficient for the scope of the calibration process and as such will serve the system purpose nicely, yet these cannot be considered 'comprehensive'.
In this respect, set-up DVDs like both the Disney WOW and DVE HD Basics Blu-ray set-up discs reviewed elsewhere on our site come with a more complete range of 'key' test patterns that would surely prove useful in the hands of knowledgeable users.
Secondly, the 'Spyder' solution is a video calibration system only while Disney WOW and DVE HD Basics provide you with both a comprehensive range of reference video test patterns, and audio test signals for the setting of your home theater sound.
In other words, if you are after calibrating both your home theater audio and video equipment, then the SpyderTV solution alone is not sufficient. Rather, the Datacolor solution has to be supplemented by one of these set-up discs for a more comprehensive home theater calibration.
The SpyderTV kit comes with a software CD, a Quick Start guide, a DVD (NTSC for US and PAL for Europe) for use with Spyder3TV and a Blu-ray disc in the case of Spyder4TV HD, the SpyderTV sensor, and a suction-cup complete with a tripod holder latch. All is housed nicely in a neat bag.
The new SpyderTV uses an improved new seven detector color engine to measure the red, green, and blue levels emanating from your display or video projector screen.
The DVD contains a complete tutorial/walk-through as well as the test patterns which work on both 4:3 and 16:9 TV screens. The test patterns on the SpyderTV are accompanied by easy-to-use calibration wizard software that guides the user through the entire optimization process with its intuitive interface. Comprehensive help screens guide you through each step to achieve the desired optimal settings for your video display device. In addition, detailed installation and calibration videos are also available at the Datacolor website.
To use the Spyder4 to calibrate your TV screen, you need a DVD player, and a PC close to your TV, or laptop, running Windows XP, Vista or Windows 7. The 'Spyder' sensor connects to your computer using the USB port.
The Spyder4 software supports direct view as well as front and rear projection TV displays, differentiating between plasma, LCD, CRT, RPTV, LCoS, DLP, and front projection.
Support for front projection is definitely a most welcome improvement as the original SpyderTV solution released in 2005 did not support calibration of front projection screens. Instead Datacolor used to point to a different more expensive product for front projection calibration. When we first reviewed the original SpyderTV solution in 2006, we had stated this was a pity as the calibration hardware could easily handily front projection; it was just missing functionality from the supplied calibration software which seems to have been done on purpose.
The SpyderTV sensor is shaped like a three-legged spider - hence the name; it includes three tiny suction cups that serve to attach the sensor to the TV screen. The sensor's cable comes with a sliding counterweight. This is designed to help ensure that the sensor's weight does not dislodge it from the screen. In our case, the sensor under review did at times fail to remain firmly attached to the screen surface of a Samsung LED TV we were using for the calibration process.
The 'SpyderTV' DVD - Test Patterns, Guided Set-up, and Tutorial
In addition to the set of video test patterns used by the Datacolor solution during the calibration process, the SpyderTV DVD also provides the user with a detailed tutorial on how to use the system.
The DVD starts with an overview of the SpyderTV system, goes on to verifying that you have everything you need to get started, and then explains the reasons behind TV calibration.
The tutorial is complete and informative. It guides the user through the process required to use SpyderTV, including locating the video controls on your TV or monitor and understanding how to designate the methods your TV uses to make picture and color adjustments. It then goes over set-up and launching of the software as well as how to attach the Datacolor colorimeter to the television screen or in the case of a front projection setup, how to set the sensor in front of the projection screen.
There is a whole section that explains how to use the test patterns supplied with the DVD. Additional test patterns are also available to users who wish to check sharpness and the like, but the software does not directly interface with these controls except to let you know what these are.
The supplied DVD also explains how the 'Before and After' feature will allow you to see the difference in video performance brought about by the SpyderTV calibration process.
The tutorial part ends up with a walk-through of a typical calibration session.
SpyderTV Video Calibration Process
Datacolor SpyderTV system focuses on the five major video calibration points: Brightness (black level), Contrast (white level), Color (saturation), Tint (hue), and Color Temperature.
The whole video calibration process would not take more than 30 minutes to complete. On launching the process, the system first asks the user to select the display type and then fill out the model and current display settings for each of these five key video calibration points. It also asks the user to enter the maximum and minimum values that each of these video parameters can take.
At this point, you can also edit the color temperature choices to reflect the actual settings on your TV. If a particular setting is not available on your display, simply leave it out and the SpyderTV software will ignore it in the calibration process.
To go through the test and calibration process, select the test pattern on the DVD and then tell the application to take a reading; do this for all the settings and follow the instructions on the PC.
Throughout the testing process, SpyderTV attempts to understand the minimum and maximum values and settings before making adjustments. This is achieved by going back and forth in various steps over the respective parameter values, to arrive at what it feels is the best setting.
At the end of the video calibration process, the system issues a summary report that gives details of what has changed, together with a number of other charts. The latter give you the adjustment potential for the respective system parameter setting as against the slider value for that video parameter. All reports can be printed or save for later reference.
Pros: We did not encounter any specific problems with the SpyderTV system during use; what's more, results were quite accurate, and repeatable. In addition, the SpyderTV interface is extremely easy to use even though system reporting while interesting, is minimal and a bit short of numbers. However, one has to keep in mind that here we are dealing with a system designed to enable the novice in system calibration achieve accurate system settings.
The 'Before-and-After' viewing feature offers an interesting way to help the user understands the actual changes that have taken place during the calibration process by comparing the before and after states of the TV screen.
Cons: On a negative note, feature set is minimal; there are no R/G/B comparison charts or gamma and grayscale calibration, but then such systems would cost substantially more.
The bottom line: While it is true that the SpyderTV calibration kit do not cater for 100% of the calibration functionality one may dream of, yet considering its relatively inexpensive price tag, it surely delivers on what it promises in an exceptional way.
In particular, it provides the user with all the key video calibration parameters necessary to get the very best out of any TV or video projector. It has the potential to serve home users—from experienced videophiles to users with beginner skills—in getting a rock-solid basic video setup that can make any TV really stand out.
Above all, though the Spyder4 display calibration solution is not a direct replacement for a TV calibration DVD or a set-up Blu-ray disc, the Datacolor solution is much faster and easier to handle than any set-up disc. It is definitely a major step in the right direction, representing a clear shift from the more user-demanding set-up disc based calibration, to a semi-automated software-driven set-up solution.
Note: For a list of home theater set-up DVD and Blu-ray disc reviews appearing on our site for both archived and current home theater calibration solutions, please click here.
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