Why Every Smartphone Screen Looks Different

Why Every Smartphone Screen Looks Different
From Gizmodo - December 4, 2017

The OnePlus 5T launched with a choice of five color calibration options; Google has been pushed to add an extra color mode to the Pixel 2 XL; while DisplayMate says the iPhone X manages colors better than any other phone. So why are colors on smartphone displays suddenly an issue? Heres what you need to know whether youre tweaking your own phone or looking to buy a new one.

Part of the reason were all talking about color management more than ever before is because of the gradual shift from LCD (Liquid-Crystal Display) screens in smartphones to OLED (Organic Light-Emitting Diode) displays: both have existed for some time, but OLED is becoming more dominant, with Apple and LG both making the switch this year.

We wont go into the pros and cons of LCD vs OLED again hereweve already written about it in depth beforebut in terms of color management you need to know that OLED typically offers a wider gamut (or range) of colors, and that in turn usually means more saturated colors out at the extremes of the color palette.

Thats led to a conflict betweenthe need for the bright, vivid colors that most of us prefer our smartphones, and the need for colors that actually represent whats out in the real world. Most of us like a screen to pop, but natural colors are usually preferable if youre using your phone to flick through photos or shop online for a sweater in a particular shade.

Thats why more and more phones are introducing multiple color modes, similar to the modes you deal with on your TV, but before you can understand which mode is best for any given scenario you need to understand color gamuts and the related (but technically very different) color spaces.

Color spaces and color gamuts

Color on phones, monitors, and other devices is controlled by two very closely related concepts, color space and color gamut. In fact theyre so closely related, theyre often talked about as being one and the same.

But theyre not!

A color space is a specific way of organizing colors. Youve no doubt heard of some before, like sRGB, Adobe RGB, rec. 709, and DCI-P3. Color spaces may be mathematically developed (as the ones previously mentioned are) or they can be more arbitrary, such as the Pantone color space.Every color space has a color gamut, the actual range of colors within the space, which is why theyre so closely linked.

So in the same way that a box of crayons reduces all the colors of the universe to a certain selection, a color space and its color gamut do the same for images and displays (and in lots of other areas too). A wider gamut means more saturated colors, as it includes some of the more extreme-colored crayons in its box.

However just because a display claims it can do a specific color space does not mean it can produce the full color gamut. An LCD and an OLED display might both be able to do DCI-P3, but the OLED, because it can produce more colors, has more crayons at its disposal and can thus reproduce the colors of the color space more accurately.

In the past, most phone displays have come with just one, fixed, factory-set color space and color gamut, but a growing number are now adding extra modes, especially with the trend towards OLED displays. Apps and mobile OSes are becoming more aware of color spaces at the same time.

Color on your phone

So how does this affect your phone? Various factors control what red, and blue, and green look like on your phone display, everything from the brightness setting, to the color of the daylight youre standing in, to the color space (and color gamut) set on the handset.

Controlling display color


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