Automatic Color Calibration for Commodity Multi

Automatic Color Calibration for Commodity
Multi-projection Display Walls
Luciano Pereira Soares
Ricardo Jota Costa
Joaquim Armando Jorge
Instituto Superior Técnico
Lisboa - Portugal
Instituto Superior Técnico
Lisboa - Portugal
Instituto Superior Técnico
Lisboa - Portugal
Multi-projection display walls are often used in advanced
virtual reality applications. However, most dedicated hardware available for these systems is very expensive. Our
approach focuses on developing alternative solutions using
inexpensive commodity projectors and screens driven by a
commodity PC cluster. Unfortunately, using inexpensive
projectors raises interesting problems both in terms of color
and intensity matching, which need to be tackled to ensure
reasonable image quality and precision. Indeed, commodity projectors do not have good color or brightness interprojection stability or control. This means that two ”identical” projectors from the same manufacturer, model, lamp
life, operating at the same temperature, can present widely
different color and brightness output given the same input
signal. To alleviate this, our technique uses graphics card
resources to control the output video signal before it reaches
the projectors. We use an inexpensive web camera to capture the display wall image. In this way we can identify color
variations in the projected image and then adapt the graphic
card’s gamma curve to achieve good color and brightness
balance amongst tiles. Visual inspection shows good results,
which can be improved by careful choice of commodity devices. Furthermore the solution is compatible with existing
applications which can run unchanged.
Categories and Subject Descriptors
C.3 [Special-Purpose and Application-Base Systems]:
Real-time and embedded systems; I.4.9 [Image Processing
and Computer Vision]: Applications
lems regarding brightness and color balance. Unfortunately
the human eye is very sensitive to variations in brightness
and color nuances and can detect subtle differences in these
characteristics. Since each projector has a different color
gamut, in order to produce a homogeneous multi-projection
display, it is necessary to balance brightness and match colors across different projector devices in a display wall, in the
biggest color gamut available among all projectors.
Photometric correction in projection walls is a common task,
which is usually performed manually by using spectroradiometers and visual inspection. However, this is a time
consuming and difficult task which often requires periodic
re-calibrations, due to normal drift in projector output. Our
approach uses simple low-resolution web cameras to do this
task and achieve satisfactory results, close to those achievable by manual operation. Furthermore, web cameras are
about one thousand times cheaper than the more expensive,
and sophisticated spectroradiometers. By collecting display
images using the web camera, is is possible to assess both
color and brightness errors and reduce these, in a few steps
to achieve an homogeneous appearance across the display
mosaic. Since our approach is geared to displays driven by
computers in a cluster, the correction for a given projector is
achieved by changing the gamma curve stored in the graphics card of each node that drives a projector. Moreover, as
the calibration is configured directly on the graphics card,
applications running on the display wall can use this calibration without any changes or reduction in performance,
since the application is already ported to a distributed environment.
Virtual Reality, Multi-projection
In recent years, projection walls were used by many research
centers for large scale display applications in virtual environments. However, such settings still pose considerable prob-
Many publications dealing with photometric calibration are
very recent [2] [8] and most of them focus on intra-projector
calibration. Although this approach creates a smoother image, it also requires extensive modifications to the image
displaying software which entail severe reductions in frame
rate. Other research [6] on tiled projection systems addresses gamut matching. This technique also uses cameras
for image capture but sets the calibration in the projectors.
Furthermore, it is recommended to do a first step color calibration in the projectors although this creates a device dependent solution which limits its utilization. Some more
recent work [9] resorts to feeding light inside the projectors,
through fiber optics, using one single lamp and also sharing
the diachronic filter. While this solution is optimal concerning output matching, using a single lamp creates scalability
problems. Moreover small visible differences remain in the
color and brightness of each projection image.
physical characteristics, to reduce the photometric calibration problem.
A non parametric full gamut color matching algorithm was
developed [11][7] with good results, but this technique uses
data set from colorimeters which are cheaper than most
spectroradiometers. However these are not a commodity
device and they are still much more expensive than commodity web cameras.
Optimized color gamut equations were developed to work
around the color and brightness non-linear characteristics
of projectors [1]. While these might provide good approximations to the color space, the resulting higher order equations are not very easy to solve. Furthermore, the quality of
the results was not clear since the algorithm was not implemented.
The research project described in this paper does not cover
intra-projection calibrations (the variation that occurs across
the field-of-view of a single projector). This is well covered
in the related work discussed above. Our approach focuses
on compensating inter-projector fluctuations, this does not
avoid boundary artifacts between the projection tiles, although it enables several users at the same time and no
need for a user tracking system.
The setup used for the experiments [5] is a high-resolution
4x3 tiled back-projection wall, with a single screen and low
cost projectors (HP vp6100 series digital projector). Each
projector is connected to the video output (nVidia Quadro
FX 3000) of a cluster node also composed of HP workstations (xw4100 workstations). A server (HP xw6200, Linux
also) coordinates the cluster basic operations, such as wakeup
and sleep, dispatch and control applications. Our setup is
connected through a dedicated Gigabit Ethernet network
controlled by the cluster server. Figure 1 shows an overview
of the projector support structure. We developed special geometric calibration tools to ensure projector alignment and
correct positioning of the resulting images on the screen.
The projection images do not overlap on the screen to yield
an image size of 4096x2304 corresponding to an effective
resolution of 1 pixel/mm over a surface of almost 10 square
The main problem in multi-projection walls lies in color and
brightness differences across projection tiles. Even from a
fixed user position it is possible to notice large differences
amongst projected areas, which negatively impairs the user
As we have seen, different projectors will have different lamp
characteristics both in terms of color temperature and brightness. Also, lamps age differently in both color and brightness. This means that neighbor projectors will show different colors and brightnesses given the same input in the
same conditions and furthermore that even for matched projectors colors will shift differently. Also, color filter optical
properties can vary for each projector, producing different
spectral colors.
Moreover, the screen has some specular amount of light. To
reduce this effect, projection screens usually have several
layers of the same material to increase diffusion and try to
achieve a unity gain. This leads to a prism effect, where
refraction of incident light depends on its wavelength and
the relative positions of user and projector. All these issues
create chrominance variations in the resulting image which
are difficult to overcome.
The projectors also use an additional white filter in the color
wheel inside the projectors to enhance brightness. This lead
to a complex calibration that does not fit in a linear equation. Usually more expensive projectors for virtual reality
applications do not use this white filter in the color wheel,
or they uses dichroic mirrors or a three DLP chip setup with
static filters - one for each primary color. Some more specialized high-end projectors [4] or [3] come with a color and
brightness detector inside them. Some manufacturers look
for dichroic mirrors and lamps with the same behavior and
Figure 1: Projectors setup
The calibration application uses a commodity camera connected to the server to retrieve raw image information from
the projection grid.
One important issue regarding the web camera is that it
must support an exposure control to specify a scan frequency
lower than the color wheel cycle, otherwise images will show
color artifacts like those shown in Figure 2 in which each
surface in the mosaic shows a different color. This is because
the colors of the projectors are perceived as white due to
integration in the human eye, but because each color wheel
was in a different position when the picture was taken, the
colors in the image are not those expected. On the other
hand longer exposure times, lead to saturation problems.
Another aspect of the camera is that it is more sensitive to
the non lambertian effects of the screen than human eyes,
increasing the hot spot effect.
Although gamma correction control has been long available
in supercomputer operating systems at device-driver level,
∆ϕ =
V =
(x − ϕx )2 + (y − ϕy )2
RGB ∗ cos4 (arctan(∆ϕ/(∆w ∗ 1.2)))
v = V /size
Figure 2: Multi-Projection Wall
in Linux it has only been fully available since XFree86 release
4.3.0 . Now it is possible to control the gamma curve of
the graphics card by using look-up-tables. Therefore it is
possible to change color values for the pixels in the graphic
card, before it is sent to the display. These look-up-tables
are available for each of the three primary colors (RGB).
The first step in calibrating color and brightness is to get a
projection sample in order to fix the projection variations.
To gather projection samples a snapshot of the projection
screen is taken to be analyzed. Since there is a big difference
in brightness, and sometimes in color, inside each projection
area depending on the camera point of view it is necessary to
provide a good measurement in order to average the colors
of each tile in the display mosaic. Also, as the samples of
each projection area are taken at the same time, since the
web camera captures all the projection tiles in one shot, each
region is not aligned with the direction of projection. Thus
the brightness changes drastically along the field of view for
each tile. This makes it necessary to estimate the distortion
between the projectors, the screen and the camera. This
approach creates a great flexibility, otherwise having to place
the camera in front of each projection area in the mosaic
would make the operation more complex and cumbersome.
A way used to discover the deformation is by using the image brightest spot as the focus (ϕ), and then use it as a
parameter to apply over each pixel. As it is also easy to discover the proportional width of the projection area in the
image (∆w), we can use the cos4 (α) rule [10] to decrease
the influence as the pixels move away from the focus. We
decided by this approach, because otherwise we had to know
the projection, screen and camera relative positions before
the calibration, making the system less flexible. With our
approach the camera can be used almost immediately, the
only information required being the lens aspect ratio. As
our system uses a 1:1.2 lens we can use this information to
discover the angular variation. For other systems this constant must be changed. The equation 1, 2 and 3 provide a
good approximation for the characteristic color and brightness values of each projection surface in the mosaic.
The next step is to display the three primary colors, as
shown in the Figure 3 in the display wall. The camera stores
the tri-stimulus values of each individual projection tile. Initial versions used solid white images to get the tri-stimulus
values, but using the primary colors yields a better result for
the camera, at the cost of three, instead of one, image projection and processing steps. This is due the greater color
saturation in solid white than in three separate color projections. Indeed sampling solid white images inserted greater
measurement errors that threw off our calibration efforts.
Figure 3: Primary Colors and White Mask.
As we calibrate the brightness, the colors shift irregularly,
because the projector does not haver a linear response to
the input color signals. This error requires more than a
simple 1-dimensional lookup table for each color to properly match color spaces between projectors. Thus, changing
the primary colors does not affect the brightness values as
expected. This behavior leads to a difficult situation. To
overcome this the calibration algorithm trys to maintain the
same proportional level of each color in each projector. As
digital projectors do not have a linear behavior in the primary colors, there is no practical method to find a possible
color gamut common to all projectors, we decided to proceed with a iterative method looking for the best color and
brightness balance amongst projectors. Since the brightness levels of projectors are already set to their maximum
levels, it is not possible to increase the brightness for calibration. Our system then starts to decrease the intensity of
the saturated color in each projector, and then the projectors begin to show uniformity in their color gamut. In the
next calibration step, the brightness of each projection area
is averaged and decreased as necessary. Since the displayed
colors do not behave linearly as we change the brightness,
it is necessary to re-calibrate at each step. We usually need
two or three steps to achieve good results. Special projection systems, use the opposite approach, first adjusting the
brightness and then the color values. In our case, as this procedure severely reduces the projection brightness, we opted
to use the opposite strategy.
that enables dispatching automatic commands for each node
in the cluster or manual commands for a user-defined calibration. The application also incorporates pattern commands to use in a manual geometric adjustment, that can
be very useful. The patterns we commonly use include grid,
color-bars, jitter (half-tone), degrade (color-ramp). The system also allows users to choose the number of grid divisions,
making it possible to adapt the application to different mosaic configurations.
As we have seen, reducing brightness creates a color shift,
which makes it necessary to perform a calibration in the
intermediate color input levels. Our tests suggested that
discretizing color intensities in up to eight levels provides
good results for the calibration and does not saturate the
look up tables. Using more levels will create problems and
prevent possible user manipulation of the curves. One issue
that usually presents lots of problems is the darkest image
setting (absolute black). This is because digital light projectors leak some light even in the absence of signal, since the
DLP chip set-up scatters some of the incident light. In these
cases we need increase the brightness of the darker projectors in order to maintain the same black setting across all
displays. It is also important to maintain the lowest overall
intensity level possible, otherwise this setting can result in
too bright an image at the darkest setting.
Applying the above steps reduces the dynamic range of the
projectors, and this significantly impairs the projection brightness and quality. A good way to mitigate this is to use
intensity–matched projectors, since low–brightness projectors can impair the whole system. Our experiments showed
that one of the twelve projectors had lower brightness ranges,
as can be seen from Figure 3. In order to maintain the overall
dynamic range of the projection wall we gave up calibrating
that specific projector.
The applications developed are based on a client/server architecture using sockets for the communication and XML as
protocol. Each node runs a C++ client whose main purpose
is to deal with color and pattern commands received from
the server. The server gathers information using the camera
and runs their color convergence algorithm. The server was
implemented in Java. Both client and server use very distinct libraries mainly because C++ APIs are better suited
for interfacing the graphics card drivers while Java Runtime Environments provide for better camera frameworks
and faster user interface development.
The client receives messages to display solid colors or patterns which are read by the camera and used to compute the
modifications in the color curve for each graphics card. All
colors and patterns are generated by OpenGL. The client
also understands message to change the graphics card behavior and settings. It implements a look-up-table used for
the modifications, but the messages received by each client
contain only the curve modification parameters, instead of
the whole curve specification, making the procedure quite
fast by avoiding to transmit redundant data.
The server is an application that receives connection requests from the clients running in each node, it is connected
to the camera and has a user interface, presented in figure 4,
Figure 4: Interface Snapshot
Each projector is responsible for a portion of the total displayed image (mosaic). This portion needs to be correctly
identified. Any failure in finding the right projected regions might yield significant errors in the following algorithm
To identify each projection region two snapshots are taken
for each display surface. The first projects solid black and
the second projects solid white in the intended region. Subtracting both snapshots results in a picture that easily identifies the projected region. Unfortunately this approach is
not bullet-proof, due to the white color interference with
the environment. For example, our setup is sensitive to wall
reflections and some camera lens artifacts when the solid
white pattern is shown. Figure 5 shows the ceiling reflection
after the image subtraction operation.
As previously reported, the algorithm does not handle erroneous regions very well. This is because the computed
region is used to find the RGB values presented by the projection area. If pixels outside the projection area are taken
into account, the algorithm might not converge. To extract
each projected region correctly, we try to find the two vertical borders of the region. The vertical borders are obtained
by computing image rows one by one and then analyzing the
neighboring pixels. Each intensity value pair that exceeds
a threshold is taken into account. If the difference between
intensity values is low, then the pair is tagged as a false pos-
Figure 5: Subtraction Operation
itive. Figure 6 shows a false positive between rows 20 and
Figure 7: Image Division Obtained by the Application
To complete the detection process we apply a scan-line algorithm to identify the pixels inside the borders of each tile
in the projection mosaic. These pixels are stored for further
use in order to compute color values in order to calibrate
future primary color images.
Figure 6: Single Row Intensity Value
A problem we have to deal with, is that the workaround to
remove false positives may cause the image region to shrink
in size. However, this artifact is more desirable than having
to deal with false positives. Indeed, by using the smaller
size region we are assured that every pixel included into the
region is actually illuminated by the same projector we are
trying to find. This allows us to use any pixel included in
the region to compute the corrected RGB values. Figure 7
presents the final results of the detection algorithm. Notice how the estimated top left region is smaller than the
real projected region. This is due to the fact that the corresponding projector is not working properly, thus the false
positive workaround which we devised to adapt the lower intensity values. As we can see from the previous figures, the
difference in brightness among projectors is quite noticeable
and this adversely affects the performance of our calibration
To start the calibration procedure it is important to wait
until the system reaches a stable temperature environment,
since it can change the properties of the projectors and even
the screen. After that the camera must be positioned in
such a way as to cover all the projection area. Usually we
get better results if the camera is in the same position as the
user point of view. The Java application must be started
and the client application must be dispatched to each node.
Then just one click in the interface starts the calibration
process. Our method first detects the projector boundaries
and starts to display the patterns to identify the color variation between projectors. Usually after a short number of
steps (three to four) the automatic procedure stops, letting
the user make final adjustments manipulating the gamma
curve of each projection as desired, usually necessary if some
projector is quite different from the others. Finally the calibration can be saved for future use.
A complete flow diagram of the system is presented in Figure 8. Current results point to effective use of commodity
hardware to build comparatively low cost multi-projector
display solutions.
There are some problems that prevent our solution from
achieving a perfect calibration. One of the biggest issues
was the fact that the projectors used have a white area in
the color wheel that creates problems in finding a good equation to deal with intensities. Also, as we decrease the brightness of each projector we observed big shifts in color values
which create problems in converging to a common stable setting. Furthermore, typical web cameras have very limited
workable frame rates, which sometimes makes it difficult to
capture a clean image of the projected area because of dis-
Figure 8: Complete Algorithm Flow
parities in display redraw and camera capture frequencies.
Sometimes this results in white strips appearing in the captured image, which create noise. To solve this problem, as
we can not genlock the camera and projector devices, since
we are using commodity components that does not support
this features, our software captures three images at different
instants and merges them. This is fundamental for our edge
detection technique to work.
Since each calibration takes some time it is possible to save
the configuration and load it to individual graphics cards.
This is preferable to running the calibration procedure each
time it is necessary to restart the projection wall. This
preload feature solves problems when it is not possible to
calibrate all the system, if there are objects obstructing the
camera view of the screen, such as chairs or tables. Furthermore, this setup also helps to detect changes in image
quality due to lamp degradation which usually results in
color and brightness shifts.
Figure 9 shows a cultural heritage scene, depicting Mosteiro
da Batalha, a famous XIV century Portuguese monument.
The image displayed depicts its main facade which was laser-
Figure 9: Cultural Heritage Display showing colors and intensities before (above) and after applying
brightness and color correction (below)
scanned at high resolution – 3mm/pixel. On the topmost
and bottommost pictures we can see the projection screen
before and after the calibration, respectively. Since there is
no overlap between adjacent projection screens in the mosaic, it is quite clear from look at the top picture where each
individual screen ends. This makes it necessary to provide
as good a color matching as possible. To make calibration
results easier to see, both top and bottom figures zoom on
the central tiles to better show the differences in color and
brightness. It is possible to see that such differences are
considerably mitigated in the bottom image which exhibits
better homogeneity between individual projectors both in
color and brightness.
The research work described herein allowed us to improve
the color and intensity calibration between different display
tiles in a multi-projection wall. Since we are driving the
display wall without any overlapping region between tiles
and we use a high gain screen, no technique can completely
eliminate the boundary artifacts. However this more narrowly focused solution did show good results as can be seen
from the images we have presented. In a different approach
from pixel-based correction algorithms, this technique does
not have impact in application performance. Furthermore
is is possible to use it with existing applications without
changing any code.
Unfortunately, it was not possible to perform a better system evaluation, and compare other algorithms or techniques
to ours, since our laboratory does not currently have access to spectroradiometers or similar devices that accurately
measure the quality of a calibration. Also, as shown in Figure 1 and Figure 2, the projector in the top left corner, had
very different brightness and color properties, which posed
considerable problems in achieving a good inter-projector
calibration. We are currently replacing the projectors with
less quality to achieve better results. Further research steps
include testing with cameras of different quality, to assess
camera influence in the calibration, as well as using different
kinds of projectors and display screens. Another reasonable
step is to plug-in additional software components to allow
using projector controls in the calibration.
Finally as we also intend to increase overlap and apply edge
blending in the near future using a precise analogical linear
blending, we can predict the color variation between two
neighboring projectors and program the corresponding attenuation functions directly on each graphics card.
The authors wish to thank Tiago Guerreiro for his insights
and help this project. This research was partially funded by
the Portuguese branch of Hewlett Packard, Fundação para
a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) through individual grants
SFRH/BPD/20572/2004 and SFRH/BD/17574/2004 and by
the EU project IMPROVE (IST-2003-004785).
Bruno Rodrigues de Araújo Instituto Superior Técnico - Lisboa - Portugal, email:
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