Corrections or additions?
This article by Douglass Dixon was prepared for
the March 13, 2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Now For Consumers: Cool Color Calibration
A is for Apple, red and ripe. B is for Banana, yellow and yummy. C is
for a Camera to capture the colorful scene, and D is for Display to
view the beautiful picture. But too often, D is for Disappointment,
when the scene you frame in your camera does not match either the
picture you edit on a computer display, or the image you print out on
your printer. Welcome to the challenging world of professional color
calibration and matching, addressed by professional tools that build
profiles of your various imaging devices (scanners, printers, and
displays) and then manage the flow of color information between them.
While some color management facilities are now built into systems like
Microsoft Windows and the Macintosh, serious color control has been
the province of imaging professionals working with tools like Adobe
Photoshop. But a 35-year-old Lawrenceville-based company, Datacolor
International, has expanded from its roots in industrial color
management to develop its ColorVision line of color matching products
for use by normal humans – business professionals and even digital
photo enthusiasts. Just hang the ColorVision Spyder measurement gizmo
over your display, run the calibration software, and you too can
calibrate your monitors and printers to actually display correct and
Even better, Datacolor is preparing to ship a new ColorVision Spyder
television product by mid-year that brings affordable calibration to
home theater televisions, including CRT, LCD, plasma, rear projection,
and DLP displays.
All this is the result of a deliberate strategy begun by Datacolor in
2000 to bring its color technology to a much wider market, fueled by a
series of acquisitions of strategic technologies, and a co-branding
partnership with Pantone Inc. of Carlstadt, New Jersey, a firm with a
name that is synonymous with color management.
Datacolor announced the new ColorVision Spyder TV product at the
Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this January. "It was a little
premature," says Brian Levey, Datacolor’s vice president for
ColorVision, "but CES only comes once a year, so you have to do it."
Even among over 2,500 exhibitors and 140,000 attendees, and all the
excitement over wide-screen displays and portable media players, the
Spyder TV "really got a lot of interest," says Levey. "In working five
years on the ColorVision side, I’d never done an on-camera interview,
and we did two or three at CES. Popular Science and Maxim are running
articles on it, and the pull we are feeling is this is really going to
be a mainstream product."
"Even the research that we have done indicates that there is a lot
more awareness of color control tools on the home theater side, than
there is even on the high usage digital imaging side."
The problem with TV displays for consumers, says Levey, is that sets
are shipped from the factory in "torch mode, because that is the only
way they can look good in the terrible lighting" of retail stores –
cranked up to stand out in a forest of displays in a brightly-lit
environment. As a result, consumers are often disappointed by the
out-of-box experience when they hook up the display in their home.
Consumers also are not thrilled about the idea of needing to mess
around with calibration. Even a motivated user can be overwhelmed by
all the different controls on a display, and cannot be expected to
simultaneously adjust five or more settings to find the sweet spot
among them. In addition, set-up by the human eye is problematical:
"The eye is a subjective tool," says Levey. "It changes depending on
whether you’ve had some caffeine, alcohol, or a terrible mood swing,"
and different people will have different opinions. While professionals
have very critical eyes for precisely adjusting settings, "we have a
very sophisticated instrument here," says Levey.
More dedicated videophiles can set up their home theater system using
test discs like the Avia Guide to Home Theater or Video Essentials
(www.videoessentials.com), but the process can be long and painful. As
a result, consumers have traditionally required professional
calibration, which can cost from $300 to $1,200 to have a technician
set up the display in your home. Some dedicated enthusiasts even buy
the $3,000 professional calibration products to set up their systems.
Levey estimates the commercial installer market at around 2,000 units
per year, compared to around 100,000 enthusiasts in the United States.
But the consumer market for large-format displays is much larger, 15
to 20 million units. "And it’s accelerating," says Levey, "it’s the
same kind of growth curves, and price drops, that we saw with digital
cameras. We’re seeing the same kind of curve with home theater."
To meet this need, in July of last year Datacolor acquired Milori
Inc., based in North Carolina. Milori developed automatic and manual
video calibration systems, sold primarily to professional video
technicians for use in the corporate and home theater markets
(www.milori.com). "Milori was starting to develop a name," says Levey,
"and we had been friendly with the principals."
Datacolor now sells the Milori high-end ColorFacts Professional
display analysis and calibration product, starting at $2,400.
ColorFacts integrates with additional professional color measurement
instruments for professional use, and the extensive calibration
process can delve deep into a display’s product-specific service
Spyder TV is targeted to the much broader market, "motivated
consumers, enthusiasts" for optimizing their televisions. "It’s very
simple to use," says Levey, "very affordable." The challenge for
ColorVision was not only to simply the calibration process, but also
to find a common ground among the variety of controls and options on
different displays. The solution was to base the process only on the
key display controls found on almost all displays: Brightness,
Contrast, Color, Tint, and Color Temperature presets.
"We use the controls built in by the manufacturers," says Levey, "and
tell you precisely where to set those settings to get the absolutely
best picture that you can. Increase the contrast ratio, give you good
shadow detail, to allow you to see the image as close to what the
director’s intent was when he was standing over the shoulder of his
editor looking at a NTSC-calibrated monitor."
The Spyder TV product will include the same Spyder 2 colorimeter
hardware that is used with other ColorVision products. (So called
because the device is reminiscent of a spider hanging over your
display, with three arms to position the sensors flat against the
surface, and the USB cable running up and over the back of the display
with a counterweight to hold it in position.) You position the Spyder
near the center of the display, and connect it to a laptop computer to
run the calibration software. The product will also include a DVD test
disc with test patterns and sample images to review the calibration
The prototype Spyder TV software starts with some setup instructions,
including advice on reducing the amount of light in the room. It then
asks what type of display you have (direct view, flat panel, or rear
projection – with support for front projection targeted for the fall).
Next, the software prompts you to bring up the display’s setup menu
and confirm which of the five controls are available, and then enter
the scale used on the menus to measure them (e.g., 0 to 100 on some
products, or -30 to 30 on others).
The actual calibration begins by using the Spyder device to measure
the current state of the display using a black and white checkerboard
pattern displayed from the test DVD. The software prompts you to move
the Spyder to the appropriate target square on the display to take
each reading. Then the software calibrates the color temperature by
taking a series of readings as you adjust the menu to the bottom,
middle, and top of the scale, and reports the proper value for you to
Then the fun begins. For each control, starting with brightness, you
walk though the calibration process with the black and white targets,
again starting with the bottom, middle, and top of the scale. "And
then the program’s math takes over," says Levey. Once it knows the
extremes, the program isolates the right value for your display. It
tries different points on the scale until it zeros in on the right
point. In no more than seven more measurements, it determines the best
setting. Repeat for the other controls (contrast, tint, and color),
and you’re done in around 15 to 20 minutes.
"This will be the next best thing to having a professional calibrator
come to your house," says Levey. "People care, they really do care.
It’s going to deliver a marked improvement over the out of box
For users who want to delve deeper, the software then offers a
post-calibration analysis to compare the before and after settings,
and display the results with interesting test images to see the
changes in areas like highlights and shadows. Levey recommends
repeating the calibration process every four months or so to keep the
display in peak form (as compared to imaging and arts professionals
who may re-calibrate their monitors monthly or even daily). You also
will need to re-calibrate after changing components, says Levey, "or
if your kid or dog goes up and changes the settings."
Datacolor is targeting shipping the Spyder TV product in June, at a
price point around $249. Based on the feedback from CES, they may have
a hit – Levey even reports interest from video gamers at the CES
conference, who were complaining about how dark some games are. "You
know that spot in Halo 2? I always get killed there," asked one gamer.
"I can’t see the guy! Will this product help?"
"He was so excited, says Levey. "These are the guys who spend really
big bucks on the graphics cards, so we’ll be looking at that as well."
This kind of growth and market expansion through acquisition is a
common thread in the growth of Datacolor, and in particular in its
expansion from the industrial market into the broader consumer and
professional ColorVision product line.
The Datacolor building at 5 Princess Road is just off I-95 and
Princeton Pike. The building is approximately 74,000 square feet, and
is easy to find because of the colorful signage and entranceway. "We
built the original section in the early 1980s as three quarters of a
square (45,000 square feet)," says Downes, "and then expanded in 1990
with the two-story section."
The building currently houses approximately 110 employees. Datacolor
has an additional 160 people at other sites, including 25 in the U.S.,
with staff in some 25 countries.
It’s a good location for an international business. "Two thirds of our
customers are outside the U.S.," says Downes, "and Princeton has good
airport access, to New York and Philadelphia."
For hiring, "this environment is target rich," says Levey. "There’s a
lot of good talent. We hire on a regular basis, and we’ve never had a
problem finding really good talent in this region, either at the
managerial level, or engineering level. On the engineering side, we’re
looking for talented software engineers and scientists, with color
science and visual systems, optical engineers, electrical engineers.
"We’re a short distance from RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology),
which is the wellspring of future color scientists. And there are a
lot of technical companies in this entire corridor, from Washington to
"Datacolor is a classic B-to-B company," says Levey, "serving textile,
apparel, paint, plastic, and paper industries – wherever color is
critical in the supply chain to exacting specification, such as the
interiors of automotives, or apparel where you want to be sure your
pants match your suits." Major customers include Wal-Mart, Gap, and
Clients use Datacolor products for measuring and matching color, for
example to make sure the color is correct for a new line of dresses
(or the corporate logo), from the designer, to the dies and pigments
for the raw materials, to the manufacturer, to retail. Datacolor also
supplies color communications software, to manage the process of
maintaining and verifying correct color throughout the sourcing and
Levey uses the example of the process a Wal-Mart would use to develop
a new line of clothes in a specific color. "In the past they would
hire another organization to make 5,000 physical swatches of the
desired color to an exacting specification, and then send that out to
die mills all over the world" for them to qualify to manufacture the
product. The mills then use Datacolor spectrometer and quality control
and formulation software to prepare samples with the correct color.
"They measure the physical swatch, create a formulation for it, do a
test sample, let it dry, and send it back by FedEx for approval."
And this may be repeated once or twice before approval. "This entire
process, from concept to getting the product on the shelf, used to
take anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks," says Levey, "a huge amount of
time. The only one getting rich on the old process was FedEx."
With another layer of Datacolor software for color communications,
transporting physical swatches and samples can be replaced by
electronic matching of colors to the exact spectral properties.
Datacolor also has software to track and manage through the approval
process, "what we call a specified process," says Levey. "These tools
enable the electronic communication of color to supply chain
specifications." And the system also ensures that all the measurement
instruments are calibrated to a master.
"This process reduces time to market by eight weeks," says Levey.
"Wal-Mart has required their suppliers to be able to use this kind of
electronic communication of color specifications."
A 1979 graduate of the University of Connecticut, Levey joined
Datacolor after an interesting career that took him from being a
research chemist at Dow Chemical, to sales and product management,
with a detour as a starving artist.
Art "was always something I did," he says. "I had a comic strip in
college, and I took a couple of art classes, but that was pretty much
it." After four years with Dow, "I took a year off to do animation and
Levey studied animation in the summer program at Sheridan College in
Ontario, Canada, but then realized "my basic skills were terrible," so
he studied fine art at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts in Old Lyme,
Connecticut. "It raised my water level up to the point that I could
actually execute the things that were in my mind."
He then moved to New York City, "to make a living as an artist." But,
he says, "I discovered there were people who actually went to college
for four years and studied art, and not chemistry. It was fun, but I
ran out of money very quickly."
Levey’s father, a retired submarine commander, is now a marine artist
in Connecticut. "I got all the speeches about starving artists when I
was living in New York City," says Levey.
He still draws, but, he says "life takes over, and then you find you
don’t do it very often. But I’ll come back to it."
Levey then went to work as a sales representative for Beckman
Instruments in Allendale, New Jersey, in the laboratory automation
division. "I moved up the ranks there," he says, "into product
management, sales and marketing management, until I directed field
operations. That was about a $20 million business when I left."
Levey joined Datacolor in 1996. "I liked the challenge here," he says.
"At that point Datacolor was really trying to develop a software
competency and business model. Bechman produced mission-critical
software for pharmacy QC labs, so this was something I knew a fair
amount about. And the color aspect really interested me; that mix
between science, art, marketing, and technology."
Levey initially served as the vice president and director of the Color
Control division, developing applications including paint-matching
systems for retail hardware stores. He then developed the plan for the
new ColorVision product line, launched in 2000 with the acquisition of
technology from three companies: Color Vision LLC in San Diego,
California (software monitor calibration), Lucid Inc. in Rochester
(low cost spectrocolorimeter hardware), and Horses LLC in New York
City (printer profiling).
ColorVision was initially targeted to two types of creative
professionals: prepress professionals and professional photographers
and designers. But it soon became clear that it was the photographers
who "got it immediately," says Levey. "They are absolutely anal about
color; they love hardware gadgets. And they were aware that these
products existed, but all of them cost two to three times what we were
offering our product at."
In November, 2000, ColorVision launched the first generation of the
Spyder product. "We took a hard right," says Levey, "and oriented
ourselves completely to the professional photographer market, which
was unserved. There was a need, people understood it, and the price
point was great."
"We opened the photo channel with distributors like B&H," says Levey.
"We won award after award, and developed a lot of buzz."
In 2001 ColorVision began conversations with Pantone. "It started as a
meeting of both of the management teams," says Levey. "We’re both in
New Jersey, and we’re both in color."
"Pantone was looking to bridge the analog world of guide books and
swatches to digital," says Levey. The two companies decided to enter a
co-marketing agreement – not a joint venture or an acquisition – but
instead branding the products as Pantone ColorVision, with each
company distributing the products through their channels. "We continue
to focus on the photography market," says Levey, "but we found a
partner that is the dominant brand name in the designer field."
Over the next two years, says Levey, "volumes increased and we
attracted competitors." ColorVision was able to leverage its Datacolor
relationships to add European and other overseas sales offices, reduce
costs by sourcing components in Asia, and then last year open a
technology and manufacturing center in China and a sales and support
office in Hong Kong.
In March, 2004, with expanding awareness of the category, ColorVision
introduced ColorPlus, its first retail box product, "to hit a $99
price point," says Levey, "that allowed us to get on the shelves in
‘The conventional wisdom," says Levey, "was ‘are you freaking crazy.’"
People may know what a DVD player is, what image editing software is,
but monitor calibration? "But it really had been a push-pull," he
says. "I began receiving a lot of E-mail saying ‘I looked to buy your
product at CompUSA and I couldn’t find it there.’" Now ColorPlus is
carried at major retailers including Fry’s on the west coast,
Microcenter, J&R, and on the Dell website.
ColorPlus is an easy-to-use product that uses the original Spyder
hardware with ColorPlus monitor calibration software to step through
the process of setting up a CRT or LCD display. It also includes Adobe
Photoshop Album 2.0, Starter Edition, and works on systems from
Windows 98 to XP.
"When we launched the product we had some big concerns," says Levey.
"One was whether people would care – do they understand they have
smelly feet. The second was whether it would cannibalize our
higher-end products." Instead, the new product "immediately added a
significant unit stream to our mix," he says, "and it increased sales
of higher end products by 25 to 30 percent. Part of it was that you
have customers comparing. Every one really wants to be a pro, and now
there was something to sell off against."
"If I had only predicted that," says Levey, "I would have been
considered a bona fide marketing genius."
Last September ColorVision launched the next generation of its more
advanced products, including new detectors and sensors, software and
user interfaces, and underlying algorithms for gray balance and tonal
response. "It’s had phenomenal success," says Levey. "Our sales took
off in a very steep curve. When we started we were popping corks when
we shipped 500 units a month. Last year we shipped about 50,000
The next tier of ColorVision products are targeted to prosumers and
business professionals (i.e., professionals who are not already
photographers or artists). The products include the new Spyder2
colorimeter and calibration software ($189), and the Spyder2 Plus
bundle including the ProfilerPLUS printer calibration software ($269).
For more professional calibration and support for precise tuning of
profiles, ColorVision also offers the Spyder2PRO Studio for monitor
calibration ($299) and PrintFIX for printer calibration ($299,
including scanner hardware).
These ColorVision products support both Windows and Macintosh, and are
licensed for use in calibrating multiple monitors. ColorVision also
bundles a variety of added-value software with its various products,
including Adobe Photoshop Elements 3.0 for image editing ($89 list),
Pantone Colorist to select Pantone Matching System colors ($49), and
Nik Color Efx Pro photo filter plug-ins for Photoshop ($99).
ColorVision also has a higher-end professional product line, built
around the SpectroPRO monitor and printer calibration software and
hardware, for monitors, printers, and scanners (starting at $888).
ColorVision also offers Photoshop plug-ins and other tools for
managing and editing calibration profiles.
So it appears that C is for Color. While most consumers don’t
calibrate today, they are aware that the colors on their photos look
different when printed, and that TVs can look very different. And they
are getting used to using similar picture enhancement features in DVD
player software to punch up the colors for different display types,
and bring out the details in dark movies.
"Awareness of the category has really grown," says Levey. "Part of it
is that we’ve been punching away at it for a long time, and partly
because we have competitors who are now adverting. After five years,
we’re a force in our industry, but it was built brick by brick. And
now it’s the next big thing, and the next year after that."
"In the professional sector, monitor calibration is like dental
floss," he says, "you either do it today, or you feel guilty for not
doing it. In the advanced amateur category you could probably say the
same. At the consumer level the buzz is out there, and they want to
use the same tools the pros do to get great prints."
"If you look at my career," says Levey, "the average contract at
Beckman was a half a million to a million dollars. Then at Datacolor
when I first started was it maybe $40 to $50,000. We were very active
developing a new retail line of paint matching systems at $5,000. And
with ColorVision it’s $300 and now $99." The market is much broader;
it’s about "understanding emerging trends. Having the understanding
and the backing of the company to actually put it down is very
Downes, president and CEO. 609-924-2189; fax, 609-895-7472.
www.datacolor.com and www.colorvision.com
(www.manifest-tech.com) for reviews and commentary on computer and
consumer electronics technology.
New Jersey was well on its way to becoming the color capital of the
world when, in 1970, American Color Systems (ACS) was founded. The
largest printers’ ink company, Sun Chemical, had its headquarters in
Fort Lee, and a spin-off, Pantone sprang up in Carlstadt.
ACS, the forerunner of Datacolor, started on a $15,000 shoestring.
"Three of us paid a salary to the fourth guy for a year and a half,"
remembered co-founder and former board chairman Donald Hall in a 1991
ACS developed a system to formulate and match colors for floor tiles
and also to dispense colors. A flooring company, Pennsylvania-based
Armstrong World Industries, asked for exclusive rights to this system
in 1989 and ended up buying ACS outright. From 1980 to 1990 ACS was a
wholly-owned subsidiary that operated with a good degree of
independence and was quite profitable; it expanded with a 25,000
square-foot Hillier-designed addition on Princess Road.
"It was part of the corporate diversification trend of the time," says
Datacolor’s CEO Terry Downes. The son of small-town newspaper owners
near Charlotte, North Carolina, he had earned bachelor’s and master’s
degrees in chemistry from North Carolina State and an MBA from Rider.
He joined the firm in 1973 and was named CEO and president in 2002.
"In 1989 Armstrong came under attack by a corporate raider."
But when ACS’ management tried to do a buyout, a Switzerland-based
holding company, Eichof, made a preemptive bid and combined the
American firm with two other color technology companies, its own
Datacolor AG in Zurich plus Instrument Colour Systems in the United
Kingdom to form Datacolor International.
"Eichof was looking for business counterbalance," says Downes. "Its
core beverage business was a domestic Swiss business." Datacolor is
international, and more industrial and high-tech. "We’re also more
profitable, but also more volatile."
Eichof, the leading Swiss brewer, sells beers, wines and spirits, and
soft drinks. As of its last annual report for fiscal 2003-’04, the
Eichof Group had sales of approximately $240 million, with three major
divisions: beverages ($165M), Datacolor ($65M), and real estate ($7M).
After the buyout Hall was in charge of the merged firms, but he
resisted the idea of frequent travel to Switzerland and resigned,
saying at the time that the business "would no longer be any fun."
(U.S. 1, December 18, 1991). At age 64, he took a handful of employees
and started Color and Appearance Technology, which lasted for five
years on Emmons Drive. Hall sold some of his technology (Color Tools,
for quality control on colored materials) to Datacolor, and he filed
for bankruptcy; now he lives in Florida.
Downes, the executive vice president at that time, moved to Zurich in
the early 1990s and in 1995 the headquarters moved back to Princeton.
"The critical mass was here," says Downes, "both for technology and
manufacturing. We have subsidiaries in 11 countries." Datacolor and
its competitors – one in Michigan and another in Switzerland – have 50
to 60 percent of the market, he estimates, and Datacolor has 20 to 25
percent of that. Which would make Princeton, indeed, a color capital.
– Barbara Fox
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