Improving Perceived Contrast And Sharpness

Improving Perceived Contrast And Sharpness

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    The use of the technique of bias lighting has the perceptual effect of improving the contrast performance of televisions. Improved contrast in an image also has the beneficial effect of making the image appear to have greater sharpness.

    I was reminded of these benefits while reviewing an article from the ‘SMPTE Journal,’ November of 2002. The title of the article was ‘The Importance of Contrast and its Effect on Image Quality’ by Segler, Pettitt and Kessel. Here are some pertinent quotes from the article:

    “Contrast could be considered to be the most significant quality that impacts not only the perceived depth of an image, but also affects the apparent sharpness…..While the luminance level of a given image affects how the eye perceives contrast and detail, the ambient conditions surrounding the image can also have a dramatic impact. This phenomena was studied by Bartleson and Breneman (1967) to examine the impact of perceived contrast based not only on the luminance level of the image but taking into account the surrounding ambient luminance levels as well. Their results showed that the perceived contrast increased as ambient luminance increased. With the increase in ambient luminance, the eye interprets black levels as being darker while the impact to the white level is minimal. Since the perceived difference in dark areas is greater under the higher ambient luminance conditions, the perceived contrast is higher. It is a natural tendency to want low ambient luminance levels to strive for “better” perceived image quality and what is thought to result in higher contrast. However, in reality, the opposite is true. This tendency may be justified for current direct view CRT televisions due to the issue of glare that results from the glossy surface of the glass tube [also true for certain flat panel displays today]. With less ambient luminance, the glare is reduced- but it may be important to keep some ambient luminance behind the television [as in the case of bias lighting] to keep the perceived contrast higher…..While sharpness can affect the apparent contrast of an image, the converse is true in that contrast can also impact the apparent sharpness of an image. Images that have lower contrast will appear to be not as sharp as an image of the same content, but with higher contrast…..A subjective study was then conducted to verify the impact that ambient lighting has on perceived contrast. Several non-technical (and thus presumably non-biased) and technical observers were asked to compare a series of images with various ALL [average luminance levels] under different ambient luminance extremes in order to understand the impact that ambient viewing conditions might have on the perceived contrast between the two television technologies [CRT and DMD (DLP RPTV)]. Under dark ambient conditions, the result for images with an ALL > 5% was found to be equal between the CRT and the first DMD display. However, under bright ambient conditions (about 250 nits of luminance on the wall behind all of the units), the DMD display was favored over the CRT by 50% of the observers as having higher perceived contrast…..This proved that ambient conditions have the effect of potentially raising the black level threshold of the eye above the actual black level of the television such that the perceived contrast ratio is higher.”

    Here’s another related reference from: ‘Color Appearance Models,’ by Mark D. Fairchild, Ph.D., of the Chester F. Carlson Center for Imaging Science: Munsell Color Science Laboratory.

    “Their experimental results, obtained through matching and scaling experiments, showed that the perceived contrast of images increased when the image surround was changed from dark to dim to light. This effect occurs because the dark surround of an image causes dark areas to appear lighter while having little effect on light areas (white areas still appear white despite changes in surround). Thus since there is more of a perceived change in the dark areas of an image than in the light areas, there is a resultant change in perceived contrast…..Often, when working at a computer workstation, users turn off the room lights in order to make the CRT display appear of higher contrast. This produces a darker surround that should perceptually lower the contrast of the display. The predictions of Bartleson and Breneman are counter to everyday experience in this situation. The reason for this is that the room lights are usually introducing a significant amount of reflection off the face of the monitor and thus reducing the physical contrast of the displayed images. If the surround of the display can be illuminated without introducing reflection off the face of the display (e.g., by placing a light source behind the monitor that illuminates the surrounding area), the perceived contrast of the display will actually be higher than when it is viewed in a completely darkened room.”

    Best regards and beautiful pictures,
    G. Alan Brown, President
    CinemaQuest, Inc.
    A Lion AV Consultants Affiliate

    “Advancing the art and science of electronic imaging”

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