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It’s a calibrated 709 field monitor! No, a 10-bit 4:2:2 recorder! It’s Ninja Blade or Samurai Blade!

It’s a bird!? It’s a plane!? No, it’s a calibrated 709 monitor + a 10-bit 4:2:2 recorder!

It isn’t easy to decide whether to call Átomos’s Samurai Blade or new Ninja Blade (just released this morning at BVE in London, England, UK) a calibrated 709 monitor which happens to have a built-in 10-bit 4:2:2 recorder, or to call it a 10-bit 4:2:2 recorder which happens to have a built-in calibrated 709 monitor. Some people might use it primarily as a monitor, and as a backup recording from higher end cameras that already record high end signals internally, while others might buy it as their primary recorder, when the internal camera one is at 8-bit 4:2:0 or to record the output of a video mixer. Either way, one comes with the other. Ahead are some details and comparative test recordings.

About the connections and the names Ninja and Samurai

The Ninja designation in Átomos products refers to its HDMI input and output, and has been the case since the original Ninja, and continuing with the Ninja–2 and now with the brand new Ninja Blade (introduced today, with immediate availability for US$995, €749 and £595), which now adds the 709 calibrated (and calibratable) monitor.

On the other hand, the Samurai designation in Átomos products refers to its HD-SDI input and output, and has been the case since the original Samurai, and more recently with the Samurai Blade (introduced in 2013), which added the 709 calibrated (and calibritable) monitor.

All Átomos recorders can accept embedded audio via the mentioned digital input (HDMI or HD-SDI, model dependent). If you do single system recording (not dual system, with a separate audio recorder) and your camera has a good audio front end, then this use of the embedded digital audio is ideal. If not, all of the mentioned recorders can receive synchronous analog audio via an unbalanced stereo 3.5 mm input, as in the following example:

A new Ninja Blade mounted with a BeachTek DXA-SLR PRO audio interface on top of a Sony HDR-FX1000 camera which lacks balanced XLR audio inputs.

 

About the Blade monitor and calibration

The Blade designation refers to the special monitor included in Blade series products from Átomos. To my knowledge, there was no influence by either of the the two Panamanian singers who carry that last name, Roberto and Rubén Blades. Most likely, the Blade designation continues the Átomos’s Ninja and Samurai theme, as a tool used by covert agents, mercenaries, and the military nobility of medieval and early-modern Japan. Both the Samurai Blade (introduced in 2013) and the brand new Ninja Blade (introduced today at BVE in London) include a 1280×720 SuperAtom IPS touchscreen (325 ppi) with 179-degree viewing, 400nit brightness and multi-frequency (47.952/48/50/59.94/60 Hz) operation depending on video input (which can be one of many possible framerates, see details ahead in this article). This all means smooth monitoring and playback at either the native or 2x of the original framerate, as well as gamma/color accuracy. image Every SuperAtom IPS touchscreen is factory calibrated to ITU Rec. 709 (aka SMPTE Rec 709) color space and a D65 (6500 degrees Kelvin) white point with 100% gamut. (See my 2009 article Why should I care if my monitor shows ITU Rec.709?)

 

On-the-fly screen calibration is built into both Ninja Blade and Samarai Blade, and can be performed using the optional US$149 (£89 GBP, €109) Átomos Spyder color calibration unit. Currently, this calibration requires a Mac or Windows computer plus the calibration unit. Átomos recommends calibrating the monitor every two weeks, and that we let the screen warm up for thirty minutes prior to running calibration for best results. This reminds me of the procedure used with the HP DreamColor monitor, since it requires the use of a computer, but the actual profile (for pro video applications) is fortunately stored in the monitor in these cases, not in the computer. This means that the monitor will retain and continue to obey the calibration even after there is no longer any computer connected to it. I hope that in the near future, monitors like the HP DreamColor, the Ninja Blade and Samurai Blade will be equipped to carry out the calibration without any additional computer: just with the calibrator plugged directly into the monitor. Although I received a review unit of the Ninja Blade under non-disclosure in order to prepare this article and the video you’ll see ahead, to date I have not yet received an Átomos Spyder color calibration unit, so I have not yet had personal experience with it.

Waveform, vectorscope, and monitor assist tools such as tri-level focus peaking, zebra, false color and blue-only offer a very comprehensive test and shot setup tool kit. Átomos calls its own operating system AtomOS, and with the current version, the waveform monitor graticule is labeled from zero (0) to one hundred (100). I am both relieved and glad to see that (unlike some other digital video based waveform monitors that inappropriately include a marker at 7.5, which confuses users), Átomos has fortunately not done that. Details about why it is inappropriate to have the 7.5 marker on a waveform monitor in a digital video system is covered in detail in this article, and in this white paper I wrote for NewTek. The current Átomos waveform monitor graticule is fine as-is. I don’t know whether Átomos will ever decide to offer an option to show the graticule from 64–940 and 16–235. This would be very welcome, but is not required. Users should know that using the current Átomos graticule, standard black is zero (0), and standard white is one hundred (100), regardless of the spatial resolution or framerate (temporal resolution) used anywhere in the world.

About the 10-bit, 4:2:2 recorder

As I have stated in prior articles: File-based portable HD recorders exist nowadays basically for two reasons: Either to make a superior recording than that could be possible inside of a camcorder’s own recorder, or to record the output of a video mixer (“switcher”), whether it be superior or equivalent quality to what might have been recorded internally in the cameras used, or in the video mixer if it has a built-in recorder. When I say superior, I mean either a 10-bit recording instead of an 8-bit recording, a 4:4:4 or 4:2:2 recording instead of a 4:2:0 recording, a less compressed, (or uncompressed recording), or a visually lossless recording. When I say that a recorder goes “up to” 10-bit, what I mean is that it records with 10-bit quality as long as the source being fed is truly 10-bit, not a 10-bit signal which has been derived from an 8-bit signal, as I have covered in more detail in several prior articles. When fed a signal that is 8-bit or 10-bit derived from 8-bit, the recorder makes a 10-bit recording that has 8-bit quality, but is often higher quality and/or more easily editable than the camera’s inboard recording.

When I say nowadays, I mean that because all new development in cameras I see is tapeless. However, with a camcorder that records HD on tape (which many people already own), there is one more potential benefit of recording on an outboard file-based HD recorder: drastically decreased ingest time.

Pulldown removal (reverse telecine) helps us prevent unnecessary de-interlacing in the era of Malignant PsF

Among several manufacturers that offer 10-bit 4:2:2 tapeless recorders, very few have paid attention to the market needs to remove pulldown (reverse telecine) directly from an HDMI source, to tame those hostile HDMI outputs. As I have covered in previous articles, unfortunately most current HD cameras have a hostile HDMI output for producers who prefer progressive video and insist on processing it as such throughout the workflow. When I say “hostile”, I mean that even though they could (and should) have easily been designed with the option to output true progressive 1080 video at 23.976p, 24.000p, 25p, or 29.97p, very few camera manufacturers currently do so. Instead, they send the signal with 2:2 or 2:3 (aka “3:2”) pulldown over 50i or 59.94i. To conserve maximum progressive quality and avoid workarounds in post-production (as I have covered and continue to cover in my PsF missing workflow series), if you have a camera which gives you a hostile HDMI output, the best antidote is to “nip it in the bud” as early as possible in your workflow. Fortunately, all current models of Átomos recorders have that capability for signals intended to be 23.976p, 24.000p 25p, or 29.97p.

I had the help of my friend Diego Pocoví and his Sony HDR-FX1000 camera to produce the above silent video for this article in ProVideo Coalition magazine. Simultaneously, we shot internally on HDV tape and externally on the Ninja Blade. The video compares two different foliage shots (which are known to be very tough for video compression), both first at 1x size and then repeated at 2x size. The camera was set for 1080/29.97p. Since the HDV version was recorded as 29.97PsF, we manually overrode the field settings to indicate to Premiere CS6 that it is really progressive to avoid unnecessary and damaging de-interlacing, as illustrated in detail in PsF’s missing workflow part 7. The Ninja Blade took care of removing the 2:2 pulldown before encoding/recording in ProRes422 HQ, since I pressed the framerate on the IPS touchscreen so that it would treat 59.94i as 29.97p. If you are viewing this on a desktop or laptop computer, you can actually see the video at 1920×1080 pixels by ensuring that the “”HD” button is illuminated (if not, click on it) and by going full screen (if your monitor has at least 1920×1080). If your monitor has more than 1920×1080, then you may want to turn off the scaling to see it 1:1 (pixel-by-pixel), which Vimeo now calls “actual size”. If you are seeing this on an iPad, iPhone, or Android phone or tablet, you will see the appropriate size for your device, although possibly not 1:1 (pixel-by-pixel).

Other framerates and códecs offered

In addition to the 1080p framerates mentioned earlier, the Átomos recorders can also record 720p (up to 59.94p) and 1080i (up to 59.94i). In addition to three variants of ProRes422 (ProRes422LT, ProRes422, and ProRes422HQ) from Apple (which is readable on Windows and Mac), they can also record in Avid’s DNxHD (which is also readable on Windows or Mac), or in S-Log/C-Log. S-Log and C-Log are camera dependent.

Compatible drives

Átomos has tested and recommends a number of off-the-shelf 2.5 inch hard drives and SSDs (solid state drives) to work with their recorders. They say that spinning drives (HDD) will generally stand light/medium occasional bumps without any problems since all Átomos recorders have an anti-shock buffer. However, they don’t recommend spinning drives for use in high vibration or moving environments. For that, they recommend SSDs. A complete list of recommended drives is available at this link on their website.

Playback and logging

After the recordings are done, the portable Átomos recorders can also play them back and perform logging.

About the included drive cases and docking station

Átomos supplies their portable recorders with two drive cases (called X Master Caddy Cases) where you insert your drives (described in the prior section). Once drives are in their caddies, they can be easily and quickly inserted and removed from the recorder,

or inserted or removed from the included Docking Station (above), which uses two USB 2/3 plugs for extra power. If you don’t have two adjacent USB ports on your computer to transfer material (as is the case with my 11″ MacBook Air), you can solve that easily by purchasing a USB extension cable like this one, which is what I did to make it work.

About the batteries, charger & other accessories

Átomos portable recorders include a battery, 110–240 volt battery charger, AC adaptor, and D-Tap adaptor.

Optionally, Átomos offers a sun hood, Canon/Nikon battery plates, extra drive cases, a carrying case, and their H2S (reviewed here) and S2H converters.

Conclusions

I am very glad that Átomos decided to release the Ninja Blade targeted for serious HDMI camera users who want a calibrated 709 monitor and 10-bit, 4:2:2 recording or even S-Log/C-Log. Before Átomos offered the Ninja Blade this morning, if you wanted a recorder with built-in calibrated 709 monitor to use with your HDMI (only) camera), it was necessary to use a US$299 converter to connect a Samurai Blade, with in itself is higher priced. Not only did it cost you extra money, it also mean more complication. However, I am also glad that Átomos continues to offer the Samurai Blade for HD-SDI cameras and for use on the output of video mixers (“switchers”). Finally, I am glad to see that Átomos offer HDMI recorders that are able to eliminate pulldown (reverse telecine) before recording.

Upcoming related articles

Standby for the follow two upcoming articles:

  • Are you a videophile? Cameras in the age of modular components
  • New roundup of 10-bit 4:2:2 recorders can remove pulldown from hostile HDMI sources
  • Átomos recorder test with Sony NEX-EA50

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Born in Connecticut, United States, Allan Tépper is an award-winning broadcaster & podcaster, bilingual consultant, multi-title author, tech journalist, translator, and language activist who has been working with professional video since the eighties. Since 1994,…
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