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What is Colour Gamut

What is Color Gamut?

Jamie Finch
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When looking for a computer monitor or TV, we tend to look for features such as monitor size and fidelity. For most of us, that's all we need to know with modern devices, but others need more information. One option that most people will not look out for when buying monitors is the color gamut, a word many people reading this may never have heard before.
A color gamut would only usually concern people in specific industries where the colors must be precise. By ensuring they choose the right gamut, they can get the best possible results in their work.
Regardless, if you're still asking what a color gamut is, this article has the answers.

What is color gamut?

TVs and monitors have come a long way over the years. At first, people had to settle for black-and-white images on small screens, although this was considered high-tech at the time. However, as the technology developed, screens became larger, showing more detailed images. Gamuts also widened, allowing devices to represent more colors.
The definition of a gamut is the range of colors a device can represent. The wider the gamut, the more colors the device will represent, and modern appliances can typically display more than 16 million colors. Considering humans can see around 1 million colors, 16 million should be plenty!
Of course, 16 million colors are more than enough for most people, with few noticing any difference regardless of the gamut. However, people in certain industries or with certain hobbies can tell the difference and will need to be choosy when selecting a color gamut.
For example, graphic designers need access to the appropriate range of colors to help bring their creations alive. Photographers also need to be choosy with gamuts to help ensure their images are accurately portrayed.
While most of us are unlikely to ever notice, there are occasions when a device cannot represent a particular color. Such instances are examples of being "out of gamut." Being out of gamut could be awkward for some people, while it can also affect the quality of work.

The most common color standards

As TVs and other devices become more advanced, players in the industry developed color space standards. You can define a color space as a subset of a color model, which differs from a color gamut, the range of colors a device can display.
These standards help ensure consistency and quality by setting benchmarks against which you can compare images. The general idea is that people will see the same colors regardless of their device.
Over the years, the industry has developed numerous standards, each focusing on particular needs and influenced by the technology available. You will likely find some of these standards in devices you have at home, while others are rarer.
Here's a brief look at some of the most common color standards and color spaces used today.

RGB

RGB isn't a color standard but a color space often used in color standards. RGB stands for red, green, and blue, colors you can use together to create other colors in the spectrum. It differs from CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow and black), which uses a different approach to create the colors you need.

CMYK

Again, not a color standard but a color space. CMYK was developed mainly for printers because it helps ensure accurate colors on printed materials. This color space requires cyan, magenta, yellow, and black ink cartridges in printers.

NTSC

The National Television Standards Committee created its own standard, hoping it would become the standard for TVs. The committee largely achieved its goals, and many consider NTSC the standard manufacturers should use in TVs today. This standard was originally produced in the '50s but is still common even after digitization, and you will likely find several examples of NTSC in your home.

DCI-P3

Developed by the Society of Motion Pictures and Engineers (SMPTE) in California, DCI-P3 standard focuses on video captured digitally. SMPTE released the Digital Cinema System Specification in 2005, which would later become the Digital Cinema Initiatives – Protocol 3 (DCI – P3). SMPTE developed this standard for the cinema industry, and is compatible with digital cinema projectors. In addition, DCI-P3 offers a wider color gamut than most other standards do.

sRGB

HP and Microsoft developed the sRGB standard together, releasing it in 1996. As you might expect, the two companies developed the sRGB standard for monitors, printers, and similar devices. Reasons for the popularity of sRGB include few discrepancies and little lag time, and you will find the standard in a wide range of devices from TVs to cameras.

Adobe RGB

Adobe is one of the biggest names in the world of digital imagery, so it should be no surprise that it developed its own color standard. Adobe developed the standard in 1998, so you can use RGB primary colors on CMYK color printers. The company initially developed Adobe RGB to answer sRGB, but it was ahead of its time when it was released. However, the standard has become more popular recently as technology catches up.

EBU

Created by the European Broadcasting Union, EBU focused on graphics design, video editing, and photography. In the past, people were restricted to using this gamut in graphic design, video editing, and similar, but it has become more widespread as technology develops. Many readers will recognize the EBU standard from the EBU color bars often displayed on TV screens.

Rec. 709 (ITU-R BT. 709)

The Swiss Comité Consultatif International Pour La Radio (CCIR) developed the Rec. 709 standard in 1993, with the first known as Rec. 709-1. However, the radiocommunication sector (ITU-R) has since superseded CCIR, and the newest version, Rec. 709-6, was released in 2015. The IRU-R developed Rec. 709 intending for it to become the HDTV standard globally.

Rec. 2020

Whereas Rec. 709 was developed as an HDTV standard, ITU-R released Rec. 2020 as a UHDTV standard. As you might expect, Rec. 2020 offers a wider color space than Rec. 709 and helps take advantage of UHD's superior capabilities.

xvYCC

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) published xvYCC (extended-gamut YCC) in January 2006 after the standard had been proposed by Sony. The color space has 1.8 times more colors than sRGB and was developed to help keep up with HDTV.

HSL

HSL (hue, saturation, lightness) was developed in the 1970s as an alternative to the RGB color model alongside HSV (hue, saturation, values). Computer graphics researchers developed the standard for how humans use colors. Artists often use HSL and HSV because they feel more natural to use.

What is a wide gamut?

HPImage
The technology behind monitors and similar devices continues to advance, with ever-increasing fidelity and, of course, more colors. Some modern devices have developed to the point where there are almost no limitations on the colors they can display. Such cases are known as a wide color gamut.
Until recently, most computer monitors would display around 75% of the Adobe RGB standard or about 75% of the sRGB standard. However, many manufacturers now make monitors with a wide gamut as the standard itself. In time, gamuts may become obsolete where devices are concerned because they will all show all colors regardless.
A wide gamut is particularly useful for editing photographs because it means the screen can reproduce more original colors, potentially providing a significant boost in quality. Not only that, but a wide color gamut can also result in better-quality prints because the monitor can accurately represent the colors that a printer can produce.

Which gamut should I choose?

For most people, any color gamut will do just fine. This is especially the case in recent times, considering most of the latest devices offer a wide gamut. However, many people will still need a specific gamut to get the best results.
Of course, which color gamut you need depends on your line of work or hobby, which will then decide which gamut you will use. In many cases, it is a decision between sRGB vs RGB, or sRGB vs Adobe RGB.
So, for example, if you're a photographer, you should use a gamut that gives you the best possible representation of the sRGB space. If you're a graphic designer, you should select a gamut that can reproduce as much of the Adobe RGB standard.

Summary

With widening gamuts, modern devices are suitable for most people's needs, including those in the media industry. However, some people who need particular color spaces must be mindful of which color gamut they select.
When selecting a gamut, you need to consider which color spaces you need because this information will decide which gamut is best for you. In addition, some color spaces have been developed with specific professions or pastimes in mind, making some gamuts suitable for niche roles.
Regardless, the technology behind TVs and computer monitors will continue to evolve, and new standards will need to be introduced to help ensure continued quality and consistency. Gamuts may even become obsolete eventually, but they will still likely need to be replaced by something else that will help keep up with technological developments.

About the Author

Jamie is contributing writer for HP Tech Takes with almost 20 years of writing experience. He has a focus on marketing topics but enjoys writing on pretty much any topic under the sun. Jamie enjoys gaming, virtual reality workouts, and relaxing with friends and family in his spare time.

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