doddleREVIEWS: Blackmagic 4K Video Assist Monitor-Recorder

doddlereviews-blackmagic4kvideoassistBy James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

A few months back, we reviewed the Blackmagic Video Assist Monitor-Recorder, and I said that I found it to be an ideal entry level monitor recorder for 1080p HD recording. That opinion hasn’t changed. But what has changed is that Blackmagic has released a larger, The latest incarnation is a 7-inch 4K model with some outstanding upgrades. So if you’re growing past your HD roots, the 4K Video Assist is a good first step to pair with your 4K camera. But there are a few things missing that could future-proof your business.

imgresWhat you need to know off the bat about the 4K Video Assist is that while it records in 4K, it is NOT a 4K monitor; it’s is still a full HD monitor. I’ll discuss that more in a moment.

The 4K Video Assist is extremely well built, just like the 5-inch HD version, with a machined aluminum case that houses ¼-20 mounts on the top, bottom and sides.

What’s cool is that the touch screen is auto rotating, so you don’t have to worry if you mount it the wrong way. And weight-wise, it’s very manageable at 1.75 lbs. So you can can mount it on a magic arm or even a standard ball mount.

The 7-inch 16:9 touch ccreen has only a slight bump in resolution at 1920 x 1200 pixels, but that gives it widescreen and a 135° viewing angle. This makes it easy for multiple crew members and clients to watch and review footage at the same time.

The touch screen is quite responsive with a dead simple user interface that offers swipe gestures that give you access to semi transparent controls including capture resolution and format, screen brightness and contrast. If you swipe in the opposite direction the 4K Video Assist gives you access to additional controls, recording status, histogram, audio level, timecode, battery status, etc. Nice addition here is that if you tap on the battery icon, a larger, semi transparent screen will appear that offers battery status on both batteries by percentage.

False color controls are very similar to SmallHD, where the colors assigned as blue for underexposed; green neutral/gray, white/pink is skin tone value (about a stop under neutral); and yellow is overexposed. Color coordination doesn’t stop there, either, as camera assistants will like that they can customize the Focus assist options from Red, green, blue and black.

In the back the 4K Video Assist is powered by two hot swappable Canon LP-E6 batteries, plus an option for AC, just like the 5-inch model, making upgrading very affordable since you won’t be buying new batteries. There’s also a VTap mount.

In between the two Canon Battery slots, there is a fan cools that the electronics in the monitor. It’s not really that loud, but if you are recording from external, camera mounted mic that is in close proximinity to the 4K VA, you could possibly hear it. So in that case, plan an off-camera mic setup instead.

Ports for headphones and LANC control, plus mini-XLR ports (BMD sells an adapter), 6G SDI, and HDMI 2. A nice feature here is that you can loop through outputs in order to have an additional monitor for clients or a camera assistant while recording.

dualcardsNow let’s talk about the 4KVA’s recording capabilities. The 4K Video Assist has 2 SDXC card slots for recording, and it can do so daisy chained so you don’t run out of space in the middle of an inconvenient moment. The 4K Video Assist records in 10 bit 4:2:2 to either ProRes Proxy, ProRes LT, ProRes 422, ProRes 422 HQ, or the choice of Avid DNxHD (220, 145, 45) and DNxHR (HQ, SQ, LB).

10-bit recording is nice, though we see that the trend is now towards high dynamic range recording, which is something out of the 4K Video Assist’s wheelhouse. I’m sure Blackmagic is working on it, but I doubt you’ll see it at this price point through any kind of a firmware upgrade, especially since the monitor itself can’t handle the color gamut.

Maximum frame rates are somewhat limited in 4K, however, with the ability to shoot at up to 30 fps per second for 4K, but up to 60p in full HD. So that’s not bad. Video recording times are rated as follows, based on an 256GB UHS-II U3 SDXC card:

4K 2160 24p

  1. PR Prox – 3 hrs 10 min
  2. PR LT – 83 min
  3. PR 422 58 min
  4. PR 422HQ 38 min
  5. DNxHR – 38 mins

1080p

  1. ProRes Proxy – 7.9 hrs
  2. ProRes LT – 3.47 Hrs
  3. PR422 – 2.43
  4. PR422 HQ – 1.61
  5. DNxHD 1.61 hrs

Sadly, there is no Raw recording support, which honestly would be a bridge too far at this price point, to be sure. Though it would be nice to have an upgrade option that would unlock the feature for those willing to pay the price. Sony likes to do that. Users can use just a wide variety of UHS-II U3 SDXC cards designed for 4K, but Blackmagic has tested several and they recommend the following:

For Ultra HD

  1. Transcend 64GB UHS-II SDXC
  2. Lexar 64GB 2000x UHS-II SDXC

1080p60

  1. Delkin Devices 8GB SD 633X SDHC UHS-I
  2. Delkin Devices 16GB SD 633X SDHC UHS-I
  3. SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO UHS-I SDXC
  4. Lexar 128GB 1000x UHS-II SDXC
  5. Lexar 256GB 1000x UHS-II SDXC

1080i60

  1. SanDisk 64GB Extreme PRO UHS-II SDXC
  2. Lexar 32GB 633x UHS-I SDHC

If in doubt as to whether your media can shoulder the load, Blackmagic has a Disk Speed test utility that will make sure your cards are up to the task. Without which, you could end up dropping frames in 4K, so make sure before hand.

Audio Quality. Audio quality is improved thanks to upgraded preamps and miniXLR connections, even though you’ll need an adapter for your mic. But the nice thing here is that the 4K Video Assist can double as phantom power for microphones that don’t rely on their own on board battery. The video assist captures at 48 khz 24 bit sound and you can monitor the sound through the mini headphone jack while checking the on screen audio meters. It also has AUTO Gain control that keeps the noise floor clean and low for silent moments. To adjust audio levels manually, it’s a simple tap on the meter and then adjusting the touch sliders.

Workflow. If you used the 5” HD version, you’ll be in familiar territory as very little has changed in workflow other than the 4K options, additional Audio settings, as well as the dual SD card support. But at the end of the day, the 4K Video Assist is still in the moderatetly entry level video monitor-recorder category.

Like it’s smaller HD cousin, the 4K Blackmagic Video Assist is the lowest price, highest performing 4K video monitor-recorder out there. At $895 you’d be hard pressed to find a better entry to mid level monitor recorder out there when shooting on a shoestring budget. With it’s dual SD card slots, users will be able to use faster, larger SD cards for the same money as they would investing in Cfast cards, and will be able to daisy chain them so as not to have to stop and start in order to change media cards at an inconvenient time.

With a variety of recording options, shooters will be able to choose what flavor of ProRes or Avid codec that suits them, and be confident that they have a smooth 4K or Full HD work flow waiting for them in post. But you have to be sure your cards are very fast and pass Blackmagic’s speed test, or you may run into dropped frames almost immediately. If you fail to plan, plan to fail.

So if you’re looking to buy into the game, the 4K Video Assist will certainly help you hit the ground running. But if you’re looking to take the next step and future-proof your business with Raw and HDR options, you’ll have to wait or spend more for an option like Atomos or SmallHD. But if you’re in no hurry to adopt that, and just want a simple 4K boost, the 4K Video Assist is a good next step.

Pros

  1. At $895, it’s very affordable
  2. 10-bit 4K ProRes
  3. Both HDMI or SDI input
  4. Mini XLR ports and improved audio recording preamps give better gain control
  5. Dual SD card slots
  6. Powers off Canon batteries
  7. Simple UI
  8. Solid build quality

Cons

  1. Lacks high end recording features – Raw, high frame rates, HDR
  2. Lacks 4K monitor resolution
  3. Fan could be picked up by camera mounted external microphone

Price: $895

4 out of 5 stars

About doddle 16507 Articles
Doddlenews is the news division of the Digital Production Buzz, a leading online resource for filmmakers, covering news, reviews and tutorials for the video and film industry, along with movie and TV news, and podcasting.

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