Configure the New MacBook Pro to P3 Color Space

Posted on by Larry

workflowOne of the key new features in both Adobe Premiere and Apple Final Cut Pro X is support for some form of HDR video. While full support of the Rec. 2020 spec is still a long ways away, many of the latest hardware releases from Apple – both mobile devices and computers – now support an interim color space called “P3.”

NOTE: Here are two articles that help explain what HDR video is and how it applies to video shooting and editing.


Traditionally, the folks that cared the most about extended color spaces were professional still photographers. This is because, in the past, HD video created the significantly lower resolution images where a 1080p frame contained 2.1 million pixels at 8-bit depth, while a 4×5 inch digital negative could contain up to 40 million pixels at 16-bit depth.

In the world of still photos, Adobe RGB (and its close cousin sRGB) reigned supreme as the color space of choice because of its color range and dynamics.

From what I read, the DCI P3 color space is optimized for projection systems, not for monitors. Why? Because P3 was the color space designed for use by digital cinema projectors in theaters.

This means that many photographers are puzzled about why Apple chose a video standard for its monitors, rather than a stills standards. Apple hasn’t responded to these questions, but my guess it that consumers are embracing video in all aspects of their life – both socially and professionally – and it makes sense to support them with greater video quality. Also, the P3 spec has more reds and warmer colors than Adobe RGB.

It may be that the professional photography market is bigger than professional video, but consumers are bigger than both of them. Hence, P3.

NOTE: Here is a good article on color management in the iPhone 7


In a word? Nothing.

The default color space for the new MacBook Pro is Display P3, which is the correct setting for P3 video to be displayed on computer monitors.


To view or change the color space setting for your monitor, open System Preferences > Display and click the Color tab.

The top option – Color LCD – isn’t labeled “P3,” but it is. When you compare the Color LCD setting with the Display P3 setting, you’ll see they are essentially identical.


HDR (High Dynamic Range) video describes pixels using three different criteria:

DCI P3 (Digital Cinema Initiative P3) falls into the “greater color saturation” section. It sets the white point at 6500° Kelvin and is more saturated than traditional HD video, but not as deeply saturated as the ultimate goal of Rec. 2020. Apple calls this “wide color,” or “wide color gamut,” media.


There’s a great way to explore the differences between Adobe RGB, HD (Rec. 709), P3, and HDR (Rec. 2020) color spaces. It’s called ColorSync and its already installed in the Utility folder on your system.

Open the Utility folder inside Applications (shortcut: Shift + Cmd + U), then open the ColorSync Utility. This program allows you to view and modify color profiles.

NOTE: Unless you REALLY know what you are doing, I strongly recommend that you not modify any color profile. If you follow the steps I outline below, you won’t run the risk of changing anything.

At the top of the ColorSync window, click Profiles.

This displays all the different color profile categories installed on your system. Click the twirl-down arrow next to System to see all the color profiles installed on your computer.

NOTE: This list varies by Mac OS version – this list is from Mac OS 10.11.6, which includes a number of new profiles.

Click the Display P3 profile and, on the right, is a visual representation of the colors that can be displayed in the P3 color space; illustrated above.

One of the hidden features of ColorSync is the ability to compare color spaces, so you can easily see the differences between them.

In the top left corner of the illustration, next to the words “Lab Plot,” click the triangle and select Hold for Comparison.

Then, in the Profiles list on the left, click Rec. ITU-R BT.709-5. This superimposes the color space for HD (Rec. 709) on top of the color space for P3. As you can see, P3 provides extended values, especially in the reds and greens.

NOTE: You can compare any two profiles using this technique.

[ Image courtesy: Conrad Chavez ]

In this screen shot, we are comparing four different color spaces:

The issue photographers have is that the P3 color space does not map perfectly with the Adobe RGB color space. This means that, under ideal conditions, the most saturated colors in a high-quality still won’t match the same colors shot by a high-quality video camera.

NOTE: Conrad Chavez has written an excellent blog detailing the P3 color gamut in iMacs from the point of view of a professional still photographer. Read it here.


Click anywhere inside the color space image and drag to rotate the shape in three dimensions.


The more I read about color spaces and extended range video, the more complex it gets. Also, we are nowhere close to achieving monitors that can display the full range of colors described by the Rec. 2020 spec.

However, as an interim step, P3 is a good start. And with recent iPhone, iPads, iMacs and, now, the new MacBook Pro supporting this format out of the box, exploring this new capability is easier than ever.

NOTE: You won’t see any difference when viewing an existing image in P3 space, unless you shot using a RAW format. This is a feature best used “going forward.”

Even better, if you are still working in HD – and almost all of us are – we don’t need to change anything. ColorSync, the color management system built into the Mac OS and iOS, automatically and correctly maps between Rec. 709 and P3 color spaces so that your images are displayed properly.


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19 Responses to Configure the New MacBook Pro to P3 Color Space

  1. Jamie LeJeune says:

    “HDR (High Dynamic Range) video describes pixels using three different criteria:

    Greater resolution (“more pixels”)
    Greater color saturation (“fatter pixels”)
    Greater shadow and highlight range (“brighter pixels”)”

    HDR is only the last one. Greater range between black and white. Period. Most of the new display systems pair it with higher than HD resolution and a wider color gamut than REC709, but that doesn’t change the fact that HDR only describes dynamic range. None of the new Macs have HDR screens. They offer a wider color gamut and higher resolution than previous gen Macs, but they are not HDR.

    Also note:
    REC2020 does not cover or even mention HDR. It’s REC2100 that covers HDR.

    FCPX has no support for HDR. The FCPX scopes only cover standard dynamic range.

    • Larry says:


      You are correct – HDR just refers to the dynamic range element. However, colloquially, it includes all three.

      Apple has been very careful never to say that their monitors support HDR, only wide color gamut media, which is represented by DCI P3.

      Adobe, in Premiere Pro uses the term HDR, but is careful to say that it does not color correct this media.

      And the FCP X scopes do support wide color gamut media, when in the Rec 2020 mode.


      • Jamie LeJeune says:

        With all due respect, the fact that some consumers and a few misunformed marketing departments conflate wide color gamuts with HDR in their “colloquial” discourse is not a valid reason to conflate them in professional discourse.

        You’ve written a great and helpful article. However, it is simply untrue to say that Apple’s displays are HDR in any sense.

        Don’t take it from me. Talk to a respected reference display manufacturer like Bram Desmet of Flanders Scientific or a display calibration tool developer like Steve Shaw of Light Illusion. They will provide more accurate answers than Apple or Adobe.

        • Larry Jordan says:


          I did some research. The Rec. 2020 spec includes resolution (4K & 8K), frame rates, bit depth, chroma subsampling and color space. It is much more than wide color. It was approved in 2012.


          You are correct that there is a difference between the dynamic range aspect of an image and the amount of saturation in each pixel.

          Rec. 2100 expands upon the color foundation created by Rec. 2020 and adds high dynamic range and display resolution to the new standard. It was approved by the ITU in July, 2016.

          Apple has never said that it supports HDR, only wide color. Apple’s scopes display wide color when sent in Rec. 2020 mode. Adobe says that it supports HDR, but only in pass-through mode. Adobe’s scopes display high dynamic range luminance, but not wide color.

          I can understand the confusion between Rec. 2020 and Rec. 2100. And I will be more careful in my writing to more specifically differentiate between dynamic range and color saturation.


  2. Shura says:

    And Premier Pro 2018 on Mac is still not color managed, so you get wrong color on a mac p3 display, and that is what all current mac displays are!!!

    • chris pennarts says:

      True, also in CC 2019 it is still not good. Especially good to see on an imacpro. Premiere gives a color shift and FCP looks great. Graphic card also plays a role in this. Too bad that Apple and Adobe no longer fully support each other. A shame actually.

      • Larry says:


        It isn’t that “Adobe and Apple don’t support each other,” but that Premiere has some significant built-in issues with color space and GPU support that require a LOT of development time to fix. Adobe has been working on these for a year and has invested heavily in them for the future. This issue isn’t political, but programming.


  3. […] is simply not true.  Mac displays are beautiful, capable (2018 and 2019 Macs support wider color spaces in DCI P3), high quality displays.  Apple puts a lot of effort into making sure they are fantastic.  What […]

  4. Just FYI: DCI P3 has a D63 white point, not D65.

    Apple’s P3 is “their version” called Display P3, and it has a D65 white point as does sRGB and Adobe98. Display P3 should not be referred to as “DCI P3” as that is a different standard.

  5. Adrian says:

    Am I correct in reading that the P3 Display mode on the imac Pro is color correct for color grading in FCPX/davinci for video/filmmaking?

    Trying to figure out how to color calibrate my imac pro and have the right brightness levels for grading.

    • Larry says:


      Well, no. And, then again, maybe. P3 is not HDR, so you can’t use it for HDR color grading. And P3 is better than Rec. 709, which we need for HD.

      However, you CAN modify the iMac display to Rec. 709 so you could use it for grading an HD project, but, truthfully, only for web projects. If you are creating something for broadcast, cable or digital theater, you need to use an actual monitor to make sure the colors you see are accurate.


  6. Adrian says:

    Thank you for your reply?

    So does everyone just guess when they are grading Raw on their shitty montiors or apple screens? Or is it pretty accurate..

    Do you suggest colouring on Rec 709 color mode for iMac Pro when grading 4k, 4.6k prores XQ footage? Is it possible to still do like blackmagic raw on iMac Pro in p3?

    I recently coloured a project and then uploaded it to vimeo, I graded in p3, then played on my good 4k tv and the colour looked good.

    • Larry says:


      Well… it depends upon what your standards are, how much you’re getting paid, whether you are going to the web or something that requires tighter tolerances.

      It also depends upon the demands of your clients.

      For broadcast, cable or digital cinema, an editor would be expected to use a calibrated external monitor that suports the video format being graded.


  7. Adrian says:

    Sorry didn’t mean the question mark on the last post.

    I am grateful for your knowledge.

    Can you recommend some great monitors for coloring HDR/RAW material?

    Do adobe RGB capable monitors handle it?

    Any suggestions would be appreciated.

  8. Adrian says:

    Hey Larry,

    Ya those are a bit out of my budget I think haha.

    If I am going to use the iMac Pro for color grading in FCPX, what do yuo recommend for settings for the following footage types:

    10 bit 4.6k XQ Prores
    12 bit Blackmagic RAW

    I am looking to do short films (mostly online but maybe theatre in a bit)
    and online film production content…

    currently using the p3 display option as rec 709 looks wierd to me grading.

    All this stuff is mind boggling and expensive. Already spent 10 grand on a big specd iMac Pro. Sorry for all the questions, this will be my last.

    • Larry Jordan says:


      I can’t recommend settings for your monitor, because it isn’t a reliable measure. What you might want to consider, for your projects that are not going to the web – which has no quality specs – is having a professional colorist do the final color pass on your film using their professional grade monitors.

      You save money renting their services and your projects will look better.


  9. Adrian says:

    I will consider that thank you, is X-Rite i1Display Pro a decent option?

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