Euphonix MC Color Control Panel
COW Library : Apple Color : Walter Biscardi : Euphonix MC Color Control Panel
No longer the domain of $15,000 specialized hardware, we now have choices from about $1,500 to $7,000 (US) to run and operate Apple Color. To date I’ve had the opportunity to test and use the JL Cooper Eclipse and the Tangent Wave controllers. Now the folks at Euphonix have invited me to try out the new MC Color controller.
I’m going to follow the same article structure as my original Tangent Wave review so you can compare and contrast the two products easier.
Now first of all, the system we’re testing this panel on.
As with my previous testing on the Tangent Wave I asked my buddy Ron Anderson to come over and give his impressions as well. He’s a 30 year colorist who operates daVinci, Scratch and Color among others. He’s also extensively used the full set of Tangent panels with Color in a DI suite along with the new JL Cooper Eclipse panel.
OUT OF THE BOX.
So first impressions out of the box. Sleek, low profile and very solid. The surface of the controller has a nice matte rubberized finish giving a nice feel for your hands. Buttons and controls are nicely done, they feel solid and are very quiet. It’s plastic, much like the Tangent Wave, but that rubberized matte finish and the silver appearance of the buttons definitely makes it feel a little more polished.
It’s a very small footprint, smaller actually than the Wave, just a tad wider than a standard Apple keyboard. It fits very nicely on my Anthro Fit Console leaving plenty of room for my keyboard and Wacom Tablet.
Compared to the Wave, the MC Color is a heavier panel, but that’s just relative, it’s still a very light controller compared to the JL Cooper Eclipse. As with the Wave, being lighter, it’s easier to move the keyboard shelf up and down. When we have the Cooper on that shelf, we have to be very careful and have a good hold on the shelf before we start to move it or it could drop the shelf all the way down causing the panel to fall off.
The MC Color comes with the trackballs packed separately so you just have to drop them in. One big concern though is the lack of a locking mechanism to lock them in place. If you were to tip the unit, the trackballs would simply fall out. If you have a shop like ours where you have multiple edit suites that might share one panel, you’ll need to careful to either remove the trackballs when you move the panel or keep it flat when you carry it. Or if you don’t use the panel all the time and keep it off to the side, you would need to remember to keep it flat when you moved it into position for use. I would personally like to see this updated in the future to ensure the trackballs will stay locked in place if the panel is moved around.
The MC Color also comes with a power supply, an ethernet cable and a pair of lifts that can raise the height of the panel when in use. We didn’t use the lifts, just the feet that are built in.
The MC Color requires an Ethernet connection and a power outlet in order to operate on your system. Now I need to explain the set up of our facility at this point as the ethernet connectivity does create somewhat of an issue in our case.
First off we do not have the Mac Pro computers in any of our edit suites. All of the Mac Pros are kept in the Machine Room and we use a DVI / USB extenders to connect our monitors / keyboards / mice up to 100’ feet away. So connecting this control panel is not as simple as hooking up a 10’ ethernet cable to a local Mac Pro. We have to run and ethernet cable through our cable chases and back to the Machine Room in order to connect. For the purposes of this review, I used one of our own 25’ Ethernet cables and ran it through to the machine room as the Euphonix supplied cable was far too short. If I were to use this panel in any of our other rooms, we would have to run a 75 to 100’ cable through all the wire chases and back to the machine room.
Secondly, we run a Maxx Digital Final Share SAN in our facility which runs completely off ethernet. This system allows us to share our 32TB media array with up to 12 workstations in our facility all working with Apple ProRes HD video. As such, the ethernet ports are used on all the machines and we’re fortunate to have a 24 port router in the machine room giving me a port to connect the MC Color to the system. Now in our original testing with the JL Cooper (which also connects via ethernet) we introduced some playback and stability issues in our SAN due to IP conflicts. So if you run a network, be sure you know all your IP addresses and put the controls surface on another port to avoid network stability issues.
Ok, now that’s of the way.....
Put the MC Color where you want it and feel free to connect the Ethernet and power cables, but don’t turn it on just yet.
Run the EU Control software installation.
Turn on the MC Color and go “ooooooooh” “aaaaaaaah” at the pretty lights.
Now you need to go in and set it up to properly recognize on the network. Setup controls are very simple and well documented in the manual, but as there are multiple User Manuals on the same installation disc that comes with the MC Color, be sure you’re reading the right one. At first we were trying to set up the network using the commands for the MC Control panel and could not get the IP address to change. Once we figured that out, we were good to go.
Compared to other control surfaces for Apple Color, Euphonix has put a lot of emphasis on fewer controls doing more things. This means there are less switches, buttons, knobs and digital displays compared to the other surfaces I’ve tried out. On the plus side, it makes the panel smaller, on the negative side, it means you use the same button / controller for multiple functions and this did get a bit confusing during operation.
BASIC LAYOUT AND OPERATION
Right off the bat, I can tell you that the trackballs and trackwheels are outstanding. Incredibly smooth control and the feel is really nice, right on part with the more expensive JL Cooper panel. Especially the trackwheels, they’re a pleasure to work with and the slight rubber surface on them makes them very smooth to the touch. To the upper left of all three trackwheels are the Hue Reset and Luma Reset buttons. These are labelled R1 - R6. These buttons also reset any of the other parameters these controllers operate in the use of this panel.
You have to keep the trackballs at a moderate speed though, don’t just spin them freely or try to move too fast as they will not be able to keep up with your movements. This is standard with any controller, but the MC Color does seem more sensitive to keeping the speed at a moderate pace. You should also know that the trackballs / trackwheels are used for multiple functions from vignette to transport controls in addition to actual color grading.
Across the middle of the panel are Soft Keys, 9 user assignable function buttons. Their functions change depending on which room you’re using. So 9 buttons plus 8 rooms can give you up to 72 functions available via the push of a button.
Press the NAV key in the lower left and you can then select any one of the Rooms in Color by pushing down on the corresponding Soft Knob. The Soft Knobs work well to the touch, push down on any of them to reset the appropriate parameter. One of the neat uses of the NAV function is to first select the Secondaries Room, then hold the Shift key and hit NAV again. This allows you to select Secondaries Room 1 - 7 via the Soft Knobs. Room 8 isn’t available with this method, not sure why, but it didn’t come up. But the NAV key is your basic quick navigation function key to get to you any of the available Rooms in Color.
Right above the Soft Knobs are the 6 OLED displays. These sit flat on the panel, rather than angled back towards the user and display two rows of information. Generally information on the Trackballs / Trackwheels across the top and the Soft Knobs across the bottom. I would prefer to have them angled downward so they’re a little easier to read. Of more concern is the fact that, well there’s only 6 displays and 6 knobs. This does limit how many controls are at immediate reach. The Wave has 9 and the Eclipse has 11 or example. The more displays / controls on the panel, the quicker and easier to use.
On the upper right of the panel, there’s a series of buttons including Bank 1 / Bank 2 and the Show key. The Bank buttons bring up additional pages of controls for the various rooms. In the Primary In Room, Bank 1 is the Basic Tab while Bank 2 is the Advanced Tab while in the Secondaries Room Bank 2 switches the trackballs / trackwheels to operating the vignette controls.
The Show key is something you’ll use a lot, especially when you first start using the panel, because it shows you what all the Soft Keys do in a particular room. You can also program the various Soft Keys using the EU Control Setting
Below that, there are 4 dedicated Copy Grade (CG 1-4) and 4 Paste Grade (PG 1-4) buttons on the right side of the panel. To copy a grade, simply select the CG button of your choice and it lights up to tell you that a Grade is saved. Paste a Grade simply by hitting the PG button directly below the corresponding CG button.
Transport controls are on the right hand side of the panel and work fine, though I would like to see dedicated Jog / Shuttle controls. Yes you can use a softkey to switch the right hand trackwheel to jog but I’d really rather not keep switching the control of that trackwheel.
GREAT POTENTIAL, BUT...
As I noted, this is very small panel. Only 9 1/4” from top to bottom, so Euphonix tried to pack a lot into a very small area. There’s no doubt they are the class of the field when it comes to the operation of the Trackball / Trackwheel, they are absolutely perfect. The function buttons operate smooth and quietly. The overall construction of the unit is outstanding, it feels like a solid product that will last a long time.
But we have used both the JL Cooper and Tangent Wave in grading sessions and there are definitely some shortcomings in the MC Color.
The first big issue we hit was in the Secondary Room. In the Color 1.5 update, Apple changed the functionality in the Secondaries so they Enable automatically once you make the first adjustment in those rooms. For some reason, with the MC Color we have to manually toggle the Secondary Enable button. We reconnected the Tangent Wave to the same machine to ensure the auto Enable was still working and it did work properly with the Wave and it worked properly using the Secondaries with the Wacom Tablet. I’m sure this is something that will be addressed with a future update in the software.
My biggest overall issue is the over dependence on the Soft Keys for a lot of functionality, while keeping their functions hidden from the user. As I noted earlier, there are up to 72 user defined functions available via the 9 Soft Keys. In order to know what function you have available in a certain room, you either have to memorize the setting for each button in each room, or you have to keep calling up the Show key which brings up a window to show you what each key does. Unless you use the MC Color every single day, I think you’re going to be hard pressed to memorize the 9 Soft Key functions for all 8 rooms and using the “Show Key” gets old pretty quick. Euphonix could have made better use of the OLED displays for this very purpose.
For some reason, Euphonix chose to use one row of the displays to show us what the Trackballs / Trackwheels are doing. We can see that on the Color interface. I’d rather see what the soft keys are set up to do.
On the Wave, for example, there are 9 soft keys with their functions listed at all times with Bank controls to change the functions. As you scroll through the Banks, the display changes to show the functions so we don’t need to memorize them. This is absolutely perfect for a facility like ours because we don’t use Color and the control surfaces every single day and we have multiple people who will use the control surface.
Now there’s 9 buttons and 6 displays on the MC Color, but with the Page Left / Right function we could probably make that work. Of course, there’s plenty of real estate on this panel for 9 displays and even 9 soft knobs on the MC Color, so maybe for a future upgrade.....
I’m not a fan of all of the variable functionality assigned to the Trackballs / Trackwheels. In particular, I was not thrilled using those controllers for the Vignette changes in the Secondaries. I much prefer using the soft knobs like the other Color controllers for controlling the Vignettes. And using the right hand trackwheel as the Jog Control just doesn’t work for me. When I’m in a grading session, I want to know that anytime I touch the Trackball / Trackwheels, I’m adjusting color on the image, not doing anything else, period.
The positioning of the Soft Knobs also caused some problems during the grading session. The knobs are positioned below the digital display putting them exactly 3” above the middle trackball. I found myself often hitting the middle trackball with my wrist, especially when reaching for the Number 3 and 4 knobs in the middle of the panel. Positioning the knobs above the digital display would eliminate this potential issue.
Ron noted the lack of a wrist rest when he was using the panel can lead to wrist pain if you’re not careful. After an hour of using the MC Color, I did see what he was talking about. Extending the bottom of the panel by another four inches or so would give the user a nice wrist rest to cut down on this. In the meantime, you’d do well to put some sort of padding at the bottom to keep your wrists comfortable.
Finally, the ethernet connectivity is something that would limit the use of the panel in our facility and one of the reasons we don’t run the JL Cooper here. Tangent has shown the USB connectivity works and it even draws the power via USB. Would be nice to see Euphonix adapt to USB connectivity as well as it’s just so much easier to plug a panel directly into a keyboard or monitor than it is to run an ethernet cable all the way back to the computer.
Euphonix has actually done a great job with the basic design concept of this control panel. It has the potential to bring the incredible controls of the Cooper Eclipse down to a much more reasonable price. It’s a solid panel, well constructed, just the functionality and ease of use could be improved.
If you are a dedicated Colorist and this is all you do day after day, you will probably like this panel just for the trackball / trackwheel controls and you’ll be able to memorize what the Soft Keys do in the various rooms.
If you’re like me and our facility, where you will use it multiple times per month or on occasion, you might want to wait for an update to this unit to make it a bit more user friendly or consider the Tangent Wave.
This product has great potential and I hope Euphonix makes Version 2 even more user friendly.
Walter Biscardi, Jr. is a 19 year veteran of broadcast and corporate video production who owns Biscardi Creative Media in the Atlanta, Georgia area. Walter counts multiple Emmys, Tellys and Aurora Awards among his many credits and awards. You can find Walter in the Apple Final Cut Pro, AJA Kona, Apple Motion, Apple Color and the Business & Marketing forums among others.