Making Windows 7 RC gorgeous with gamma

Darien Graham-Smith
27 Apr 2009

Like many of you, I spent the weekend tinkering with the new Windows 7 release candidate. And, probably like many of you, I've been faintly disappointed at the complete absence of major new features, especially after we were promised "surprises".

But I have to admit, the outlandish new "Characters" and "Scenes" themes have had me grinning like a Cheshire Cat. I never thought I'd say this, but this new edition of Windows really is beautiful.

And though it looks great out of the box, there's one quick tweak I can recommend to make it look even better.

Calibrating your display

Many graphics drivers come with tools to let you adjust the curve between dark and light shades (known as gamma) to suit your monitor. In principle, it's nothing new: but what is new in Windows 7 is a standard built-in calibrator that makes it all but effortless to get the best from your screen.

The control is hidden away in a sub-pane of the Display settings, but you can jump to it instantly by simply hitting the start button and typing "calibrate": the first option will be "Calibrate display colour".

Launch it and it’ll walk you through a few introductory pages, then give you a slider to to adjust your gamma. All you need to do is move the slider up or down until the grey dots in the test image are, as closely as possible, the same shade as the circles surrounding them.

On almost every system I've calibrated, the default setting has been too high, resulting in a washed-out display. Pulling the slider downward gives greater weight to dark items (such as text) while bringing out detail in bright areas and adding vibrancy to colours. It's like a free monitor upgrade.

For your eyes only

Of course, the advantages of this adjustment are subjective and limited to your own PC: colours probably won't print out exactly as they appear on your screen, and when you share photographs with others you may find that what looks great for you appears overexposed on a different display. But that's always been a problem: now at least what you personally see should reflect the best your hardware is capable of.

The calibration tool also helps you set the brightness and contrast controls on your monitor, and lets you adjust the overall colour balance, to compensate for any slight colour cast in your display. It can also launch the ClearType tuner to make text as readable as possible.

But while those are worthwhile adjustments, but none of them is likely to have as dramatic an effect as simply dragging that slider a little way down its scale.

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