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Serious Magic DV Rack HD 2.0 reviewed

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Serious Magic DV Rack HD 2.0 reviewed

A CreativeCow.net Product Review

Serious Magic DV Rack HD 2.0 - A Creativecow review by Tim Kolb
Tim Kolb

Tim Kolb
Kolb Productions
Appleton, Wisconsin USA

©2005 by Tim Kolb and CreativeCow.net. All Rights Reserved.

Article Focus:
DV Rack and later, HDV Rack have proven to be valuable pieces of software for Emmy® Award winner, Tim Kolb's field production activities, but like others, Tim is moving through the HD transition. Enter DV Rack 2.0. Tim determines that this version has some important improvements..


I guess to save us all some time, if you haven't read my CreativeCow.net review on DV/HDV Rack v1, it's here.

DV Rack and later, HDV Rack have proven to be valuable pieces of software for my field production activities.  I have actually been brought into crews shooting with the Sony Z1, not only because I know the camera, but because I have the ability to monitor the images it makes in real-time.

The comfort zone created by having HDV/DV Rack on location has been an asset for me, but I am moving through the HD transition like everyone else and in addition to my trusty Z1, an HVX200 showed up at our shop a couple of months ago and suddenly I felt blind as a bat again.

Enter DV Rack 2.0.  This version is available in an SD version (495.00 USD) and an HD version (795.00 USD).  The SD version supports standard definition DV cameras and the HD version adds support for DVCPro50 and DVCProHD (HVX200) as well as HDV.

This version of DV Rack has some improvements of which, few are obvious on the surface, but many are intensely important to those of us who have been using the software for a while.

  1. My favorite--1:1 pixel display mode.  If you want to know if you're in focus, this is the only way to be positive about that.  Many laptops have extremely high resolution displays, but few can use the fullscreen display mode and show you all the pixels without scaling. 
  2. Of course, HVX 200 support.  (HD version only) DVCProHD/50 users can finally see what all the fuss has been about in DV and HDV land.  This includes support for pulldown removal of 24p(a) clips AND a full res 1280x720p monitor window.
  3. Ability to flip the monitor display horizontally or vertically or both.  Users of a Red Rock Micro prime adapter and similar systems will be happy about this
  4. DV timecode support is now included so your backup tapes and your DV Rack clips will maintain the same TC.
  5. Recording modes--some very interesting features here, and a few I predict I will be using rather quickly:
    1. Motion activated recording.
    2. Stop-Motion recording
    3. Time-Lapse recording
    4. Pause recording (pause recording and resume without starting a new AVI file)

A bonus feature that is included with DV Rack HD is Serious Magic's DVCProHD Video for Windows Decoder.  Now PC users can edit DVCPro50 and DVCProHD footage through a converter utility to take the MXF files from the HVX200 and convert them to AVI  for use in any Windows NLE.  The decoder is available separately for 195.00 if you need additional seats or don't have DV Rack HD, and like DV Rack is allowed to be installed on a maximum of two machines at the same time.

One disappointment in DV Rack HD's functionality with the HVX200 had nothing to do with DV Rack HD or Serious Magic at all, but with Panasonic.  It turns out that the HVX200 has no active FireWire output when set in PN mode.  This is the mode on the camera that only writes active frames to the P2 card.  In situations where DV Rack HD is used primarily for measurement as opposed to capture (as I use it often when  jumping into a crew to do camera engineering and technical monitoring), the PN mode is what makes the most sense for the videographers to use because of it's space efficiency. (In 24 fps PN mode, the camera only writes the active frames per second to the card as opposed to writing 60 frames per second with a 2:3 pulldown--increasing the card capacity 2.5 times.)

The best option to this dilemma is to capture using DV Rack HD from the HVX200 camera in a non-PN mode and not worry about P2 capacity.  P2 cards are still expensive enough that you could certainly justify a fairly high-end portable computer system with DV Rack HD for capture in many cases.

The stop motion recording capability may be something I call upon in the near future though working with still cameras has always been the preferred way to accomplish most assignments.  Having the rest of DV Rack for technical image monitoring along with onion skin mode to look at previously recorded clips by superimposing them over the existing camera shot for alignment may be too good to resist rethinking that workflow.

The Shot Saver feature keeps 30 seconds in a pre-record buffer so you don't miss a shot. This, coupled with motion-activated recording is ideal when you have a situation where the timing is unpredictable and it may be impractical to record hours of material for 10 seconds of activity from wildlife or some other unpredictable subject matter.



I did notice something during testing of the focus indicator--a feature that I've found very handy in the field with the Z1 and with DV camcorders.  With the HVX200 feeding footage into DV Rack HD, the focus indicator “thermometer” indicator did not move much between the image being in focus and the image being out of focus.  When I hooked my Sony Z1 in, the behavior was what I expected it to be--a hair trigger.  If the camera was even moderately out of focus the bar changed unmistakably.  Upon checking in with Serious Magic, they were able to reproduce the issue and are in the process of getting a modification integrated in an upcoming update.  I suspect it has something to do with the inherent low resolution of the HVX200 CCDs, which have half the cel sites of the Sony Z1 possibly making it more difficult to detect those high spatial frequencies within the image that would indicate sharpness.

Overall, I have to say that this product is headed in a great direction and it's obvious that Serious Magic has been listening to the needs of customers.  For those who have camcorders that can be used with DV Rack or DV Rack HD, the excuses for technically inadequate video are all but gone.

What I'm hoping for now is someone who can build a small, self contained PC unit with FW, SDI, and analog inputs for the edit suite to run DV Rack HD as a post production tool.  With the price of HD test instruments, this could be the answer for many facilities who don't have 10,000 dollars for a digital Waveform/Vectorscope, and the ability to display multiple versions of the instruments at once makes it an even more tantalizing thought.

I gave the first version I reviewed of DV Rack/HDV Power Pack a perfect score.  For this new version, I'd have to go with 4.5 Cows to allow for the performance of the focus indicator being slightly lacking with the very camcorder a good part of the update focused on in the first place.  I have used the product for several years and highly recommend it.

 

-Tim Kolb

 


Tim Kolb
Kolb Productions
2004, 2005 NAB Post Production Conference Premiere Pro Technical Chair
Author: Focal Easy Guide to Premiere Pro : For New Users and Professionals
"Premiere Pro Fast Track DVD Series" www.classondemand.net

###

Want to know more about Tim? Click here for his bio. You can also find Tim as a leader in the following CreativeCOW.net forums: Adobe Premiere Pro, Art & Craft of the Edit, Business Practices & Procedures, Canopus, Cinematography & Video Pros, Corporate Video



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