When the world shifted to high-definition video production, the needed hardware scopes for monitoring were expensive and out of financial reach for many. That gap was filled by excellent scopes, both stand-alone and integrated into NLE software, which leveraged a computer’s processing power to make measurements and display the results.
Recently released by the always surprising development wizards at Blackmagic Design, the SmartScope Duo is a hardware alternative to software-based scopes or high-priced hardware HD waveform monitors and vectorscopes. It brings standalone, real-time, multifunction monitoring (including picture), in a compact package at an extremely affordably price.
The SmartScope Duo consists of two 8-inch LCD screens in a 3RU housing and power supply, all weighing in at less than 3.5 pounds. Rear panel connections include: SDI video/audio in and out for each monitor, power supply connection, Ethernet in and out, a 9-pin D-sub tally connection and a USB port. There’s no on-off switch. The USB port must be used to set network configuration (setting IP address, configuration options, and device name) and/or to change monitor configurations (scope type, audio metering, or picture monitor).
The looping Ethernet connections allow one computer to configure the display characteristics of multiple units (any of the Blackmagic LCD-based line of monitors). Once the monitors are set up, no continuing USB or Ethernet connection is needed until the user wishes to change configurations.
The software, when running on a computer connected via USB or network Ethernet, autosenses specific devices, allowing you to select between them, and control the characteristics and functions of each LCD unit individually. You can have two monitors—the traditional combo of waveform monitor and vectorscope side by side, or any combination of the available test instruments. The software will identify which monitor is being set and adjusted by putting a white border around the image on that monitor and on the software display. When the monitor function is selected, you can specify SD 16:9 or 4:3 (otherwise, the monitor will autosense resolution, up to 2048 x 1556, and standard frame rates, from 23.98 to 60, including progressive), and adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation for each monitor, or will control both simultaneously. The unit operates with 8-bit color precision, in either RGB or YUV color space.
There are seven kinds of “scopes” available for use with the SmartScope Duo: standard luminance waveform monitor, vectorscope (at 100 or 75 percent color bars), RGB parade, YUV parade, histogram, or 16-channel audio meters with phase indicators, metered as dBFS (with selection of which audio channels to monitor) or dBVU (with selection of which audio channels to monitor). The video test scopes have easy-to-read “graticules” and provide users with control of brightness and contrast of the entire image. You can copy and paste settings between multiple monitors on the same network.
I used the SmartScope Duo in my edit suite and on several location shoots. In both situations, the setup was extremely easy. The unit comes ready for rackmounting and I installed it in some available rack space, pulled an SDI line to it, hooked up the passthrough and USB cables, and connected the wall wart. However, on powerup I initially found the viewing angle to be poor and the image degraded with the unit installed in the space that I had available.
However, after leafing through the excellent and simple manual, I found the remedy.
A total of 10 screws (#02 Pozidrive) hold the faceplate onto the LCDs and rear assembly. It’s a matter of removing these, then inverting the LCDs and rear assembly, and then reinstalling the screws. (The image automatically flips to the correct orientation.) This resolved the viewing angle problem in just a matter of a couple of minutes, and I was very pleased with the results.
For ease of use, I kept the unit attached to my laptop while I edited on my main system—just in case I wanted to change the display selection—but after a couple of days, I found that I rarely wanted to change configurations, as I was happy using the side-by-side YUV parade and vectorscope displays, and so disconnected the USB cable.
The monitors are very easy to read, and it’s very easy to adjust brightness and contrast to compensate for varying lighting conditions. And I have to state that nowhere does that ability to adjust for weird viewing conditions come in handier than when you’re on location. I put the SmartScope Duo into a portable 3RU rackmount and took it on several infomercial- type project shoots, where I handled a mix of green screen, white cyc, and outdoor backdrops, and similarly varied lighting conditions.
As the SmartScope Duo package is so light, it hardly added to my load or setup; I brought along the laptop control, in part to deal with different lighting and viewability. I found that this was an easy package to wrangle into the often strangely shoe-horned situations that are almost always a part of on-location work assihnmnets.
I found that I had very few unmet feature needs with this unit; however, I did find myself wishing for some sort of battery power option. With a power consumption of less than 20 Watts at 12 Volts, this shouldn’t be a tough task. More frequently, I found myself wanting a front panel on-off switch.
I imagine that some users will miss certain features that are available in dedicated hardware scopes, but for the vast majority of users operating in the vast majority of installations, the SmartScope Duo will more than amply fill the bill.
This is an incredibly well-designed monitoring product, packing a lot of the proverbial “bang for the buck,” like so many of Blackmagic Design’s other products. It’s simple to use, has low power requirements, comes with a light profile, is easy to control, and is the solution to a number of monitoring and quality control problems that formerly cost many times as much to solve.
Michael Hanish operates Free Lunch, a video/audio/multimedia production house near Guilford, Vt. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact: Blackmagic Design