NJ: Color’s Epicenter

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

consistent colors.

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

menus.

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

results.

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

set.

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

scenario."

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

Boston."

"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

Ace Hardware.

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

manufacturing process.

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

fine art."

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

CompUSA."

‘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

units."

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

exciting."

Datacolor, 5 Princess Road, Lawrenceville 08648. Terry

Downes, president and CEO. 609-924-2189; fax, 609-895-7472.

www.datacolor.com and www.colorvision.com

See Doug Dixon’s Manifest Technology website

(www.manifest-tech.com) for reviews and commentary on computer and

consumer electronics technology.

Top Of Page
NJ: Color’s Epicenter

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

interview.

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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