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Review: Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro

Febuary, 2009


Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro $349.00




Review by Steve Douglas

As the technology of video grows and provides an ever more improved image, the need to monitor that image for accurate color correction and composite appearance becomes ever more important. Thus, the videographer must make use of a high-resolution monitor enabling him/her to truly see the details of the clip and the image consistency throughout their sequence. The differences between what one sees in the canvas of their NLE and what is displayed on a good external monitor can be extremely significant.

The difficulty which presents itself to many editors who do not work in deep pockets production houses, is that in order to avoid the sole use of their canvas for image adjustments, they must consider the costs of a good HDMI monitor as well as an In/Out device that will enable them to view their footage in the same detail and color space as their clients will see upon receiving a finished product.

Fortunately, even in our current debacle of an economy, the cost of good HDMI monitors has dropped significantly over the last few years. On the In/Out device end of things Blackmagic Design has produced a very affordable device that, for many, will do the trick.

Blackmagic Design has brought out two separate devices, the Intensity, selling as an HDMI only device at $249.00, and the Intensity Pro. While I have only worked with the Intensity Pro, basically the 2 devices are the same with the Intensity Pro adding analog video and audio input and output as well as analog component switches between high definition and standard definition.

Produced to function only with Intel Macs, the Intensity Pro's HD provides support for 1080i/50, 1080i 59.94, 720p50 and 720p 59.94 and provides Standard Definition support for both NTSC and PAL. This leaves out the many who currently shoot in 24p, and for those shooting in that format, the Intensity Pro would not be for you in terms of capturing. However, you are able to play it back over 59.94 if the clip has been captured via firewire (HDV) or AVCHD. The reason for the 59.94 frame rate is due to compatibility for televisions which may or may not support it. In addition, while there are settings for Pro Res 422 HQ, I cannot understand why straight Pro Res 422 is not provided.

Never the less, there are many editors who might not need 24p support, or use Pro Res, and the Intensity Pro might do nicely within the editing bay for those without these needs.

Most of the settings you might wish you utilize are available whether you are shooting in NTSC or PAL.

Installation of the Intensity Pro was simple. Anytime you install hardware into the Mac you should first shut it down and remove the power plug from you AC outlet. Upon removing the side cover of the Mac Pro it was only a matter of locating a spare PCI Express slot within the computer. The Intensity Pro PCI express card inserted with a slight click and was firmly in place. Once installed you can choose to connect your HDMI output of your camcorder or deck to the HDMI Video input and then connect the HDMI output to your monitor, or, if your camcorder or deck does not come with an HDMI out, the Intensity Pro does provide component cables for you to use as well.

Setup went smoothly, if your camcorder has an HDMI out, you can log and transfer/capture directly through the Intensity Pro. Another option would be to use the component in cables but I would hesitate to do that for fear of degradation of the signal.

Next you must download the software from the supplied disc and install the latest drivers from the Blackmagic Design website. The software disc provides an 'Uninstall Intensity' option if that should ever become necessary. This is a something more companies should provide and many don't. There are those who mistakenly think that dragging an application to the trash will perform a complete uninstall. Often this is not so, as frequently, many support files are created that may be difficult to locate. Unfortunately, I did not see a 'check for updates' anywhere in the Intensity Pro settings, so that responsibility to check on their website, now and then, will be up to you. When contacted regarding this, I was told that they do intend to provide an option on the registration page of their website to be notified as new drivers become available. This shows an obvious and proactive concern for the Blackmagic Design customer, and I would hope this would be incorporated soon. For those who already have the Intensity or Intensity Pro card, I am unsure how this would be handled retroactively, assuming that you have already registered your card.

The Intensity Pro will work in Windows XP and with Adobe Premiere Pro and Photoshop though I did not test with either. Apple Final Cut Pro and the Intensity Pro does allow you to work in most video standards from DV up to uncompressed 4:2:2 high definition video. Once installed the 'Easy Setups' will have been automatically added. If you do not already have Final Cut Studio installed, it is important that FC be installed prior to the Intensity Pro.

As expected, the Blackmagic Designs' Intensity Pro produced a beautiful image on the 32" Sony Bravia HDMI monitor straight from Final Cut Pro's timeline or from Adobe After Effects. How good that image will appear may also depend upon the format that you are shooting in. Using DVC Pro HD 720p 60 clips showed off not only the quality of clip but the Intensity Pros' ability to output to broadcast standards which rewarded me with rich colors and sharp detail. Using footage that had been converted from 1440x1080i to Pro Res 422 also looked good when playing. However, once I stopped on a frame, a good deal of image noise appeared coupled with several interlacing artifacts. This is probably due to the interlaced frames of the original clip. Color correction could still be done with accurate results. I did notice that when applying the 3-way color correction filter to a clip, and then double clicking on the clip in the timeline, that parameter adjustments would not always instantly take place. Then I would double click on the clip again, go to the filter and then all adjustments would immediately show on the HDMI monitor. I have noticed this same procedure with other I/O devices. Not sure why this happens, its as if there is a lag time probably having to do with the HDMI output.

Since they do not provide any form of device control, for those using AVCHD cameras, you would choose your File>Log & Capture and do a Capture Now in the Log and Capture window. For those using controllable camcorders or decks device control is provided by Final Cut Pro and is independent of Intensity. Blackmagic Design provides no support for device control problems in conjunction with Intensity cards. This is because HDMI does not provide for it. I would have liked to have seen a firewire input on the Intensity Pro card to allow for deck support as well as that there are still a great many consumer cams that would make use of this method of ingestion.

For those wanting to check your disk array, a stand alone application is installed called 'Blackmagic Disk Speed Test'. This will provide you with, what may be important, information regarding how your disk array will handle video capture and playback at various video resolutions and frame rates. Just locate the hard drive you want tested and click to start. It took a very short time to get results.

Just for kicks I ran the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test on the boot drive of my Dual Core Mac Pro.

The bottom line with for the Blackmagic Design Intensity Pro card is that it affords what, for many, has been an unaffordable device to enable true monitoring of your editing sequence. The quality of your output will often depend upon the quality of the footage you have shot. It is a shame, however, that with so many shooting in 24p, that this option is not going to do the trick for them. However, a good number of settings are available and the Intensity Pro comes at an excellent price.

I would like to thank Royce Hildreth of Hildreth Media for his expertise and assistance in this review.

Steve Douglas is a certified Apple Pro for Final Cut Pro 6 and underwater videographer. A winner of the 1999 Pacific Coast Underwater Film Competition, 2003 IVIE competition, 2004 Los Angeles Underwater Photographic competition, and the prestigious 2005 International Beneath the Sea Film Competition, where he also won the Stan Waterman Award for Excellence in Underwater Videography and 'Diver of the Year', Steve was a safety diver on the feature film "The Deep Blue Sea", contributed footage to the Seaworld Park's Atlantis production, and productions for National Geographic and the History channels. Steve is also feature writer for Asian Diver Magazine and is one of the founding organizers of the San Diego UnderSea Film Exhibition. He is available for both private and group seminars for Final Cut Pro and leads both underwater filming expeditions and African safaris with upcoming excursions to Kenya in Aug.09, the Red Sea and Egypt for Nov.2009, Truk Lagoon and Yap in Micronesia for July, 2010. Feel free to contact him if you are interested in joining Steve on any of these exciting trips.

copyright © Steve Douglas 2009


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