Graphics Enhancers

Show your true colors

Colors vary from monitor to monitor: What looks like puce on one display may appear as burnt umber on another (you can tell I've been looking at paint swatches, can't you?). If you want your digital photos and other graphics to look as true to life as possible, you need to calibrate your monitor. Calibration software can help, but to really gauge a monitor's color accuracy, you need a device designed specifically for sampling and analyzing a monitor's hues.

Colorvision's Spyder2express does just that. The device, which costs about US$70 online, uses a hockey puck-size USB scanner that hangs over the front of your monitor to sample the light it emits, and to calibrate the colors automatically. The Spyder2express scanner is the same one used by the company's more expensive calibration products. A US$200 software upgrade adds the company's PrintFix Plus utility, which color-matches printer and monitor output.

Unstick your pixels

Sometimes, your LCD's pixels get stuck, requiring a mild jolt to get them operating again. If you have an annoying pixel that just won't let go of one color, try using your fingertip wrapped in a soft, clean cloth to massage the pixel very, very gently for 10 to 15 seconds.

If that doesn't unstick it, download the free Stuck Pixel Fixer video file from PSP-Vault, and run it for a couple of hours (look for the download link at the bottom of the description). The video's rapidly flashing colours have fixed several of my stuck pixels. To play the video, which was originally designed for the Sony PlayStation Portable, you need QuickTime or another media player that supports MPEG-4 files. Note that this technique works with stuck pixels, but not dead ones, which typically appear black.

Improve your driver skills

If you're not satisfied with the performance of your display, try tweaking your graphics driver. Check to see if you have the latest release installed. (Note, though, that changing your system's graphics driver is an invitation to trouble. Remember the sage advice: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.) While you're in the driver's properties, get to know the features and settings. ATI's Catalyst and nVidia's Forceware utilities allow you to tweak many 3D, color, and other advanced image settings. See the Catalyst and Forceware sections at TweakGuides.com for the details.

Experimenting with your card's gamma settings, for example, can significantly lighten up a game that's otherwise too dark to play comfortably. Many power users also swear by EnTech Taiwan's US$30 PowerStrip (free trial), a configuration utility that offers a huge collection of advanced graphics-card tweaks, including many settings that are not available in the manufacturer's configuration utilities. Customized screen resolutions, for instance, give HDTV and wide-screen LCD viewers more options, and custom refresh-rate settings let you bypass the 60-Hz limitation that causes screen flicker on some display/graphics card combinations. One caveat: Most LCDs work best at their default refresh rate.

Contributing Editor Kirk Steers writes the monthly Hardware Tips column.

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Kirk Steers

PC World
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