Blackmagic Design Teranex Processors

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In recent years, Blackmagic Design has thrived on a business model of acquiring the assets of older industry icons, modernizing their products, and then re-introducing these cornerstone brands to an entirely new customer base. Top-of-the-line products that were formerly out of reach to most users are now attainable, thanks to significant price reductions as part of the Blackmagic Design product family.

Teranex is just such a case. It’s a company with whom I am well acquainted, since we are both Orlando-based. I remember their first NAB off-site, whisper suite. I’ve used their conversion and restoration products on a number of projects. At one point they were moving into the consumer TV space under the then ownership of Silicon Optix and later IDT. In that period, I produced the popular HQV Benchmark DVD and Blu-ray for them as an image test vehicle for consumers. As with many companies in the pro video space, they’ve had a past filled with ups and downs, so it’s great to see Blackmagic breathe new life into the technology.

Teranex Processors

Blackmagic Design offers three rack-mounted Teranex products. These are separate from the Teranex Mini line, which does not offer the full range of Teranex processing, but is comprised of more targeted units for specific conversion applications. The rack-mounted standards converters include the Teranex Express, Teranex 2D Processor and Teranex 3D Processor. All three offer more or less the same processing options, with the exception that the Express can work with 4K Ultra HD (3840×2160). The 2D and 3D Processors only go as high as 2K (2048×1080). Outside of that difference, they all handle up/down/cross-conversions between SD (NTSC and PAL), HD (720 and 1080), 2K and UHD (Express only). This includes frame sizes, as well the whole range of progressive and interlaced frame rates. There’s also aspect ratio correction (anamorphic, 16:9, 14:9, zoom, letterpox/pillarbox) and colorspace conversion. Add to this de-interlacing and 3:2 pulldown cadence correction. The key point, and why these units are must-haves for large post operations, is that they do it all and the processing is in real-time.

The Teranex 2D and 3D Processors can also function as i/o devices when connected via Thunderbolt. By purchasing one of these two models, you can skip the need for an additional Blackmagic Design capture device, assuming you have a Thunderbolt-equipped Mac Pro, iMac or MacBook Pro. With the purchase, you also get Blackmagic Design Ultrascope waveform monitor software that runs on your computer. When you run one of these units with Apple Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Premiere Pro CC or their own Media Express application, the response is the same as with a standalone i/o device. This is an optional use, however, as these two units can operate perfectly well in a standalone installation, such as part of a machine room environment. They do tend to have loud fans, so either way, you might want to keep them in a rack.

The biggest difference between the 2D and 3D Processor is that the 3D unit can also deal with stereoscopic video. In addition to the normal processing functions, the 3D model has adjustments for stereo images. There are also physical differences, so even if you don’t work with stereo images, you might still opt for the Teranex 3D Processor. For instance, while both units can handle analog or SDI video connections, the 3D Processor only allows for two channels of analog audio i/o to be plugged into the device. The 2D Processor uses a separate DB-25 break-out cable for all analog audio connectors. Like all Blackmagic rack products, no power plug is included. You need to provide your own three-prong electric cord. The 3D Processor features dual-redundant power supplies, which also means it requires two separate power cords. Not a big deal given the extra safety factor in mission-critical situations, but an extra consideration nonetheless. (Note: the 3D processor still works with only a single power cord plugged in.)

The Teranex Express, is more streamlined, with only digital SDI connectors. It is designed for straightforward, real-time processing and cannot also be employed as an i/o device. If you don’t need analog connectors, stereoscopic capabilities, nor Thunderbolt i/o, then the Express model is the right one for you. Plus, it’s currently the only one of the three that works with 4K Ultra HD content. The Teranex units also pass captioning, Dolby data and timecode.

In actual use

I tested both the Teranex Express and the 3D Processor for this review. I happen to have some challenging video to test. I’m working on a documentary made up of a lot of standard definition interviews shot with a Panasonic DVX-100, plus a lot of WWII archival clips. My goal is to get these up to HD for the eventual final product. As a standards converter and image processor both units work the same (excluding stereoscopic video). SDI in and SDI out with a conversion in-between.

The front panel is very straightforward, with buttons for the input standard and the desired output standard. The left side features settings for format size, frame rate, scan and aspect. The middle includes a multi-use LCD display, which is used to show menus, test patterns and video. To the right of the display are buttons for video levels and sharpening, since these models also include a built-in proc amp. Finally on the far right, you can see audio channel status, system status and presets. Last, but not least, there’s a “lock panel” button if you don’t want anyone to inadvertently change a setting in the middle of a job, as these controls are always active. When you pass any SDI signal through one of these units, the input is auto-detecting and the button layout easily guides the operator through the logical steps to set a desired target format for conversion.

As with all Blackmagic Design products, installation of the software needed for i/o was quick and easy. When I connected the Teranex 3D Processor to my MacBook Pro via Thunderbolt, all of the apps saw the device and for all intents and purposes it worked just the same as if I’d had a Blackmagic Design UltraStudio device connected. However, here the conversion side of the Teranex device is at odds with how it works as an i/o device. For example, the output settings typically followed the sequence settings of the NLE that was driving it. If I had an NTSC D1 timeline in Final Cut Pro X, the Teranex 3D Processor could not be set to up-convert this signal on output. It only output a matching SD signal. Up-conversion only happened if I placed the SD content into a 1080 timeline, which unfortunately means the software is doing the conversion and not the Teranex processor. As best as I could tell, you could not set the processor to override the signal on either input or output when connected via Thunderbolt.

Processing power

One of the hallmarks of Teranex processing is cadence correction. 24fps content that is recorded as a 30fps signal is said to have “3:2 pulldown”. It was originally developed to facilitate transferring film material to videotape. Pulldown is a method of repeating whole film frames across a pattern of interlaced video frames so that four film frames can fit into five video frames (ten fields). This pattern is called 24PN (“normal” pulldown) and the cadence of film frames to video fields is 2:3:2:3. Digital camera manufacturers adopted this technique to mimic the look of film when recording in a 24fps mode. To complicate matters, Panasonic introduced a different cadence called 24PA, or “advanced” pulldown. The cadence is 2:3:3:2 and was targeted at Final Cut Pro users. FCP featured a built-in routine for the software to drop the extra frame in the middle and restore the clips to a true 24fps during a FireWire capture. Another form of cadence is 2:2:2:4, which is common in DVD players when playing back a true 24fps DVD.

In the case of Teranex processing, it is designed to detect and correct the more common 24PN, i.e. 3:2 pulldown (2:3:2:3), but not the other two cadences (2:3:3:2, 2:2:2:4). Teranex is supposed to be able to fix “broken” 3:2 pulldown cadences in mixed timelines, meaning the pattern changes at every cut. However, when I checked this on my test project, I didn’t get perfect results. That’s most likely due to the fact that I was dealing with DV (not proper D1) content, which had gone through a lot of hands before it came to me. The best results would be if I treated every source clip individually. When I test that, the results were more what I expected to see.

Teranex technology was developed for real-time processing at a time when linear, videotape post ruled. Today, there are plenty of high-quality, non-real-time, software processing options, which yield results that are very close to what Teranex can deliver. In the case of my test project, I actually found that dealing with interlace was best handled by Blackmagic’s own DaVinci Resolve. I don’t necessarily need to get back to 24fps, but only to get the cleanest possible 30fps image. So my first target was to convert the 29.97i clips into a good 29.97p sequence. This was possible through Resolve’s built-in de-interlacing. Progressive frames always up-convert with fewer artifacts than interlaced clips. Once I had a good 29.97p file, then I could test the Teranex conversion capabilities.

I tested conversions with several NLEs, Resolve, After Effects and the Teranex hardware. While each of the options gave me useable HD copies, the best overall was using the Teranex unit – passing through it in real-time via SDI in and out. Teranex not only gave me cleaner results, as evidenced by fine edges (less “jaggies”), but I could also dial in noise reduction and sharpening to taste.

All processing is GIGO (garbage in, garbage out). You can never make awful DV look stunning in HD, much less 4K. It’s simply not possible. However, Blackmagic Design’s Teranex products give you powerful tools to make it look the best that it can. Software processing can get you close, but if fast turnaround is important, then there’s no replacement for real-time processing power. That’s where these Teranex processors continue to shine.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network.

©2016 Oliver Peters

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