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Re: Is a broadcast monitor necessary for correct color viewing?

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Bill DavisRe: Is a broadcast monitor necessary for correct color viewing?
by on Mar 18, 2012 at 8:36:10 am

Cassandra,

The short answer is that broadcast color space standards are detailed, defined and understood by engineers around the planet. They are traditionally maintained via specific toolsets that have long traditions. These include waveform monitors, vectorscopes and similar test gear that work the same way in Boise as they do in Barcelona. So if you want absolutely dependable results, the standardized tools used in the industry to achieve them are something useful to be aware of and to know how to use.

That said, you make valid points about how the world of images and video is changing. "Broadcast" standards aren't always in play for all sensible production targets. They are standards for "broadcast" only.

In my personal opinion, there are some specific areas where these tools are still very useful.

The primary one takes place in field recording. Without absolutely dependable monitoring, you're never sure that what you're seeing is what's actually being recorded. This is most critical in "mixed light" situations where in my personal experience, the finest computer monitors - including the ones designed for graphics arts color judgement - can fall short. I've been "snapped" more than once relying on imperfect monitors where everything looked great in the field, only to come back to a true broadcast monitor where the color space was fixed to broadcast standards - to discover that the light on a subject was unacceptably "off" in reality when it looked just fine on a field LCD.

Spectrum issues of fluorescents, sodium vapor, even daylight mixed with tungsten - all can make a shot that looked decent in the field on an LCD, can come back into my suite and look pretty bad on an actual calibrated monitor. And while that might not show up on a computer monitor - it can get passed along via broadcast.

I relate it to audio, often. To me, it's totally nuts to try to record audio without a means to hear it and evaluate what you're recording it properly - but I see people do it every day. When I see that, I consider them amateurs because NO pro would ever do that. If you can't hear a problem, you can't deal with it at the time of recording.

I feel precisely the same way about video. If I can't see a problem I can't deal with it. And that makes me uncomfortable.

Do I always, always, always use a broadcast monitor when I shoot. Actually no. Sometimes I use LCD monitors. But after using real broadcast monitors for so many years, I"ve developed a sixth sense about lighting combinations that MIGHT cause a problem.

My concern for you is that you might build false confidence because you'll never even confront these issues if your monitors hide them from you - and that one time they rear up and snap you will be a time when it's really important to get things just right.

Everyone works differently and has different standards for comfort. And I'm not telling you what you need to buy or operate. You might go your entire career and never have an issue doing just what you're doing right now. The risk (and only you can assess that) is that if your luck doesn't hold, you might keep improving your skills and get that big break where you have a chance to get your work into the broadcast net and discover that some specific problem that you could have addressed in the field (like turning off the green spiky fluorescent overhead lights in a store shoot) didn't happen because you didn't see the problem on a monitor that lulled you into a false sense of security.

Even then, you might be able to fix it in post. But sometimes in a mixed light situation you can't fix it and have to live with it. How much risk is this? Not much maybe. But at some point, professionalism can be about not accepting "maybe" any more than is absolutely necessary.

Sorry to be so long winded.

But in a nutshell, you might be lucky for a long time. Possibly even your whole career. But at some point, if you keep getting better and better at this stuff - spending some of what you earn for real quality tools and spending the time to learn how to use them to drive complete confidence that what you're seeing (and hearing!) is accurate and dependable - can be smarter than just "making do" with good enough.

For what it's worth.

"Before speaking out ask yourself whether your words are true, whether they are respectful and whether they are needed in our civil discussions."-Justice O'Connor


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