PRODUCT: Divergent Media ScopeBox
- Works with most video capture devices
- Multiple adjustable scopes
- Live recording to QuickTime files in various codecs
We all see how desktop computers revolutionize every aspect of our industry, but the “last frontier” of video technology is accurate signal monitoring. High-quality cameras are more affordable than ever, but cinematographers need tools to carefully monitor the images they capture. Professional color grading is now within the realm of boutique shops and individuals, but no colorist can work without a good set of scopes. Master delivery requires as much attention to video levels as ever in order to pass QC.
Video scopes have been a staple of online editing bays, master control rooms and grading suites for decades. Those boxes are invaluable for engineers who need to measure every aspect of the signal, and they cost many thousands of dollars. Enter ScopeBox, a full-featured software-based scope that runs on a Mac... and costs just $99. Is it a toy or a revolution?
Installation is basically nonexistent; just download and launch. ScopeBox automatically recognizes any video input device you’ve installed, including those from AJA, Blackmagic and Matrox, FireWire sources, and even your built-in iSight camera. For file-based workflows, QT files can be opened just like any live source.
Version 3.1, the latest as of this writing, offers 10 different scopes. You get the usual suspects, like a waveform monitor and vectorscope, as well as histograms, parades and even surround audio meters and a unique video channel plot. There’s a preview palette to see the live image and a timecode readout (if it’s present in the signal and your hardware can read it).
The interface is clean and thought-out, yet extremely customizable. Every window can be freely resized and positioned, and you can save multiple layouts as presets. A “solo” feature, which colorists would love, lets you enlarge any scope to fill almost the whole screen. There are so many options that it takes a few days to settle in on a desired layout.
While ScopeBox can live comfortably in an editing bay, it’s also handy on-set. The preview palette is loaded with features, like framing masks for different aspect ratios, center marks, flip (good for 3D rigs), zebra patterns and focus assist. Oh yeah, it’s also a video recorder that captures QuickTime files in the codec of your choice and logs illegal signal levels for mastering and QC purposes. Everything is customizable and you can export these logs as HTML, CSV (for spreadsheets) and even FCP XML.
When you buy a turnkey hardware scope its performance is guaranteed. Our Leader LV-5700A never stutters and its delay is just 1.5 frames. It’s rugged, reliable and it doesn’t ask me for software updates. How does ScopeBox compare?
To answer, let’s get technical for a bit: I set up a test machine with a 2010 8-core Mac Pro, Kona LHi video capture card and a basic GT120 graphics card. Working with 1080/24p video. I was able to get all 10 scopes churning along simultaneously at the highest quality settings! The refresh rate was near perfect and the delay was about 4 frames. 1080/30i video (the most demanding HD format) maxed out at seven scopes. As I found out, the bottleneck wasn’t the CPU or the RAM (which peaked at 35 percent and 400MB respectively), but the graphics card.
ScopeBox was stable all along. I did manage to grind it to a halt when I enabled recording for the first time — and realized I was writing uncompressed HD to the system drive. Once I adjusted the recording settings to something more sensible, everything went smoothly again.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
ScopeBox’s ability to run on a standard Mac (even a G5) means it’s very modular; you can use or reuse hardware you already have. However, if you want it to replace a standalone scope, you need a separate machine and you need the right pieces. Until recently, the choice was between a bulky, power-hungry Mac Pro (which also doubled as a space heater) and all the other Macs, which required expensive external capture devices.
Thunderbolt is changing all this, a piece of hardware from Blackmagic may become the best partner for ScopeBox: the UltraStudio Mini Recorder costs $145 and takes both HD-SDI and HDMI. Using a Mac Mini, UltraStudio Mini and a Thunderbolt cable, you can get yourself an $800 HD scope — just add ScopeBox and a monitor. Divergent Media says they haven’t had a chance to test the Mini Recorder yet, but other Blackmagic Thunderbolt products have been compatible and this one is expected to be too.
Comparing ScopeBox to a $10K hardware scope is unfair to both units. One offers unrivaled flexibility and value, while the other delivers perfect performance in a rugged purpose-built unit. If you need such a high-end scope, you probably already own one. ScopeBox offers a refreshing alternative “for the rest of us.”
If your line of work involves manipulating video images, then you probably need scopes, and there’s no longer an excuse for not having or not learning them. Having ScopeBox is much better than having no scopes at all, or putting up with the internal scopes that come with most editing systems.
One last tip: If you do end up having ScopeBox on a separate Mac in your editing bay, give SynergyKM a try. It’s a little free utility that will link your two computers, allowing easy control of ScopeBox and eliminating the need for another keyboard and mouse on your desktop.
Drew Lahat is a Lead Engineer with Precision Productions+Post (www.precisionpost.com) in Los Angeles. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.