Review: Blackmagic Design's UltraStudio Pro & SmartScope Duo
Issue: October 1, 2013

Review: Blackmagic Design's UltraStudio Pro & SmartScope Duo

PRODUCT: Blackmagic Design’s UltraStudio Pro; SmartScope Duo

PRICE: UltraStudio Pro: $895; SmartScope Duo: $995


- Compatible with many professional software suites
- Tiny hardware footprints
- Full 8- or 10-bit compressed or uncompressed workflow

It wasn’t so long ago when you had to travel into the office to do some video and effects work because of the demanding hardware requirements. Today, you can go pick up the latest Mac Pro or HP 8770w mobile workstation and have your own multimedia powerhouse at Starbucks. With super speed USB 3.0 you can run external hard drive RAIDs and specialized I/O hardware on your dining room table. 

Blackmagic Design has brought the cost of professional video editing equipment down to Earth with the UltraStudio Pro USB 3.0 and SmartScope Duo. With a laptop sporting USB 3.0, I was able to use the UltraStudio Pro as a capture and playback device, and SmartScope Duo to monitor all of my previews and color levels. 

Once I received my Blackmagic Design products, I was taken back by how small and compact the boxes were. I thought that maybe, with some trick photography on the company’s Website, I would be receiving some hefty hardware. To my surprise, the UltraStudio is about the size of one of those older Western Digital book-like hard drives. It’s about nine inches tall, six inches wide, and weighs a little over a pound. The actual display looks good too; it has a machined-aluminum design with an audio VU meter on the front. If you are using the UltraStudio for just HDMI and SDI input/output, there are very little cables to get in your way. 

The included breakout cable allows you to attach analog component YUV, S-Video, and composite video, plus two-channel AES/EBU, four-channel XLR, down converted SD-SDI output, blackburst or tri-sync reference, and deck control. This breakout cable is very hefty. If you don’t need to use it, it will keep the cable clutter down to a minimum. I was a little disappointed with the way the cables attach in the back. Frankly, it’s clunky. With such a large and hefty breakout cable being attached at a horizontal intersection, it feels like the cable might pull out at the connection point. It just didn’t feel solid. To that same point, all connections go directly into the rear, horizontally. 

I would have loved to see all connections either come out of the very bottom of the base so that they could lie on the ground without any stress points, or somehow be connected vertically. Beyond the physical issues I had, the equipment lives up to Blackmagic Design’s high standards of performance at very reasonable prices.

The second piece of hardware I reviewed is the SmartScope Duo, which is a dual eight-inch SD, HD, and 3G-SDI scope. Each of the monitors can be independently adjusted using Blackmagic’s SmartView software. One side can be a video output while the other can be switched between a waveform, vectorscope, RGB parade, YUV parade, histogram and audio phase-level display. Both can also be scope-based displays: 16 channel audio meter on one side and RGB parade on the other! It is just over one-inch thick, and just over five-inches tall, rack mountable at 3RU, and very lightweight. You use Ethernet to connect to the SmartView software and manage any and all SmartScopes connected to the network.

First, I uninstalled any old Blackmagic software I had from previous reviews, downloaded and installed the latest software and drivers from the company’s easily navigated support page. While I would love to have tested the equipment on Windows 8, many programs I have still don’t quite support it, so I am testing on Windows 7/64-bit. 

My main objective was to use the hardware like I would use an Avid Nitris DX: an input/output workhorse, at a significant savings, but not tied to one piece of software. The install was tricky at first. I installed the Blackmagic Desktop Video software and then tried to install the SmartView software. It said that it couldn’t be installed while the Desktop Video software was installed. I uninstalled the Desktop Video software, installed the SmartView software, and then re-installed the Desktop Video software. This was a little bit of a convoluted process. I would strongly advise everyone to scour the support pages for the type of workstation and USB 3.0 card you have to ensure compatibility, and view other’s successes with USB driver releases. Some are more compatible than others. 

Blackmagic products support most of my professional apps, such as Avid Media Composer 7, Adobe After Effects, Premiere Pro, and let’s not forget DaVinci Resolve. Under the hood, it supports Adobe Premiere Pro’s Mercury Playback Engine effects, as well as Avid Media Composer internal effects for realtime playback. 

The company’s Website touts support not only in video post-production software suites, but also in audio post suites, such as Avid Pro Tools, Steinberg Nuendo and Cubase. For the live broadcaster out there, UltraStudio Pro is compatible with Vidcaster, Uniplay, and Playbox Airbox. It supports AVC-Intra, AVCHD, XDCAM EX and HD, XDCAM HD422, and many other codecs. From 29.97 NTSC to 1080p24, almost all frame rates are covered, along with up, down, and cross conversions. 

If you are looking for an affordable and attractive way to monitor full broadcast quality 8- or 10-bit, 4:2:2, compressed or uncompressed video into and out of your post production workflow, the UltraStudio Pro, combined with the SmartScope Duo, are solid additions to your editorial toolbox. 

Brady Betzel is an Editor at Bunim/Murray Productions in Van Nuys, CA. He can be reached at: