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Review: MonacoOptixXR Pro Edition

The MonacoOPTIXXR Pro Edition monitor-calibration system from X-Rite has been tweaked several times since its debut in late 2003 (it was the first product introduced following the company's purchase of Monaco). Two of the more recent enhancements to the system, which comprises an X-Rite colorimeter and Monaco profiling software, have been the addition of a display- stabilization feature for a more accurate display measurement, and the addition of languages including French, Italian, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese.

Beyond the unit's newer features, X-Rite also has issued some special promotional pricing on the MonacoOptixXR Pro (as well as on the MonacoOptixXR standard edition), which will be in effect through the end of 2005.

Our production department recently installed new Apple Power Mac G5s, upgraded all our software, and added new high-end monitors from LaCie at every workstation. We had yet to integrate any color-management systems into our workflow with the new equipment. And with the MonacoOptixXR modifications and the new price points in place, it seemed to be the perfect time to put a unit through its paces and see what it could do.

Creating the default profile
The OptixXR Pro package is designed to allow users to profile all displays/monitors (LCDs as well as CRTs), ensure accurate color reproduction from device to device, ultimately match the colors of images displayed on a monitor, and match the end results output on a printer.

Installing OptixXR is a breeze. The system requirements are a bit more liberal on PC than on Mac, allowing anything from Windows 98 to XP (Pentium PC or better), a color monitor with 24-bit or greater video card (with LUT support), 128MB system RAM, and 64 MB free disk space. Dual monitor support requires two or more video cards (a Windows issue); single video cards with dual monitor support cannot be handled on the Windows platform. On the Macintosh side, platform must be OS X 10.2 or later to install the software, with a Power Mac or better, 128 MB system RAM, and 64 MB free space; dual monitor support requires only a single video card to perform.

The included instructions are basic and straightforward. The package contains: the software installation CD; the MonacoOptixXR colorimeter, which is the profiling and calibration device on a USB cable; a counterweight, to keep the instrument from moving when profiling CRT and LCD monitors; and a suction cup to be used if you're profiling hooded CRT monitors.

After installing the software, you're ready to begin the initial monitor profiling. You first thread the counterweight along the USB cord (it slides freely to adjust to different monitor sizes), and then plug the cable into an available USB port.

Now it's time to launch the software and follow the on-screen wizard instructions to create a Monitor Profile. Tip: Prior to launching the software, you should be comfortable with and knowledgeable about your monitor and its settings. Because my monitor was new, I was not yet well enough acquainted with it; as a result, I had to go back several times and start over until I understood how to change all the settings (fourth time was a charm).

The interface guides you through exactly what to do with your monitor's settings, and where to place the calibration device on the screen. The whole process probably took me about 15 minutes, until I arrived at the last step, where I was prompted to save my profile. The profile is saved to the appropriate system directory, and becomes the default profile for the monitor unless you manually change it.

Two additional points here:

  • After the first few screens, I learned that I needed to position the monitor profile dialog box at another position on my desktop, because the box kept interfering with my progress.
  • How often should the profiles be updated to maintain the accuracy? According to Steve Rankin, product marketing manager for X-Rite's Printing and Imaging division, that "depends on the user's expectations of the profile. Once a week is the short answer."

Additional features
If the MonacoOPTIXXR Pro Edition stopped there, it would still be a fine tool. It brings some additional features to the profiling table, however, that truly boost its value to a production environment.

After the initial profile has been created, you can use tools provided in the software to determine and correct "monitor drift." The Evaluate Monitor Profile function compares current measurements against your previously saved (default) settings to determine any drift, then tracks them using the Monitor Color Trends tool. The Monitor Color Trends feature graphs the Delta E values in whatever timeframe you choose; if you see that the trend is moderately drifting, you can then recalibrate to bring the monitor back in line. In addition, there's a nice preference to remind you"?at whatever interval you choose"? that your prof i les have not been updated (mine, for instance, reminds me every 7 days).

Another handy feature is the Match Monitor Profiles queue, which is used in a multi-person workflow to achieve desired results across a number of workstations. In our case, we save each workstation with its own unique profile name, load them all into the Match Profiles queue, and let it work its magic to create a new profile that accommodates the luminance value of all users. Because we work with in-house scanning and color correction before going to creative, this helps to ensure consistency in the viewing and output process.

Taking control
We couldn't be happier with the results and ease with which we implemented the MonacoOptixXR Pro Edition. With it, we have been able to take better control of our processes, and have a better understanding of the results to be expected from start to finish in a production environment. It would be well worth the investment for any production-oriented operation.

Price on the MonacoOptixXR Pro: $379; for workgroups (one license covers all monitors). Also available is the standard MonacoOptixXR edition, for $249 (does not provide monitor-profile validation, monitor- drift trending, workgroup display matching, calibration-curve editing, or advanced mode). (X-rite: www.xrite.com)

Patricia Houston manages the production department at ST Media Group, which publishes The Big Picture, and previously served as a digital technician of R.R. Donnelley, which prints this publication.

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