The DeckLink HD Pro, the flagship of Blackmagic Design’s product line, is offered in two configurations: a dual-link (4:4:4) card, which I tested, and a single-link (4:2:2) model. The dual-link card sports an additional BNC connector that accepts a second channel of HD-SDI. Useful when working with the 1080 HD format, it offers the two HD-SDI channels needed, as when working with a Sony HDCAM SR deck, for example.
The DeckLink HD Pro is said to be the first PCI-X 133mhz 4:4:4 HDTV-ready card, and the only one to feature Blackmagic Design’s 14-bit RGB/YUV analog monitoring. Using a single PCI slot, the board takes advantage of the high-speed PCI-X 133
mhz protocol and, unlike similar products, can also be used with 33
mhz or 66
mhz PCI slots-all you need if you’re using only SD video formats (Y/C, DV, and composite).
Out of the box (even with SD video), I was impresed with the image quality. The 14-bit analog monitoring retains image detail even in the shadows, and the board automatically switches between SD and HD. Best of all, DeckLink HD Pro provides simultaneous HD and SD output and can work with Windows XP or Mac OS X.
The DeckLink HD Pro video card can handle SD and HD video on Macintosh and Windows platforms.
A bit disappointing, but typical of today’s capture cards, is a lack of bundled software or free utilities. Although a PDF of the manual is on the CD-ROM with the installation drivers, I would have preferred a printed manual. I’d also like to see the octopus cable with various ins and outs color coded.
Installation was a bit of a challenge: the board prevented the cover of my dual-CPU 800mhz Mac G4 from closing, and an outdated diagram in the documentation delayed the hookup of video ins/outs. Even so, it was up and running in roughly an hour. Version 4.4 of the drivers was provided on CD-ROM, but Version 4.8 with loads of new features was available on the Web site. Blackmagic Design posts new drivers on a regular basis; it’s a good idea to check manufacturers’ Web sites. With a little tweaking and software installation, I was soon viewing gorgeous video on an RGB screen and NTSC video monitor.
A major selling point of this product is the SD and HD multi-format support. For standard analog formats, the DeckLink HD Pro supports a handy compressed JPEG mode for video capture and playback with significantly lower data rates and storage than uncompressed video, but with outstanding image quality. Unlike DV, JPEG is fully compatible with 4:2:2 color, so your video has good color rendition. When coupled with full SDI connections, the output is on par with Betacam quality. I ran the DeckLink HD Pro card under Mac OS X Version 10.3 and used Apple’s Final Cut Pro 4.0, Adobe’s Photoshop 7, and NewTek’s LightWave 7.5.
For SD work, I used the SVHS, DV, and DVCPRO formats via a FireWire-to-SDI Miranda converter. After editing, I played my project and viewed the signal via the card’s various outputs. On the HD side, I ran some test footage to and from the card via a Panasonic AJ-HD1200A DVCPRO HD VTR and viewed it on a Panasonic TH-42PHD7UY 42-inch widescreen HD plasma display panel. It was truly impressive. Playback of captured files from the hard drive was also outstanding and nearly artifact free. I also tested the card’s signal throughput with a broadcast-level waveform signal monitor and vectorscope. The test footage in and out of the board looked excellent on the monitor, and SMPTE color bars hit all the targets on the vectorscope without major adjustment.
DeckLink HD Pro’s price is competitive, especially considering the board’s multiple uses, reliability, component video monitoring (which cuts the cost of expensive HD-SDI monitors), analog/digital converter mode, and free technical support. Another added benefit is the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test utility, which tests your hard drive, RAID, or disk array to ensure it’s fast enough for the video format you’re using. And I discovered, via a chat room, that I could use one of the card’s SDI deck feeds as a black signal for a time-code reference during video capture, and consequently eliminate the cost of a sync generator.
For current HD users and those who’ll be working with HD in the future-just about everyone-the DeckLink HD Pro is a smart investment. It’ll turn your computer into a solid workhorse able to produce network-caliber video and animation.
Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a journalist and video creator in Hawaii.
Blackmagic Design www.blackmagic-design.com
Price: 4:4:4 model, $1995; 4:2:2 model, $1495
Minimum System Requirements: A dual-processor Power Mac-intosh G5 running Mac OS X Version 10.3 or a PC running Windows XP, an external hard drive storage system, and a USB 2.0 interface.