Chicago, Illinois USA
© 2010, CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.
Thanks to its 10-bit color and advanced calibration toolset, the HP DreamColor display has naturally been seen as a strong choice for color grading, animation, and VFX monitoring. Creative COW Contributing Editor Jeremy Garchow has also found it to be a stellar choice for broadcast HD editing, offering exceptional performance at a breakthrough price. There's a little more to the story than that, including some important tips about working the DreamColor into your facility. Read on for Jeremy's real-world report on why he bought the DreamColor, and how he's using it.
The HP DreamColor LP2480xz Professional Display was released in 2008, which raises the question, why do a new review in 2010? The answer is simple: even two years after it hit the streets, no oher 10-bit monitor looks this good, at this price.
So before we get to Jeremy's review, a speedy refresher on the HP DreamColor display, which was developed in a close collaboration with DreamWorks Animation. This wasn’t a marketing gimmick springing from HP’s need for cachet and a clever name. DreamWorks was (and is) a paying customer, banging on the door for a better tool for mission-critical color work. To that end, along with the monitor, HP offers the DreamColor Advanced Profiling Solution, which includes Windows and Mac software, and an HP-branded colorimeter licensed from X-Rite, the industry leaders in color science who are HP’s “Color Technology Partner.”
The juicy goodness holding it all together is the DreamColor Engine. Yes, there is a literal engine in the monitor – a CPU that HP has programmed for color management. The display itself is built specifically for HP by LG Display (most definitely NOT a licensed version of off-the-shelf components as other reviews have stated), along with considerable development on firmware, which is also updateable.
The DreamColor is a true 30-bit monitor, which is to say, 10 bits each of red, green and blue. While a typical monitor with 8 bits of R, G and B displays 16.7 million colors, the DreamColor displays 1.07 billion colors. This is invaluable if you work with 10-bit material, of course, but having 1 billion colors to choose from increases the accuracy in representing the colors in your 8-bit files as well.
(Here, a loud mooing from Bessie serves to remind us: we are using “1 billion” on the “short scale,” commonly used in the English-speaking world – 1000 million, or 109. For cows in lands using the “long scale,” 1 billion equals 1 million million, or 1012 – what we in “short scale” countries call 1 trillion. So while Bessie herself speaks 14 languages, she is using the English “billion” here.)
To view the COW in any of 14 languages, click the appropriate flag in the upper right of the COW home page. Below, Bessie speaking Hindi.
Here are some additional notes about the DreamColor display and the DreamColor Engine driving it.
At the most basic level, this engine has three key parts: a 1D LUT that takes in the RGB signal, a 3x3 matrix multiplier, and a 1D LUT that feeds the LCD panels. The first LUT essentially linearizes the output of the display card, with the goal of performing all color space transformations in linear space (sometimes referred to as linear light). . The 3x3 matrix is where the “heavy lifting,” if you will, of the color space conversion takes place. The second LUT is there to “re-Gamma” the linear data, taking into account the native response of the panel, so that it will display correctly.
While the connection to DreamWorks, as well as the requirement for progressive RGB input reveals its roots in 10-bit file-based workflows, the DreamColor is every bit as much intended as a CRT replacement. For details on how it works in the real world of HD broadcast editing, we pinged Jeremy Garchow, one of the industry’s most respected production and post-production experts, and a Creative COW Contributing Editor. He is also a straight-up video guy who wanted to replace his old CRTs, but didn’t see plasmas or LCDs that made the grade (so to speak).
Jeremy took the DreamColor for an eval spin, and liked what he saw so much that he bought one. Here’s why.
My old CRT HD monitor was going to get moved to another room as we built out another HD suite, so I was going to get a new monitor. I had two requirements, 10bit and don't break the bank. We take the effort to shoot 10bit, I wanted to make sure I can at least monitor it as I could with my Sony PVM 20L5/1. I would love to be able to afford the higher end 10 bit flat panels, but it just wasn't in the cards for me.
Enter, the DreamColor, both 10bit and “cost effective” -- 2-4 times less than competitors. I am of the school that you get what you pay for so was the monitor going to be good, or at least good enough for now?
I scored a demo unit and figured out right away this monitor has a few caveats. You must use the $300 calibrator to truly color calibrate the monitor, and for the “DreamColor Engine” to work. In other words, in order for the monitor to display the proper Rec. 709 (or another user defined video color space/gamma) the monitor must get a true progressive signal, and it must be RGB.
The monitor is equipped with HDMI 1.3a, which supports 10bit per channel depth, but HDMI can be interlaced or progressive. Many capture cards and even stand alone converters might be HDMI 1.3a capable, but most of them will simply pass through the given SDI signal. So, I now needed to track down the AJA HDP2 which will output both an HDMI 1.3a signal (via an inexpensive DVI to HDMI cable) and it will also output progressive images all the time as RGB (as opposed to Rec. 709 YUV).
Now, most of the time at our shop we are operating in either 720 or 1080p. As I wrote about in Creative COW Magazine's New Visions Issue, we have the Panasonic HPX2000, and we have also been using the HPX2700, the HPX3000, all in AVC-I. We also use the HPX170 and 200 as B or C cams, and we occasionally get a job in HDCAM 1080 psf. We have also started to receive 1080 ProRes HQ files from AJA KiPros. I'd say we shoot 70% 720p and 30% 1080psf. This means that if you have an HDMI 1.3a capable capture card (such as a Kona LHi) the DreamColor does not need the HDP2 if you are monitoring 720p or 1080p footage.
That is, 1080 true P, not PsF (Progressive Segmented Frames). With the Kona, as of right now, you can't output P and PsF simultaneously. That means if you need to lay off 23.976, 25, or 29.97 PsF to tape AND monitor your footage out of the capture card, you can't do this with a DreamColor, as the engine will shut off once the card is set to PsF. All video is then displayed as full range RGB, which totally skews color and gamma. If you want your image to be displayed as shot, the DreamColor engine needs to be on.
So, after buying the HDP2, I realized it is the right gear to have, even if you work in 720p or 1080p most of the time. It literally takes out the guess work if you set the HDP2 to simply output true progressive images all day all the time. Also, since I have a Kona 3 without HDMI, the HDP2 is essential to my setup. Every once in a while, I will still get SD files that I need to conform to HD. The HDP2 scales SD up to 1920x1080 in to user selectable aspect ratio (pillar box, zoom, etc.). Without the HDP2, I wouldn't be able to see the SD files and determine the best way to conform.
(Speaking of SD, I was actually very impressed with the HDP2 scaling when watching SD footage on the DreamColor. It’s hard to get nice looking SD on one of today's flat panel monitors, and coupled with the HDP2, the DreamColor gets the job done pretty darn well.)
When first setting it up, though, make sure to download the recent MiniConfig software for Mac and update the HDP2 firmware. You’ll need to make some adjustments out of the box – everything is set to “Auto,” and that’s not always correct. Instead, set your colorspace to Deep Color and SMPTE.
|Ed. note: in a recent Creative COW forum post, Jeremy had a bit more to add about the HDP2.
"Why do you suggest the HDP2? Wouldn't the AJA Hi5 3G converter be the better choice for me? Since the HP needs a HDMI 1.3 or DisplayPort input to go into DeepColor mode, seems to me that would be the way to go, no?"
No. You can search this forum and read other posts on the topic (I have a DreamColor as well) but the HDP2 provides HDMI 1.3a (via a user supplied and inexpensive DVI to HDMI cable) and it also takes whatever signal you are feeding it and makes it true p. So that would allow you HD and SD capability out of the same Kona when working in 1080p(sf) and using the DreamColor. It also allows SD monitoring on the DreamColor. The hi5 3G simply passes through what it's sent and doesn't output true p, effectively disabling accurate color monitoring on the DreamColor.
You will see other posts that the LHi is enough, and in some cases it is, but to me the HDP2 is kind of a no brainer when working in mixed format environments and using a DreamColor monitor. The combo of the Kona LHi, the DreamColor, the HDP2 is still more cost effective than buying 1 of the other HDSDI 10-bit display panels out there. It's still a good deal and a very nice monitor (in my opinion). It won't do 1080p60, but knowing AJA's abilities I am sure a 3G version of the HDP will fix that at some point.
Once you’re certain that you have a properly adjusted signal coming into the HDP2, it’s time to calibrate the DreamColor. Right now, the only way to do this is to use the HP LCD calibration kit. It measures (among other things) the actual Red, Green and Blue values that are being projected off of your monitor. Then, after the calibration process is complete, the full range of RGB is then mapped to the Rec. 709 (or 601 or whatever you want) color specification and the monitor's gamma is set to 2.4.
Why 2.4 you ask, when Rec. 709 HD has a specified gamma of 2.2? Well, I asked that same exact question to HP and I got the answer that, since this monitor was meant as a true CRT replacement, they measured some of the most well regarded CRT production monitors on the market, the Sony BVM series – and the gamma level coming off of those displays is 2.4, which is why they recommend setting the DreamColor’s gamma to 2.4. If you don't like this, you can select any gamma when creating a color profile, along with adjusting the color of the monitor based on the CIE color space. This, then makes the monitor infinitely flexible to your needs.
The background of the image below is the CIE 1976 u’v’ Chromaticity Diagram, a 2D representation of all visible colors. Note in particular the Rec. 709 HD color space for HD video, and the degree to which the native gamut for the DreamColor significantly exceeds it.
This is a change of pace for most people who use the 'blue only' gun set to SMPTE bars and tweak brightness to the pluge. The 'eye' calibration method reads the actual RGB levels of your particular monitor, and adjusts. The calibration profile (essentially a LUT) is stored in to memory on the monitor itself and can be easily called up for future use in case you need to change the profile for any reason.
Also, to calibrate what is traditionally known as “Brightness” on CRTs operates a bit differently on the DreamColor. Brightness on the monitor operates independent of "Black Level" on the monitor. That means you can pretty much turn the brightness up and down without changing contrast. The change the contrast (and calibrate the pluge) you adjust the black level on the monitor which essentially adds or removes more black – and the black levels on this monitor are fantastic. HP has done a great job.
After the first calibration, this monitor really, really grew on me. I checked out all the different formats I could throw at it (PAL, NTSC, 720p, 1080psf, 1080p) and liking what I saw, I bought one. I got the DreamColor, the HDP2, and the LCD calibration kit, and have been pretty much monitoring happily ever after.
The only downsides are that any firmware updates have to be done by a computer running Windows, you can't tweak sharpness, and calibration requires a computer with either DVI or DisplayPort, and a separate USB cable to attach to the monitor -- but as a package and value, there's nothing out there that offers what the DreamColor can do for this price.