The sRGB emulation mode (also referred to as ‘sRGB mode’ or ‘sRGB clamp’ restricts the monitor’s color output to ~100% sRGB color gamut coverage for an accurate representation of colors for content that’s made with the sRGB color space in mind.
You’ve probably seen the term sRGB emulation mode in many monitor reviews and how its implementation on certain models is either good or bad.
Some people find that a good sRGB emulation mode is a crucial feature for a monitor they’re considering, while others don’t pay much attention to it.
So, what’s the catch?
Why Do I Need sRGB Emulation Mode?
First of all, you should know that ‘sRGB’ here refers to the sRGB color space, which is the most common color space used today. Most web content and SDR (Standard Dynamic Range, that is, non-HDR) games and videos are developed with the sRGB color space in mind.
So, on a monitor with 100% sRGB color space coverage (and decent calibration), sRGB content will appear accurate, just as the creators intended.
However, if a monitor has a wider color gamut – for instance, if it covers 100% of the much larger Adobe RGB color space, its colors extend beyond the sRGB color space, resulting in a color gamut size equivalent to ~150% sRGB.
In this case, the monitor stretches its color primaries to match its native gamut thus causing over-saturation when viewing sRGB content. So, instead of the standard red color for YouTube’s logo, for instance, it appears too red or even neon-like.
An ICC profile allows color-managed applications to modify and properly map the gamut for accurate color reproduction.
Sadly, most applications (excluding apps for color-critical work, such as Photoshop) aren’t color-managed. Further, while you can download an ICC profile from other users or from your monitor manufacturer’s website, you’ll need to use a colorimeter to calibrate and profile your monitor for the best results.
This is where sRGB emulation mode comes in.
What Does sRGB Emulation Mode Do?
If your wide color gamut monitor has an sRGB mode, you will usually be able to find it among other picture presets or color temperature modes.
Even some standard gamut monitors have an sRGB mode, which is usually the most color-accurate (factory-calibrated) picture preset.
The sRGB mode simply clamps the monitor’s native gamut down to ~100% sRGB, providing you with accurate sRGB colors.
Just how accurate the colors are will depend on the monitor’s factory calibration. It’s also important that the sRGB mode is flexible in terms of available picture settings.
A lot of wide color gamut monitors have an sRGB mode with decent accuracy but have the brightness option locked to a very high or very low setting. This usually makes the sRGB mode useless – it doesn’t matter that the colors are accurate if the screen is too bright or too dim to work with.
On some monitors with sRGB mode and locked brightness, it’s possible to circumvent the issue by entering the service menu and adjusting the brightness there – or via a third-party app, such as ControlMyMonitor. These methods won’t work on every monitor, but they’re worth trying as they’re not complicated.
Another important setting that is often locked in the sRGB mode is color temperature. If the monitor’s sRGB mode has a color temperature of 7000K out of the box, for instance, locked color channel settings make it impossible to fix this, resulting in a cold/bluish whitepoint instead of the usual 6500K target.
So, if you’re looking for a wide color gamut monitor and you want to do some color-critical work with sRGB color space, but you don’t have a colorimeter, make sure the sRGB mode of that monitor has adjustable brightness and decent factory calibration with low Delta E (at least below 3, the lower the better).
Alternatives To sRGB Emulation Mode
If you have an AMD graphics card, you can enable the sRGB emulation mode by changing the ‘Custom Color’ to ‘Enabled’ and ‘Color Temperature Control’ to ‘Disabled’ in the Radeon GPU drivers.
Even if your monitor has an sRGB mode, you should try this method too since it may provide better results. However, don’t use both the sRGB mode on your monitor and the AMD option simultaneously.
If you have a colorimeter, you’ll need to calibrate and profile the monitor again after adjusting these settings for the best results.
NVIDIA doesn’t offer this option, but a user at GitHub, ledoge, managed to make it work via a simple-to-use tool called novideo_srgb.
In case you have a wide color gamut monitor with around 90 to 95% DCI-P3 gamut coverage (~125% sRGB gamut size), an sRGB emulation mode is arguably not necessary for everyday use because the colors aren’t too over-saturated. You get a bit of extra color vibrancy that’s not too intrusive.
On monitors with wider color gamuts, such as 98% DCI-P3 (~135% sRGB) or 100% Adobe RGB gamut coverage, an sRGB mode is necessary as there’s too much over-saturation. People’s skin tones in YouTube videos will appear as if sunburnt, for instance.
For professional color-critical use, you’ll need a colorimeter anyway, so you won’t have any issues in color-managed applications.
If you need an entry-level display and don’t want to get a colorimeter, we recommend getting a monitor with good factory calibration; you can find the best models in our dedicated best photo/video editing monitor buyer’s guide.