Dr. Daylight – Or How I Learned to Love 6500k

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2 things have happened in the past 3 weeks that led to my decision to upgrade the lighting in my Finishing Room:

  1. I put money down on a JL Cooper Eclipse CX (at a very good price). More commentary on that device can be found here and here and expect a full review once it’s in-house.
  2. I visited the color correction room of a new colleague, Alexis Van Hurkman.

Inspired by both events happening in close proximity and because Alexis turned me on how to do it cost-effectively (a necessary pre-condition); this week the lighting at Fini is going 6500k.

Why 6500k? You’d have to ask SMPTE, the folks who handle television signal standards and decided that the proper white point for television sets is 6500 degrees Kelvin (the equivalent color temperature of daylight at noon in North America (if you have to ask, I suspect they took their temperature readings in Las Vegas)). In theory, the most neutral environment for color correcting video is with ambient lighting that has the same color temperature (white point) of video. 6500k. Or, technically, D65. This way we’re not trying to compensate our color correction for the light surrounding us – which, if you’re using a normal bulb, is much more red/orange.

One might then ask: Why’d I wait until now to make the change to 6500k lighting? Good question… Thanks for asking. Two reasons, actually:

  1. First, I don’t know a single person who lights their living room / home theater with 6500k lighting. And since nearly 100% of my work has been for home viewing – I didn’t worry about my room not meeting some industry specification which was designed by soulless engineers in a vacuum (so to speak). I mean, these are the same geniuses that gave us non-drop and drop-frame timecode (not to mention the idiotic array of HD formats and frame rates).
  2. Second, even in the heyday of post-production Standards & Practices (pre-miniDV) – only Film-to-Tape guys ever bothered to meet these specs. Yes, us video folks took our specs seriously back then (how many editors reading this post can figure out if their blanking is too wide?) but the general industry attitude didn’t extend to 6500k lighting. Why? Probably because our stuff looked the same at home as it did in the edit room (see the preceding paragraph).

One might then follow up: Why are you doing this now? If the status quo has been good enough for the past 17 years, why bother implementing the change now? Another excellent question. There are several reasons:

  1. Fini started out focusing on providing an array of post-production services, of which color-correction was only one. Providing other more traditional online services was my bread-and-butter. But with the change of focus last year color-correction moved front and center. (Similarly – that’s also why Fini is investing in a JL Cooper control surface. Not because it’s necessary to create great pictures, but it dramatically increases productivity).
  2. Part of the reason why Online rooms didn’t implement 6500k lighting is because, except for sports, almost all our footage came to us color corrected. Either from a film-to-tape session or “shaded” by an engineer in a studio. And outside of specialty tape-to-tape rooms, we had very crude controls over our images. Today, it’s almost exactly the reverse. Not only do we have sophisticated color correction tools, 80% of the our work hasn’t been color corrected – in fact, it’s why clients are coming to Fini in the first place! That shift in client needs has shifted our need for the type of controlled lighting specified by SMPTE, previously the domain of telecine and tape-to-tape rooms.
  3. A recent posting by Martin Euredjian of E-Cinema on the FCP-L mailing list put this perfectly (though he was specifically speaking of color-critical monitors):

    “Audio seems to be easy for people to use as an analogy. I don’t think that professionals would propose doing serious mastering work using an iPod. Or an iPod with headphones. And, even if you did connect great speakers to an iPod…would anyone propose doing so without at least attempting to calibrate the thing to reasonable professional-level standards? Would we want to know if we can achieve the frequency response and harmonic distortion targets that are deemed as minimum-acceptable for professsional work? Probably. And, then, would anyone propose to use such a system in a listening enviroment that was devoid of proper acoustic treatment in order to ensure that what was coming out of the speakers was being perceived correctly? Probably not.”

Probably not. And that’s why I’ve gone 6500k in the Finishing Room. As I’ve made the decision to provide more color-critical services to my clients I’ve got a responsibility to know what the signals I’m creating actually look like. I’ve got to know that anyone who keeps to professional specs will see what I see. And given that it’s no longer hard to find 6500k lighting for your media room, the average viewer has an above-average chance of seeing the image as its meant to be seen.

– pi

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1 Comment

  1. […] Why control color temperature? Read this 2007 post from my company’s blog which explains why I implemented industry-standard lighting for my color correction suite. The rationale stands to this day. Back on that blog, I posted a few days later about a much more […]

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