Bad Laptop Colors: Why?

In Calibrating your LCD for Better Results I presented a few techniques to adjust your LCD so that you get better colors, even though it’s not a perfect calibration.

I have a couple of laptops and their screens aren’t all equal. Not all all. The Vaio gives beautiful, vibrant colors. The Dell Mini 10 HD also gives rather cromulent colors. The E6500, on the other hand, is dreadful. Not the whole computer of course, because otherwise it’s a rather good machine. But the screen is just disappointing. And the thing is, you can’t adjust anything besides the brightness—which defaults to blinding bright. What would it take to make such a screen acceptable?

Normal Colors

Normal Colors

I work with a dual-display screen, the other being a large Dell LCD panel that renders quite nice colors. Side by side, the color difference between the laptop’s built-in panel and the second monitor is conspicuous. In the picture above, that’s the normal colors. If your screen is somewhat calibrated, or at least renders decent colors, it should appear as a neutral gray, maybe with the tiniest hint of red/brown. On the laptop, it appears blue:

Laptop Color (effect exagerated)

Laptop Color (effect exagerated)

It would be a minor inconvenient except that 1) I work as a researcher in multimedia adaptation so, guess what, I look at pictures and movies all the time to assess their quality, and 2) I do a lot of photography so I tend to spend some time in GIMP, which I can’t do on the laptop because the colors are off.

On a stand-alone LCD, that’s not too worrying because you have an on-display menu that offers you all the controls you need to adjust brightness, contrast, color temperature, and even gamma. So, tell me, why laptops only offer you control over brightness?

It wouldn’t take a lot, I’m sure, to add the needed control to a laptop.Contrast could trivially be added to the fn keys that control brightness. I don’t know, something like if fn-← is mapped to auto-brightness, make fn-→ invoke the on-display menu. And don’t tell me it’s complicated because it needs extra software to be installed in the OS.

Because no, it doesn’t.

My LCD TV manages to call the on-display menu regardless of what the image source is, whether DVI, HDMI, VGA, cable TV, or S-Video, or what the resolution of the source is. And guess what? It looks the same in all cases. So why can’t this be managed with laptops?

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NVIDIA does ship a tool to adjust those parameters with their new Linux drivers. It allows to correct color, but it’s not quite smart enough to figure that if you have two screen, they might not be the same. While it can fix the laptop screen colors, it’s not very useful with dual displays.

2 Responses to Bad Laptop Colors: Why?

  1. andrew says:

    so did you ever figure out a way to fix the laptop’s lcd color?

    • Actually, I found a couple of ways:

      If you can find the .icc or .ich file (the color profile) for your device (google for it!), you can import it in your OS’ color management tool (in Ubuntu, it’s called “Device Color Profiles”, in Windows 10, it’s “Color Management”, if I remember correctly). If not, you can still use that tool to edit the color response and make the color closer to what you expect.

      The third one is a bit more expensive: you use a color calibration device, such as, say, Datacolor’s Spyder. It should give you the best possible colors for your device. It will run a color test and generate the color profile for your device that you import back into your OS’ color management tool.

      On the other hand, I wrote that entry a rather long time ago. I think most LCDs have got much better since then, even on crummy-ish laptops and tablets.

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