Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve Panels

I started my editing career in the era of linear editing suites, where dedicated control panels ruled. CMX keyboards, Grass Valley switchers, ADOs – you name it. These enabled operational speed and experienced editors could drive these rooms like a virtuoso pianist. Much of that dexterity has been lost, thanks to the ubiquity of software-based user interfaces for applications running on general purpose computers and controlled by a mouse. But Grant Petty and Blackmagic Design have set out to change that. At the beginning of March, he introduced two new color correction control panels as companion tools to the company’s DaVinci Resolve editing and grading solution. According to Petty more people are using Resolve to edit than to color correct. By introducing these new panels, he hopes to get more of these users involved in the color correction side of Resolve.

Blackmagic Design now offers three DaVinci Resolve panels: Advanced ($29,995), Mini ($2,995) and Micro ($995). Obviously, the Advanced panel is for serious, dedicated color correction facilities with the traffic to support that investment. It’s a large, three-module console with four trackball/ring controls in the center section. The Mini and Micro panels are designed to be more portable than the Advanced panel. The Mini is essentially a three-trackball subset of the center section of the larger panel. The Micro is the trackball section of the Mini, without the Mini’s tilted backplane. If you are an editor who uses Resolve for color correction, but that’s less than 50% of your workload, then the Micro is probably the right panel for you. If you color correct more than 50%, then the Mini is the better bet. However, these panels are designed for more than just editors. If you work as a DIT (digital imaging technician) in the field or on-set, you most likely use Resolve, making these panels the perfect addition to your toolkit.

Taking the Mini for a spin

Blackmagic Design loaned me a Resolve Mini panel for about two weeks for this review. I have to say, it was love at first sight. These panels continue with Blackmagic’s modern industrial design style. This has earned them an international Design Team of the Year award from the Red Dot Awards last year. The Mini panel is a well-constructed metal console with precision trackballs, rings, knobs and buttons. (The panel also uses some high-impact plastic in its construction.) With packaging, it weighs 24 pounds, thus it’s more “transportable” than portable. If you want something to toss into a gig bag, then the Micro would be the panel to buy. The Mini is better for facility use; however, it’s easy enough to move between rooms as needed.

The smaller Micro is bus-powered over USB, but the Mini includes several connection and power options. Communications can be over ethernet or USB/USB-C. Power options include standard AC wall power, 12 volt 4-pin, or ethernet PoE. Like other Blackmagic Design products, you have to supply your own power chord, but the Mini does include a USB-to-USB-C adapter chord. To run the panel, you need to install Resolve Studio (paid) or Resolve (free), version 12.5.5 or later. And yes, these panels only work with Resolve. Connection is drop-dead easy. Just power it up and plug in the USB cable to any available USB port on your computer (or looped off of a connected device, like a monitor). Then select the panel in Resolve’s preferences. This ease of installation is refreshing, without any of the finickiness of other protocols, like EUCON. The one downside for editors is that this panel only controls the color mode of Resolve. There are no dedicated controls for editing, importing or exporting. So you won’t be able to shed the keyboard and mouse completely.

Everything at your fingertips

The main section of the panel includes three trackballs for hue control and rings for luminance control. Generally these correspond to shadow, mids and highlight ranges of the image. Across the top of this flat section are twelve knobs for additional color controls. Push in the knobs to reset their adjusted values. On the right are buttons to move through nodes, clips and stills, along with play/stop buttons. The slanted backplane of the Mini panel features two five-inch, high-resolution LCD menu/control displays, fifteen buttons on either side, eight soft keys across the top, and eight knobs under the displays. The buttons on the left select the portion of the interface that you need to deal with, like primary correction, tracking, sizing, blurs, etc. The buttons on the right are to add nodes, copy and paste, move through stills and keyframes, and toggle the computer display to a full screen viewer.

Resolve’s primary color correction window is pretty deep, requiring paging through different sections of the control window, such as primary bars, primary wheels, log, raw and more. There’s actually a fourth control wheel for offset in addition to lows, mids and highs. Much of this is exposed to the panel. For example, you can use the knobs to adjust the primary bars, while also moving the trackballs, which would normally adjust the primary wheels. Across the bottom of Resolve’s primary window are additional controls for contrast, saturation and more, which spread across two pages of that interface window. These controls are all active on the Mini by using the twelve knobs located above the trackballs. In some cases, you’ll need to change the part of the interface that appears on the two LCDs. This is enabled by the two arrow keys in the upper left corner of the panel. However, switching pages on the panel is required less often than when you only use the mouse with the interface.

The offset function (the fourth primary wheel and fourth trackball on the Advanced panel) can be accessed by selecting the offset key located above the middle trackball. In that mode, the left ring controls temperature, middle ring controls tint and right ring controls level. The right trackball controls color balance.

Resolve is built around controls that may or may not be present in other applications. For example, it is designed as a YRGB system, meaning you can gang level and color controls, but can also correct Y (luminance) lift/gamma/gain levels independent of color (RGB). In addition to standard three-wheel color corrections, you also have contrast/pivot control, as well as some photographic-style enhancements. These include color boost (like a vibrance control), mid detail (softens or sharpens the image), plus blurs. In you are using Resolve Studio, then temporal noise reduction is active. From what I can tell, this is the only control not active when using the panel with the free version of Resolve.

Resolve uses an elaborate curves system, which you would think would be difficult to implement with knobs and buttons. However, Blackmagic has done a wonderful job. The normal curve levels (ganged or independent channels) can be adjusted by six of the knobs under the LCD displays. These work at preset intervals of 0, 20, 40, 60, 80 and 100% along the curve path from dark to light. If you use hue curves, you start with one of six preset colors selected from the panel. Then an “input hue” knob lets you change the selected color left or right within its hue range, based on the last color knob selected. Custom curves also offer a YSFX tool. This is an adjustment to shrink and even invert the curve range. The extreme opposite setting results in a negative image.

There are plenty of other tools. Resolve has a powerful point-cloud tracker, which can also be accessed from the Mini. One handy feature is the ability to automatically add a node with a preset box or circle window. Once applied, then you adjust the window. Although you can step through keyframes, it still requires the mouse to add or delete keyframes. You also have to delete nodes via mouse and not from the panel. Some keys, like FX and User are available for future expansion.

In practice

I spent about a week with the panel, working on and off with some test projects. Needless to say, I enjoyed the process, but there are a few things I wish were different.  The Mini panel is really designed for full-time color grading. If you have a desk layout for editing, then there probably isn’t enough extra space to situate the Mini is an optimal location. For instance, if you wanted to place the panel between your keyboard and display, then the Micro would be a better option. There is no power switch, so the panel is always on. Fortunately, it’s fan-less and quiet, even when on. There are no illumination controls for the displays or the backlit keys. That’s fine in a normally lit room, but might be too bright for some, if you keep the light level very low in the suite.

I’d like to see more versatile transport control. Resolve supports faster-than-real-time playback and scrubbing, but the control panel only gives you 1X play in the forward or reverse directions. It would be nice to have better transport control from the panel. Resolve functions, like adding LUTs, can’t be handled from the panel. The controls to select HSL qualifiers for secondary color correction include eyedroppers, but you still need to use the mouse to graphically pick the right area of the screen. It would be nice if you could do this with the trackball. These are minor points and by no means deal breakers.

A dedicated color correction panel will not only make you a faster colorist – it will also make you a better one. More controls are front and center, which means you are likely to discover and use processes that you would otherwise miss if you simply relied on the mouse or a pen and tablet. You have two hands to control the panel. As with any other tactile task, such as audio mixing with a mixing board, your hands will soon know instinctively what to adjust without having to look at the panel. You can stay more focused on your video display and the scopes. Grading is not only faster, but it’s more intuitive.

Some are going to baulk at the price, no matter how reasonable these portable panels are. To place that into context, at $2,995, the Mini is still less expensive than a decked out Mac Pro or MacBook Pro, which might be your main editing/grading workstation. Plus they work with the free version of Resolve. So if color correction is part of your business model and Resolve is your color correction tool of choice, then either of these two DaVinci Resolve panels is easily justified. The more I’ve been using the Resolve Mini, the more I like it. It’s the Porsche of small grading control panels – solid, stylish and powerful.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / Creative Planet Network

©2017 Oliver Peters

Blackmagic Design Teranex Processors


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

NLE as Post Production Hub


As 2009 closed, I wrote a post about Final Cut Studio as the center of a boutique post production workflow. A lot has changed since then, but that approach is still valid and a number of companies can fill those shoes. In each case, rather than be the complete, self-contained tool, the editing application becomes the hub of the operation. Other applications surround it and the workflow tends to go from NLE to support tool and back for delivery. Here are a few solutions.

Adobe Premiere Pro CC

df2316_prproNo current editing package comes as close to the role of the old Final Cut Studio as does Adobe’s Creative Cloud. You get nearly all of the creative tools under a single subscription and facilities with a team account can equip every room with the full complement of applications. When designed correctly, workflows in any room can shift from edit to effects to sound to color correction – according to the load. In a shared storage operation, projects can stay in a single bay for everything or shift from bay to bay based on operator speciality and talent.

While there are many tools in the Creative Cloud kit, the primary editor-specific applications are Premiere Pro CC, After Effects CC and Audition CC. It goes without saying that for most, Photoshop CC and Adobe Media Encoder are also givens. On the other hand, I don’t know too many folks using Prelude CC, so I can’t say what the future for this tool will be. Especially since the next version of Premiere Pro includes built-in proxy transcoding. Also, as more of SpeedGrade CC’s color correction tools make it into Premiere Pro, it’s clear to see that SpeedGrade itself is getting very little love. The low-cost market for outboard color correction software has largely been lost to DaVinci Resolve (free). For now, SpeedGrade is really “dead man walking”. I’d be surprised if it’s still around by mid-2017. That might also be the case for Prelude.

Many editors I know that are heavy into graphics and visual effects do most of that work in After Effects. With CC and Dynamic Link, there’s a natural connection between the Premiere Pro timeline and After Effects. A similar tie can exist between Premiere Pro and Audition. I find the latter to be a superb audio post application and, from my experience, provides the best transfer of a Premiere Pro timeline into any audio application. This connection is being further enhanced by the updates coming from Adobe this year.

Rounding out the package is Photoshop CC, of course. While most editors are not big Photoshop artists, it’s worth noting that this application also enables animated motion graphics. For example, if you want to create an animated lower third banner, it can be done completely inside of Photoshop without ever needing to step into After Effects. Drop the file onto a Premiere Pro timeline and it’s complete with animation and proper transparency values. Update the text in Photoshop and hit “save” – voila the graphic is instantly updated within Premiere Pro.

Given the breadth and quality of tools in the Creative Cloud kit, it’s possible to stay entirely within these options for all of a facility’s post needs. Of course, roundtrips to Resolve, Baselight, ProTools, etc. are still possible, but not required. Nevertheless, in this scenario I typically see everything starting and ending in Premiere Pro (with exports via AME), making the Adobe solution my first vote for the modern hub concept.

Apple Final Cut Pro X

df2316_fcpxApple walked away from the market for an all-inclusive studio package. Instead, it opted to offer more self-contained solutions that don’t have the same interoperability as before, nor that of the comparable Adobe solutions. To build up a similar toolkit, you would need Final Cut Pro X, Motion, Compressor and Logic Pro X. An individual editor/owner would purchase these once and install these on as many machines as he or she owned. A business would have to buy each application for each separate machine. So a boutique facility would need a full set for each room or they would have to build rooms by specialty – edit, audio, graphics, etc.

Even with this combination, there are missing links when going from one application to another. These gaps have to be plugged by the various third-party productivity solutions, such as Clip Exporter, XtoCC, 7toX, Xsend Motion, X2Pro, EDL-X and others. These provide better conduits between Apple applications than Apple itself provides. For example, only through Automatic Duck Xsend Motion can you get an FCPX project (timeline) into Motion. Marquis Broadcast’s X2Pro Audio Convert provides a better path into Logic than the native route.

If you want the sort of color correction power available in Premiere Pro’s Lumetri Color panel, you’ll need more advanced color correction plug-ins, like Hawaiki Color or Color Finale. Since Apple doesn’t produce an equivalent to Photoshop, look to Pixelmator or Affinity Photo for a viable substitute. Although powerful, you still won’t get quite the same level of interoperability as between Photoshop and Premiere Pro.

Naturally, if your desire is to use non-Apple solutions for graphics and color correction, then similar rules apply as with Premiere Pro. For instance, roundtripping to Resolve for color correction is pretty solid using the FCPXML import/export function within Resolve. Prefer to use After Effects for your motion graphics instead of Motion? Then Automatic Duck Ximport AE on the After Effects side has your back.

Most of the tools are there for those users wishing to stay in an Apple-centric world, provided you add a lot of glue to patch over the missing elements. Since many of the plug-ins for FCPX (Motion templates) are superior to a lot of what’s out there, I do think that an FCPX-centric shop will likely choose to start and end in X (possibly with a Compressor export). Even when Resolve is used for color correction, I suspect the final touches will happen inside of Final Cut. It’s more of the Lego approach to the toolkit than the Adobe solution, yet I still see it functioning in much the same way.

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve

df2316_resolveIt’s hard to say what Blackmagic’s end goal is with Resolve. Clearly the world of color correction is changing. Every NLE developer is integrating quality color correction modules right inside of their editing application. So it seems only natural that Blackmagic is making Resolve into an all-in-one tool for no other reason than self-preservation. And by golly, they are doing a darn good job of it! Each version is better than the last. If you want a highly functional editor with world-class color correction tools for free, look no further than Resolve. Ingest, transcoded and/or native media editing, color correction, mastering and delivery – all there in Resolve.

There are two weak links – graphics and audio. On the latter front, the internal audio tools are good enough for many editors. However, Blackmagic realizes that specialty audio post is still the domain of the sound engineering world, which is made up predominantly of Avid Pro Tools shops. To make this easy, Resolve has built-in audio export functions to send the timeline to Pro Tools via AAF. There’s no roundtrip back, but you’d typically get composite mixed tracks back from the engineer to lay into the timeline.

To build on the momentum it started, Blackmagic Design acquired the assets of EyeOn’s Fusion software, which gives then a node-based compositor, suitable for visual effects and some motion graphics. This requires a different mindset than After Effects with Premiere Pro or Motion with Final Cut Pro X (when using Xsend Motion). You aren’t going to send a full sequence from Resolve to Fusion. Instead, the Connect plug-in links a single shot to Fusion, where it can be effected through series of nodes. The Connect plug-in provides a similar “conduit” function to that of Adobe’s Dynamic Link between Premiere Pro and After Effects, except that the return is a rendered clip instead of a live project file. To take advantage of this interoperability between Resolve and Fusion, you need the paid versions.

Just as in Apple’s case, there really is no Blackmagic-owned substitute for Photoshop or an equivalent application. You’ll just have to buy what matches your need. While it’s quite possible to build a shop around Resolve and Fusion (plus maybe Pro Tools and Photoshop), it’s more likely that Resolve’s integrated approach will appeal mainly to those folks looking for free tools. I don’t see too many advanced pros doing their creative cutting on Resolve (at least not yet). However, that being said, it’s pretty close, so I don’t want to slight the capabilities.

Where I see it shine is as a finishing or “online” NLE. Let’s say you perform the creative or “offline” edit in Premiere Pro, FCPX or Media Composer. This could even be three editors working on separate segments of a larger show – each on a different NLE. Each’s sequence goes to Resolve, where the timelines are imported, combined and relinked to the high-res media. The audio has gone via a parallel path to a Pro Tools mixer and graphics come in as individual clips, shots or files. Then all is combined inside Resolve, color corrected and delivered straight from Resolve. For many shops, that scenario is starting to look like the best of all worlds.

I tend to see Resolve as less of a hub than either Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro X. Instead, I think it may take several possible positions: a) color correction and transcoding at the front end, b) color correction in the middle – i.e. the standard roundtrip, and/or c) the new “online editor” for final assembly, color correction, mastering and delivery.

Avid Media Composer

df2316_avidmcThis brings me to Avid Media Composer, the least integrated of the bunch. You can certainly build an operation based on Media Composer as the hub – as so many shops have. But there simply isn’t the silky smooth interoperability among tools like there is with Adobe or the dearly departed Final Cut Pro “classic”. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible. You can add advanced color correction through the Symphony option, plus Avid Pro Tools in your mixing rooms. In an Avid-centric facility, rooms will definitely be task-oriented, rather than provide the ease of switching functions in the same suite based on load, as you can with Creative Cloud.

The best path right now is Media Composer to Pro Tools. Unfortunately it ends there. Like Blackmagic, Avid only offers two hero applications in the post space – Media Composer/Symphony and Pro Tools. They have graphics products, but those are designed and configured for news on-air operations. This means that effects and graphics are typically handled through After Effects, Boris RED or Fusion.

Boris RED runs as an integrated tool, which augments the Media Composer timeline. However, RED uses its own user interface. That operation is relatively seamless, since any “roundtrip” happens invisibly within Media Composer. Fusion can be integrated using the Connect plug-in, just like between Fusion and Resolve. Automatic Duck’s AAF import functions have been integrated directly into After Effects by Adobe. It’s easy to send a Media Composer timeline into After Effects as a one-way trip. In fact, that’s where this all started in the first place. Finally, there’s also a direct connection with Baselight Editions for Avid, if you add that as a “plug-in” within Media Composer. As with Boris RED, clips open up in the Baselight interface, which has now been enhanced with a smoother shot-to-shot workflow inside of Media Composer.

While a lot of shops still use Media Composer as the hub, this seems like a very old-school approach. Many editors still love this NLE for its creative editing prowess, but in today’s mixed-format, mixed-codec, file-based post world, Avid has struggled to keep Media Composer competitive with the other options. There’s certainly no reason Media Composer can’t be the center – with audio in Pro Tools, color correction in Resolve, and effects in After Effects. However, most newer editors simply don’t view it the same way as they do with Adobe or even Apple. Generally, it seems the best Avid path is to “offline” edit in Media Composer and then move to other tools for everything else.

So that’s post in 2016. Four good options with pros and cons to each. Sorry to slight the Lightworks, Vegas Pro, Smoke/Flame and Edius crowds, but I just don’t encounter them too often in my neck of the woods. In any case, there are plenty of options, even starting at free, which makes the editing world pretty exciting right now.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Australian Design Shines with Blackmagic


One of the things to do in the week after NAB is to scour the internet to pick up those gems I might have missed at the show. I was curious to run across a blurb at RedShark News about a prestigious design award picked up by Blackmagic Design.

df1616_bmd_reddot_6Anyone in this industry who’s been exposed to any Blackmagic product knows that the company has a sense of taste when it comes to industrial design, packaging, and even their website. Products, like their rack-mounted gear and cameras, have a certain finesse even down to the screws that hold them together. One look at DaVinci Resolve and you know they’ve aimed at the best-looking and easiest-to-navigate user interface of any NLE. The redesign of the Cintel Scanner is like an art piece to hang on the wall.

df1616_bmd_reddot_2This year they’ve been honored as the Design Team of the Year by the Red Dot Awards. This is a design competition founded by German industrial designer Professor Dr. Peter Zec, former president of Icsid (International Council of Societies of Industrial Design) and current head of the German design center, Design Zentrum Nordrhein Westfalen. The Design Team of the Year Award (which is awarded and not competed for) goes to one company each year. Blackmagic Design is in good company, as past winners include Apple, Porsche, and frog design (who has been closely involved with Apple over the years) – among many others.df1616_bmd_reddot_4

df1616_bmd_reddot_5Blackmagic’s design team is headed by Simon Kidd, Director of Industrial Design, who’s been with the company for ten years. This is the first time the honor has gone to an Australian firm and highlights the outstanding work being done down under. That design aesthetic can be seen not only at Blackmagic, but other Australian firms, too, including Atomos and Rode Microphones. It’s nice to see this recognition go to any company in the film and video space, but even better when it goes to someone who really values design along with solid functionality.

©2016 Oliver Peters

More LUTs from IWLTBAP


With more cameras shooting in some form of a log or flat color profile and more editing software being able to integrate color look-up tables (LUTs), numerous developers have designed their own LUT packages. Some, like Koji, strive to duplicate the colorimetry of certain film stocks, while others, such as SpeedLooks from LookLabs, create stylized “look” files that give you a range of creative color correction choices.

One new developer offering a package of easy to use LUTs is French filmmaker IWLTBAP. Through the website, you can pick up a comprehensive package of LUTs in the 32x32x32 .cube format, which are compatible with most modern editing and compositing software applications. If you edit in Adobe Premiere Pro CC, the Lumetri Color panel lets you browse and add any .cube LUTs you’ve saved on your hard drives. If you cut in Apple Final Cut Pro X, then the addition of a LUT plug-in, like Color Grading Central’s LUT Utility, enables you to add third-party LUTs to any clip on the timeline.df1316_iwltbap_4

I took these LUTs for a spin and like most LUT packages, they come in a groups. First you have Utility LUTs, which are designed to convert color spaces from log to Rec709 (the standard video color space) or in the opposite direction. These are organized by camera type, since not all manufacturers use the same logarithmic values. Then the color correction or “look” LUTs are grouped into Standard and Log versions.

The Standard LUTs are to be applied to images that are already in Rec709 color space, while the Log versions can be used as a one-step LUT to be applied to generic log images. For example, you could apply both a Log-to-Rec709 Utility LUT and a second LUT from the Standard group to achieve your result. Or simply apply the single Log version to that same clip and end up with similar results. The dual-LUT approach gives you more incremental control over the Log conversion based on camera models, whereas the single-step solution is designed for generic log images. However, both can yield the desired grade, depending on the clip. In addition to the paid LUT package, IWLTBAP offers two Bonus LUTs, which are available as a free download from the website.

df1316_iwltbap_2There are over 80 LUTs in each group and these are organized by color style and number. The numbers don’t really mean anything. In other words, they aren’t an attempt to mimic a film stock number. As you ascend in numbers, the next step is a more aggressive or somewhat different version of the previous. The key is the prefix and suffix for each. These LUT files carry a STD or LOG suffix so you know whether these are from the Log or Standard group. Then there’s a prefix: C for cold, H for hot, W for warm, F for film, and X for creative. Each style has several variations within that general look. For example, the LUT file labelled “F-9490-STD.cube” is a LUT with a filmic curve designed for a Rec709 image.

df1316_iwltbap_7When working with LUTs, it’s often hard to know what result you get until you try it. Then if you don’t like the look, you have to continue to slowly browse through your LUT files – applying each, one at a time – until you get the right look. Often that can lead to a lot of trial and error. The IWLTBAP package ships with lightweight Windows and Mac preview applications, however, the developer warns of some occasional instability on some machines. The easiest solution is to use their web-based LUT previewer. Simply upload a reference JPEG from your clip and then toggle through the LUTs to preview how those will affect the shot.

df1316_iwltbap_6I ran some tests on Blackmagic Design camera footage in both FCPX and Premiere Pro CC and got some really pleasing results. In the case of FCPX, if you use LUT Utility, you have to copy the .cube files into LUT Utility’s Motion Templates folder. This is found under Effects/CGC. Files stored there become visible in the LUT Utility pulldown menu. Note that only the first 50 or so files in that folder can be accessed, so be selective. If you apply two instances of the LUT Utility to a clip, then you can apply a Log-to-Rec709 conversion in the first and then the creative look LUT in the second. This plug-in has a mix slider, so you can adjust the intensity of the LUT to taste. As an effects plug-in, you can also place other effects, such as color correction in-between the two LUT Utility effects as part of that stack of effects. Doing this gives you nice control over color within FCPX with very little overhead on the application’s performance.

df1316_iwltbap_3If you are an FCPX user that has adopted Color Grading Central’s ColorFinale grading tool as your go-to color correction plug-in, then all of this LUT management within the application can be simply handled from the ColorFinale interface itself. Stack layers of LUTs and other color tools all inside the ColorFinale panel. LUT choices can be added or removed using the integrated LUT Manager and then relaunching FCPX to activate them as part of ColorFinale.

If you are a Premiere Pro CC editor, then the latest version was enhanced with the Lumetri Color panel. This control is organized as a stack of color modules, which include two entry points to add a LUT – in the Basic and the Creative tabs. In my testing of the new URSA footage, I applied a Log-to-Rec709 LUT for the URSA in Basic and then one the “look” LUTs, like the free Aspen standard version, in Creative. You still have all the other color control in the Lumetri panel to fine-tune these, including the intensity level of the LUT.

df1316_iwltbap_5LUTs are a creative tool that should be thought of as a stylistic choice. They aren’t an instant fix and shouldn’t be the only tool you use to color correct a clip. However, the LUTs from IWLTBAP provide a good selection of looks and moods that work well with a wide range of shots. Plus the package is very affordable and even more so if you get it after reading this blog! Readers who are interested can get 25% off of the retail price using the discount code DIGITALFILMS. Or by using this direct link.

Last but not least, check out the free, downloadable 4K film grain clip. It’s a ten second ProRes file that can be overlaid or blended to add grain to your shot.

©2016 Oliver Peters

Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve 12

The industry has been eager to check out Blackmagic Design’s DaVinci Resolve 12. This “first look” is based on the initial build of the Resolve 12 public beta. A number of functions have not yet been enabled, so expect to see some changes in the product by the time you read this.

As with any public beta, the point is to get feedback and reap the benefit of crowdsourced quality testing, so be careful about using it on real jobs. That being said, so far I’ve found the public beta builds to be reasonably stable. I’ve had a chance to test the application on several different machines, including two 2009-2010 Mac Pro towers and a new 15” Retina MacBook Pro. Testing included a Sapphire 7950 and an Nvidia Quadro 4000 GPU, as well as the built-in Nvidia card on the laptop.

Blackmagic is no longer using the “Lite” name to identify the free version. The branding is now DaVinci Resolve 12 (free) and DaVinci Resolve 12 Studio ($995). The free version includes the majority of features and is limited to an output no larger that UltraHD 4K. The paid version adds advanced features, including stereoscopic functions, networked collaboration between users, multiple GPU support, and the ability to output at larger than UltraHD 4K frame sizes.

Blackmagic Design hardware products are required to output an analog or digital signal to an external video monitor or tape deck. If you are comfortable making color judgements based on the viewer image, then no hardware is require for operation and rendering. You can also hot rod your system with the DaVinci Control Surface ($29,995) or a number of supported third-party surfaces that are less costly.

Refreshing the user interface

df3115_R12_3DaVinci Resolve 12 ushers in a fresh user interface. Previous versions mimicked the style of Apple Final Cut Pro X, but the new UI is flatter with thinner fonts. It takes on the trendy design aesthetic employed in Windows 8/10 and Mac OS X/iOS. The background colors are a lighter grey with a faint blue cast to them. Although pleasing, I find that last part strange for a color correction application, where a true grey is considered the norm.

The interface has been optimized for single and dual-monitor systems, as well as higher-density displays, like Apple’s Retina. Resolve 12 is divided into four modes or pages: Media, Edit, Color, and Deliver. Software control panels can be opened or closed as needed, including videoscopes, media storage locations, mixers, audio meters, inspector, effects, and more. There are some interesting options to control whether or not a panel or window runs the full horizontal or vertical length of your display. However, there is no way to create a custom workspace by docking panels in different places and then saving that as your personal layout. Interface colors also can’t be personalized.

As before, timelines support sources with mixed formats and frame rates, however, the base timeline setting must match that of the project. This means you cannot have a 720p/59.94 and a 1080i/29.97 timeline within the same project. You can’t have multiple timelines open, but it’s easy to access different timelines in the same project quickly. You can also cut one timeline into another as a nested sequence. Such nests (as well as compound clips) can be decomposed in the timeline, leaving the original source clips to work with.

Resolve 12 no longer includes a separate section in the UI for timelines, as these are placed together with the source media in the Media Pool. One simple solution is to create a Bin for your edits and manually drag the timelines you’ve created into that Bin. Another option is to filter timelines into a Smart Bin by including some common element in the name. For example, you could append “seq” (for sequence) to the end of the name of each timeline. Set your filtering criteria to names that contain “seq” and then timelines will automatically show up in the Smart Bin that you’ve created for timelines.

Editing with Resolve 12

df3115_R12_4As a a nonlinear editing application (NLE), Resolve 12 is an interesting mash-up among several other NLEs, including Premiere Pro, FCP 7 and FCP X. There are new features clearly intended for editors, including multi-camera editing. You can now organize clips and timelines into custom bins, add metadata, assign sortable color flags and other metadata values, and automatically filter clips into Smart Bins. You can sync grouped clips (double-system sound) and multi-camera clips using in-points, timecode, or audio waveforms. The multi-cam editing routine is similar to other NLEs, where you drop a multi-cam clip onto your main timeline and then cut between camera angles.

Blackmagic placed a lot of attention on timeline trim functions. It’s now possible to do some very elaborate asymmetrical trims of multiple clips. Slip/slide trimming and split audio is all very easy and fluid. There is no trim window, so on-the-fly JKL trimming – a la Media Composer – isn’t possible. When you trim via the mouse or keyboard, you get a 2-up preview in the viewer and a 4-up display when slipping and sliding clips. You can access a curve editor in the timeline for transitions, which lets you control the transition acceleration. When you select source clips in the list view mode of the browser, you get a skimmable filmstrip of the selected clip, much like in FCP X.

Video effects are still based on OpenFX, so any third-party filters and transitions that offer OFX host support (FilmConvert, BorisFX, NewBlueFX, etc.) will show up in either the Edit page effects palette or the Color page, depending on whether the filter is something that requires a color correction node in order to be applied. Blackmagic also includes its own toolbox of effects and transitions, including the new Smoothcut transition. This is a morphing dissolve designed to smooth jumpcuts between edited soundbites from on-camera interviews. It is similar to Adobe’s Morph Cut or Avid’s FluidMorph, but seems to rely more heavily on GPU processing. Therefore, you don’t have to wait until a lengthy analysis pass is completed before you can review the results. As with all of these effects, real-world results vary with how closely the alignment is on both sides of the cut. It tends to work best with a duration of two to four frames.

Audio went through big changes in Resolve 12 to improve performance and to add features. VST and AU plug-ins are supported. Any that are installed on your system will show up in the audio effects palette. Effects can be applied to clips or tracks and there’s automation-style track mixing. The way audio tracks are implemented seems confusing to me – especially audio track patching. Tracks can be mono, stereo, 5.1, or adaptive, but there’s no indication in the timeline window as to what type of track it is. When you edit a multi-cam clip to the timeline and the source audio contains several channels, then it is no longer possible to break those clips apart or access individual channels from the timeline. Both Adobe and Apple use similar methods, but with a better approach in each’s implementation. Like in Premiere Pro, it is best to start out by properly setting the source audio channel configuration in the clip properties menu for each clip. You can access this in the Media page.

Other improvements

df3115_R12_5DaVinci Resolve 12 is not only about editing. Since Resolve is used a lot as a DIT tool to generate dailies, there’s a new capability in the Media page to apply color space changes and camera LUTs to a group of clips. If you shot log-encoded footage and apply a Rec709 LUT on the Media page, you’ll now see the corrected color throughout. The downside is that such LUTs are not visible on the Color page and can’t be removed in any of the color adjustment nodes.

The new blue and greenscreen 3D keyer is accessible on the Color page. It yields high-quality results and is aided by new, matte finesse controls, plus Resolve’s great masking and tracking capabilities. There’s also improved ACES support, better shot-matching between clips, and more.

Resolve 12 uses a central database to house all project files. This makes it harder to move files between users than with other NLEs. Previous versions let you export Resolve projects to move them to other systems, but now Resolve 12 adds copy, move, transcode, relink, and consolidate functions. Support for FCPXML (for projects offline-edited using FCP X) has been updated to the newest version of this format.

There had been a bug in how Resolve wrote FCPXML files, so going back into FCP X from Resolve exhibited relinking issues. This only occurred when importing on a different machine than where the files were generated. This bug appears to have been fixed in version 3 of the public beta build.

To include another tool for editors, Blackmagic added an AAF export to Pro Tools feature. I don’t have ProTools, so I wasn’t able to test the Pro Tools export properly. All audio clips are exported in .MXF format, which means many applications can’t play the audio. For example, when I imported the AAF into Apple Logic Pro X, the track sheet was blank. I have been able to send audio from Final Cut Pro X into Logic Pro X using X2Pro Audio Convert to create an AAF.


df3115_R12_2Real-time media performance is critical to a good editing experience. Resolve 12 is optimized for hardware using the PCIe 3.0 bus, which supports greater bandwidth. Older Mac Pro towers or Windows computers that use PCIe 2.0, are going to be challenged when loaded with PCIe cards. You see this mainly in the Edit page, because more things are going on in the interface on that page. Windows user with the newest hardware and Mac users who own new “trash can” Mac Pros will most likely have a better editing experience than owners of legacy machines.

I experienced choppy video being displayed in the viewer of the Edit page, even though output through the Decklink was fine. Ironically, viewer and video output were smooth on the other pages. After consulting with Blackmagic, the following recommendations gave me the performance I would expect out of an NLE: run in the single-screen layout, close the audio mixer panel, close the audio meters, and/or switch the video monitoring setting to 8-bit. Of these, the mixer suggestion made the biggest difference. The ability to create on-the-fly, low-resolution proxies for editing wasn’t enabled with the first few builds of the public beta. It was turned on in build three. This gives you similar results to that of other NLEs running in a half-resolution, quarter-resolution or “dynamic real-time” mode.

One common mistake that I see users make, when I read some of the internet forum posts, is that they load up the timeline clips with color correction nodes and still expect real-time editing performance. Physics hasn’t changed. Adding effects and color correction to clips is going to negatively impact playback. As a general rule, get all of your editing done first and then save your color correction until last. You’ll be a lot happier.

Final thoughts

Once the official Resolve 12 release rolls out, we’ll see where it finds a place as an editor. This release won’t sway editors who are currently happy with one of the other popular NLEs to switch to Resolve 12 as their main axe. However, I suspect it will increasingly become the finishing tool of choice – probably edging out Autodesk Smoke over time. Now that the editing tools and performance are there, it becomes the ideal application for final edit revisions, grading, and mastering. It can already combine lists and media from a range of creative editing systems.

The other element in this equation is Fusion, the node-based composting application they picked up from EyeOn. There’s already a connecting plug-in between it and NLE timelines that Avid has enjoyed. With a bit more development time, I could clearly see some integration between Resolve and Fusion. That might be why “Studio” is now part of the name change. Hmmm…

When Resolve 11 came out, it, too, was touted as an editor. My critical assessment was that it was a grading tool that could be used as an editor, but you wouldn’t want to. With Resolve 12, Blackmagic has produced an application that is both grading tool and an editor. I could easily see myself using it as my secondary NLE. There is certainly great synergy between Final Cut Pro X and Resolve. Why not have both in your arsenal?

The enticement of a free editing application to many new users is hard to resist. Not to mention that it is cross-platform and unfettered by a software subscription business model. Clearly the development pace by Blackmagic Design since they acquired the product has been impressive. This makes me believe that Resolve will find a new audience willing to use it as their primary creative tool for start-to-finish post production.

Click here for a look back at Resolve 11, which will give you an additional insight into some of Resolve’s feature set.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters

Blackmagic Design UltraStudio 4K and UltraStudio Express


Post-production technology is changing with the shift to file-based workflows, Thunderbolt data paths, and adoption of 4K. To address the varied needs that range from one-man-band shops to large facilities, Blackmagic Design has developed the UltraStudio Thunderbolt product family. This includes the low-cost Mini Recorder and Mini Monitor modules at one end and the UltraStudio 4K Extreme at the other. I tested the UltraStudio 4K and UltraStudio Express, which sit in the middle of the family.


UltraStudio 4K

The UltraStudio 4K is a rack-mount unit that’s designed for facility or mobile truck installation. It is one rack unit tall, connects to a Mac or PC via a single Thunderbolt cable, and is compatible with Thunderbolt and Thunderbolt 2 protocols. All connections are on the back plane and the fan vents through the sides for tight rack spacing. The sleek front surface features a small confidence LCD display and six illuminated audio/video input selector buttons.

As a 4K unit, it supports numerous 4K UHD, 4K DCI, 2K, 1080p, 720p, NTSC, and PAL formats and frame rates. The back panel connections cover pretty much everything, including SDI, HDMI, composite and component analog video, AES digital audio, as well as XLRs for timecode and two channels of analog audio. If you need more than two channels of audio, then that is designed to be passed as embedded SDI or over AES. There’s a Thunderbolt loop-through, as well as two SDI loops for the two SDI input connections. Finally, UltraStudio 4K supports connection to a VTR, so it includes a standard 9-pin remote connector.

Like other Blackmagic rack units, UltraStudio 4K does not come with a power cord. This is an international, multi-standard system that can be installed into 120-240V/50-60Hz electrical systems. Since power plug configurations vary around the world, Blackmagic has opted to have you provide your own. In the United States, any standard three-prong power cord – like the one on the back of most monitors – should fit. Thunderbolt cables are also not included.

UltraStudio 4K is built around a chipset that supports SDI, 3G-SDI, and 6G-SDI bandwidths. This is essential for high-frame-rate 1080p, stereo 3D, 4:4:4, and 4K workflows. Yet these units are still compatible with SD and HD infrastructures. 6G-SDI (6Gb/s) is fast enough for UltraHD video at up to 30fps to be passed over a single BNC cable. In standard HD operation, the two SDI outputs can be configured for a full HD and a second down-converted signal. This unit doesn’t up or down-convert between 4K and HD or SD. However, if you are working in DCI versus UHD sizes, UltraStudio will up or down-convert to the nearest 4K size – up to 4096 or down to 3840 pixels wide.

In the UltraStudio product line, the big brother is UltraStudio 4K Extreme, a larger, more powerful unit with 12G-SDI bandwidth. That’s enough for 4K 60p video over a single BNC cable. It features even more connections, a larger LCD display, dual power supplies, and built-in hardware encoding for H.265 and Apple ProRes (on Mac OS X). 4K Extreme not only connects via Thunderbolt, but can also connect to a PCIe host using a small PCIe adapter card. Therefore, you aren’t limited to computers with Thunderbolt. This is the same unit that Avid will be selling as the Avid DNxIO. That version will embed hardware encoding of the Avid DNxHR codec and will be sold and supported through Avid and its reseller channels.

df2915_ultrastudioexpress34UltraStudio Express

If you need something portable, then UltraStudio Express fits the bill. This is an SD/HD unit that connects and is powered via a single Thunderbolt line. The small aluminum housing includes SDI and HDMI i/o connectors, as well as a multi-pin port for everything else. The unit ships with two breakout cables for a variety of analog audio and video connectors. One breakout cable features professional BNC and XLR connectors, while the other uses RCA plugs. The “pro” cable also includes a 9-pin VTR remote. UltraStudio Express is fanless and small, so it’s a perfect laptop companion. If you only need SDI or HDMI connectivity, then there’s no need to connect either of the breakout cables.

Like the larger 4K systems, UltraStudio Express supports a wide range of SD and HD standards with some conversion capabilities. On input it can convert HD to SD or SD to HD. On output from HD to SD or 720 to 1080. UltraStudio 4K adds SD to 720 or 1080 conversion on output. So, while there is a good range of conversion options on both systems, these might not cover every combination of frame rates, pulldowns, etc.

Both units are driven by Blackmagic Design’s Desktop Video software. This installer includes drivers, the Desktop Video Utility, Media Express, and Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. On a Mac, you access the Desktop Video Utility through System Preferences to set up the configuration of the unit. Media Express is Blackmagic’s own media player, capture, and print-to-tape software application. This is important for Final Cut Pro X users, since that NLE is designed only as a file-based editor without its own tape capture or output modules.

Diving in

df2915_Media-ExpressSince these are Thunderbolt devices, I tested both the UltraStudio 4K and Express units on my Retina MacBook Pro. I connected the output to a Panasonic 1080p monitor via SDI and later to my home Samsung using HDMI. Thunderbolt is hot-swappable, so it was easy to go back and forth between units. The Blackmagic Desktop Video Utility quickly recognized each unit for fast reconfiguration of settings if needed. Both units work with a wide range of Apple, Adobe, Avid, and Blackmagic Design software, so regardless of whether you are using Resolve, Premiere Pro CC, FCP X, or Media Composer, the systems just seem to work. Check the specs on the website, but a ton of other applications, like Smoke, Fusion, and Photoshop, to name a few, are also compatible.

I spent a fair amount of time running both Apple Final Cut Pro X, as well as Adobe Premiere Pro CC 2015 through both units. These are generally the NLEs I work with today. Naturally I expect DaVinci Resolve to work, but I was pleasantly surprised that Adobe SpeedGrade CC 2015 now also works. Enabling Mercury Transmit out of SpeedGrade through Blackmagic hardware has been a bit of an issue in the past. This meant the user had to decide between working with SpeedGrade and AJA hardware or Resolve and Blackmagic hardware. For Blackmagic owners this dilemma is gone. Finally, with current hardware, it all works as expected.

How 4K is handled with each unit depends on the application and what it’s capable of. For example, I have a test clip of Sony XAVC 4K footage (4096×2160). When I play that in either Premiere Pro CC or Final Cut Pro X through the UltraStudio Express it will display as 1080 even though the sequence is 4K. That’s because the unit can only output 1080. Both applications are savvy enough to downscale the sequence to 1080 and therefore it plays. Naturally this taxes the computer, although FCP X had far less trouble than Premiere Pro is doing so.

This was not the case when I connected the larger UltraStudio 4K. When you use Final Cut Pro X, the video output is determined by the settings in the Desktop Video Utility. If you set it to 1080p (to match the monitor), then FCP X will downscale a 4K timeline to 1080p and it will be happily piped to the monitor. This isn’t true in Premiere Pro, which overrides the Desktop Video settings. Even if you set it to 1080p, because the unit is capable of handling 4K, Premiere Pro will cause it to be set to match the 4K sequence. If you are working in a 4K sequence, UltraStudio 4K will play it at 4K (one of the 2160p choices). When that happens the 1080p monitor goes black. This means that you have to know which unit is right for you based on the monitors you own and the NLE you cut with. Or you may have to upgrade your monitors.

Both units work well. The Thunderbolt loop-through on the UltraStudio 4K came in handy by leaving my second port on the MacBook Pro free. I connected a LaCie Rugged FireWire 800 drive using a FW800-to-Thunderbolt adapter. It could effortlessly play a single stream of 1080p or 4K for a long time without dropping frames or causing any issues. Latency was extremely small over SDI (a bit more on HDMI) and there were no issues with audio sync. The build quality of both units is solid and Blackmagic Design now offers a three-year limited warranty.

The only caveat I would offer is that the UltraStudio 4K (and I’m sure this would go for the Extreme, too) is definitely an item that should only go into a noisy machine room. That’s because the fan is very loud – think hair dryer on low. The nice PR images that show a short rack containing one of these units next to an editor or colorist are pure fantasy.

Blackmagic Design has come a long way in a few short years to be a key player and leader in broadcast, production, and post technology. If you are considering any of the new Macs or even PCs that employ Thunderbolt, then you’d be hard-pressed to beat these units. They perform well, handle 4K, and set the standard for affordability.

Originally written for Digital Video magazine / CreativePlanetNetwork.

©2015 Oliver Peters