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Every professional editing system has required some sort of sync generator, since the beginning of the era of television. Long ago, it was separate sync, blanking and subcarrier.
In the 1970s, composite black was created to carry all of these signals across one video wire. This use of synchronizing different pieces of video equipment has been used in every piece of professional video equipment developed ever since. We see this referred to as Genlock, External Reference, External Sync, or Reference Video.
Sync and color black generators used to cost a lot of money. But times changed, and prices got lower and lower. A little company called Horita came along, and released a very low cost color black generator - the BSG-50, and almost everyone, overnight said "I'm not gonna spend over $1000 for a black generator, I'll buy a Horita box".
And all was good - until Hi Def Video and the 23.98 frame rate cameras came along.
All of a sudden, the good old color black generator wasn't good enough anymore. People wanted to shoot, edit, and output back to tape at this new frame rate. And companies like Evertz and Tektronix came out with sync generators that would work at these new frame rates, that matched different hi def standards developed by Sony and Panasonic.
And these new sync generators - called TRI-LEVEL SYNC GENERATORS were expensive. All over $3000. And they were complicated to use. They had big manuals, rack chassis with lots of switches, and knobs, or setup control panels. Everyone was jumping into the hi def sync generator game - big names like Tektronix, Leader, Evertz, Astro Systems, Ensemble Design, Nvsion, and others. And so, people that needed tri-level sync were destined to spend over 3 grand to get a working unit.
Until April 2007.
A new hope
AJA Video shocked the world by releasing the GEN10, a multiformat tri-level sync generator, that's also a color black generator. And a color bar generator. It also generates AES digital audio tone or silence. AND it works at NTSC or PAL frame rates. AND it will do both Color Black AND tri-level Sync at the same time. All in one tiny little box.
The big reason everyone jumped up and down, was its small price: $390, about 1/10th the price of any other box on the market.
So lets make this simple. You need a sync/black generator, but sometimes you need NTSC, sometimes you need PAL for those European jobs you occasionally get. And you need color bars once in a while to test your system out. And you've started getting in those Hi Def video jobs that were shot at 23.98 frame rate, and the client wants a 23.98 frame rate master on an expensive HD VTR that you'll rent. That's a lot of little boxes to buy, and you really can't justify the cost to any client.
But the AJA GEN10 solved all of these problems, and paid for itself in the first day of your first job.
In normal operation, you only need NTSC color black, and the GEN10 gives you 6 NTSC black outputs. Flip one of the tiny DIP switches on the unit, and you get 6 PAL black outputs.
Maybe your TV monitor looks weird, and you need to quickly get color bars out of this little box - flip a DIP switch, and you get 75% NTSC or PAL color bars. (No, you can't do Bars and Black at the same time - it's one or the other).
But the GEN10 is split into 2 groups - 4 BNCs on one side, and 2 BNCs on the other side. So you can have 4 BNCs putting out color black (or color bars) while the other 2 BNCs put out tri-level sync, at any frame rate you like. Or vice versa - you can have 4 BNC's putting out tri-level sync, while the other 2 are putting out black.
The typical use would be for all color black, but then you get an HD job that requires tri-level sync, because you have to lock your edit controller and HD VTR to a 720p or 1080i 23.98 frame rate (and NTSC or PAL color black can't do this!). You would flip DIP SWITCH #2 on the AJA GEN 10 to the "HD" position, and like magic, you now have your edit controller and HD VTR being fed tri-level sync, while the rest of your equipment is still getting NTSC or PAL color black. ONE LITTLE SWITCH. Want to work at 720p or 1080i - just one more little switch (it's switch # 5).
You don't even need the manual, as it's all silk screened right on the little AJA GEN10 box.
The box is so flexible, that it will generate all the little variations of tri-level sync that you may be forced to work with - everything from 1080i/59.94 to 1080psf23.98 to 1080p23.98, 1080p29.97, all the 720p variations of this, and all the film rates of true 24, 30 and 60, both at 720p and 1080i. And yes folks, this product is only $390 !
But do you really need tri-level sync at all ? Well, most of my clients never work at 23.98, and so their old trusty Sigma or Horita black generators work just fine. Their VTR's do the pulldown for them to work at standard frame rates. But what if you need nothing other than NTSC black with the occasional PAL black ? You won't find ANY OTHER COMPANY making a dual standard black generator. And if you DO ever need to work at 23.98 ? For this low price, why would you ever consider any other black generator, when this does EVERYTHING.
There is another great thing about this box, which is true about most of the AJA mini converters. It just plugs in and works. No setup instructions, no 60 minutes with a manual. Plug it in, and it works. Too lazy to read a .pdf file - just look at the silk screening for the DIP switches right on the back of the unit, and you are in business.
But what if you don't use Final Cut Pro? What if you don't use an AJA capture card? WHO CARES?? This is the ONLY black generator you should own, no matter what other products you have.
If you have an Avid Adrenaline, or certainly an Avid Nitris, that wants to see tri-level sync when working in 23.98 - THIS IS YOUR BOX.
Got a Blackmagic Multibridge HD or Decklink HD Extreme - THIS IS YOUR BOX.
Got 3 Sony HD cameras and a Panasonic HD-SDI switcher, and don't want to suffer the frame delay with the frame sync inputs - THE GEN10 IS YOUR BOX to genlock all of this production gear together.
No matter what you own, no matter what you do in the video business, there is no longer any reason to not own an AJA GEN10. It's as critical a piece of equipment, no less critical than a set of speakers, or a TV monitor.
Now there are plenty of people out there that are saying "I never use a black generator - I just throw my VTR to look at the Video Input as the reference signal." There are countless posts on user forums about all the problems that are generated because of this - everything from channel error conditions, to audio distortion problems, to sync errors, to VTRs not locking up.
There are always "tricks" to avoid tri-level sync, but at $390, there is no longer any excuse. Everyone can afford to have their professional video equipment locked to a stable house sync - whether they are in Europe or the US, working at standard frame rates, or 23.98, or other variations that require tri-level sync. The AJA GEN10 is just a no brainer when building a video system.
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