Most independent creators overlook monitoring and video color management. Here is a complete low budget DaVinci Resolve monitoring solution for under $2200.

Article Last Updated: July 2020

Color is critical to bringing your vision and story to life on any screen. The challenge is there are so many screens to cater for. An image can look different on displays from different manufacturers, as well as different types of display and display technologies.

Even when the video standard and technical requirements are the same, you can never be sure your audience is seeing the artistic intent of your creative decisions.

DaVinci Resolve External Monitor

The best you can do is make sure you’re grading on a calibrated reference display in a optimal environment. Your DaVinci Resolve suite needs to be providing a video signal to a calibrated external monitor. Your primary desktop monitor, or a second extended desktop computer monitor is not going to cut it.

Typically this has been, and still can be, an expensive proposition. Reference displays can run to tens of thousands of dollars, especially those suitable for HDR mastering.

True color critical HDR monitoring is completely unaffordable for most. However, it is now possible to set up professional DaVinci Resolve monitoring for Rec.709 for a few thousand dollars. This is possible using an LG OLED television such as the 2019 LG C9 or 2020 LG CX OLED TV and a few other bits and pieces of hardware and software.

If the term Rec.709 doesn’t mean anything to you, I recommend you read my articles below.

What is Video Color Management?

The term color management sounds intimidating but the concept behind it is simple. The goal is simply to manage the representation of color from capture to display. This is to ensure that the audience sees the image as closely as possible to what was intended.

Managing color though this pipeline involves correcting any changes and shifts that can creep in between capture and display.

Color correcting captured video happens easily enough in color correction software, such as DaVinci Resolve. This is achieved by correcting the image so that certain reference values (such as those from a color chart) match up to target values on a waveform and vectorscope. These scopes can be software or hardware. However, the accuracy of video displayed on a external monitor is dependent on the correct video signal, and employing a monitor able to reproduce the correct values on screen.

The cost of the hardware and software needed to manage the video at each point in the pipeline is now more affordable than ever before. This is largely thanks to Blackmagic Design for democratizing professional color correction by making DaVinci Resolve free for everyone. The improvement of consumer display technology in recent years makes accurate low budget Resolve monitoring possible.

There are the main considerations I will break down.

  • Shooting a correctly lit, correctly exposed video color chart
  • Scopes
  • Video Interface
  • LUT box (to apply calibration LUT)
  • Monitor
  • Calibration
  • Environment

Video Color Management During Capture

A complete color managed workflow starts with the camera. Light is emitted from a light source, and reflects off objects in the scene into the camera lens. This light is focused onto the image sensor in the camera.

The image sensor is a vast array of microscopic light sensitive photosites. A pattern of red, green and blue colored filters is employed in order to record, and later reconstruct color information. This pattern is called a Bayer Color Filter Array (CFA).

The light passes through the color filter array and is converted into an electrical charge in each photosite. From this point, real world photons of light are recorded as a voltage. The voltage at each photosite is encoded into digital values that represent the entire image.

The camera processes this raw image data, and finally records it to a file. This may be raw image data, along with camera metadata, or it may be highly processed and compressed.

The Camera is Not Perfect

Either way, there will always be a difference between the light that exposed the camera sensor, and the digital representation of that light recorded to a video file. The camera system as a whole, including the lens, as well as encoding and image processing have introduced changes in the recorded image.

The first step in a color managed workflow is to measure the change, in the form of any slight offset to color or levels the camera has introduced and counter it with an exact opposite offset.

The offset introduced by the camera system first has to be precisely measured. This is accomplished simply by shooting a physical color chart such as the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Video. A video color chart, when illuminated and exposed correctly provides a range of important recorded reference values.

A typical video color chart includes precise color reference for white (at 90% reflectance), middle grey (at 18% reflectance), black, primary and secondary colors (red, green, blue, yellow, cyan, magenta) and usually a lot more. The chart is manufactured with precise hue, saturation and reflectance values for each color chip.

When the recorded values for each of these color chips in a video file is compared to the known real world target values indicated on a waveform and vectorscope, the difference between them is the offset, shift or change that the camera system has introduced. This can then be corrected out of the image.

Scopes

The term “scopes” refers to a number of specific tools that display a visual representation of video image information. Typically these include the waveform, parade, RGB parade and vectorscope.

Waveform

Example of a waveform plot.
Waveform

A waveform plots image luminance (brightness) values on the horizontal axis (from the left to right) against a vertical scale from 0 to 100%. Black is indicated at 0 and pure white is indicated at 100%. Often the vertical scale may also show 10-bit encoded values from 0 to 1024.

Parade

Example of a parade plot.
RGB Parade

The parade scope separates RGB color components. It plots red, green and blue luminance (brightness) values on the horizontal axis against a vertical scale from 0 to 100% just like the waveform.

Vectorscope

Example of a vectorscope plot.
Vectorscope

A vectorscope is a 360 degree circular representation of image hue and saturation values. Hue is measured around the outside edge of the circle, in degrees, and saturation is plotted from 0 (no saturation) at the center outwards as saturation increases. In addition, primary and secondary color targets are indicated by boxes at the precise intersection of hue and saturation for each. A line indicating correct skin tone hue is also often shown.

Dedicated Scope Software

ScopeBox by Divergent Media is a highly accurate dedicated scope software. It can be run on the same system as your NLE or color grading software, or on a second PC or Mac, equipped with a video input interface.

The software scopes built into DaVinci Resolve are good enough. If your system is closer to the minimum hardware requirements to run Resolve, I wouldn’t advise running ScopeBox on the same machine. However, if you have sufficient system resources to run both, ScopeBox will give you a more accurate and feature rich toolset.

Of course dedicating a separate machine to run ScopeBox is ideal. Then it doesn’t take system resources away from Resolve. This could be an older PC or something like a Mac Mini. All that is required is a video input interface, such as the Blackmagic Design Ultrastudio Mini Recorder (Thunderbolt 3) or Blackmagic Design Decklink Mini Recorder (PCIe card).

Low Budget HD and 4K Video Interfaces

Correcting any change introduced by the camera is only half of this story. The second half has to do with correcting any change introduced by the display. Just as no camera is perfect, there is no perfect display either. There will always be small shifts in levels and color that need to be corrected out of the display.

Of course you may get away with seeing the image you are correcting on a laptop display or the desktop display of a PC for some time. This is how many of us start our journeys learning the tools, but it’s important to realize that you aren’t looking at a correct picture. This can affect your final output and deliverables that will be viewed on other displays and devices.

Video displayed by your computer on the GUI display is not the same as a dedicated video output. Instead, you will need to buy a separate video interface to drive your external Resolve monitor. This is either a PCIe card that slots into your PC motherboard, or an external interface that plugs into your system via Thunderbolt. The video interface provides the correct video output at the correct video resolution in the correct color space.

The most cost effective video interfaces are made by Blackmagic Design and AJA.

HD Video Output

For HD monitoring via Thunderbolt, the Blackmagic Design Ultrastudio Mini Monitor will do the job. The internal PCIe card version is the Blackmagic Design Decklink Mini Monitor. These interfaces give you 10-bit video output over SDI and HDMI. I’ve put some buy links at the end of the article.

4K Video Output

Blackmagic Ultrastudio 4K Mini and Decklink Mini Monitor 4K
Blackmagic Ultrastudio 4K Mini (Top) and Decklink Mini Monitor 4K (Bottom)

For 4K monitoring via Thunderbolt, the price jumps up a bit for the Blackmagic Design Ultrastudio 4K Mini, so this adds considerably to your total investment. Adding an internal 4K output card to a PC is much cheaper for the Blackmagic Design Decklink Mini Monitor 4K.

LUT Box

In the same way the inaccuracies introduced by the camera can be corrected by shooting a video color chart and lining up the values on a waveform and vectorscope, it is also possible to objectively measure the inaccuracies of a display and generate a correction transform. This correction transform is known as a calibration LUT. A LUT stands for Look Up Table, which is a 2D or 3D transform that defines how input values are remapped to different output values.

Depending on your monitor, a dedicated LUT box may be required to apply the monitor calibration LUT. This is a standalone device connected between the video interface and the monitor.

The AJA Lut-box
AJA Lut-box

The most affordable HD LUT box as of 2019 is the AJA LUT-box. The AJA LUT-box provides SDI input and both SDI and HDMI output. It supports 3D LUTs at 17x17x17 at 12-bit processing in .lut, .txt, .3dl, .cube file formats.

A LUT box capable of processing a 4K image is considerably more expensive. The TVLogic IS-mini4K costs $2385 and the Flanders Scientific BoxIO is $1295. Two BoxIO are needed to process 4K at over 30p (up to 60p), but one advantage of the BoxIO is the built in scopes that can be output to a separate display.

The best low budget DaVinci Resolve monitor I’m going to suggest below is the LG OLED C9 or LG OLED CX which actually has the ability to load a LUT into the TV itself, so a separate LUT box is not required. This is a big cost saving, especially if you choose to output 4K and want to monitor 4K images.

The Best Low Budget Resolve Monitor is a 2019 LG C9 or 2020 LG CX OLED TV

Your choice of display is the most critical part of your Resolve monitoring pipeline. It’s also the most expensive. However, you don’t have to shell out for a high end professional reference monitor if your work will largely be for standard dynamic range (SDR) Rec.709 delivery.

The 2019 LG C9 OLED TV is perfect for low budget Resolve monitoring
The 2019 LG C9 OLED TV is available in 55″ 65″ and 77″

As of 2018 one of the best low budget Resolve monitors you could buy for Rec.709 color correction was the LG C8 OLED TV in 55″ and 65″ sizes. This was replaced by the 2019 C9 models. The latest 2020 models are designated LG CX, which have a new alpha 9 generation 3 processor. The LG C9 and LG CX OLED TV’s can also generate test patterns for calibration. These displays have great quality OLED panels, although they are RGB vs the WRGB of the professional reference displays costing ten times more.

The panel is good enough to be calibrated for Rec.709 work, and LG have catered to high end consumer allowing a calibration LUT to be loaded directly in the TV.

The LG OLED TV’s have been adopted widely by professional post facilities as client viewing monitors. Many colorists are also using them successfully as primary reference grading monitors for Rec.709 work.

It’s important to note that while these are HDR televisions, they are not suitable as primary reference monitors for HDR grading work. The LG OLEDs are still consumer displays and don’t meet the requirements for HDR mastering.

Calibration

Simply plugging in a good OLED TV, even if you are feeding it the correct video signal from a video output interface, doesn’t mean you’re seeing the correct image. The last shift, or offset that needs to be removed from the video pipeline is introduced by the display itself. The signal being fed to the display is not necessarily exactly what you’re seeing because of image processing in the display, and slight inaccuracies in the panel.

The most important part of all of this is to calibrate your Resolve monitor properly. In principle this is the same as correcting camera color inaccuracies.

In the case of display calibration, a pattern generator takes the place of the color chart. The pattern generator feeds a test signal to the display. A device called a colorimeter is placed on the surface of the display and precisely measures the light output by the display.

Calibration software calculates the difference between the values measured by the colorimeter and the target values from the pattern generator. The difference is the precise offset that must be removed in order to correct the display. The software measures this difference across the profile of the display and creates a calibration LUT.

In the case of the LG C9 OLED display, this calibration LUT can be loaded directly into the monitor, which means an external LUT box is not necessary.

Here’s what you’ll need.

Calman Home for LG

The calibration software is called Calman Home for LG, made by Portrait Displays, the makers of the most trusted professional display calibration solutions. Calman Home for LG runs on Windows only, so you will need a PC for the calibration process.

I’m not going to take you through the steps to calibrate the LG display in this article. You can follow the full walkthrough at the link below, and also watch the tutorial video.

X-Rite i1Display Pro

X-Rite i1Display Pro
X-Rite i1Display Pro Colorimeter

Colorimeters can run into thousands of dollars. The X-Rite i1Display Pro is the most cost effective option that is compatible with the Calman Home software. It’s useful for calibrating a wide range of displays so it’s an investment that will serve you beyond just calibrating the LG OLED monitor.

How to Set Up Your Resolve Grading Environment

With the USD $2200 setup I’ve described you can remove any color offset in the image pipeline all the way from camera lens to display. However, the last step is to manage the element of human vision and perception.

The way to make sure the eyes and brain perceive the colors of the display correctly is to remove any outside influence. The color of the walls, light from windows, and artificial lighting in the room can all affect how you perceive color. Ideally the walls should be painted 18% grey and the ceiling should be painted non-reflective black.

18% Grey Paint

eCinema Systems make a 18% grey paint called SP-50. Image Quality Labs have an 18% grey paint called N5. These paints can be very expensive, so you can choose to mix a paint to get close.

Take a look at Sherwin Williams SW 7071 in Duration Home Interior Acrylic Latex, Extra White, Matte Base. Also Dulux’s “CN8 Grey Steel 3 (credit to Phil’s Technical Blog for this one)

Lighting

eCinema Systems also make a SLS-01 bias light. This light can be placed behind the monitor. Also check out www.biaslighting.com for their very affordable MediaLight Mk2 Series LED solution. It should be dimmed to about 20% of the brightness of the monitor. Make sure any other lights in the room are also high CRI lamps at 6500K color temperature, preferably even all of the same type, from the same manufacturer.

Concluding Thoughts

Investing a few thousand dollars in calibrated Resolve monitoring and color management may sound like a lot. But it’s a tenth of what was required a few years ago before consumer OLED TV’s became as good as they are now.

Is it worth it? If you are learning or creating content only for yourself and are happy with your results, perhaps not. However, if you start freelancing as a colorist, or color grading commercial work for others, it’s absolutely necessary. It’s an investment in the service you provide to your customers, adds value and elevates your work and your skills.

Buy DaVinci Resolve Monitoring Gear

I’ve created checklists below with my Amazon affiliate links for both the 2019 LG C9 (as long as it is available, I will remove it once it’s no longer available) and the 2020 LG CX, with interfaces for both HD and 4K output.

HD Output – 55″ 2019 LG C9 OLED TV

4K Output – 55″ 2019 LG C9 OLED TV

HD Output – 55″ 2020 LG CX OLED TV

4K Output – 55″ 2020 LG CX OLED TV

Further Reading

Stay in Touch

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Please don’t hesitate to comment with your questions either here, on Youtube, or hit me up on twitter, I will always reply.

22 Comments

  1. Mohamed Yehia

    Hi Richard, Thanks for this very important article. how many times will I need to calibrate the monitor? as if it is every 3 or 6 months, I can make it by a calibration service instead of buying X-rite. it is about 6.37$/monitor in my town.

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Mohamed, I would definitely advise getting a professional to calibrate if you have someone offering the service, but that price seems very low. Are they offering calibration of external reference monitors for video post production? or just desktop monitor calibration?

      • Hello Richard,
        First thank you so much for this article it was really helpful. Second, is turning off “auto-brightness limiter” on the lg c9 essential before calibration, if yes do you recommend any article or link that could help in turning this feature off? Also, is it the only way to calibrate the lg c9 through using CalMan software or you chose this option based on having the best budget possible.
        Thank you so much in advance for any help.

  2. per merakerli

    Please ! I enden up with 2 almost similar comments. I want to moderate my comment, an d delete one of them. How ? 🙂 regards Per

    • Richard Lackey

      Ah, I see! Sorry about that. Which one do you want to delete? The first one or second one? I can do it. I will have to check why you cannot delete it. I did see your question originally but just didn’t have time to respond yet. Sorry about that. I will answer you though, it is almost weekend, I will have time to answer some questions 🙂

  3. per merakerli

    Hi sir, I cannot help but ask this 🙂 I want to setup, in adittion to my 4-5year old 4k ,43inch PHILLIPS, an Oled , LG CX .
    But now I see the DeckLink 8K Pro came out. Is that the onw I need ?

    And just let me explain. I mean , I come from musicproduction , almost 30 years, have graded for about 4 years, hobby .
    Ah…the point is, I want to try to grade HDR with this setup ( I also have 2080 ti NVIDIA card ) .
    If I grade in HDR setup in D. R ( the Netflix recomended workflow) and then get a ok result on the LG CX, I mean, how can it be totally off? If you grade on a 30 000 SONY mastermonitor, adn look at the calibrated LGCX, it will look almost exactly the same. Are you talnking about small, subtile and hardly noticable colorcahges here, or are you talking about a total clip, and artifacts?

    Back to the sounddesign, musicrecording. To treat the room is imprtant, but you dont need loudspeakers at 10 000dollars. 500, is in fact ok . In the end you add a lot of distortion, tapesimulators and “dirt” to the sound, like in movie, ; grain, and even deshapening .I dont know if you understand what I ask for 🙂

    I will have my movie out, not for the theatres, but for streaming, so people can wath on their TV 🙂 IF a HDR looks ok, when I am “finnished” how bad could it potentioally look on aanother HDR TV, that may not be calibrated, and has less hiend specs?

    I guess the qestion is. Are those MASTER screen from SONY a little overrated now? I mean, lots of TV tech cam out since those came out . DO I need the 8k card in my caase, or the 12g Extreme ? And what, can you explain, can go wrong on my “neighbours” TV set, if it looks good on my LG CX ? THANKS 🙂

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Per, thanks for the question. The answer when it comes to grading HDR on a budget monitor is that it depends what kind of result is good enough for your delivery. There’s no way for instance, you’ll grade a HDR project for Netflix, or for cinema with anything other than a high end HDR reference monitor. If all you want to do is learn, then it doesn’t have to perform 100%. I highly recommend watching this video about budget monitoring. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRT-arfdJHY

      • per merakerli

        ok, thanks a lot . I am getting the LG CX and the Decklink Mini 4k .Now my workflow will be to use 3 monitors, thats almost obvious 🙂 What I now is afraid of, is. Can I use the Decklink to monitor ONE ( LG CX ) and the output from the NVIDIA card, for the tho other monitors I have ?or I need another card, or several, to output 2 monitors ?

        • Richard Lackey

          Hi Per, you can use the output of the Decklink to drive your LG CX, and the GUI desktop monitors can be run from the GPU. Just remember to refer to the LG CX for color once it’s calibrated as your reference, and not the desktop monitors. Calibrate the desktop monitors also, as best you can.

  4. Thanks for writing this, it’s given me some new steps to consider in the colour workflow. I’m in the beginnings of my research for a grading monitor, and came across a Reddit thread suggesting a 3rd/4th gen iPad Pro as a second screen could do the trick. Their argument being that so much content is viewed on mobile devices now. What are your thoughts on that?

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Ming, I hear this argument all the time. An iPad is not, and cannot be part of a controlled color pipeline. You can use any display you want, and your work may look great, and you may be perfectly happy with it, and your audience might too, but it will never be a color managed workflow unless you output a dedicated video signal (not a computer OS driven desktop GUI) to a calibrated reference display. So it all depends what you want in the end, do you want to employ a professional color managed video pipeline or is it not so important for what you’re doing?

      I would highly recommend you watch this informative video that covers this question and a bunch of others, and gives some great suggestions for monitors on a budget. https://youtu.be/cRT-arfdJHY

  5. Thank you so much for this article – It’s greatly helped my confusion on monitors, and what’s required! Coming from a Mac background and moving to PC, I’m used to the P3 gamut from the retina displays.
    Do you know if the UltraStudio 4K Mini would work fine for a PC? (As it’s designed for Thunderbolt 3) Mostly as I would prefer to have 4k @ 60hz and not be limited to 30hz with the Decklink Mini Monitor 4k?
    I’m looking at purchasing an LG CX model (from your recommendation)

    Thanks again!

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Edan, thanks so much for reading. I’m glad it helped. I’ll check into the compatibility but as far as I know, if your PC has Thunderbolt 3, it should work on both Windows and Mac. It’s late on my side of the world, so I’ll double check tomorrow morning and reply again.

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Edan, if your PC has Thunderbolt 3, the Ultrastudio 4K Mini should work fine with Windows. Alternatively you can look at the Decklink 4K Extreme 12G card if you really need to monitor in 4K 60p.

  6. what do you think about the LG OLED CX not having 12bit color? only 10bit?

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Chad, thanks for commenting. When calibrated and used for Rec.709, which is what I’m suggesting, 10-bit is perfectly fine. None of these displays are suitable for HDR reference use anyway. To be honest I’m not sure that there are any true native 12-bit panels in consumer displays, 12-bit input and processing yes, but an actual 12-bit panel I am doubtful. As far as I am aware both the C9 and CX are native 10-bit panels. In any case for Rec.709 it’s a non-issue.

  7. Thanks for this great resource.

    Have you had any experience with the BenQ photography monitors SW270 (27″) or SW320 (32″) that come with a Technicolor certificate? They look like they could be good value for budget colour grading and HDR monitoring.

    • Richard Lackey

      Hi Tristan, I don’t have experience with these. Desktop monitors work well for photography and graphics work but color critical video monitoring should be driven from a video output card, not the desktop GUI. I will look into them and see what I can find out. Maybe they can be calibrated for SDR work, but for sure they won’t be up to the task for HDR. Neither will the LG display I’m suggesting. HDR is a whole different thing when it comes to monitoring and to be honest there is currently no budget option for HDR work. I’ll look into these BenQ monitors and report back here if I find anything worth sharing.

      • Aftab Asghar

        Hi Richard, Thanks for all the info. What is your opinion about (BenQ SW321C 32” 4K IPS vs Lg OLED 48″ CX 2020)? In my research, I found out that BenQ monitors are10(8bit + FRC) on the other side LG OLED Tv’s like CX 2020 needs to have (auto brightening off) by service remote to make it work with color grading and also LG OLED retains the permanent images burn-in. I am in the market to buy a new monitor, please help. My budget is => US$2000. Thanks

        • Richard Lackey

          Hi Aftab, I’m not familiar with the BenQ but if you’re feeding it a video output over HDMI from a Blackmagic Decklink video I/O card, and you can create a calibration LUT and load it, then it’s probably going to be fine for Rec. 709 work. I’ll try to do a bit more research into the BenQ as I don’t know it as well. In either case I wouldn’t trust the BenQ or LG for HDR, neither is a true HDR mastering display. That said, for learning the process and experimenting with HDR output, it doesn’t have to meet the same requirements of a $30,000+ HDR reference display. So from the looks of it, I’d say you could take either. I don’t believe the burn in is a big issue with the OLED as long as you don’t leave a static image on the screen for hours at a time. There are plenty of post houses using these OLED TV’s as calibrated client monitors. I’ll come back to you once I’ve looked into the BenQ a bit more.

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