Last year saw the arrival of the Windows 11 2022 Update. One of its most exciting additions was ACM — Auto Color Management — a change that will greatly improve color performance on many SDR displays.
Here’s a primer on what Windows’ new Advanced Color is and how it helps SDR displays maintain color fidelity, helping them catch up to higher-end, wider-gamut HDR alternatives.
The Importance of Color
Improvements to display color management are a crucial but often overlooked facet of computer design. The colors on our screens fundamentally change the experience of using a computer. Think of how many thousands of colors exist on-screen, often simultaneously.
Some of the most colorful websites are online casinos, which are becoming increasingly popular. Players interact with game hosts during casino games with live dealers but beyond the human component, games also show information to players through their colors, so getting them right is paramount. When the colors pop and everything is properly visible and color-coded, patrons have a better experience.
Developers and consumers alike rely on color not just as a delightful visual, but also because everything on-screen is color coded and serves a purpose. Think about how the X button to close an app window glows red when you hover over it, while other buttons don’t.
To achieve great color, you need a monitor with an appropriate color gamut and good color management capabilities.
What is Advanced Color?
Windows uses the term Advanced Color just as you’d expect — a color that has more fidelity than what you’d find on standard displays. This can be achieved through a wider color gamut, more precise 8+ bits per color channel, or a higher luminance through an extended nit range.
If your display supports Advanced Color, you can find ACM by following this path:
Start >> Settings >> Systems >> Display >> Advanced Display.
Once there, you should find “automatically manage color for apps” and turn that on.
In the past, Windows managed color through APIs called Image Color Management and Windows Color System. They collaborated with certain apps that wanted help, so not managed by the operating system, and most digital displays ran the sRGB color gamut. While still popular, there are more advanced color gamut displays taking sRGB’s place.
With ACM, all colors are enhanced and managed on supported displays. In most cases, the ACM makes a call between mapping apps in sRGB or mixing and matching between native/wide gamut and sRGB coloration. Put simply, it allows non-sRGB content the best of both worlds.
The ACM improvement also means that apps can access a wider variety of colors without sacrificing accuracy or showing artifacts in gradients of color.
To ensure that colors are consistent across displays and gamut ranges, Windows users should make use of the calibrate display color function. While display resolution is standardized, with the current standard at 1080p, it’s a lot harder to get colors to look exactly the same. A display panel might stray from its intended coloration. Once calibrated (via Settings >> Display >> Calibrate display color) inaccuracies should be fixed.
Those are the main points to know about Window’s recent ACM improvements. For casual users worried about color fidelity, activate ACM (if necessary) and run a color calibration.