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When you’re in the market to buy a new projector, you want to make sure you’re getting a top performer at the price-level you set for yourself. For the diligent shopper, that means increased scrutiny on each potential purchase’s specs. Along with the more commonly known specs, such as resolution and brightness, one of the key areas you need to be attuned to in order to ensure that you get the level of performance you desire is its color. But with an array of brands advertising different kinds of color specs, how are you supposed to know which one to take seriously and which one to take with a grain of salt?
To answer this question, it’s best to run through some of the more commonly used terms and concepts related to color performance: color gamut and color coverage.
In the field of color reproduction, experts use the term color gamut to describe the range of colors within the overall spectrum of visible colors (also known as a color space) that an imaging device – in our case a projector – is able to reproduce; you can think of it as similar to a painter’s palette. As such, a projector with a wider color gamut is by definition able to reproduce more colors in the visible spectrum.
One of the most common methods used to visually represent a color gamut, is with a triangle drawn within the CIE color space diagram, where each corner of the triangle represents the purest red, green, and blue that the device is able to reproduce.
But given that projectors are just one type of device within the larger imaging ecosystem – an ecosystem that includes other devices such as cameras, displays, and so on – defining their color gamuts is not enough to describe their color performance. This is because the manufacturers of each type of device in the ecosystem need to make sure that every color in their devices’ color gamut are defined the same across the board, otherwise, when trying to reproduce the same image, each device would come up with different versions of each color. That’s where the Rec.709/DCI-P3 color gamut comes into play.
Rec. 709 is a color gamut developed by the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) that acts as a standard used by much of the high-definition display and projector industry to ensure that all the devices on the market that adopt it as their standard are on the same page in terms of color. In other words, by using a standard like Rec 709, manufacturers can share a common language for the colors they use, so that the "cherry red" one manufacturer uses is the same "cherry red" produced by another manufacturer.
DCI-P3 is a common RGB color space for digital movie projection in the American film industry. DCI-P3’s range is 26% larger than sRGB/Rec.709.
With the color standard in hand many brands have found that one of the most convenient ways to characterize their product’s color gamut is as a percentage of the Rec.709/DCI-P3 color gamut. While doing so seemingly helps the consumer quickly understand the degree to which a device can reproduce the Rec.709/DCI-P3 standard’s colors, this kind of description for a color gamut can be easily misinterpreted, particularly when a brand advertises a color gamut that exceeds the Rec.709/DCI-P3 color gamut – such as 125% of Rec.709/DCI-P3. Because by advertising a color gamut with 125% of Rec.709/DCI-P3, the implied – but incorrect – message is that this device’s color gamut not only fully covers the Rec.709/DCI-P3 color gamut but also includes more colors.
The truth is that the claim that a color gamut 125% of Rec.709/DCI-P3 only means that the overall size of the respective product’s color gamut is over 100% the size of the Rec.709/DCI-P3 color gamut, it does not necessarily mean that said color gamut covers 100% of Rec.709/DCI-P3 plus an additional 25%. There can be many instances where 125% of color gamut covers 90% or less of the color gamut, as seen in the image below.
The proper way of communicating how much of the color standard covered by a color gamut instead is through “color coverage”.
As mentioned above, a device with a color gamut that exceeds the color standard does not necessarily mean that it is able to reproduce all the colors in the Rec.709/DCI-P3 standard. Color coverage on the other hand better expresses a device’s capability to do so because it actually represents the percentage of overlap between the device’s color gamut and the color standard. So, a device with a color coverage of 95% of Rec.709/DCI-P3 is guaranteed to be able to reproduce 95% of the Rec.709/DCI-P3 color gamut accurately, while a product with over 100% of color gamut might only be able to reproduce 90%.
Furthermore, color gamuts that exceed the size of the color standard but feature a lower than 100% color coverage will actually lead to issues with their color accuracy, including color deviation and oversaturation. This is due to the fact that because Rec.709/DCI-P3 is used as a standard to sync up colors across devices, any device whose color gamut features large chunks outside of the color space boundaries – as is the case with devices that have large color gamuts but lower color coverage – will invariably produce colors that deviate from the colors produced by another device that has adopted the Rec.709/DCI-P3 standard. Similarly, oversaturation will also occur when the areas of a large color gamut that lie outside of the color space boundaries skew towards a specific color, most commonly red.
As technology advances the ability for devices to represent more colors will require the industry to move to newer standards that encompass a wider swath of the visible spectrum than the Rec.709/DCI-P3 standard. As a sign of this progress, in 2012 the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), an international agency regulating telecommunications under the umbrella of the U.N., released its newest recommendations for the Ultra HD market to help define the parameters for future video broadcast technology. These recommendations are commonly referred to as BT.2020. Regardless of the standard adopted in the future though, a consumer looking for the highest performing projector in their price range should always keep their eyes out for color coverage to ensure the most accurate color reproduction.
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