I’ve said it before, I’m a bit of a video snob. I learned how to edit on 3/4” U-Matic machines with an A/B Roll controller. Later, I moved up to M-II and a CMX style editor (some of you young guys don’t even know what any of that means…). My video education taught me to keep things within broadcast standards, because that’s where the good video ended up. A big part of an editor’s job back then was monitoring levels using a waveform monitor and vector scope. Those tools ensured that colors where what they were supposed to be, and black and white levels were within spec. Of course, we also had to line up various decks, and do a whole lot of other things.
Today of course, you dump some files from a card to a hard drive, drop them on the timeline and cut the story. No one cares much about levels, color or any of those pesky details (which is clearly evident every time I watch many of the second-tier cable networks). In churches, it’s really easy to put up a few cameras and a switcher and send the signal to a couple of projectors and call it video IMAG.
Call me old-school, but I like to know what I’m looking at; and have an empirical reference to know that my whites are actually not overblown, faces are where they should be in level and my blacks aren’t crushed. Most churches don’t spend the $1,500-6,000 on a professional broadcast monitor that can be calibrated (or know how to properly calibrate the one they have), so it’s easy to end up with bad video on the screen.
All of that to say, I’m still a firm believer in having a set of scopes available to monitor the video image before it hits the screen. Back in the day (and it’s still true today), a hardware waveform monitor/vectorscope would cost you at least $4,000, probably more. Today, with processing power to spare, several companies have virtualized the scopes. One such firm is Divergent Media with their product called ScopeBox.
ScopeBox is a software video monitoring solution that performs all the functions of a WFM/Vectorscope, but does it in software. Paired with a video input card (we’re using a Blackmagic Decklink SDI), ScopeBox lets you keep an eye on your video signal. In addition to the waveform monitor (which tells you about the luminance, or brightness, values) and vectorscope (color), you also get RGB Parade, YUV Parade, both Luma and RGB histograms, a channel plot, HML balance and stereo and surround audio meters.
Each instrument is quite customizable, and presents you with most of the options you’d have on a hardware scope, as well as some new ones. I particularly like the color mode of the waveform as it represents the luma values in color, corresponding to the color they actually are. It’s a great way to teach people what they are looking at.
You can also include a calibrated preview of your video signal on the computer monitor (well, it’s mostly calibrated—it won’t adjust hue). You can save the palate and window locations, which is very handy for us. We have 3 monitors attached to our MacPro at video; one is used for Safari to control the projectors; one is for Media Express, which pulls program video in through an Intensity Pro card; with the third being dedicated to ScopeBox which gets the preview bus of the CrossOver via the aforementioned Decklink card. Once we launch the app, I recall our set up and the windows magically move into position—this is not a revolutionary feature, but it’s very handy.
I don’t have a hardware scope to compare to, so I can’t promise you everything you monitor with ScopeBox would be 100% accurate, but so far, it has proved more than adequate for getting properly exposed video up to our IMAG screens. The best part about the app is that it’s all of $99. We already had the Mac, and it took another $275 or so to get the Decklink installed. So for under $400, I have a very capable software scope solution that works quite well.
If you don’t have any way of monitoring your video, I strongly recommend you look at something like this (Blackmagic also has a similar solution called UltraScope, though it’s hardware & software, and thus more expensive). We had an issue with the software not recognizing both cards, and support has been very responsive to getting us fixed up. I love supporting the small developer community, so check them out at DivergentMedia.com.