Bob Zelin Looks at the Blackmagic Design SmartScope Duo
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Many newer users to our industry may ask, "Why do I need scopes?" Since the advent of HD video taking off, and the exorbitantly high prices of conventional HD monitoring equipment, many companies have found ways of working without referring to external HD waveform monitors and vectorscopes. Those that do, have had to make do with software based scopes that appeared in programs like Final Cut Pro or AVID Media Composer. These products are almost always inferior and inaccurate. Purchasing real external scopes was almost always over $6000 no matter what brand you chose. Blackmagic changed all of that with the introduction of the UltraScope.
But so many editors worked without scopes... and TV and Cable stations often rejected their delivered videos for incorrect or illegal levels. I would often see on Creative COW forums, "the picture looks too dark" or "everything looks too yellow", or "my audio sounds distorted", but there was no accurate way for these editors to accurately monitor what they were doing at a reasonable price. Well, now there is.
I was recently asked to demo the new Blackmagic Design SmartScope Duo. As a long time Blackmagic UltraScope and Pocket UltraScope user, I was anxious to see this new product. Because of a lack of readily available "qualified" graphics cards for the UltraScope, and the disappearance of the NEC/Renesas USB3 chipset for the Pocket UltraScope, I was thrilled to find out that Blackmagic had released a stand-alone waveform monitor/vectorscope product.
I was able to install this new scope at Adrenaline Films, in Orlando, Florida, that already owed a Blackmagic Pocket UltraScope to make comparisons between the two products. The #1 thing that I liked about the new SmartScope Duo is the "user experience" in setting this product up. In the past, it was always an engineering struggle to find the right computer, the right graphics card, etc. to make the UltraScope work properly. Those days are over. Blackmagic has made it easy to get the SmartScope Duo working quickly, right out of the box.
You can use any Mac or Win 7 PC to setup the SmartScope Duo driver from the Blackmagic support page, run the installer, and the SmartScope Duo interface is ready to use. Plug in a standard USB "printer" cable (USB-A to USB-B, not included with the SmartScope Duo), and you can launch the software interface.
The SmartScope Duo is two independent units, with two sets of looping SDI BNC connectors, so you can either loop the two monitors together (for the conventional waveform monitor/vectorscope combo that we are all used to), or use them separately for completely independent applications. Like other SmartView products, the unit comes out of the box rack mountable. It's just ready to be screwed into your rack without mounting any hardware. There are looping Ethernet ports on the back of the SmartScope Duo, so if you have multiple Blackmagic scopes and/or monitors you want to control, all of this can be done by simply looping the Ethernet ports together from monitor to monitor, and control everything from one single USB cable back to your computer.
The SmartScope Duo will handle SD-SDI, HD-SDI and 2K video signals, including progressive frame rates like 1080p.
Having your SmartScope Duo's BNC inputs fed by your facility or truck router will instantly let you monitor anything you want, at the click of the mouse.
Once you are into the SmartScope Duo interface, you will find that it is very easy and intuitive to navigate. On your computer screen, you will see an image of the two monitors. You access either monitor by clicking on the left or right monitor on your computer screen in the SmartScope application. There is an "identify check box" which will allow you to activate the tally indication on the monitor, to make it easy to see which monitor you are about to adjust. Once you have selected your monitor, you can change the display of each monitor independently to be a standard "composite" luminance waveform monitor, a YPbPr Parade Waveform Monitor, a RGB waveform monitor, a Vectorscope (with selectable 75% or 100% levels), a histograph display, a standard HD video monitor (so you can see a picture), or two types of 16 channel audio meters, both with audio phase indication to see if your audio is out of phase. The two types of audio metering that is selectable is scaled as either dBFS (what you see on a Sony VTR) or dBVU, which is for the "techno-nerd" guys like me.
Once the scopes are setup, you don't have to keep your computer tied up for this application. Please don't think that you need a dedicated computer to run the SmartScope Duo. You don't. It's just for the utility function to change what type of display you need. You set it, and forget it.
So, what's wrong with this product? Well, there is nothing wrong with this product, but some "old guys" will complain about not having A-B input, and not having a "gain" control to expand out the vectorscope to see chrominance noise. The SmartScope Duo lacks rarely used features like being able to monitor individual lines of video (close captioning, etc.), eye pattern displays, or lightning displays. And it doesn't offer error logging which is a feature on the original Blackmagic UltraScope. But these advanced features appeal to only a small portion of the scope market, and will not be missed by 95% of the users out there that just need a scope so they can check their levels.
At the aggressive price point of $995 retail for a dual scope rack mounted product, there is no reason to say, "We can't afford to have HD scopes". Blackmagic has made it possible to get new high quality HD monitoring tools for production and post-production, cheaper than you could find used gear on eBay.