UltraStudio Mini Monitor works with DaVinci Resolve, but should you use it for serious grading?

Picking the right monitoring interface for your editing/grading system is a very critical decision. Learn the important factors to help you make that decision in this article.

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Earlier this week, I published UltraStudio Mini Monitor: competition to T-TAP? together with a detailed comparison chart. Among many other things, that chart clarified that T-TAP does not work with the industry’s most revered grading program (DaVinci Resolve), and that UltraStudio Mini Monitor does. At US$145, UltraStudio Mini Monitor certainly won’t win any awards for Brevity of a product name, but it will certainly win one for least expensive interface for a full-raster/proper framerate interface to see your grading (or editing) results in realtime on an HD monitor or HDTV set. In fact, even if you own a DreamColor monitor and want to make it work with DaVinci Resolve as a program monitor, the sum of US$145 + US$495 for the “Band-Aid” = US$640 which still represents the least costly connection, even with the irony of the “Band-Aid” now costing more than the “wound”. But that brings us to my title question: Should you use it for serious grading?

 

In this article

    • Clarification about compatibility with DaVinci Resolve
    • SIDEBAR: RGB versus YUV/component video
    • Color space used in grading programs and in DaVinci Resolve
    • Comparison chart: UltraStudio Mini Monitor versus higher-end solutions from Blackmagic
    • So what’s the bottom line?
    • Related articles

Clarification about compatibility with DaVinci Resolve

Just in case any of our readers isn’t aware: The reason that the T-TAP doesn’t work with DaVinci Resolve is the same reason that no other interface from AJA, Matrox, or MOTU works with DaVinci Resolve. It is a business decision from Blackmagic (which now owns DaVinci Resolve), similar to the business decisions that Avid made (in the past). There was a time when Avid video software worked only with Avid-branded interfaces. Later, Avid opened up and today Avid video software like Media Composer 6 works with interfaces from AJA, Blackmagic, Matrox, and MOTU. That is what the two situations have in common. What was quite different was the fact that in the era when Avid restricted hardware compatibility to its own interfaces, those Avid interfaces were often much more expensive than comparable hardware from any of the other mentioned hardware manufacturers. Now the opposite is true with Blackmagic, since their hardware interfaces tend to have lower prices than similar interfaces from AJA, Matrox, or MOTU.

SIDEBAR: RGB versus YUV/component video

The primary colors in color video are RGB, or Red, Green, and Blue. However, a long time ago, video engineers discovered that given a situation of limited bandwidth, it is often more efficient to handle the video in a component version of RGB. This is because the human eye is more sensitive to the luminance portion of the video than the chroma portion. Component video assigns more of the bandwidth to the luminance, which is comprised more of the Green channel than either of the others. For example, at least with NTSC, the luminance is derived 59% from the Green channel, 30% from the Red channel, and 11% from the Blue channel. Over the years, there have been many different ways of expressing component video, including:

    • Y, R-Y, B-Y (Y=Luminance, R=Red, B= Blue)
    • Y, Cb, Cr
    • YPbPr
    • YUV

Sometimes the terms are associated more with one context than with another. In the component analog days, there were even fights among the standards in terms of the chroma levels (the EBU N10 level, the SMPTE level, and the Sony Betacam USA level, etc.) which sometimes caused mismatches when interconnecting analog equipment. I remember having to re-calibrate component analog video mixers (“switchers”) to work with a different standard… and having to prove to Leader Instruments that in the PAL world, Sony had accepted the EBU N10 level, in order to prevent Leader from forcing PAL component vectorscope users to display the words “MII” just to measure the proper level for PAL Betacam SP. It was very different in the NTSC world, where the Sony USA chroma levels won over in popularity over the SMPTE levels. But that’s all nostalgia now…

Most video códecs used in cameras and even in high end external recorders record video with component (YUV) 4:2:2 as opposed to RGB. One exception that comes to mind is Sony’s HDCAM SR in RGB mode. Another is Alexa, which can record directly to ProRes4444. More recent RAW digital cinema cameras from several different manufacturers -on the other hand- record a Bayer file in one of several formats. It cannot be read directly, and must be debayered or demosaicked.


Color space used in grading programs and in DaVinci Resolve

Most grading programs I have seen handle everything internally in an RGB color space. However, DaVinci Resolve fortunately allows you to monitor something different if you want or need to (i.e. YUV 4:2:2), and that’s how it must work with the UltraStudio Mini Monitor. In fact, DaVinci Resolve allows you to output to a lower spatial resolution than the files you are grading. For example, if you’re working with 2K files for 2K output, but you’re grading using a 1080p HD monitor, you can select the appropriate HD standard for that monitor without changing the Timeline Resolution settings in DaVinci Resolve. The question is: would you want to do that? Obviously, if your monitor has a maximum of 1080p resolution and you need to get the job done, you would need to do it. This is similar to the situation that existed for some video editors who needed to edit HD projects but hadn’t yet acquired an HD monitor. In fact, some of them continued to monitor on a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) SD monitor before LCDs and Plasmas were the majority used by TV viewers, and before there were CRT-class LCD and OLED monitors.

 

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So what’s the bottom line?

There are at least US$850 difference between the UltraStudio Mini Monitor and the least costly interface that can output 4:4:4/RGB to a monitor, so it’s an important decision. Answer these questions for yourself before continuing:

    • Does your monitor even accept 4:4:4/RGB? If you have an HP DreamColor, not only does it accept RGB, the DreamColor Engine demands it (whether it is pure or derived). If you have some other HD monitor, check the specs to see if it accepts 4:4:4/RGB over SDI, HDMI, or DisplayPort.
    • Do you ever grade 3D, 2K, or 4K material? If so, must you monitor 3D, 2K, or 4K while you grade? If you must, you can’t choose the UltraStudio Mini Monitor anyway. You must choose one of the higher-end models, together with an appropriate monitor.
    • Must you ever deliver your final product in 4:4:4/RGB? If you are only delivering Blu-ray, DVD, the web, or mobile devices, then the answer is no. If you have to deliver files like DNxHD444, DPX RGB or ProRes4444… or to a tape format like HDCAM-SR RGB, then the answer is yes.

If you are sure you’ll always be delivering a final product that is less than 4:4:4 (i.e. 4:2:2 or 4:2:0), by monitoring the “strangled” 4:2:2 converted version [assuming that your monitor is properly calibrated to your desired format (i.e 709) and everything in DaVinci Resolve and your interface are properly set], then you are seeing it on your monitor in a similar way to the way your final viewers will. It would still be much better to minimize conversions between your monitor’s input and what’s happening inside of DaVinci Resolve, but it isn’t obligatory. Also, ask yourself if grading is your main concentration or if you are just dabbling with it for now.
If you must deliver a final product in 4:4:4/RGB, you really should be sending 4:4:4/RGB to your monitor to see it as accurately as possible.

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Allan Tépper

Allan Tépper

Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is a bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994, Tépper has been consulting both end-users and manufacturers through his Florida company. Via TecnoTur, Tépper has been giving video tech seminars in several South Florida’s universities and training centers, and in a half dozen Latin American countries, in their native language. Tépper has been a frequent radio/TV guest on several South Florida, Guatemalan, and Venezuelan radio and TV stations. As a certified ATA (American Translators Association) translator, Tépper has translated and localized dozens of advertisements, catalogs, software, and technical manuals for the Spanish and Latin American markets. He has also written many contracted white papers for tech manufacturers. Over the past 18 years, Tépper’s articles have been published or quoted in more than a dozen magazines, newspapers, and electronic media in Latin America. Since 2008, Allan Tépper’s articles have been published frequently –in English– in ProVideo Coalition magazine, and since 2014, he is is the director of CapicúaFM.com. His website is AllanTépper.com.

  • Jose Santos

    Hi Allan! I was wondering if that is still an issue and if so, would the new micro converter from blackmagic also do the trick?

    • Hi José,

      Thanks for reading and commenting.

      It is still an issue if you need to monitor RGB/4:4:4 for the reasons mentioned in the article. The specs of the new Micro Converter indicates that the HDMI side is YUV/4:2:2.

      • Jose Santos

        Thanks for your answer Allan!

        I’m building a home suite for mostly WEB maybe TV (I’m looking to target low budget productions) so I don’t think I need 4:4:4 monitoring.

        Could you comment on my “shopping basket”?

        HP Dreamcolor Z27x or BenQ PV270
        Blackmagic Ultrastudio Mini Monitor
        (Micro Converter SDI to HDMI) DO I NEED IT?
        X-Rite I1profiler for Calibrating.

        Also: (Tangent Ripple and Belkin Thunderbolt 2 Express Dock)

        Also what is the reliability of the Factory Calibration on the HP Z27x

        • What framerate(s) are you planning to use? This affects the monitor, since BenQ has responded that they do not support 23.976p (23,976p in European nomenclature), 29.97p (29,97p in European nomenclature) or 59.94p (59,94p in European nomenclature). Do you have a camera that shots 24.000p? Many that say 24p actually record 23.987p.

          Are you planning to deliver everything at 1080p?

          • Jose Santos

            Well I’m in Germany, so mostly 25p, maybe 24p (is there a known list of cameras that shoot 23,976 but say 24p?) sometimes. And yes mostly 1080 if higher only up to 2k

          • Most cameras that say “24p” but actually record 23.976p. A few that come to mind are the Sony A7s, the A7s II and the PXW-X70, plus all consumer cameras I have ever seen. The Panasonic GH4 offers both 23.976p (rounded to 23.98) and 24.000. Could you tell me some of your camera models?

            I believe that over the air in Europe, they will want to receive 1080/25p or 720/50p. I doubt they would accept 24.000p or 23.976p.

          • Jose Santos

            I own a pocket but my plan is to grade for low budget porductions, I have no idea what they will shoot in.. But I assume mostly 25p. So do I need the mini converter or not?

          • You need some interface from Blackmagic to monitor full frame video from DaVinci Resolve. The UltraStudio Mini Monitor is a great option if you don’t need to monitor 4:4:4/RGB and you are going to use the Z27x. The UltraStudio Mini Monitor will also work with Adobe Premiere Pro CS and with FCP X.

          • Jose Santos

            Thanks Allan!

          • Jose Santos

            What are the issues on Monitoring a 23,976p timeline with 24/25p? It will show faster?

          • To be sure, you would have to try, but if it works at all, it would mean that there will be occasional skipped or repeated frames to catch up. The Z27x will accept 23.967p, 24p, 29.97p, 50p and 59.94p.

          • Jose Santos

            And 25p as well right?

          • Yes, the Z27x also accepts 25p.
            The Z27x will accept 23.967p, 24p, 25p, 29.97p, 50p and 59.94p.

          • Jose Santos

            HM, I’m looking at the user manual on the dreamcolor and 25p only comes up in UHD and I didn’t know it supported rec2020

          • I have sent 1080/25p successfully to the Z27x.
            The only issue I have seen is that the Z27x doesn’t always report the incoming framerate properly. I am awaiting a response from the product architect or product manager before publishing a review.

          • Jose Santos

            Looking forward to reading it! Are you maybe including a “guide” on setting uo the Z27 for video monitoring?