Post production has become entirely file-based, it’s all about data. So why do you need a video interface?
For most of us the days of analog or even digital tape VTRs and patch bays are long gone. Unless you’re a television studio, a broadcaster or a larger post facility the need to interface your data-centric core post infrastructure with current or legacy equipment over SDI is minimal to non-existent.
So why bother?
There is still one very important place for a video interface in your post production setup.
There are some fundamental differences between a computer desktop GUI (Graphical User Interface) monitor and a dedicated video output. Even if your chosen editing software allows you to run a second or third desktop monitor as a full screen preview, it’s not the same thing. Your computer operating system and/or graphics hardware may only drive your desktop monitors at 8-bit color (16.7 million colors), this is still the norm for most. Many desktop monitors only display 8-bit color in any case. Some software doesn’t allow a full-screen preview to be extended to a desktop monitor.
The primary purpose of a dedicated video monitor is to display the full depth of color accurately, preferably at full resolution and to allow accurate calibration. The best way to ensure you are seeing the most accurate image is to use a dedicated video capture and playback interface.
You can read more about color management and calibration here: 5 Things a Filmmaker Should Know About Color Management
Choosing the Right Video Interface
This is not at all a paid ad for Blackmagic Design, but in my professional experience they make a range of rock solid interfaces that are hard to beat for performance and value. They’ve been making capture cards for longer than any of their other products.
Let’s take a quick look at some of Blackmagic Design’s most popular and affordable video interfaces. There’s a cost effective solution available whether you’re on a Mac, Linux or Windows workstation or laptop.
Desktop PCIe Video Interfaces
Blackmagic’s range of Decklink PCIe video interfaces are perfect for an older (tower) Mac Pro, or any Linux or Windows desktop workstations with free PCIe slots.
Ranging from $145 to $1,495 there’s a card for every need and every budget. I’m going to highlight a few below.
If all you need to do is add professional monitoring to your workstation and you know you’ll be driving an HD resolution monitor, then the Decklink Mini Monitor will do the job and only cost you $145. It supports Rec601 and Rec701 color spaces in 10-bit color over a single link HD-SDI and HDMI output. It’s an output only card so no input is present. There is also an input-only version of this card called the Decklink Mini Recorder, however if you need both input and output functionality I’d recommend jumping up to either the Intensity Pro 4K or Decklink Studio 4K card.
I am arranging these selected video interfaces by price and features, but the Intensity Pro 4K card is not in the Decklink range of cards, so you’ll find it in its very own category. It’s an important card to highlight here because it hits the primary needs that most of us have at a ridiculously low price.
The Intensity Pro 4K does away with SDI interfaces which many don’t need and instead provides both an HDMI input and output supporting up to UHD (2160p30) in 10-bit color. In addition is a host of analog video connections.
The Decklink Studio 4K is a real swiss army knife of a video interface that will cover pretty much every need you may have for both input and output at any resolution up to UHD 4K. SDI and HDMI inputs and outputs in Rec601/Rec701 in 10-bit color. HD support up to 1080p60, UHD (3840×2160) up to 2160p50 and 4K (4096×2160) support up to 2160p25.
If you’re looking to support stereoscopic 3D monitoring or want built-in hardware up conversion and cross conversion, the Decklink 4K Extreme adds those features and a few more. It supports 10-bit YUV color up to 4K but adds 12-bit RGB support to the HD and 2K output.
Blackmagic Decklink 4K Extreme 12G – $1,495
The flagship of the Decklink range of PCIe cards is the 4K Extreme 12G with two 4K 12G SDI input and outputs. It supports UHD and DCI 4K up to 60p at up to 12-bit RGB color depth and cranks up a host of other features to the max. This is the card for anyone who needs or wants it all.
Thunderbolt Video Interfaces
Blackmagic have brought us some of the best Thunderbolt video interfaces money can buy for Thunderbolt equipped workstations and laptops. Ranging from $145 to $2,995 there’s again, a Ultrastudio for Thunderbolt video interface to suit every need and pocket.
The Ultrastudio Mini Monitor is a must have item for any editor or colorist on the move who wants a professional 10-bit HD video output small enough to fit in the pocket of any laptop case. It provides the basics over HD-SDI and HDMI and is bus powered so all you have to do is plug it in.
The Intensity Shuttle has you covered for 10-bit SD and HD input and output over HDMI and analog video. It’s not part of the Ultrastudio range, and you can find it on the Blackmagic Design website here.
The Ultrastudio Express provides SDI, HDMI, and analog inputs and outputs up to HD resolution in a compact desktop Thunderbolt interface.
Blackmagic Ultrastudio 4K – $995
Moving up to the rackmount video interfaces, the Ultrastudio 4K is a fantastic choice if you need to work in UHD and 4K resolution over a Thunderbolt connection. It provides stereoscopic 3D support and two SDI inputs and outputs along with HDMI and analog inputs and outputs. It provides 10-bit color up to UHD (3840×2160) at 2160p50 and 4K (4096×2160) support up to 2160p25. 4K is chroma sub-sampled to 4:2:2 but other resolutions support 4:2:2 and 4:4:4.
Blackmagic Ultrastudio 4K Extreme – $2,995
The Ultrastudio 4K Extreme gives you UHD at 60p and up to 4:4:4:4 sampling over SDI and 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 over HDMI. As with the Decklink 4K Extreme 12G, the Ultrastudio 4K Extreme supports 12-bit RGB 4:4:4 (over SDI) as well. Up, down and cross conversion is all built into the hardware.
USB 3 Video Interfaces
You’re not left out in the cold if you’re on a Windows laptop without Thunderbolt. There are three USB 3.0 video interface options, however, these interfaces are SD/HD only and support 10-bit 4:2:2 sampling. For more details check out the Ultrastudio for USB 3.0 page.
The Intensity Shuttle has you covered for 10-bit SD and HD input and output over HDMI and analog video.
Ultrastudio SDI for USB 3.0 – $395
The Ultrastudio SDI for USB 3.0 gives you 10-bit 4:2:2 HD in and out over SDI and an HDMI output.
Stepping Up Your Game
It really couldn’t be easier to add a professional video interface to your workstation or laptop. While many of us don’t need to think about inputs at all, having an HD resolution 10-bit video output over HDMI or SDI will allow you to drive a professional broadcast reference monitor or calibrated color critical grading monitor.
For less than $200 you can add a professional HD monitoring output via PCIe, Thunderbolt, or USB 3.0 to any workstation or laptop.