All About Some Pixels

When I first built my current desktop back in 2013, it was a fast little bastard. An Intel i5-4570, 16 gigs of memory, an SSD main drive, and a Radeon 7850. I was already well into my photography hobby and this machine made short work of the RAW files coming from my Nikon D7000. Included with this setup was an Asus PB238Q monitor.

Fast forward to 2020 and some things have changed. Instead of Windows 7, we’re now using Windows 10. Adobe Lightroom is now cloud only. My D7000 is now the backup to the Nikon D850 and my everyday carry Leica Q2. As a result, instead of 16.9 megapixels, my cameras now each output 47 megapixel pictures, and the volume of pictures I shoot has gone up considerably. In addition, I now also shoot film and the negatives I scan are at least 20 megapixels each as well. But even after Spectre and Meltdown, my trusty little i5 soldiers on and processes these much larger images with aplomb. Soon I’ll have to switch things out to maybe a Ryzen, but that time is not yet here. Instead, to my surprise, I upgraded monitors first.

The Need for Space

Work has involved more and more documents so I decided I needed more screen real estate. At work, two 24 inch Samsung monitors are sufficient screen real estate but that made my home setup of a single 23 inch monitor seem cramped. In retrospect, my first monitor, a Sony 15 inch Trinitron, seems like it would have been impossible to use. But what monitor would I end up choosing?

Enter the Dell U3818DW. Yes, 38 inches of screen real estate. Quite an upgrade from the 23 inches provided by the Asus.

Why did I pick this monitor? In addition to a recommendation from a coworker, some of the nice features in this monitor include the built in KVM and USB-C charging. In addition to charging up my work laptop (Lenovo X1) via USB-C, I could use my keyboard and mouse with my work laptop immediately when I switch to the USB-C input. This is the year 2020 – things should be this slick!

The monitor isn’t one of the newer ones with a higher refresh rate (Freesync, G-Sync). This is not the concern it used to be for me. Although I do play some games still, the Nintendo Switch is my console of choice these days. And the PC games I do play don’t need the higher refresh rates. In other words, I don’t play many shooters anymore. But to be sure, I do sometimes wish the monitor had a higher refresh rate. It is rather easy to notice ghosting artifacts when I scroll through a document quickly. I’ve gotten used to it, but it is noticeable.

This monitor also has another drawback – there are apparently problems with the Dell U3818DW’s USB-C implementation (another link, reddit link). The result is that laptops may not operate entirely correctly with the monitor, including Macbooks, Thinkpads, and even relatively new Dell laptops! Hopefully this can be resolved with a firmware update in the near future. USB-C is becoming more and more popular and I expect that any personal laptop I buy in the future to replace my trust Macbook Air from 2012 will use this connector. For now, this problem manifests itself in random input switching and/or glitching when my Thinkpad is powered up. Annoying, but I’m past the return period for the monitor, and it isn’t an entire deal-breaker for me yet. But it is something to be aware of for any prospective future purchasers.

Now, with all this screen real estate, of course I’d have to do some tweaks for my photography hobby.

Open Source Color Calibration and Windows 10

A couple of years ago, when I started getting more serious about photography, I purchased a Spyder4Pro color calibrator. Why? I had noticed how photos could look entirely different based on the calibration of the monitor being used. And how these would typically be different than what an iPad would show. This was a result of people adjusting their color settings for their own personal preferences, among other reasons. Because I would post process photos through Lightroom, I felt it was important for me to get the monitor I was using properly calibrated before post processing the pictures. So I went and splurged for a color calibrator several years ago.

At the time, I was using the Asus PB238Q monitor in Windows 7 and everything was peachy. Spyder’s included software worked well enough in Windows 7 and I got the results I wanted – nicely calibrated colors and consistent display of these colors. Was the software all that impressive? Not really, but it did the job so I didn’t really mind. And even though Datacolor considers the device to be a legacy product now, the software does seem to work in Windows 10, with a few glitches here and there.

With the new monitor, I decided it was time to investigate my options. It turns out that DisplayCAL is an open source option that can use the Spyder4Pro color calibrator hardware to generate the needed color profile. It builds on top of runs a little slower than the included software, but the results so far have been good. And with this software being open-source, I’m more comfortable using this software than the software that came with my apparently legacy Spyder4Pro.

Downsides? None so far. Another win for open source and keeping perfectly functional hardware useful years after its original manufacturer has ended support for it.

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