Apple Color has brought a powerful color enhancement tool to the masses much like Final Cut Pro did when it was released. What was once possible with only a high end hardware based system, like daVinci, was now in the hands of anyone with $1299 (now $999) who purchased Final Cut Studio. What has been missing is a reasonably priced hardware controller that emulates the same controls used by colorists for years.
Tangent, a UK company, has had a high end set of control panels for Color for years that run in the neighborhood of $15,000 for the three. JL Cooper recently came out with the Eclipse that is in the $7,000 neighborhood and is an outstanding piece of hardware. Now Tangent has released the Wave at right about $2,000. I have been rather skeptical of this product and the folks at Tangent invited me to take it for spin.
Now first of all, the system we're testing this panel on:
- Mac Pro 2.26 8-Core "Nehalem" processors with 16GB RAM
- ATI 4870 Graphics Card
- AJA Kona 3 Video Card
- 24" Dell Monitor and 22" Viewsonic Monitors driven off the single ATI
- FSI 2450W Reference Monitor
- At the time of testing we're running Final Cut Studio 3 with the Color 1.5.1 update.
- At the time of this testing we're using the Wave Color Support Package 2.3
As part of the testing I asked my buddy Ron Anderson to come over and give his impressions as well. He's a 30 year colorist who operates daVinci 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. I've also had a chance to play with the Cooper panel when he's brought it over to my shop. So between the two of us, we had a lot to compare the Wave to.
OUT OF THE BOX.
So first impressions out of the box. Sleek, black, and plastic. Ok, I knew it was plastic before it came here but It's still a little surprising to pull a $2,000 product out of the box and be almost 100% plastic. Now being plastic also makes it incredibly light which is nice, especially if you want to transport this around with you to work in multiple facilities or on location.
One thing I like right away is the Wave is a much smaller footprint than the JL Cooper Eclipse. It's just a tad wider than a standard Apple keyboard so it fits very nicely on my Anthro Fit Console leaving plenty of room for my keyboard and Wacom Tablet.
And 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 Wave comes with the trackballs packed separately and with the use of a flathead screwdriver are very easy to install. They have a plastic ring that simply pops out and then snaps back into place holding the trackball in. This would make it very easy to keep the pockets clean. My only concern would be whether or not the rings would break after repeated installation / removal of the trackballs. I'm assuming you would want to remove those trackballs if you're going to ship or travel with the panel to ensure the optical sensors don't get damaged during transport. I'm sure Tangent would replace those rings if they were to get damaged and the panel would still operate if the rings were not there. So that's just a minor issue.
Ok, installation was incredibly hard.
- Put the Wave where you want it.
- Plug the USB Cable to the Wave and then connect it to the Mac.
- Run the Wave Color Support Package to install the Color plug-in.
- Get yourself a cup of espresso and celebrate because you're done.
This was ridiculously simple and one place where the panel does totally shines over the Cooper. There's only the single USB cable to connect as the Wave even draws its power from USB. No external power supply to worry about.
With the Cooper, it connects via Ethernet so you have to properly set up the network settings. As we found out, this can be tricky at times and you generally get it right through trial and error. In our case with an Ethernet based SAN, it actually caused some issues in the beginning. With the Wave, there's none of that since it's just USB. I LOVED that! This also makes it very easy to move one panel among multiple workstations. Move it to the appropriate room, plug and play!
The Wave Color Support package also installs the Wave Mapper which allows you to map specific functions to the various knobs, buttons and trackballs. Speaking of which, here's a nice overview image of the panel with a description of the various controls from the Wave User Manual which, by the way, you can download here
. If you're thinking about purchasing this panel, I would recommend you download this and look it over, it answers a lot of pre-purchase questions regarding functionality.
The actual operation of the panel was very smooth and professional. I operate with the Intuos Tablet as I mentioned and as I worked the Wave panel, I simply kept the pen in my right hand so it was easy to jump to the Tablet and operate that as needed. The Wave and the Tablet worked beautifully in tandem.
First off, the Bank displays were very easy to read and we had plenty of control over what we could do with them. If you really wanted to, you could go in and change what the display actually says.
Ron was impressed that the Bank Knobs had a reset function by simply pressing down on them. So if you made adjustments to Saturation for example, just push down on that Knob to reset it back to default. He said he does not have that simple function on the Cooper. The knobs moved freely without any sort of friction. The Bank Buttons are preset to bring up the various Color Rooms, though they can be programmed to do pretty much any function you want at any time.
To the right of all this are the Bank Select Buttons where you can roll through the various functions that correspond to the various Rooms in Color. In the Secondaries Room for example, there are four banks of pre-set controls for the Bank Knobs that control pretty much everything for each set of Secondaries except the curves. (though you can actually work those if you want as you'll see shortly)
Trackballs are very responsive as are the Dials. It did not feel like a "cheap" product at all when actually using the primary controls. You have your Reset buttons both for the Hue and Luminance as you would expect on a color control panel. Ron noted they felt as smooth as other panels he has used.
Transport controls were solid though at first I did not like the way they are essentially sunk down into the panel. Then I realized it was designed that way to keep your wrist from accidentally hitting the controls. Again, this is a very small footprint so they found a clever way to fit the transport controls on the panel without causing you to accidentally hit them all the time.
There are nine function buttons which are fully programmable. There is an overlay on which you can write what each button does, but there's not all that much room on there to write. Especially since you can put up to 2 functions on each button. It would be nice if there was digital display like the Bank has, but then that would certainly raise the price of the panel. As Ron noted, once you start using it regularly, you memorize what each function is.
There's also an ALT button which, as its name implies, creates an alternate setup for the panel where you can assign even more functions to any control. So the 9 Function keys can have a total of 18 functions assigned. We used the Alt function to assign Toggles to the Secondary Room and Vignettes. This ALT button really gives you the freedom to assign many more functions that you would think possible with a panel this small.
Finally there is a Mouse Emulation mode that can allow you to operate the Curves in Color if you want to do it this way. Personally I have the Tablet right alongside it so I just work the curves with my pen or mouse, but if you really want to use the panel you can. In Mouse Emulation, the center trackball operates like a mouse trackball moving the cursor instead of controlling Color. Then the Hue and Luminance Reset Buttons act as Left and Right Click. So we were able to click on the Curves in the Primary In Room and change them just as if we were using a Mouse. While I would probably never use this function, it is a clever little idea.
MAPPING THE PANEL
Now if you thought the installation process was difficult, well you're in real trouble here. It's obvious Tangent understands we're all visual people and we really don't like reading manuals.
As you can see from the image, the Wave Mapping software is simply a visual representation of the panel. To map a new function to any control, simply left click that control and re-set it to what you want. (NOTE, only a partial list shows in the picture below, it scrolls down with a lot more functions)
If you want to change the Function, Sensitivity of the Trackballs, Dials or Bank Knobs, simply right click on those and set them up.
This is all very simple stuff AND you can change the mapping on the fly with Color open
. When we first tested this I thought you had to quit Color and Restart, but the folks at Tangent told me to make sure I hit "Save" in the Mapping software. So I made a change in the Mapping software, with Color open, hit Save in the Mapping Software and 2 seconds later, the changes appeared on the panel. Oh that's REALLY COOL!
But one thing that is missing is the ability to map custom keystrokes. Right now, as of my testing, you are limited to mapping only the functions that Tangent has supplied. You cannot apply a custom keystroke to any control at this time. For example we wanted to assign "Undo" to a button, but we couldn't do it because it's not a supplied Map Function from Tangent. I did speak to Tangent about this and it's something they are considering for a future update, but nothing in the works at this time.
Another thing to be aware of, if you look at that image above you see the checkbox "Apply to All Rooms." I was trying to set the Sensitivity of the Trackballs universally across the entire application by turning up the speed of the controls and then checking "Apply to All Rooms." Well what this REALLY does is apply that parameter to all rooms. As in whatever that trackball is assigned to do at that moment will be applied to all rooms. When I did this the first time, I was in the Geometry Room and the trackball had no commands assigned to it. So when we switched back to the Secondary Room, the trackballs didn't work. They had nothing mapped to them.
Oh and Tangent did tell me that if you own a CP200 panel, you'll be getting a Mapping software early next year.
SOME MINOR QUIBBLES
Sometimes when pushing the Bank Knobs to reset a parameter back to default, the knob turns a little when you release it. So setting Saturation back to 1.0000 might result in the saturation actually going back to 1.0006 or .9876 or something like that if the know turns every so slightly as you release it. You have to very quickly click the knob and release it so you don't spin it.
No way to Save a Grade from the panel or at least take you directly to the Save Grade tab in the Setup Room. We have to use the keyboard to save the grades. Would be nice to have a button to hit on the panel to bring use directly to the save dialogue. This is one thing that Ron is able to do with the Cooper panel. I'm assuming that if we get some sort of custom keystroke or macro functions added to the Mapping tool, that will come along at a later date.
I wonder about the long term operation of this panel, in particular the Bank Knob push button reset. Will these work day in, day out for years or will they start to get "glitchy" or stop operating altogether faster than one might expect? It's a $2,000 panel so I would hope to get at least 5 years of operation out of this thing. That's yet to be seen since the panel is so new.
Honestly was not expecting the product to be this good considering the $5,000 price difference between it and the JL Cooper Eclipse. I even said as much on the Creative Cow Color forum. But for such a small product, the Wave packs a lot of power and is very intelligently designed.
Does it have all the functionality of the Cooper Eclipse? No and that's why you pay a premium for that panel. That is a larger panel, a more robust metal panel with larger controls and many more assignable control buttons. If you are a full time colorist working all day, every day in a single location with Apple Color, you would most likely lean towards this panel.
But Tangent has done an incredible job of bringing professional tools into the price range of anybody who wants a control surface to run Color. In my case we're a post production facility where editing and animation are our primary operations. Color grading is something I've gotten into the past 5 years and we don't have a full time colorist or the need for one right now. So the Eclipse is something that's really nice but priced too high for our needs. At $2,000 the Wave pays for itself in one, maybe 2 jobs and the simplicity of the operation makes it perfect for us.
And with USB connectivity with no external power required, this panel is made to travel. I have not tried it with my laptop but I don't see any reason why you couldn't take your Macbook Pro and the Wave on location anywhere your work takes you. Or like I said earlier, in a shop with multiple edit suites, you can easily move the panel from room to room as needed.
As Ron said, there really isn't a compromise on the quality of the operation in this panel, it's really just reduction in the amount of functions you can program vs. the Eclipse. Ok, I was wrong to doubt the Tangent Wave. This product is solid and I have thoroughly enjoyed trying it out!
As of 2009, 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.