Are tablets up to the task of accurate color testing?

Finally getting around to posting a follow-up to a follow-up to John The Math Guy’s recent series on color gamut size, colorblindness and tablet displays. I thought I might be able to at least shed a little more light on his question about the differences in color accuracy between some of these devices.

In his testing, John found no statistically significant difference in scores among different people taking the EnChroma colorblindness test on different devices. I found this somewhat surprising since, in my experience, even tablets with similar color gamuts tend to show colors with very different levels of accuracy.

iPad mini color gamut and Gretag Macbeth colors against sRGB in CIE1976

To show what I mean by that, I measured how two different tablets show the colors found in the Gretag Macbeth color checker chart.Nexus 7 color gamut and Gretag Macbeth colors against sRGB in CIE1976

As you can see, the iPad mini and Nexus 7 each produce very different colors, even for those colors that are actually inside their gamuts.

For example, even though the iPad mini has enough gamut coverage to accurately display the Gretag chart’s deepest blue, it cannot do so without distorting the image in another way. This is because of data in the underlying image standard- most content today is encoded in the sRGB standard. If the iPad were to show that Gretag blue correctly, it would not have enough color saturation headroom left over to show you a different color if a deeper blue, say right at the bottom of the sRGB triangle, were called for.

A good real world example of this can be found in the picture below of my bloodhound, Louisa, racing down the beach at Carmel, CA. The middle of the sky in this image is right on the edge of the iPad’s color gamut, very similar to the Gretag blue in the charts above, while the deepest blues found in the ocean fall outside the iPad’s gamut.

Out of gamut colors at beach

If the iPad were striving for accuracy at all costs, it might map both colors right on top of each other at the edge of the gamut. There’d be no visible difference between the two in this case and the quality of the image would suffer but at least the sky would be accurate. In order to avoid this scenario, the designers of these devices have decided to compromise on accuracy so they can show a full range of color differences to the user.

They do this by remapping colors inward, away from the edges of the gamut, effectively compressing the gamut even further so that otherwise out-of-gamut colors can be seen. This is a good solution given the gamut limitations of the device since it results in more pleasing, if less accurate images.

As newer devices trend towards wider color gamuts this kind of compromise should become a thing of the past. In fact, tablet designers may be working on the reverse issue- how to avoid oversaturating images that were encoded for smaller gamuts.

Great, how does this relate to colorblindness again?

iPad mini vs Nexus 7 color accuracy comparison in CIE 1976

iPad mini vs Nexus 7 color accuracy comparison in CIE 1976

Taking another look at the Gretag results from the two devices plotted on top of each other, there clearly are major differences. But, in the reds and greens, two colors associated with a common form of color blindness, the devices are relatively close. So, the simple answer may just be that colorblindness tests do not require pinpoint accuracy to be effective, at least as basic screening tools.

Time to Ditch the Diagonal?

Size is a critical dimension for consumers to consider when buying a product with a display. Will this TV fit on my wall? Would this tablet fit in my jacket pocket?  How much picture am I getting? To guage displays today, we take a diagonal measurement of a 16:9 rectangle. This leaves value on the table. Not just because consumers are notoriously bad at math, it fails to capture the full value of the increase. As display industry analyst Bob Raikes said:

A display that has twice the diagonal (and the same aspect ratio) has four times the screen area. Would Intel describe the clock speed of its CPUs by giving them a number that is the square root of the clock speed? If Intel went from 1GHz to 2GHz, would the company really give customers a number that is just 40% bigger? Ah, we’ve gone from 1 IntelMark to 1.4 IntelMarks. No chance!

Why would we say “twice” when the real value increase is “four times”? This is especially relevant as consumers shop more online. Although size may be apparent in a brick and mortar showroom, it is not easily conveyed online. Take a look at this image- which tablet is bigger? By how much?

Apple’s Phil Schiller demonstrated this yesterday at the iPad mini announcement. The new iPad mini is only 0.9 inches or 12% bigger than a Nexus 7 on the diagonal, he says, but it is actually 35% larger by area. This is another example of display marketing efforts starting to move beyond PPI comparisons. Product and display marketers: let’s get real about the value we’re adding – whether it’s surface area or color. Let’s stop leaving value on the table.

Source: apple.com