|For years, the holy grail of broadcast-quality digital video boards has been 10-bit input and output. The folks from Digital Voodoo in Australia raise the bar with its SD|Flex standard-definition (SD) and high-definition input/output (I/O) card. The SD|Flex offers a choice of SDI, component (YUV), S-video (Y/C), or composite video in and out. The added feature of an onboard Keyer with dual-link support is unique, allowing full 10-bit keying of a live source together with a composited background in real time. With it, artists can see in real time what graphics will look like when output to video.
|Designed for professional Mac users, the SD|Flex offers high-end digital output that is future-proofed with SDI.
With the flexibility to input and output a variety of different signals, the end user is provided an almost unrestricted work flow with high-quality internal processing and 10-bit color processing. Unlike 8-bit capture boards with 256 levels of color, 10-bit products have the full range of 1024 levels. Providing support for Apple’s Final Cut Pro HD 4.5, the PowerMac G5, and OS X, the SD|Flex board is a natural for high-end power users on the Mac.
Digital Voodoo has an impressive track record: the first uncompressed QuickTime video card for the Mac, the first QuickTime product to capture full 10-bit video, and the first uncompressed SDI solution for Final Cut Pro non-linear editing software. Digital Voodoo offers Mac products, whereas its partner company, Bluefish444, offers devices for Windows, Linux, and Mac systems. Unlike Bluefish444’s multi-platform SD|Envy, Wildblue|AV, and 64 RT, the SD|Flex is a Mac-only product. Perhaps cross-platform compatibility will be addressed in future software driver versions; the ability to use the card on Mac and PC would add significant value.
I tested the SD|Flex on a dual 2ghz CPU PowerMac G5 and a single 1ghz CPU G5 running OS X Version 10.3, as well as a single CPU 866mhz PowerMac G4 with Mac OS 9.2 and the old 5.2 drivers. The board supports dual displays, so I attached two Sony MultiSync flat-screen monitors. For storage, I used an internal ATTO Ultra-SCSI card to access a Rorke Data u320 external hard-drive system and a LaCie IEEE-1394 hard drive. In many ways, the SD|Flex board is a simple affair: install the board into a PCI slot, install the drivers, attach sources and output, and away you go. I hooked up analog SuperVHS and Composite video sources and output SDI digital via a Flying Cow format converter and a Miranda SDI-to-DV converter.
SD|Flex’s internal RGB image processing became readily apparent. The video output looked great-almost better than the original signal-with no artifacts or jaggies. I ran a signal from an expensive Magni test signal generator to produce SMPTE color bars. After passing the signal through the board, the output was virtually the same on the Waveform/Vectorscope, with a small shift to the blue hue and a black level just below 7.3 IRE. Well within tolerance, they could be adjusted at the source or on the board.
Perhaps my favorite function is that the board enables Analog and SDI signals to be monitored simultaneously. Monitoring is customizable and independent, so you can, for example, monitor an SDI input via SDI/analog and then monitor your analog inputs and analog/SDI output. An Internal Keyer, for real-time title and graphics overlay of your inputs (SDI), enables those working with the BetacamSP video format to perform RGB-to-YUV and YUV-to-RGB color space conversion in real time. Desktop Preview and Photo JPEG support for off-line editing help get projects done quicker.
At press time, a new driver was released with new functionality, including 8-bit RGB I/O and DV/DVCPro/DVCPro 50 codec I/O support. As with all Digital Voodoo software updates, it was free to registered users. The card is covered by a warranty that includes free repair for the first two years. Lifetime 24/7 customer support, although handled by one person in the US, is free and offered via phone and e-mail. An online area for registered users is provided, but no forum. My card arrived with no documentation, but a user’s guide now ships with the product.
The SD|Flex is a solid investment offering excellent image quality, multi-format compatibility, and SDI. With image-critical HD video becoming commonplace and the need to support older formats (SuperVHS and BetacamSP), semi-pro and professional video editors, 3D animators, and video graphic artists should consider the SD|Flex.
Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a writer, award-winning video creator, and former member of the US Navy’s Combat Camera Group.
Digital Voodoo www.digitalvoodoo.net
Minimum System Requirements: Dual 2ghz computer with 512mb RAM or more, ATI Graphics card, ATTO UL3D SCSI card with 4x Seagate Cheetah Ultra 3/160 SCSI disks (10,000 RPM or greater), Keyspan USB Serial Adapter, Mac OS 10.3.5, and QuickTime 6.5.1.