πŸ’‘πŸŽ¬ Displays, Monitors, Projectors, Setup & CDL

Display Setup & Look Consistency

Creatives won’t want to see a flat looking image designed to capture high amounts of detail at the expense of looking pretty. For that reason a DIT will perform a base color adjustment so that what everyone sees looks useful. There’s much more info in the color section on this, but here’s the gist:

DIT gets the camera output via wireless transmission and normalizes it, plus adding the CDL (color decision list) on top. DP tells DIT what they want creatively and DIT applies it. DIT takes screen shots of on-set color decisions to communicate with post. This can be helpful as it’s an immediate visual of the look which might be lost or ignored in the CDL.


CDL is a specific type of LUT

From our friends at Abelcine: β€œThe American Society of Cinematographers (ASC) saw that there was a huge variety of LUT formats out there, which created a lot of problems between on-set tools and postproduction. So they came up with a standard they call an ASC Color Decision List (CDL). This is a 3D LUT with a relatively simple format. Most color-grading software applications can load an ASC CDL file, and many on-set tools can work with these files, so the ASC CDL offers the clearest solution for working with LUTs on set and in post.”

DPs usually combine the CDL with a LUT for a specific look as the CDL has a restricted set of parameters that can be changed. It’s basically primary corrections (slope, offset and power) and saturation. Similar to LUTs, you don’t get secondaries or any kind of spatial adjustments. CDL information is software agnostic, meaning it should reproduce in any compatible device or environment.

Red and Arri cameras allow you to predetermine β€œlooks” in their own format. It’s similar conceptually to a LUT but brand-specific. The nice thing is, the look can easily be recalled in color with no more than a right click.


Here’s one of the internet’s favorite questions: “Is there an affordable grading display?”

The 55″ LG WOLED is your best bet for something around the $1k mark. Starting in around 2018 I feel like these really got good enough to use as near-reference grade displays with proper calibration. Bear in mind that 55″ is the largest you can get before having uniformity issues so one on each side of the room is a great idea. 

Here are some things to look for in a grading display:

  • Contrast range is extremely important
  • Uniformity across the display
  • Gamut coverage needs to match your target delivery
  • 10 bit can be important, but 8-bit dithered works better than we’d like to admit
  • Special features like 3D LUT capability or scopes can be nice. In 2021 Blackmagic started making affordable LUT boxes which is awesome.


The tricky thing with the “budget” projectors is similar to the problem with LED lighting. The cinema projectors use expensive, power-hungry, Xenon lamps, with very clean output spectrally. The UHD sources that drive the cheaper options have a very discontinuous spiky output and use filters to compensate. They can calibrate fairly well, but they don’t hold calibration nearly as reliably since there are more factors subject to drift. The Xenon options are going to be closer to $20k (and the power consumption will be much higher) but they are much more stable after calibrated. 

The first thing you should understand is that a small room is not suitable for accurate projection, even with proper wall, ceiling, and floor treatments. There is just too much light bouncing back on to the screen. The second is that DLP Cinema projectors are not calibrated with a lut box. That’s done for monitors. DLP Cinema projectors have transforms built in. You “shoot” the screen based on internally generated patches and you enter those actual values into the projector software. It then calculates internal transforms to “correct” the projected image to conform to whatever standard you want to set it to. Accurate recording of the reflected light really requires use of a spectroradiometer, like a Photo Research PR655. That’s how its done in “professional” environments. Your use case may not require that level of accuracy.

If you also have a smaller reference monitor in the room you’re going to have to decide which display is your hero display and perceptually match the white point to the other, because they’re pretty much guaranteed not to match even after calibration.

The only problem is that Mike Most is right: a small projector in Rec709 is not going to translate well to a full-sized DLP projector in an actual theater. I wish there was a great solution (particularly for under $10K), but my opinion is that it just doesn’t exist.

What you can do — and what I’ve seen done with some small shops in LA — is to buy a used theatrical projector for around $15K, refurbish it, calibrate it, build a reasonably-nice room around it, and go with that. There are some decent 10-year-old Christie and Barco projectors out there that are fine for 2K. The trick is working out the power, heat, and noise issues, plus having enough distance to avoid focus and throw issues. The small projectors are not going to cut it in terms of image stability, at least not based on what I’ve seen.

You don’t mention what deliverables you’re grading for, but if your goal is to grade for theatrical, you don’t necessarily need a projector. When I first started out, I used a Panasonic plasma (VT25) to grade a number of short films, that were later projected at festivals in theaters. Once we were done grading, we used a conversion LUT when we made the DCP and the results in the theater were spot on. The grade had exactly the same look and feel that we had achieved on the Panasonic.

in this price range, just get a reasonable monitor, color-correct to that, and then book a day in a real theater to do a trim pass and make sure everything translates OK in a theatrical environment.

grading off a monitor and then doing a final trim pass in a rental projection room here in LA. They’re plentiful and range in cost anywhere from $1000/day to $4000/day for a really deluxe room. We do maybe 4 or 5 theatrical projects a year, so it wouldn’t make sense for us to spend upwards of $60K-$70K to build a theater, but it does make sense to spend a fraction of that amount on a rental for a few days (or a week or whatever).

screen, the sound, the acoustics, the AC power, the ventilation, the storage, and so on — are really the biggest expenses. The projector is fairly trivial in cost, maybe US$15,000 these days.

The OLED and Plasmas keep their saturation levels to the whole luminance range (down to 10% of Luminance for example) while LCD are starting to de-saturate a lot earlier.

4K viewing distance is considered 1.5 to 2.5 times the screen height whereas HD viewing is usually considered 3-5 times the viewing height

TVS Pro comparison: