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Gear Review: Blackmagic 4K Video Assist Monitor/Recorder

  • September 14, 2016
  • Shane Hurlbut, ASC
Gear Review: Blackmagic 4K Video Assist Monitor/Recorder

Last year, when the Blackmagic 4k Video Assist Monitor/Recorder came out, we employed it immediately into our workflow here at Hurlbut Visuals. I was able to get it into our day-to-day operation of how we capture “On Set with Shane” for “Shane’s Inner Circle.” We actually use quite a lot of Blackmagic Design products in how we create our SIC content, like the Blackmagic Design ATEM Production Studio 4K Switcher  and the Blackmagic Design HyperDeck Studio 2 Recorder.  

When the Video Assist came out, I wanted to use it so I could receive Shane’s Laptop signal, as he connects a tablet to the laptop wirelessly and then draws on the laptop with a stylus, showing his lighting schematics and how he blocks a scene. The laptop essentially becomes the “video output” of that tablet and then the HDMI out of the laptop goes directly into the Video Assist and then goes right into the ATEM Production Studio 4K Switcher.

What excites me about Blackmagic 4K Video Assist are the latest updates that they released at IBC 2016.  It was already an upgrade from the Video Assist model that was only 1080p, 5” and used Mini-BNC connectors.  The 4K Model uses full SDI, is 7” and can record up to 4K.

Did I mention that the price is $895?  Let that sink in, what a deal!

AVID Recording Support

The 2.2 update to the 4K Video Assist allows for the following:

  • DNxHD and DNxHR files in MXF Containers
    • Choice between DNxHD 220, 145, 45 bit rates
    • Choice between DXxHR HQ, SQ and LB formats

Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K

False Color Exposure Tool

Shane has talked quite a bit about using False Color with his Flanders Scientific DM250 Monitor. We have even dove into how to use False Color in previous articles, see here

With the addition of False Color, the 4K Video Assist now allows for precise exposure monitoring.  False Color in this monitor is setup in a very similar fashion to the SmallHD DP7 Monitor setup, having preset values with a scale that lets you know where you are located in your exposure.

  • Blue = “Underexposed” areas (a stop under Neutral Grey)
  • Green = Neutral Grey (18%)
  • White & Pink = Skin Tone Value (a stop over Neutral Grey)
  • Yellow = “Overexposed” areas (Two stops over White & Pink)

Focus Assist Options

You can now select different colors for focus assist options with the new firmware.

  • Red
  • Green
  • Blue
  • Black

This instantly turns this monitor into a great Camera Assistant Monitor.  On all of the projects Shane is working on, here is the layout of how his cameras are setup:

  • Operator side (Left Side) has the EVF from the RED Weapon
  • Top of the camera has the 7” LCD Touch Screen
  • Camera Assistant Side (Right side) for the camera there is a 7” Monitor that can either record and check focus for a 1st AC.

This traditional setup of a studio mode or hand-held mode can work on any production, at any level.  It doesn’t have to be a RED Weapon like Shane is shooting. It can be the same with a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema camera that needs proper monitoring for the Operator or Camera Assistant.  Perhaps you are also pulling your own focus on a shoot, the 4K Video Assist can give you all of these functions in one tool versus having multiple, which will slow you down and allow for more things to possibly go wrong on set.

Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4KAudio Noise Control

The biggest problem I always had when shooting with a DSLR or any camera that used Audio as an afterthought was controlling that audio input and being able to easily see those levels.  On a Canon DSLR, you can set your levels to either have an AUTO Gain control, which is terrible because every time a person doesn’t speak, the noise “floor” gets raised. That is where you hear the ambient “white noise” of the room you are shooting in.

On a DSLR, if you set your audio levels to manual, you have to guess where they should be, as there are no markings for -12, -18, -20, etc to give you an idea of where they might be.  Plus on a DSLR it is difficult to monitor what your audio levels even look like!

Now, on the 4K Video Assist, you see it right on the monitor.  You are either taking an embedded audio feed from your SDI or HDMI and you have the option of keeping it independent with an Analog XLR signal.  All while you are able to see the audio meters bouncing without interfering with your screen coverage of the image.

One area that Blackmagic really worked on was giving you an AUTO Gain control that keeps the noise floor clean and low.  You can see a large difference in the graphic below.

AUTO Gain control Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K


The Total Package and Understanding How This Fits Into Your Workflow

What really makes this monitor/recorder stand out is its total package.  If you’re shooting on a DSLR, like the Canon 5D Mark IV, looking to keep everything in 4K but would prefer to record in AVID or ProRes for your workflow, while giving you a solid monitor with real audio inputs, this is going to work incredibly well.  It’s great for the Panasonic GH4, the Sony A7S, A7S2, A7RII, Canon C300 Mark II, C300, C100 Mark II and the C100.

Of course, this also works quite well with Blackmagic’s lineup of cameras too, the URSA, URSA Mini, Blackmagic 4K Production Camera, Cinema Camera, Pocket Cinema Camera, Micro Cinema Camera.

I’m sure a lot of you are shouting “but it doesn’t record RAW”?  Ok, it doesn’t.  Which isn’t an issue if you have the right camera and lens combination.  Look at your workflow in post-production first and foremost.  Understand what your needs are right way.  Perhaps you own a Sony A7R2.  The A7R2 records a 4K Image in Sony SLog2 internally on the camera in Sony’s XAVC codec.  Perhaps your workflow is on a Windows HP Z820 working in AVID DHxHD.  You’re planning to put your A7R2 onto a Freefly MōVI M5 with a Monitor to see your image.  Now you have the ability to not only use the 4K Video Assist to see your image from the Sony A7R2 on the MōVI  M5, but it can record 4K AVID files that you can take right into your HP Z840.

Here is the full list of technical information that is sure to help in understanding more about the 4K Video Assist.  

The list of recording options:

  • Apple ProRes 422 HQ
  • Apple ProRes 422
  • Apple ProRes LT
  • Apple ProRes Proxy
  • Avid DNxHD
  • Avid DNxHR

Technical Specs both SDI and HDMI:

  • 10 Bit Color Processing
  • 4:2:2 YUV Video Processing
  • REC 709 and REC 601 Color Space
  • (4K Ultra HD) 2160p 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30
  • (1080p HD) 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60
  • (1080i HD) 50, 59.94
  • (720p HD) 50, 59.94
  • (525i SD) 59.94 NTSC
  • (625i SD) 50 PAL

Input Connections Available:

  • (1) SD/HD/4K Ultra HD 6G-SDI via BNC
  • (1) HDMI 2.0a
  • SDI Audio: 2 channels embedded via 6G-SDI
  • HDMI Audio: 2 channels embedded via HDMI 2.0a
  • (2) Analog Audio, balanced mini XLR with phantom power

Output Connections Available:

  • (1) SD/HD/4K Ultra HD 6G-SDI via BNC
  • (1) HDMI 2.0a
  • SDI Audio: 2 channels embedded via 6G-SDI
  • HDMI Audio: 2 channels embedded via HDMI 2.0a
  • (2) Analog Audio, balanced mini XLR with phantom power

Remote Control

  • (1) 2.5mm LANC for Record Start and Stop

SD Media Interface

  • Dual UHS-II SD Media Slots

Storage Type

  •  Supports: DS, HS SDR12, SDR25, DDR50, SDR50 AND SDR104 SD cards

Screen Dimensions

  • 7” LCD
  • 1920×1200 touchscreen

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