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.

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*
Rec. 2020 sRGB Display is washed out OK
Rec. 2020 Rec. 709 Display is washed out OK
Rec. 2020 P3 Display is washed out OK

* 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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2 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.

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