Color features are reviewed and their effectiveness assessed in the application framework of key-frame clustering for abstracting unconstrained video. Existing color spaces and associated quantization schemes are first studied. Description of global color distribution by means of histograms is then detailed. In our work, 12 combinations of color space and quantization were selected, together with 12 histogram metrics. Their respective effectiveness with respect to picture similarity measurement was evaluated through a query-by-example scenario. For that purpose, a set of still-picture databases was built by extracting key frames from several video clips, including news, documentaries, sports and cartoons. Classical retrieval performance evaluation criteria were adapted to the specificity of our testing methodology.