Part Three: Spectracal Calibration Training Program

Spectracal Calibration Training Program.

“Life is like a box of chocolates … you never know what you’re gonna get.”  Forrest Gump – Paramount 1995

The Spectracal Calibration Training Program is a one day class offering from Spectracal that travels around the country and Canada and even around the world now.  The program is aimed more at enthusiasts than those looking to get into a career in calibration.  It also went through a name change to try to bring in more professionals that did not have the time to spend beyond a one day affair.  The professional moniker is meant to attract people in the film industry and other industries who don’t want to be associated with the likes of enthusiasts because they feel they are above them.  Well, the class is attended by everyone from enthusiasts to film industry people.

The genesis of this program comes in two parts … the first part begins sometime early into 2010 when Spectracal helps to initiate an effort to unite the ISF and the THX programs under one banner.  Unfortunately, this effort fails in a dramatic way when the THX party mis-interprets something said by the ISF side that could have been put in a much better way.  Telling THX that the ISF wants to take control of the whole process was a bad thing to say.  The idea was still sound though; have the education program unified to stop the competition and sparring between the two organizations.  Offer one education program without a THX or ISF logo to it and allow the participants to choose what they wanted to be after the completion of the class.  For a certain additional sum, they could get ISF certification or THX certification.

The program would draw from a stable of four or five instructors depending on the availability of each person for each class.  THX had problems with this approach as it meant they would lose control over the people who delivered the training.  THX has been very comfortable with both myself and Gregg Loewen, but to throw in additional people that they have not vetted … did not go well.  So the unification attempt failed.

This leads into the second part of the genesis of this program.  Up until this point in time, there were only these two calibration classes available to anyone out there who wanted to learn about display calibration.  At a price point close to or at $2000, it was considered to be cost prohibitive to anyone who just wanted education and did not actually want to get into the business of calibration.  Was there room in the market place for something less than a professional calibration class where much more capital investment is required beyond just the cost of the class?  Well, there was no answer to this because no one had tested the market to see if “enthusiasts” were actually willing to pay for some level of real training in order to calibrate their own displays better with their entry level test equipment and test discs.  The prevailing thinking was that the enthusiast, who was intent on being a do-it-yourselfer, was also a miserly sort (cheapskate) who would be unwilling to pay for education, but would rather just read and research how to calibrate TVs on their own because their time was worth little and they valued their money more.

So Spectracal invested six to eight months from the spring of 2010 to the fall to test this out.  They invested the time and money to drive around the country hitting what they called most cities with professional baseball teams to see if such interest existed.  Small enthusiast classes were offered at a price point of $300 that included a full day of hands on training and lecture.  Immediately following this one day class, a less expensive offering at $99 for a 3 hour class covering an introduction to calibration minus the hands on time, was also offered.

They discovered that the vast majority of people signing up were for the hands on class and virtually no one wanted the less expensive class.  Enthusiasts were willing to pay in the order of $300 to get real training on how to calibrate their TVs.  This was a break through discovery.  Some actually valued real training.

And so the present Spectracal One Day calibration program was born.  A generic calibration training program that would travel the country and the world and sometimes draw on local talent to teach the class.  Unfortunately, it is also sold to different people as different things.  Some come in expecting that the whole class is dedicated to teaching them how to use the Calman program intimately; a Calman workshop rather than a calibration workshop.  They get angry when they find out that the class is not like that at all.

The class is a crash course in calibration theory and with time for hands on practice.  It typically runs from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM including time for lunch.  The material covers the basic user controls through to grayscale work and then color management work.  If the class goes fast, then things like processors get discussed and used.  Everyone usually gets a class workbook containing the slide material which can be overly dry, although it is still very informative.

Although it is advertised that a class will have no more than 12 students, that has been more of a guideline than a steadfast rule.  I have taught classes that had as few as five attendees and a few at 24 to 30 as well.  (There were far too many in those classes for my own liking and it really does affect the quality of the class.)  It takes much longer to get the students to settle down in a larger setting.  Of the four classes that I have taught, there have not been more than five work stations.

A potential student was recently seen asking about the class in terms of its quality and whether it was worth his while to attend.  What the student did not ask or was oblivious to, was that his question was similar to asking for a lawyer, but not differentiating between a good lawyer and a bad one.  Are all lawyers the same?  Are all doctors?  Are engineers the same?  Are teachers all the same?

The core material of two identical university classes are the same and yet one class has a highly regarded instructor (From the perspective of past students) and the students all enjoy the class and do well in it.  In the second class, the instructor is less highly regarded and the students struggle with the material and do not enjoy the class at all and find the material difficult to understand.  The material is the same in both classes so what variable accounts for the difference between the two classes?  It would seem that the quality of the instructor also matters well beyond the merits of the class itself.

The same Spectracal class can be both excellent and poor at different times given a change in the instructor.  Everyone gets the same class book.  The quality of the class can vary greatly with the instructors.  Unlike the THX class that has always been taught by the same two instructors, the Spectracal class uses a number of different people to teach this class.  Different instructors will have very different backgrounds and teaching styles and experiences.  Some of the classes are taught by a salesman who happens to know the mechanics of calibration.  Some are taught by technical support people that understand the nuances of the calibration program, but do not calibrate in real life.  Some are taught by video engineers that understand the science of display calibration, but also do not calibrate in real life.  Sometimes the class is taught by the programmers of the software who understand the mechanics of calibration, but once more, do not calibrate enough.  And sometimes, the class is taught by a professional calibrator who also teaches the THX Video Calibration program.

What an attendee gets out of the class is dependent on many things.  It depends on the quality of the instruction and it depends on what the person is looking to learn.  An enthusiast that just wants to learn about the fundamentals of calibration can really learn the concepts equally well whether the instructor is an engineer or a real calibrator or even a salesman.  Enthusiasts are not usually interested in the information about running a calibration business or the art of being a salesman.  At this level, all of the instructors can easily get their points across unless they are just dry in their presentation style.

The quality of instructors matters more than just the program itself.  Everyone pays their $400 to take the Spectracal Calibration Training class.  Some will just get more out of it than others through no fault of their own.  Sometimes it will be the actual fault of the student as well.  The bottom line here for those that want to know if the class will be worth their while, is to ask ahead of time who the instructor will be, because it matters.  You may not always get what you paid for, but you will pay for what you get.

Addendum: (January 2012)  The changing of the guard.  The program will no longer be known as the Spectracal program as there is no longer a direct affiliation with Spectracal.  The program has been handed off to a third party to market and teach the class.  That third party has historically been strong at marketing, but pretty dry on the teaching side of things.  Will this be like handing the keys of the asylum over to the inmates?  It remains to be seen.

Michael Chen

Michael Chen is the only THX Video Systems Instructor in Canada, and beyond these borders, is one of just two THX Video Instructors in the entire world.  He has actively consulted with Spectracal and ChromaPure and has created numerous education videos on the calibration process with still more to come.  His Video Calibration Training Series has quickly become the most comprehensive and simple to understand learning tool on the market today.  He has also taught classes for both the ISF and Spectracal as well and is now spearheading his all new TLVEXP calibration training program. Let Michael teach you Video Calibration and add that additional income stream to your installation and integration business


  • Very interesting addendum. Looks like I was the last guy (along with one other) to receive the Spectracal Calibration Training. I thoroughly enjoyed the class, and since there were only two students, I got to calibrate two displays all by myself. There was 0 time dedicated to discussion the business of calibration, but I never bothered to ask. The other student was a corporate employee, so I figured I’d get that information elsewhere rather than bore my companion.

    I find it very interesting that the class is more profitable oversees. I think that is where the money is now quite frankly. In fact, that is part of my business plan. Unfortunately it is making it very hard to find a THX class stateside.

    I think, that if a class is really about preparing a student for the business of calibration, it should be 10% calibration and 70%+ marketing. Or at the very least, have some associations or affiliations with other educational organizations that can prepare an individual for running a business. It’s almost trivial to calibrate a display, when compared with the task of finding someone who will pay you $300+ to do the same.

    In my line of work, I’m in 3-5 qualified customer homes a day, and 10 out of 10 people I ask have never heard of calibration. Maybe about 1 in 20 know what it is, but don’t know it by name. They remember it’s possible when I describe the process. I think there is a large market out there for this type of work, but it just hasn’t been accessed.

    Great article overall. Looking forward to part two, after reading part three (since when does 3 come before 2? lol)!

    • Thanks for reading. Part Two has actually been ready for a long while now, but the nature of the article makes it difficult for me to release it to the public at the moment. Think “redacted” as that is what I have to do to that part before I release it. Hopefully I can release it in the summer. PM me is you’d like a sneak peak at it.

  • I got to take the current class being a self taught enthusiast it was rather disappointing. The instructor was Dry and obviously not a calibrator. I did enjoy helping others in the class but bringing up a few basic things that where skipped but should have been mentioned in a class that covers the basics. The most important thing I did learn was my current knowledge level seemed to be on par with the few professions in the the class as well as the person teaching (not a good thing for the others..) I was lucky to get a discount on the class so I feel I did get what I paid for but would have rather paid more and gotten more. Like most paid training (think IBM technical training, community collage drawing 101 teachers etc etc.. the teacher doesn’t always make a living doing what they teach.. If you have never played with the equipment or adjusted gray scale on a set, and want to, it will be worth the time and money. If you want to pick the brains of someone who had calibrated tons of devices you will probably be very disappointed..

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