The “Blue” Troubled Waters of Color-Calibration

The faculty here is moving, well kicking and screaming, actually, toward teaching with digital images instead of 35mm slides. One of their favorite arguments used to stave off converting to digital is that the image quality isn’t high enough.

Last week, one professor who is interested in teaching with PowerPoint approached me to express his concern. His complaint? He said he had tried teaching a lecture in PowerPoint, but that the images had looked so terrible, that he switched immediately back to slides. I asked him for the specifics of the term “terrible.” It turns out his complaint was that the images were all yellowish-green, as though someone had slimed the entire area of the screen where the projector was projecting images.

Ah ha! A problem I could fix, not just the rhetorical “I-don’t-wanna-give-up-my-slides” rant. I took him, his Mac iBook, and my flash stick into the classroom in which he is assigned to teach. The flash stick impressed him. Why wouldn’t it? A 1 GB tiny device (barely larger than a human finger) that works like an external hard drive! (Stock up now, the holidays are coming and they make great stocking stuffers).

This little stick can hold about 20 PowerPoint lectures, filled with high resolution images. While he was learning about flash sticks, I connected his computer to the LCD projector with the VGA cord. I selected, from my flash stick, a demonstration PowerPoint lecture I had put together. The images are particularly bright in color when viewed under the correct circumstances. Indeed, they looked a sort of murky-green color as we stood there testing the machine.

The professor looked pleased that I, too, felt that the images were skewed the wrong color – and even more pleased that I told him it was an easy fix. On a Macintosh, you can click on the “Apple” menu in the upper left-hand corner of the screen. Click on “system preferences” and then “displays.” In the middle of that menu screen there is a tab that says “color.” In the lower right of that screen there is a “calibrate” option. This will lead you through a series of screens – make sure you select “expert options” it will give you much more control in your selections.

There are various test pages that ask you to slide the bar up or down to increase or decrease the light amounts. There is one that asks for you to select the white point as well. Then there are a series of grids that allow you to shift the color balance. These allow you to adjust the hue and saturation.

While doing these tests, the Professor was able to find the adjustment that allowed his images to show up the way they should. The LCD projector in that classroom is the oldest, and is not quite as “true” to color as some of the newer ones. However, I created a profile for that room’s projector in his laptop and he can use that setting anytime he uses that classroom.

There are 4 art history classrooms and it would make a great deal of sense to have a setting profile for each of the classrooms allowing the user to select that room’s color settings each time they teach there. In addition, we can supply a computer for each projector and have it set up correctly.

The only caveat with this is that many will want to bring their own laptops. Either way, it will be more difficult in the future to use the “oh, but the color isn’t as good” excuse to avoid switching to teaching with digital images.

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