Saturday, January 18, 2014

Graphic Arts Workstations - Part 1 : HP Dreamcolor on zBook 17

I recently bought a HP zBook 17 inch. The primary attraction was HP's DreamColor technology. As you may know in past years obtaining color accuracy on a PC was certainly possible, but something left to professionals. I'm just a serious amateur in most respects. I work in IT professionally, and some of that carries over to the other half of my brain in the evenings and weekends when I have time to play with color, design, etc.

A little backstory is that I've been using HP products primarily for my right brain activities, because my left brain told me that HP was a dependable company and that I could invest a considerable sum to have a system last for ten years or even longer. Yes, I would need to upgrade software and hardware, and the initial costs would be high, but over time I would have a stable state of the art system that my right brain would enjoy. I mostly use my left brain at work, so I don't want to come home and mess around with technology. When at home my right brain just wants to play.

I will be exploring over several posts if the strategy of spending $7 K on a graphic arts workstation is worthwhile for a serious amateur who expects that system to last ten years, or, because technology changes so quickly is buying/leasing newer smaller systems a better approach.

My bias is that I don't want to be on a payment plan. A pet-peeve of mine is that all of corporate America wants you on a subscription, payment plan, lease, club, or any method they can think of to obtain regular payments from you. So the question becomes, can you purchase a system and expect it physically last, perform well, keep up with technology changes, and actually be cost/time effective over a ten year period?

As a side bar... I mentioned left/right brain. Over the years I took several tests to see where my gray matter stands on the great divide between the arts and science. You can do a test to see for your self if your left or right dominated. In my case I've taken several of these tests and I fall in the middle. The screen shot below is the result of a test you can take at Test Yourself.

Now back to the subject at hand.... There will be two focuses in this series of posts. The first is my old system which is an HP xw8400 tower workstation which has been faithful to me for over seven years. I've been upgrading it over the last few months in preparation of removing XP and loading Win 7 as a fresh install.

The other focus will be the new zBook, and the adventures of using a state of the art mobile workstation with a 17 inch LCD that is professional quality. The screen image at the start of this post is from the HP Mobile Display Assistant which is a default tool to control the DreamColor display.

My first impression is that the Display Assistant saved me from my first mishap. As mentioned, I hate spending time on technology when I'm home. So I bought the zBook (with the DreamColor option) and ordered the HP DreamColor Calibration Solution kit thinking I needed to calibrate the new system as I did for my Asus ProArt LCD on the xw8400 workstation. Out of the box the calibration solution did not work on the zBook. Oh, it worked alright, turning the display a dark green (no red or blue at all). I couldn't get the system back to the default factory setting.

All of my old tricks of knowing where the icc/icm files are (C:\Windows\System32\spool\drivers\color), or, using the Windows Color and Display utilities could not reset the monitor didn't work. (even if you know the tortured path of tabs to get to the proper place that actually does something VS what you think makes sense). Apparently, the DreamColor architecture stores the calibration within hardware settings, making it nearly impossible for the average person to change it.

That was a huge disappointment. HP collaborated directly with X-Rite to make a calibration unit specifically for DreamColor. It is based on X-Rite's ColorMunki product, but the 'brains' have been altered for HP's DreamColor. Since my right brain saw X-Rite, HP, and DreamColor all in one sentence (at several web references) I just assumed it would work with the zBook out of the box. Bad assumption.

The documentation was nearly nonexistent. Just a few small help screens, and certainly no manual to be found. Nothing on the X-Rite or HP sites that I could find for the zBook DreamColor regarding technical details on how to use the calibration system. I resorted to doing a full system search on the zBook for the keyword DreamColor. That is how I found the HP Mobile Display Assistant. You would think it might be on the Start Menu somewhere as an installed program, and it is under All Programs > HP Mobile Display Assistant. Being new to my zBook (even if I saw that menu option) it didn't sound like a what I was hunting for.

Anyway, once the display assistant was started it was just a few clicks to reset my LCD to factory settings, and from the first looks I might even send back my calibration solution kit. I'm not sure that it will be useful or necessary in my situation. I just need reasonable color calibration control, not perfectly objective metrics for all the display settings.

My goal is to be able to print 30x40 prints on an inkjet and have the color be reasonably close to what I saw on the screen, and I'm getting the feeling that the Mobile Display Assistant will get me there. There's even a user manual by god!

You can see in the above image of the Settings screen that there is an option to load your desired color space at application startup. I've chosen AdobeRGB mostly because that is what I'm use to in producing reasonable prints from Photoshop and Lightroom. The DreamColor display is actually capable of producing a larger color space than the AdobeRGB standard. You can also set the preferences to show a startup icon on the desktop. Something that should have been default and would have saved me from finding it indirectly after hours of suffering with a dark green display.

Anyway, that's the nickel tour. I'll post more technical stuff as I dig into the zBook's DreamColor display.

Shoot me any questions you might have on the HP zBook or the DreamColor display.

(I just took a few minutes after this post to look at the Mobile Display Assistant. Not exactly full featured and the 'manual' is just a bunch of one liners. Oh, well. The Technical Support button took me to a third party company who I suspect would like to sell me something. I don't know if they will address my question regarding why the HP Calibration tool didn't work on the zBook. More later)

Now three hours later.... I decided to call HP to see if I could get the calibration unit fixed, or, just return it. I thought the odds of getting a fix were nil so I would be returning it. However, because both the zBook and the calibration unit are under warranty I actually got through to a support person who had a clue. He didn't know about my calibration unit, but he did know just a little about DreamColor technology. He confirmed that there is no manual available, and we just decided to download he latest HP Mobile Display Assistant (ver 3), and reinstall the calibration software (ver 2.2) which I had uninstalled.

He did a remote connection into the workstation, and went through the install and upgrade for me. Then we ran the Calibration Solution software again... and it worked!

I now have an adobe98 icc generated, and of course, it is also now part of the firmware of the DreamColor architecture, and it looks great.

I think this is the technology progress that my right brain expected. It should have worked out of the box.... and it did after a day of frustration and help from HP. Calibrating a monitor for the needs of an amateur like myself isn't rocket science. Yes, years ago it was a bit of a pain on the old Sony Trinitrons, but we are making progress, right? And this little adventure shows that we are.... one small step at a time.


  1. Have you been able to SET THE WHITE POINT in the HP Mobile Display Assistant without using the calibration solution? I just can't understand how such a simple control, present on the 8730w, isn't available in later versions of the software.

    On my 8740w using the Dreamcolor 2, I simply can't get pure whites using the HP Mobile display assistant, they are either too blue or too red. In other words it ignores green. The older version of the HP Display Assistant used with the Dreamcolor 1 in the 8730w had that control, but it won't run on the 8740w.

    Thanks for commenting back!
    vucliriel at g mail dot com

  2. According to the installed Mobile Assistant manual you set the white point via the Color Temperature control. I do all of my critical work in Adobe Lightroom, and setting the white point there is very simple, and is done on a per photo basis, or, a custom setting.

    1. Hi, Jim. I recently bought the same laptop (Zbook 17) equipped with Dreamcolor display. However, I found that display is terrible in colors. It shows horrible color banding in all basic colors and shades. I spent many hours in searching a solution but was totally failed. Did you have any problems in colors with your laptop?
      Many thanks