The Right Caliber

You know you have needed one for some time. Well, the time has come. You’ve gone long enough without that necessary tool for serious content creation: the production monitor

You may not know that you can get a name brand, 600 lines of resolution, NTSC monitor for new at around $600 (see the Display/Monitor Buyers Guide, September 2006). Yet the fact remains: if you are going to get serious about video, you’re going to need to somehow acquire a professional, external NTSC monitor (PAL, if working in a PAL country or for an outlet in one).

The colors you see on your computer, no matter how expensive your computer monitor, will not look the same on a television set or in the theater. The computer has a different color range, as well as different latitude in contrast or gamma curve. Using an everyday TV monitor is not ideal, but better than no exterior monitor at all.

Let’s say you’ve decided to suck it up and drop the dinero on the pro NTSC monitor. You would think that sacrifice would be enough, but now you need to calibrate it. Just having the hunk of glass and plastic is not enough. Don’t worry, it is like anything else: after you do it enough times, it becomes second nature. Let’s look at all the factors that will make your evaluation of your picture with an NTSC monitor ideal.


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How to Set Up a Monitor

Check your user’s manual or help menu within your program to find your Bars and Tone-NTSC. This is a standardized test pattern, also known as 75% color bars, that needs to be displayed on your monitor while calibrating. If, for whatever reason, your editing program does not ship with color bars, an accurate pattern can be downloaded from the Synthetic Aperture Web site (

With the Bars and Tone open, make sure your signal is reaching your external monitor. This is different with every program, so you are on your own here. This is usually accomplished by connecting your video deck or camera to your computer via a FireWire cable (IEEE 1394). Then connect your monitor to your camera with the provided RCA cables. It could be tricky, so again, consult the dreaded manuals for your software and hardware. And remember, re-booting is always a great troubleshooting step to remember.


We will start calibrating with luminance, which has two controls: brightness and contrast. Start by setting both of these to their default positions. We then want to set the black level for the monitor, using the brightness control in what is known as the PLUGE (Picture Line Up Generating Equipment). In the bottom right corner of the Bars and Tone test pattern, there are three narrow vertical dark bars. If you cannot see them, turn up the brightness all the way. The middle of these three bars is video black. The bar to the left is a bit darker than black and the bar to the right is slightly lighter than black. The brightness is correctly set when the darker-than-black and video black cannot be distinguished from each other. The lighter-than-black bar should still be visible.

Next, we will set the white level for the monitor by turning up contrast control (a.k.a. picture) all the way. There is a white bar, almost square actually, in the lower left of the color bars. With the contrast turned all the way up, this bar should bloom into the neighboring bars. Turn the contrast control down until you see crisp lines around the white bar. This bar will represent the brightest white seen in your video.

Chroma and Hue

Now we’ll set the color controls using the chroma and hue. Good professional monitors have a blue only button. Clicking this will turn off the red and green colors, leaving only black and blue bars or black and grey bars. Some monitors ship with individual controls for the red, green and blue guns instead of a blue only switch; in that case, turn the red and green guns off, so you are left with a blue image.

First, we’ll set chroma (a.k.a. color), which adjusts the amount of color displayed or saturation level. Look to the two outside bars and their respective sub-bars below them. Once set correctly, both of the main bars should appear to be the same shade as their sub-bars. Dial in the direction that makes the shades of each set of blue or grey bars blend into each other.

To adjust the hue (a.k.a. phase or tint), look to the two inner bars. Repeat the process used for chroma, adjusting the hue control until the main bars and sub-bars cannot be distinguished from each other. Be sure to recheck the chroma adjustment after you finish adjusting Hue. Turn the blue only button off, and you are ready to edit in true colors.

Non-NTSC Monitors

If you are using an ordinary television set, make sure you turn off any automatic color correction controls. With an ordinary television set or an NTSC monitor without the Blue Only option, you can make these adjustments by viewing the monitor through a Wratten 47B dark blue photographic filter, which can be purchased at any well-stocked camera store. Adjust the same way as if you had a Blue Only button.

Contributing editor Morgan Paar is a nomadic producer, shooter and editor making documentaries worldwide.

Sidebar: Ideal Atmosphere

It is ideal to work in a dark room while editing and color correcting. Glare on the monitor can alter the perceived contrast. If you prefer to work with some light, all lamps in the room should be daylight balanced. Normal household bulbs give off a yellowish tint, again altering perceived contrast. And if you really want to have the most calibrated video signal on your block, paint the walls of your editing room a neutral gray.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.