Is the iPad ready to be your customer review monitor? Or is the new reference mode just a gimmick?
iPad OS 16 is here with a new feature filmmakers should look forward to. However, it also requires some knowledge to really understand how to work with it.
The new reference mode is available on the new iPad Pros with M2 and aims to show filmmakers and photographers working with videos and photos a more accurate picture. That’s a boon for creatives using iPads to get approval from clients.
Reference mode works by first disabling any color adjustments that the iPad might be doing. For example, the iPad has a Night Shift feature that adjusts the color palette to the time of day for easier reading. This is wonderful for your sleep cycle when reading on iPad before bed, but it has long wreaked havoc with color-critical notes on iPad, as it affects the color of everything shown. The same goes for TrueTone, which constantly tracks the ambient light and adjusts the display. Reference mode turns off all processing.
In addition, the reference mode limits the displayed colors to those of the color space you have chosen. The list is pretty impressive:
- BT.601 SMPTE-C
- BT.601 EBU
- HDR10 BT.2100 PQ
- BT.2100 HLG Dolby Vision Profile 8.4 or Dolby Vision Profile 5.
Let’s just break down the method most commonly used by filmmakers here, which is BT.709 (aka Rec.709). This is the color space for HD video, while BT.601 was most commonly used for standard definition (basically sub-HD resolution from the 90’s and early 00’s). If you deliver HDR formats you might be working with BT.2100, but those are even rarer. For a large chunk of the industry, BT.709 (Rec.709) is a safe bet if you’re delivering to YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok.
The color space Rec.709 only shows a limited color palette. As you can see on the chip below, the large colored shape is the CIE 1931 palette, showing all the colors typical of human vision.
The triangle is Rec.709, the colors it promises to show. Modern display panels (like the one on the new iPad Pro with M2) can display many colors, which can be a much wider palette than what fits in the Rec.709 color space. Reference mode restricts the color palette of the iPad Pro display to only show colors that are within Rec.709. This is done in software by remapping all colors outside the triangle into the triangle.
Filmmakers and colorists also have the ability to make detailed adjustments to the output. While this may not be necessary on a new device, each display will change over time. Recalibrating displays not only extends their lifespan, but allows creators to maintain pinpoint accuracy.
Is the iPad ready?
Now that we understand what’s happening with the software, the big question is…is the hardware ready?
Is the iPad’s panel ready to accurately display these colors at all? Critical testing and a pandemic-driven industry-wide test point to yes. A lot of preview work has been pushed to the iPad in the last two years, and most people are pretty damn happy with it.
We’d still recommend someone in the pipeline (ideally the colorist) watching a real calibrated broadcast monitor, but the rest of the team on iPad monitoring solutions is increasingly sufficient or even preferred. When faced with the choice of clients on a dozen different PC and Mac computers, or all on iPads, the consistency and quality of the iPad Pro display wins every day. It really is a very nice monitor that was supported by the industry even before reference mode.
One thing we’re hoping for in the future is the ability to have a software trigger for reference mode. If we can get something like the Frame.io app or the upcoming DaVinci Resolve iPad app to automatically trigger reference mode, our life when retrieving notes from clients will be so much easier.
We never have to wonder if they say it’s “too warm” because it really is too warm, or because their TrueTone settings have been activated. In the meantime, we can absolutely explain to our customers how to turn it on and off, but that depends on a tech-savvy customer willing to dig into their settings – and we all know that’s not every customer.