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I've had a Dell U2312HM for a while now. As soon as I got it I calibrated it according to a guide, which used professional tools like a spectrophotometer to get some convincing color settings.

I've been pretty satisfied with it so I decided to get another, but after giving it the exact same settings it looks very different and wrong. On the old monitor white looks white. On the new one it's dim. Dell U2312HM image variance with same settings

I tried correcting it by increasing the brightness, but I feel that throws other colors off. I also tried swapping cables to see if it was the GPU port, or the cable itself, and I made sure they had the same settings in the Nvidia control panel.

Is it normal for the same panels to have such variance? Do monitors need a break-in period? Or is one not functioning properly?

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No two monitors are the same. Even if they are the same manufacture and model. However, you will have better luck with two monitors that are the same model and from the same batch. As the monitor gets used, there will be more and more noticeable differences due to the different use on the monitors. –  kobaltz Mar 16 '13 at 18:06
    
Digital and analog connections on the video card can also have an effect. I have one monitor on an analog connection and another on a digital connection. Even though the monitors are identical the colours are noticeably different. No amount of tweaking will make them the same. –  Wayne Johnston Mar 16 '13 at 23:05

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If you want monitors to match, you have to calibrate them.

If they are the same make and model AND you calibrate them, they should match exactly.

There are a variety of calibration products on the market. From my experience the X-Rite meters are better than the Datacolor ones. The X-Rite meters have software but also work with quite a few other products such as CalMAN, BasicColor, and others.

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I'm not an artist or anything, so I won't buy one, but I'll see if I can rent one. But yeah, playing around with the RGB as well as the brightness I've gotten a lot closer. –  Louis Mar 18 '13 at 4:40
    
Offsets relative to the old monitor: Brightness +33, R +2, B -3. i.stack.imgur.com/rPECO.jpg –  Louis Mar 18 '13 at 4:52

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