Seeing the Big Picture: Field Monitors/Recorders Raise the Production Bar

Published on in Equipment / Tech Reviews

Seeing the Big Picture: Field Monitors/Recorders Raise the Production Bar

By Mark J. Foley, Technology Editor, ProductionHUB

The rise of professional field monitors and recorders (or some combination thereof) has to be one of the most interesting and welcomed product developments for filmmakers in recent memory. Pushed by demand for more features and benefits, manufacturers have answered the call. This new breed of smaller yet powerful monitor/recorders takes production capabilities to a whole new level with 4K and beyond.

For many of course, the decision to purchase a field monitor/recorder is based on the performance/price ratio. Nonetheless, it makes getting one of these bad boys into the production workflow a no-brainer. So here are just a few of many choices that one should be taking a hard look at if you are serious about shooting and recording in the best format that makes sense to you and your bottom line.

Blackmagic Design

Video Assist 7” 4K Monitor/Recorder (List Price for 7” Unit)

List price: $895

Recently I completed a review of the Blackmagic Design Video Assist and was impressed by how much this field monitor/recorder had to offer producers and cinematographers in the field. Smart design and easy to use, the Blackmagic Design Video Assist 4K gets high marks. The dual built-in, high-speed UHS-II recorders use commonly available SD cards to record HD and Ultra HD video as professional 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes or DNxHD files.

Blackmagic Design Video Assist records in 10-bit broadcast quality files such as ProRes and DNxHR that are compatible with all leading video software so you can start editing right away.

In addition to the impressive recording capabilities of the Video Assist, the unit also provides on-screen overlays and information criteria that don't muddle the image. The touch control features make working with the unit a straightforward process, which I really liked when I was moving in a hurry. Two other features that made the Video Assist a good choice are the mini XLRs (gotta have my XLRs) and the ability to power the unit from a smaller, more common Canon-type battery. Overall, the Blackmagic Design Video Assist is a well-built product that offers a good return for performance and would be a solid production gear investment. 

Specs include: 

HD Format
720p50, 59.94

1080p23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60
1080i50, 59.94

Ultra HD
2160p23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30

HD
720p50, 59.94
1080p23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60 
1080i50, 59.94

Ultra HD 
2160p23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30

SD Format 
525i59.94 NTSC, 625i50 PAL

Atomos Shogun Inferno

7" 4K HDMI/Quad 3G-SDI/12G-SDI Recording Monitor

List Price: $1995

Ok, lets be straight up. The Atomos Shogun Inferno is not for the faint of heart. With rock solid design sporting an incredibly sharp 7” screen, four HDMI and a bevi of SDI connnections, the Shogun Inferno is ready to take on some heavy duty monitoring and recording production chores. The Atomos Shogun Inferno HDR image processing lets you shoot with the high brightness range of your camera’s Log profile while maintaining accurate color. The Shogun Inferno resolves HDR in the field as you see it in post-production and records the original Log image directly from the sensor for HDR grading in post-production with 10 stops of dynamic range.

The Shogun Inferno combines high resolution recording, high frame rate recording and playback. Record Video from both HDMI and SDI cameras directly from the sensor to 4:2:2, 10-bit ProRes or DNxHR up to an amazing 4K 60p. When the upgrade happens, HD 240p. Another anticipated upgrade will allow recording RAW over SDI up to 4K 30p either directly to CDNG or record to ProRes or DNxHR. Playback recorded ProRes or DNxHR files via the HDMI or SDI output at the same high frame rates to supporting monitors. The Atomos operating system is packed with an extensive suite of one-touch scopes. The video OS includes tools for focus, framing and exposure (Focus peaking, 2:1/1:1 zoom, Zebra, False Color, Frame guides, SMPTE Safe Area, Waveform, RGB parade, vectorscope) along with a flexible 3D LUT implementation (use built-in LOG to Rec.709 Video or upload .cube files) and options for anamorphic de-squeeze monitoring.

Just check out these specs:

Encoding Formats

DCI RAW 4096x2160 from supported cameras (Sony FS700, Sony FS7, Canon C300 MKII, Canon C500):

Apple ProRes HQ, 422, LT

DNxHR HQX, HQ, SQ, LB

UHD 4K (3840 x 2160):

Apple ProRes HQ, 422, LT

DNxHR HQX, HQ, SQ, LB

1920 x 1080

Apple ProRes HQ, 422, LT

DNxHD 220x, 220, 145, 36

Pulldown Conversion

24/25/30psf to 24/25/30p (2:2 pulldown) 60i to 24p (3:2 pulldown)

Supported Codecs

Raw to ProRes/DNxHR

Apple ProRes: HQ, 422, LT

AVID DNxHR: HQX. HQ, SQ, LB

Frame Rates 

4K DCI / 4K UHD: 24/25/30/50/60p

SF:30/50/60/100/120/200/240p

Video to ProRes/DNxHR

Apple ProRes HQ, 422, LT

AVID DNxHR HQX. HQ, SQ, LB

Frame Rates

4K DCI / 4K UHD: 24/25/30/50/60p

SF:30/50/60/100/120/200/240p

Quite impressive specifications, but it is important to mention one more thing for the end users' perspective. The accessories that are included, when purchasing the Atomos Shogun Inferno, are worth noting. I know that price is always factored into every purchase, but since I know what I am getting the price doesn’t seem quite as high. In other words, end users are making out pretty well in this deal overall.

Included accessories

Custom HPRC case, Control cable, XLR input breakout cable, 2x NP-F750 5200mAh batteries, Fast battery charger, SATA 3/2 to USB 3/2 HDD/SSD docking station, DC to D-Tap coiled cable, Master Caddy II x 5, 12V-3A AC adapter x 2 (Fast charger & DC power), and HDR sunhood.

So to put this all in perspective, the Shogun Inferno can deal with just about any formatting you can throw at it. Plus, the promise of updates to include features like HD 240p in future upgrades make for a sweet deal indeed.

Sound Devices/ Video Devices

7” PIX-E7 4K Monitor/Recorder

List price: $1595 

There is a lot to like about the PIX E7, the natural extension of the very popular PIX-5E. This unit, like its brother the 5E, is built like a tank; solid as heck starting with Gorilla 2 Glass. The tactile buttons and fly wheel to roll through options made for a easy learning curve and I got up to speed pretting fast. The E7 is capable of recording 4K/UHD up to 30fps, and is capable of 1080p up to 120fps, as well as 6G-SDI. The 4K PIX-E7 offers monitoring tools, SDI and HDMI I/O, plus the ability to record all available Apple® ProRes codecs, up to 4444 XQ 12-bit. The PIX-E7, like the PIX-E5 and PIX-E5H, is a compatible, super-fast USB-based SpeedDrive™ - a custom-made enclosure that holds an industry standard mSATA solid-state drive.

The monitor uses an interface that combines both the tactile buttons along with an easy to use touch screen. The PIX-E7 also accepts external timecode via a BNC linear input connection, and features a second SDI In, and ainput/output port for tally light and remote control workflows. Though it doesn't feature RAW recording like the Convergent Design 7Q+ and also eventually the Atomos Shogun, it does record H.264 and compares very favorably on price. While it uses small 240GB, you can get one of their enclosures and a slightly more affordable SDD (It should be noted that these use the much smaller mSATA drives internally). The nice thing about the enclosure is that it's essentially already a USB 3 drive that you can plug into any USB 3 port. Overall, another solid potential choice in a competitive field with some plusses that sets the Video Devices PIX-7E right in the middle of the mix.

Here are some of the specs:

Display

LCD Size: 7-inch

Resolution & ppi: 1920 x 1200, 323 ppi

Luminance (Brightness): 500 nit IPS with Gorilla® Glass 2

PIX-Assist Monitoring Tools

TapZoom™: 2x, 4x

LUTs: S-Log 2 & 3, Canon® Log, V-Log, custom LUTs (16x16x16, 17x17x17, 32x32x32 or 33x33x33 .cube)

Peaking Filter

Guide Markers

False Colors: 4-step, 12-step

Zebras: Zebras 1, Zebras 2

Scopes: Waveform Monitor Luma (White, Green) RGB (Overlay, Parade); Vectorscope; Histogram Luma (White, Green) RGB (Overlay, Parade); Four-Way Monitoring (Video Feed, Histogram, Vectorscope, Waveform Monitor)

Anamorphic Desqueeze: Sensor Ratio (4x3, 16x9/17x9), Lens Ratio (1.33x, 1.5x, 2x)

Recorder

4K (UHD, DCI) Max Resolution/Frame Rate 30 fps

HD (1080i, 1080p, 720p) Max Resolution/Frame Rate 120 fps

Codec: Apple® ProRes Proxy to Apple ProRes 4444 XQ

Codec: H.264 (VBR ~ 10 Mb/s)

File Transfer to Computer via SpeedDrive™ USB 3.0 interface

Media

SpeedDrive – Enclosure plus approved 240 GB mSATA Solid State Drive

SpeedDrive – Enclosure only (compatible with third-party 128 GB to 1 TB mSATA SSDs) SD card

Convergent Design

Odyssey 7Q+

List price $1795

Perhaps one of the better known monitor/recorders on the market is the Odyssey7Q+, which is one of the more advanced monitor/recorders around. The Odyssey7Q+ can record HD/2K/UHD/4K via SDI and HDMI. It can also record RAW (with Odyssey RAW Bundle upgrade), uncompressed DPX, and Apple ProRes 422 (HQ). The Odyssey7Q+ features an OLED 1280x800 monitor with true blacks, accurate colors, extended color gamut and a 176-degree viewing angle. The Odyssey7Q+ also features an array of image analysis tools, including an RGB waveform, RGB Histogram, False Color, Pixel Zoom with finger drag, three-mode Focus Assist and monitoring LUTs.

The Multi-Stream Monitoring mode allows up to four HD video inputs to be viewed at once in a quad-split view or to be live-switched between in full screen. What really is impressive is the OLED 7.7screen with very sharp and detailed imaging. The Odyssey RAW Bundle includes all RAW Record Options for the Odyssey7Q+ and Odyssey7Q combined into a bundle and the one-time upgrade fee of $995 includes all RAW recording features now and free upgrades in the future.

Some of the supported cameras include:

ARRI Alexa

Canon C500

Canon C300 MKII

Sony PXW-FS5

Sony PXW-FS7

Sony NEX-FS700

Users can also record on high-performance Samsung 850 EVO and 850 EVO PRO SSDs in 1TB, 512GB, 256GB and 128GB capacities, which are competitively priced and widely available.

Specs include: 

Material

Cast-magnesium case

Display

7.7" OLED (19.5 cm)

1280 x 800 resolution

Capacitive touchscreen

3400:1 contrast ratio

RGB 8-bit color depth

176° viewing angle

Video I/O

2 x 3G/HD/SD-SDI inputs (BNC)

2 x 3G/HD/SD-SDI outputs (BNC)

2 x 3G/HD/SD-SDI bi-directional (BNC), assignable as inputs or outputs via menu

1 x HDMI mini input, Version 1.4b, 8-bit (supports up to 1080p60 4:2:2, up to 30 fps in UHD 3840x2160, and up to 24 fps in DCI 4K 4096x2160)

1 x HDMI mini output, Version 1.4a, 8-bit (supports up to 1080p30 4:2:2)

SDI Formats

Supported Single Link, Dual Link, Quad Link

Recording Formats

Compressed Formats 

4K/UHD 10-bit YCC 4:2:2 up to 30fps in Apple ProRes 422 HQ, 422, 422 LT

2K/1080p 12-bit RGB 4:4:4: up to 30fps in Apple ProRes 4444 Regular and XQ

2K/1080p 12-bit RGB 4:4:4: up to 60fps with Canon C500 in Apple ProRes 4444 Regular and XQ

2K/1080p 10-bit YCC 4:2:2 up to 60 fps in Apple ProRes 422 HQ, 422, 422 LT

1080i 10-bit YCC 4:2:2 up to 60 fps in Apple ProRes 422 HQ, 422, 422 LT

720p 10-bit YCC 4:2:2 up to 60 fps in Apple ProRes 422 HQ, 422, 422 LT

Uncompressed Formats

2K/1080p RGB 10/12-bit 4:4:4 up to 30 fps in DPX file format

1080p RGB 10-bit 4:4:4 up to 60 fps in DPX file format

Digital Audio I/O

2-channel SDI or HDMI embedded audio (48 kHz, 24-bit) 

Summary

These are just a small sample of many of the outstanding monitor/recorders out on the market today. With this new and expanding toolset, the ability to adapt to client preferences will no doubt continue to push the marketplace. There is no doubt that the capacity to record RAW, which is available now on some models, will continue to be a point of emphasis for companies that want to take advantage of increasing demand for recording and playback options.

About Mark J. Foley 

Mark J. Foley, MBA BA is the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB. Foley brings an extensive production background to his role as Technology Editor, having produced and directed award-winning, live college and professional sports, broadcast and documentaries to his credit. 

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