The Problem with Red on HP’s Envy 15

A great deal of thanks goes to the folks and participants at the Notebook Review Forums.  In particular, the HP Envy 15 (3XXX series) Owners’ Lounge thread.  This article is primarily a distillation of the 158+ pages written there about this and other issues, both good and bad.

There aren’t a lot of laptops with IPS screens in them, so when one comes along it’s pretty exciting.  Unfortunately the IPS panel in HP’s Envy 15 will leave more red in your face than it can display.  (You must get the “radiance” display upgrade to get the IPS screen.)

If IPS is a new term for you, it stands for In Plane Switching.  Not all flat-panel LCD screens are created equal.  There’s a wide variety of underlying technologies, all designed to solve a problem, and often that “problem” is cost.

IPS is the kind of LCD that gives you very wide viewing angles without color shifting.  It’s also associated with the best color quality and widest color gamuts.  It’s also expensive.  For some reason, laptop manufacturers don’t think we’re willing to pay for good screens.

Sadly on the HP Envy 15, in spite of having an IPS screen, it has an embarrassingly small color gamut.  The most noise has been made about its ability to reproduce red.  To describe it in words, where one would expect to see ruby-red, we get tomato-red.  It’s more orange than red.  Or to describe it in pictures:

HP Envy 15 displaying red compared to a "normal" screen.
Notice how the Envy 15 is clearly orange when compared to the red of another display.

The above photograph illustrates the issue in a very non-scientific manner.  Both screens are displaying the very same red value (255, 0, 0).

The degree to which this may bother you in day-to-day operations will vary.  Typically we are not comparing the red in the Envy 15 to the red of something else, so our brains do a pretty good job of adapting and seeing red anyway.  That said, if this were to be your primary color-accurate device, this would be very discouraging news.

According to Engadget, HP recently acknowledged the complaints about the red issue in the display.  However the idea that HP can release a “tuning” utility is laughable.  There’s simply no ruby-red in this screen’s crayon box.  Suggesting that there’s a software fix for this is like suggesting that a car with no engine can be made to go with a simple firmware update.  Not only that, but HP had the audacity to blame it on the screen having a higher-than-normal gamut:

HP ENVY Series notebooks use optional premium LED-backlit display panels that have a higher color gamut (range of viewable colors), brightness and viewing angles than many display panels. This means that some colors may appear differently than they do on other displays.

Recently “JJB,” a poster in the Notebook Review Forums (linked at the start,) asked about some actual color gamut chart comparisons for the Envy 15 screen.  I haven’t seen any floating around the internet yet, but I’ve got the screen profiled, so why not make them?  It would finally put to rest this claim by HP that they’re using a “higher color gamut” screen.  I used the eval version of a tool called Gamutvision by Imatest, which can build 3D gamut comparisons from .icm profiles.

In all of these charts, the solid represents the gamut of the HP Envy 15 with the Radiance display, and the wireframe represents the gamut of the reference color space.  Please forgive the “trials remaining” box.  The name of the icm file for my Envy is “Generic PNP Monitor-1.icm” and the profile itself was created with a Syder3 Pro.  These images are clickable for full-res versions.

First, let’s compare the Envy 15 with Radiance to AdobeRGB.  AdobeRGB is a color space often used in the color professional world, and is a common benchmark for wide-gamut displays.

 

AdobeRGB vs HP Envy 15, Top View

It’s not looking so good for HP’s wide-gamut claim.  To be clear, most wide-gamut screens do not handle the entire AdobeRGB gammut, but one would expect it to at least come close in a few areas.  HP misses by a mile here.

But let’s be fair.  This machine isn’t marketed toward color professionals, we just got excited because of the claim of an IPS display.  It’s marketed to users, and sRGB is a much more fair benchmark for this market.  Certainly it at least meets the sRGB gamut?

sRGB vs HP Envy 15

I don’t know how else to put it other than, “oh snap!”  The Envy 15’s so-called “high gamut” screen falls short in the reds, blues, and greens.  Proof positive that HP is blowing smoke up our asses about the screens ability to produce more colors than usual.

Just for kicks, I decided to compare the Envy 15 to my desktop display, a Dell WFP 3007-HC.

Dell WFP 3007 (a wide-gamut screen) vs HP Envy 15

I’m ashamed for you HP.  You definitely should not be claiming this is a high-gamut screen.

Just for one final point of reference, here’s how a true wide-gamut screen compares to AdobeRGB.  The solid is my Dell WFP-3007-HC, and the wireframe is AdobeRGB.

AdobeRGB vs Dell WFP 3007-hc

So what’s the take-home lesson?

In terms of brightness and viewing angles, HP has a nice display in this machine.  But in terms of it being a “high gamut” screen, HP is simply lying.  If you feel HP has been disingenuous and should be reprimanded, you can take your complaints to:

HP on Facebook
HP on Twitter @HP

HP also has a generous 21 day return policy.

What do you think?  Does this bother you enough to return it and jump ship?  Share your comments below!

16 thoughts on “The Problem with Red on HP’s Envy 15”

  1. I actually have a previous model Envy 15 from 2010(?) and haven’t noticed any calibration issues with it. That’s some crappy news for the new one, for sure. The soon to be released Envy 14 ultrabook has an IPS display also, it looks to be a promising machine, so hopefully they got that display right. But these are the new laptops with IPS displays that have really caught my attention! http://www.engadget.com/2012/03/12/asus-zenbooks-to-get-ivy-bridge-refresh-optional-1080p-and-back/

    1. Yeah, Brett. I’m very curious about the Envy 14 ultrabook, and I completely agree. I’ll probably recommend it to my dad regardless of the screen colors – he wouldn’t care anyway and I think he’d love the form factor.

  2. Thanks for posting this review/analysis. I was considering buying this laptop and was absolutely disappointed by the look of red(s) in real life. you just added math to what i saw in store.

    I hope hp fixes this, its a true shame they screwed this up so bad! great laptop, bad screen!

    1. Yup, Timmyak. It bears mentioning that in every other way, I absolutely LOVE this laptop. Hell I wasn’t nearly as upset about the reds until HP actually tried to pull a fast one by claiming it was because of the higher-than-normal color gamut. It was the lie that incensed me, not the gamut itself.

  3. I’m still amazed how bad things have been going on notebooks in regards of the screen, one of the most important part of the machine.
    The lack of contrast was followed by a TN plague, glossy screens and the stock 720p resolution.
    And when the makers are finally willing to deliver a premium product, they seems to lack experience or motivation on doing it right.
    I just need to encourage HP to keep trying to deliver a premium experience, in special below the 15″ size, where high-contrast screens are scarce outside Apple.

    1. I agree, Psy. It continues to baffle me why notebook manufacturers think we don’t want quality screens. Do you think there’s any chance the new iPad screen will motivate someone in the right direction?

  4. This problem is indeed fixed with the Utility HP released on 4/23/12
    (sp56745.exe), at least for me. Not sure why Hp didn’t announce it. I was skeptical but this utility does work and fix the problem. Reds are now red etc…. My Hp Envy 15 3040nr ips screen is now accurately displaying colors correctly.
    This is NOT a calibration tool but a multimedia update. PROBLEM SOLVED!!!
    Here is the link from Hp. –
    [http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/softwareDownloadIndex?softwareitem=ob-104511-1&cc=us&dlc=en&lc=en&os=4063&product=5218394&sw_lang=

    1. Would you be willing to share before and after pics, Louis? I’m glad you’re happy now, but for all the reasons I’ve discussed above I simply it implausible.

  5. These SOB’s. I got this laptop for photography with no return policy. I was absolutely misled by the information on their site. This has been a problem 4 months now and I just found out about it when I when into Gmail and saw yellow grass instead of green. STUPID. I called HP and was told a software fix is on it’s way. Can you comment?

    1. Hi Curser. See my comment above. I’ll elaborate a bit, though. There are three “sub-pixels” in any screen. One is red, one is green, and one is blue. These three sub-pixels working together form a single full-range pixel that reproduces the 16.7mil colors that we’re all accustomed to hearing about. If you turn the blue sub-pixel “on” to 100% of it’s capacity, and it’s partner (red and green) sub-pixels completely “off,” then you are producing the bluest blue that the screen is capable of. The only way to make that blue any bluer, would be to completely reengineer the screen with higher quality materials which are capable of producing an even bluer blue. Make sense? Thus, when you tell this HP screen to produce red, the limitation is the “redness” of that single red sub-pixel. If it is not a true red, then neither will your red parts of an image be true red. I can’t say this enough. SOFTWARE CANNOT MAKE THAT RED COLOR REDDER. It is a fundamental limitation of the red sub-pixel.

      What HP has done is to essentially try to produce a color profile that will de-saturate lesser reds relative to it’s maximum red, so your eye is tricked into thinking that maximum red is really red. To be honest, this often works pretty well because the human vision system self-calibrates quickly to varying situations.

      The reason I wouldn’t seen any improvement by implementing HP’s so-called “fix” is that, by profiling my screen with the tools I mentioned in the article, I’ve already built the best-possible “fix” that’s tuned specifically to my screen! The reds are still orange, no two ways about it.

      Curser, I’ve decided to keep this laptop. Primarily I use it for culling, but not for color critical work. For that purpose it’s just fine. If you can get a good external screen and set it up at home, do it that way. It’s still a nice laptop, in spite of this one shortcoming.

    1. Hi Mels. No power on the earth can make the reds in this screen redder. It’s a fundamental design issue. HP is blowing smoke up your ass. Sorry!

  6. I actually had ordered the Envy-15 that came out in January all excited about the “7000 series AMD graphics” that where still under an NDA… that turned out terrible. Same or slower as my 2yo Dell XPS with 5730…. I returned that one not 48 hours later.

    So, those Envy-15s have the orange issue with all their IPS screens. Crappy.

    I have just ordered at Ivy-bridge refresh Envy 15-t3200, and am curious if they are using the same flawed IPS screen?

    I wrote HP and got standard assurances…

    “Matt, please do not worry, there is no such known issue with this pc model, however if you face any difficulty after purchasing the pc then please reply to us with your observation and we will be happy to assist you further.”

    Has anyone seen the new Envy 15 in the wild? Does it have the same issue, is it a different part number or something?

    Also I would like to see the color space of the software “fixed” previous Envy. Just for laughs you know…

    1. Hey Matt. When you get your t3200 I’d love to hear how it looks. Put it next to a known good screen, fill both screens with 255,0,0 using paint, and compare them side by side. Take a pic and send it over if you can!

  7. I wouldn’t say I am awfully disappointed by the lack of ruby red. It is just not perfect. That was what I was hoping for. A laptop that totally satisfies. I am about 95% satisfied. I do feel though that HP has wronged me and everyone else who purchased this laptop. They lead us to believe in something which they did not carry through with. I happened to have known about the color issue and yet I believed in HP’s claim that their software would fix the problem. So after being shortchanged by HP’s design I now have to endure being lied to. This is what hurts a little – being slighted by a company. A small case of being double-crossed and a computer company running away with your money.
    My girlfriend actually laughed at me for trusting a company’s word. You’d think I would have learnt by now.

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