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A graphical representation of a 12-bit RGB color space.

RGB refers to an additive color model made up of Red, Green, and Blue light. Each channel of component color combines with the other two to to form a range of unique colors. In an RGBA color space, an additional Alpha channel can be assigned to define opacity / transparency.

12/15/16-bit RGB color

A graphical representation of a 15-bit RGB color space.

In 16-bit color mode, the RGB values can be defined in a few different ways:

In color systems from NeXT, the first 12 bits define three 4-bit channels. The resulting 16 red x 16 green x 16 blue values create 4,096 possible combinations of unique color values. The remaining 4 bits can be assigned to an alpha channel to define 16 levels of transparency.[1]

Thousands of colors on a classic Mac.

In supported color systems from Apple, the first 15 bits define three 5-bit channels. The resulting 32 red x 32 green x 32 blue values create 32,768 possible combinations of unique color values. Starting with Mac OS 9, the remaining 1 bit could be used to define a single level of transparency. This is referred to as "thousands of colors" on Macintosh systems and "high color" on PCs.[2]

In some 16-bit systems, the last remaining bit is not used for transparency and instead added to the green channel to double the number of possible values because the human eye has greater sensitivity to this color. The resulting 32 red x 64 green x 32 blue values create 65,536 possible combinations of unique color values. This is referred to as "direct color" on PCs with XGA support.[3]

24/32-bit RGB color

Millions of colors on a classic Mac.

In 24-bit color mode, the RGB values are made up of three 8-bit channels. The resulting 256 red x 256 green x 256 blue values create 16,777,216 possible combinations of unique color values. This is referred to as "millions of colors" on Macintosh systems and "true color" on PCs.

In modern systems, 32-bit color graphics allow for 8 additional bits to be assigned to an alpha channel, which can be used to define 256 levels of transparency.[1]

Deep color

Newer systems support extended ranges of color from 30 to 64 bits, referred to as "deep color". The first system from Apple to include built-in 30-bit support are the 2014 retina iMacs running OS X 10.11 (El Capitan), which can display 10 bits per channel for up to 1,073,741,824 unique colors.[4] Another example on macOS systems using the 64-bit version of QuickTime X is ProRes. The ProRes 4444 codecs support three 12-bit channels that can create 68,719,476,736 possible combinations of unique RGB color values, along with a 16-bit lossless alpha channel.[5]

Apple has also defined the 128-bit color space as RGBAf, which is split into four sets of 32-bit values for 4,294,967,296 levels per channel (red, green, blue, and alpha with floating point precision). The three 32-bit RGB values would deliver 79,228,162,514,264,337,593,543,950,336 unique colors, the same as 96-bit floating-point color, but with the addition of 4,294,967,296 levels of transparency defined by the alpha channel. This has been implemented for internal GPU processing,[6] though this far exceeds human visual acuity and computer displays have yet to reach this level of precision.[7]

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 The NeXT Generation by M. Keith Thompson, PC Magazine p.161. 1992-05-12.
  2. Color Depth : 15-bit (32,768 colors), MobyGames. Accessed 2020-02-19.
  3. Programming the XGA Direct Color Mode by Julio Sanchez, Maria P. Canton, The PC Graphics Handbook. 2013-10-29.
  4. Apple unlocks 'billions' more colors in latest iMacs by Steve Dent, Engadget. 2015-10-30.
  5. About Apple ProRes, Apple. 2018-04-09.
  6. RGBAf, Apple Developer. Accessed 2021-10-01.
  7. Will there ever be 128 bit color depth? by zc3, Tom's Hardware. 2003-09-05.

External links

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Color depths
Bitmap | 2-bit color | 4-bit color | 8-bit color
RGB color : 16-bit color | 24-bit color | 32-bit color
Deep color : 48-bit color | 64-bit color | 96-bit color | 128-bit color
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