How Display Color Management in Premiere Pro works

In the October 2018 update of Premiere Pro CC (version 13), we got a new switch in the Preferences: The “Enable Display Color Management (requires GPU acceleration)” switch. But what exactly does this switch do, and will it make your life easier? Read on!

  • Will it make your wide gamut P3 display show correct colors in Premiere? Yes!
  • Will it make your Rec. 2020 video look good on your non-Rec. 2020 display? Yes!
  • Will it make your Rec. 709 video look correct on your sRGB display? Almost, but not quite.
  • Will it make sure contrast and colors on your YouTube videos are correct? No.
  • Will it make the dreaded QuickTime gamma shift problem go away? No.
  • Can it make your footage look the same in Premiere Pro and After Effects? Yes!
Color Management Switch

The Display Color Management switch

 

So what setting should you choose?

That depends on the color space of your timeline and your display.

Color Management OFF is great if your screen matches the media on the timeline. Works well for Rec. 709 and sRGB and YouTube delivery.

Color Management ON is useful when that’s not the case, and you want your display to reproduce the color appearance of the timeline on a reference monitor.

Edit Jan 30, 2019: Simplified the table by removing the Rec. 2020 options, since the Premiere Pro timeline is always Rec. 709 (as advised by Lars Borg, Color Science guru at Adobe).

Timeline Display CM Off CM On
Rec. 709 Rec. 709 OK OK, but no need for it
Turn it off
Rec. 709 P3 Display is too saturated OK
Rec. 709 sRGB Slightly washed out
Matches what YouTube viewers see on their sRGB display
Midtones match Rec. 709
Some shadow details are lost*

* Shadow details are lost because sRGB encoding in the shadows don’t have the fine granularity of the Rec. 709 shadows; in an 8-bit signal the 20 lowest Rec. 709 codes are crunched into the 7 lowest sRGB codes. For 10-bit, the 78 lowest Rec. 709 code values are crushed into the 28 lowest sRGB values.

Display Color Management works for any internal monitor and for any secondary computer monitor used as part of the OS desktop. As always, showing accurate colors and contrast requires that your display is reasonably calibrated or characterized.

 

What color space is your monitor?

  • Most computer screens are sRGB
  • Some newer displays are P3 (like the iMac Retina displays and HP’s DreamColor displays) or some other wide gamut color space
  • Broadcast Monitors are Rec. 709
  • Some displays, like the DreamColor displays from HP, can show multiple standards: sRGB, Rec. 709, P3, and so on.

 

Most people edit Rec. 709 on an sRGB monitor

Not that this is a good idea, but it’s the monitor type most people have. And most video is Rec.709, so we’re in trouble. The new switch will make your Rec. 709 video look closer to how it would look on a proper broadcast monitor, which is Rec. 709. But as explained above, it will not be perfect. Here’s some more info on how much detail loss you should expect.

Most sRGB displays are only 8-bit, so:

  • The 19 lowest 8-bit Rec. 709 code values are crushed into the 7 lowest 8-bit sRGB values
    • 8-bit Rec. 709 codes 0 to 6 are mapped to 8-bit sRGB 0 (if rounded to nearest).
    • Some video cards might use floor instead of round, so
      8-bit Rec. 709 codes 0 to 8 are mapped to 8-bit sRGB 0 (using floor instead of round).
  • The 78 lowest 10-bit Rec. 709 code values are crushed into the 8 lowest 8-bit sRGB values
    • 10-bit Rec. 709 codes 0 to 26 are mapped to 8-bit sRGB 0 (if rounded to nearest)
    • 10-bit Rec. 709 codes 0 to 35 are mapped to 8-bit sRGB 0 (using floor instead of round)

On top of this, many displays are “sRGB-in-name-only”, SINO. Even when calibrated to sRGB, a SINO display can be off target, as most calibration tools take very few samples. So, a SINO display might show even less details than what’s represented in an sRGB encoding.

Please note that this detail loss would be there regardless of how you set your Display Color Management switch. I just want you to understand that your sRGB display will never be able to show true Rec. 709.

 

So, should you turn Display Color Management on if you edit Rec. 709 on an sRGB display? 

  • If the destination for your video is YouTube, Facebook, Vimeo, etc. or will be played back on an sRGB display: NO!
  • If the destination for your video is a broadcaster: YES!

Here are some screen grabs from an sRGB monitor, showing Rec. 709 video, with Display Color Management turned on and off. You should see most differences in the shadows. You will also perceive differences in saturation.

 

 

 

 

 

I want to thank color engineer Lars Borg from Adobe for all the good info on this topic. All the numbers come from him.

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27 Responses

  1. David Kudell says:

    A big thank you from an iMac Pro Premiere editor! It’s been difficult working with the over saturated colors. What kind of performance hit might we expect? I’m hoping it’s better than After Effects, which really slows to a crawl when using display color management.

    • David, the performance hit will vary depending on the image size, frame rate etc. But of course, the conversion does take some GPU resources.
      Give it a go, and see how it performs on your system, with your footage.

  2. Drew says:

    Hi Jarle,
    Another professional iMac Pro editor here, its been a few months now since this has been released, have you had a good experience using this new feature?

    I still find I have to over compensate when color grading log footage in premiere when I export to h264 for youtube/web/mobile. My built in iMac Pro display is set to ‘Display P3’ .

    I am now wondering if I will have better luck (accuracy and consistency) grading in Resolve on the iMac Pro?

    • Hi Drew, this feature is not meant to make your exports to YouTube (sRGB) look correct. It’s meant to make your exports to broadcast (Rec.709) look correct. So it’s not over-compensating, it’s compensating for a different color space than the one your videos are meant for. You may have better luck with Resolve, since it can be set to sRGB, while Premiere Pro is always Rec.709.

      • Drew says:

        Thank you for clarifying. I will keep that in mind then since I do broadcast as well.

        How would you approach getting an accurate color grade while in Premiere when exporting a h264 MP4 for sRGB displays, while using the iMac Pro’s Display P3 setting?

  3. JRod says:

    I have the same issue as Drew! How can we get around the dreaded gamma shift?

    • Currently, there is no way to get around it. Video is Rec.709, while computer screens are not.
      So the gamma in the video file matches TV sets and broadcast monitors, not computer monitors. Until we get a widely used sRGB video standard, there’s no good solution.

      • Seth says:

        Ridiculous. Most users are not using 709 monitors. Most users are using computer monitors and imcas and making films for internet and mobile use. This stubbornness to address a very real problem with your software (not your customers hardware) is why we’re being forced to use other programs.

  4. Martin says:

    Hi Jarle,

    Very informative thank you!
    But we would really like a definite answer on this as there appears so much confusing around:

    Is the Premiere UI able to output 10bit color on a 10bit display (like on calibrated HP Dreamcolor or Eizo CG type monitors) through a Quadro card via DP connection?

    I even read it would even be possible now with some GTX cards?

    Thanks

    • Yes, Premiere Pro can output 10-bit video out of a Quadro card that has 10-bit output, when you use Mercury Transmit to show the video output on your “second screen”. I used to have a Quadro card that did this on my DreamColor monitor, but I no longer have a tower PC. This usually only works via DisplayPort, not via HDMI. When Nvidia launched this, it was a Windows only feature. I don’t know if that has changed.

      If newer GTX cards do support 10-bit output, it should also work on those cards. The limitation here is not Premiere Pro, but the GPU output.

      My HP ZBook 17 laptop has a built-in DreamColor screen, which is also 10-bit capable.

      • John Richard says:

        And if you are working on a desktop with an available PCIe slot, you can use a card like the BlackMagic DeckLink Mini Monitor 4k to output 10bit video via HDMI and SDI. These little cards are about $180US.

  5. Ikan says:

    What you mean with lovely? That Premiere as one of the leading NLEs is not usable as color grading or even export tool? That you play around with curves and Lumetri and whatever to get a nice pic in Premiere, but when you play it out you get something different?! I’ve been testing a lot since the new feature and yes color switch is a tiny bit better than before, but its still crap! You’ll will never ever see the same picture in any output (no matter wich codec or colorspace (even if you stay in 709)) that your timeline is showing and you’re grading in!!! For me its a farce that Adobe is still doing this to thousands of people delivering internet video! I really like to know how Mr Lars Borg is able the get the video out of Premiere he’s seeing in his timeline. I think theres NO chance and the numbers he is providing is just technical data to tell us anything that looks important.

    • Ikan, tens of thousands of editors around the world export Rec.709 videos out of Premiere Pro daily without the problems you mention. Videos exported from Premiere can be imported again and put above all layers in the timeline in Difference mode, and you will see that it’s an exact match, so what you see is exactly what you get. Premiere only works in Rec.709, and when you watch the exported video on a Rec.709 display, it will be correct.

      If you’re seeing something different and want it to work, please post your specs on one of the Facebook groups for Premiere Pro editors, so we can help you fix the problem. Whining here doesn’t help anyone.

      https://www.facebook.com/groups/premierepro/ and https://www.facebook.com/groups/adobepremierepro/ are very active communities.

  6. Brian Rapsey says:

    Hi Jarle, Great article. My question relates to properly calibrating my monitors before all this. I export mostly for Youbube and Vimeo but occasionally for Broadcast. I use a Spyder 5 Pro to calibrate and color match my monitors. I usually grade with my windows blocked out so the room is dark. a) advice about how to calibrate my monitors (a 10 bit sRGB accurate LG widescreen, an old Apple 24 cinema display and a Sony Bravia TV) eg. as I”m in a dark room should my display calibration gamma be 2.4? vs the usual 2.2 … and if this is the case (gamma 2.4) if I grade in this environment will my grade look right for rec 709 broadcast IF I have display management turned ON and roughly right for internet delivery if its turned OFF? I’m so confused! PS. I love all your presets

    • Yes, these settings can be confusing. The common way to grade is to grade on the type of monitor you’re grading for (Rec.709 vs sRGB) and in the type of environment your viewers will most likely be.
      So if you grade for Broadcast, Use the Rec. 709 calibrated monitor, and keep the lights down. If you grade for internet, use the sRGB calibrated monitor, and the room should not be too dark. The display management will try to make your sRGB monitor show the image like it would be on a broadcast monitor, so if your monitor is calibrated to sRGB, your images on screen will look closer to what it would on a broadcast monitor. And yes, with the switch off, the images on that screen will be a closer match to what you’d see on an sRGB monitor – but not quite, because of the infamous gamma problems.

  7. Lyndsey Williams says:

    Jarle Leirpoll , if i edit on a wide gamut monitor (at least i believe it is according to https://www.laptopmag.com/reviews/laptops/alienware-m17-2019) and my destination is youtube, considering MOST of my viewers view from iphone/android devices OR an srgb monitor, would I be better served turning color management on or off in order to get an accurate representation of what my viewers will see?

    • Your wide gamut monitor may be calibrated to show sRGB, so even if it’s capable of showing a wider gamut, it may not be doing it. Anyway, the color management switch will make the monitor show levels more similar to Rec.709, which is not what you want when you’re exporting to other destinations than broadcast. I would leave it off. You can also easily test this by enabling and disabling the switch, and then look at the results on your phone.

      • Dalton Shackleford says:

        Got it, now I see that when editing my photos in lightroom, they appear much less saturated than when i view them on crome, or inside of a premier pro project, or on windows picture viewer. How do I solve this?

      • The only way to get consistent colors is to calibrate the monitor, and use only color managed software. Premiere IS color managed, but only to Rec.709, so you can’t choose. This business needs some new ways to ensure that people get consistent colors.

  8. lakshit says:

    A big thank you from an iMac Pro Premiere editor! It’s been difficult working with the over-saturated colors. thank you so much…

  9. OmKaR ❤️ MinikA says:

    Thanks For Sharing This Useful Information

  10. Abhijit says:

    This is a great article.

  11. Laurent Bernier says:

    Anyone with an iMac and a second monitor? I have a 2020 iMac (P3 display) and a 1080p 24″ Dell ultrasharp (sRGB) as second monitor that I use for Mercury Transmit in Premiere and After Effects. It looks like the color management feature in Premiere Pro only look at the main display color space – the display with the menu bar. This results in having OK colors in the program monitor on the iMac screen but darkens the picture on the Dell monitor. Meanwhile, this doesn’t happen in After Effects. Is it the same on your end?

  12. Erik says:

    Hi Jarle,

    thanks for the insight. This helps a lot. I do think however that one issue still persists. The Gamma Shift on export (or more specifically the Gamma Shift when played back in Vimeo/Youtube or in Quicktime…) is still a big thing to a lot of people.

    The thing is that a lot of people are not industry professionals and just want to create a nice looking film to upload to their Vimeo and/or Youtube channels.
    And to be honest no-one is adressing this issue in the correct way.
    I understand Premiere was made for broadcast professionals and if set up correctly, connected to an industry standard calibrated monitor, will get the desired result when exporting (for broadcast).
    The main question however is the following: How can you color correct within Premiere and have the exported film look as you wanted to be shown that way on Vimeo or Youtube regardless of how this looks on other people’s monitors or phones.

    Say I’m color grading a film. I export it (to my mac) using the standard Vimeo settings provided by Premiere.
    These settings are built into premiere so one would suppose that Premiere would handle this correctly and do the necessary Gamma correction on export. As often stated: Safari, Chrome and Quicktime (and OSX) use 1.96
    It would be an easy option to add into Premiere Export (or Media Encoder) where the end-user could check/unckeck a box where he/she can specify if the work is intended for broadcast or social media.
    That way all professionals working for broadcast can still use it the way they are used to and professionals working with online content also have an option that would show their work as intended.

    Thanks for your time and input.
    For now, I’m using this LUT provided on the adobe forum.
    https://assets.adobe.com/public/a0b635a3-6bc3-452b-5f7d-c997b9b36cf5

    Kind regards,
    Erik Bulckens

    • Hi Erik, yes – as the article says, the display color management will not fix the gamma shift issue.

      It’s not an easy thing to “fix” because there’s no industry standard. Your idea of adding a gamma correction on export is a dangerous route. Since the video standard is Rec.709, a file that’s been “corrected” to look good in a different color space (say, sRGB) with a different gamma would be a non-standard file. Meaning, it would look good only in playback software that handles it wrongly. Good video playback software that understands that it’s a Rec.709 file and displays it correctly on your sRGB or P3 screen would show a file like that with a wrong gamma.

      Do we really want to tag a file as Rec.709, but color grade it for sRGB? I don’t think so. That would be incorrect metadata.
      What we need is a new industry standard where we can set color space and gamma metadata – and playback software that interprets the metadata correctly.

      • Erik says:

        Hi Jarle,

        A new industry standard is indeed what we would need 🙂

        Thanks for your comment and dedicated answer. I am well aware that the workaround is not at all optimal but for now it is (for me) the best ‘fix’. If you know of a better option or way to do this, I would appreciate your knowledge on this.

        It would be so great if only things would get standardized. I remember when I just started out that we only had to deal with the differences in frame rates and color between PAL and NTSC and SD was the standard for such a long time and then everything exploded and actually instead of getting simpler, it got more difficult.

        Still great to see people like you digging into things and making it clear. There’s a lot of chatter about these issues but seldom an easy article or solution, your article does just that.

        Thank you so much.

        Kind Regards,
        Erik Bulckens

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