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Review: MC Color control surface

Euphonix’s entry into the more affordable color grading surface is a strong one

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A bit earlier this year Euphonix began shipping its highly anticipated MC Color control surface. This unit was designed for use with Apple Color and has been welcomed by Color users to add another option to their hardware based control surface choices. Until the MC Color came along your choices were either one of the JL Cooper units or the more affordable Tangent Wave. At $1,499 the MC Color doesn’t break what I think is the magic $999 mark (magic in the sense that it will put a control surface in the hands of a lot more users) but it’s right along side the Wave in price and less than the JL Cooper offerings. The MC Color is also a very new unit. There’s a few glitches and bugs than can probably be worked out in software but the hardware is what it is at this point and there’s both a lot to like and a missing feature in the hardware itself. But there’s one thing that’s certain, the MC Color makes the Color application much more useful than a mouse alone.

I wrote down some first impression of the MC Color the weekend that I got the unit in hand. To recap those (you can also read the whole article here): The MC Color, while it has its fair share of plastic in the construction, is well built and looks right at home on your desk. It’s smaller than the Tangent Wave and from looks alone appears to be a more “professional” looking unit, though that type of thing is totally subjective. To me the Wave looks more like a toy with its red trackballs, blue displays, big knobs and its expansive plastic surface. The MC Color can be elevated by individually adjustable plastic feet built into the bottom of the unit or lifted even further with included riser brackets. You’ll be able to easier integrate the MC Color on a desk with a keyboard or tablet due to its overall smaller size than the Wave. I do wish the trackballs had some type of locking mechanism instead of just resting in their sockets. I never spilled them out once they were in place but someone was in my room examining the unit and out they went into the floor.

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You’ll really enjoy the quality of the trackballs and especially the trackwheels

I think easily the two most professional features on the MC Color are the look of the OLED displays and the feel of the trackwheels. The displays are bright and easy to read. Each letter is made up of lots of little tiny dots so it’s very highend looking with a nice font. The trackwheels are weighted well; heavy but easy to move and very smooth. They are a pleasure to use over the Tangent Wave’s dials that sit above the trackballs.

That’s the obvious question that many, including myself, have asked: if you had to purchase only one, which would it be? The Euphonix MC Color or the Tangent Wave? But that’s jumping ahead.

Connection and setup

The MC Color uses an Ethernet connection so it’s a bit more work than a simple USB plug. I connected the test unit to two different Mac Pros. Newer Mac Pro’s have two Ethernet ports and on one of the Mac Pros I couldn’t get the MC Color to work with the open port. Moving to the other port I had to disconnect my Internet connection to get it to see the MC Color. Now that was probably just some user error and I didn’t take time to really troubleshoot the one Ethernet port but I think it’s worth noting in that’s a different setup than the simplicity of USB. With the other Mac Pro (which get its Internet via hardwire too) I plugged the MC Color into the open port and it saw the unit just fine.

Depending on your configuration you might have to plug into a router to get a connection. It’s obviously not as simple as a USB plug but the Ethernet connection and the EuControl software can allow the integration of many different Euphonix products. And those products can work together on different computers in ways that I don’t entirely understand. I think the point here is that this gives the MC Color (and all Euphonix products) some real expandability that a USB-plugged Tangent Wave won’t have. If that’s important as you grow a facility then it will factor into which unit you might purchase.

You have to establish the MC Color in the EU Control software to get Color to recognize it. I got into the habit of checking the EuCon control panel before launching Color to make sure EuCon saw the unit its Surfaces tab:

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The EuControl software allows for details setup of all Euphonix products. Click Add to add the unit to the My Surfaces window

You also have to remember to power the MC Color on with its power button before you connect in Color. Something which I admit I forgot a time or two. While there’s something very simple about a single USB connection you can see the power that Ethernet allows while checking out the EuControl software. It’s quite involved and very customizable for a whole ecosystem of Euphonix products.

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You must choose the Euphonix unit in Apple Color

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And then you’ll see the connection happen on the MC Color itself

Operation

Using the MC Color is simple and will be familiar if you’ve ever worked with a control surface before. The 3 large trackwheels surrounding the trackballs dominate the unit and are a joy to use. The trackballs control the Shadow, Midtone and Highlight color wheels and the trackwheels the black point, midtone and white point sliders, just like you would expect them too. There’s two reset buttons next to each of the three trackwheels. The six rotary knobs adjust any number of functions depending on what room you are in and what tab is selected. The rotary knobs also press down for a button which is usually a reset. The knobs are touch sensitive to show the numeric parameter where you are currently sitting when they are touched. A nice touch if you will. Above each of the trackwheels lies three softkeys that can control any number of functions and be customized to your liking. A shift key on both the left and right sides of the unit allows a second function for each softkey.

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Overall the MC Color is a good looking and well constructed unit

Visually the MC Color will look good in an edit or color grading suite. The OLED display looks professional and the buttons include an orange toggle light in the middle. There’s a lot of buttons on the MC Color and the only place where I think it looks cramped is on the right side where the transport control buttons seem a bit crammed in. There aren’t dedicated buttons to move you to different rooms so you have to press the NAV (navigation) key on the lower left side of the unit. Then the displays will change to reflect the rooms. Press down on the encoder knob to move to the desired room. When in a room with two rows of info on the display, the lower row of info corresponds to the encoder knobs. You’ll also get to really know the PAGE and BANK buttons quite well but more on that later. There’s also 4 copy grade and 4 paste grade buttons on the right side of the unit as well, handy for easy access to grades you’ll frequently use during a session.

To sum up operation of the MC Color: It’s a real pleasure to roll the trackballs, turn the knobs and spin the trackwheels … but you will be pushing a lot of buttons.

A few bugs still lurking around

One place where I felt like I was seeing the “1.0-ness” of the MC Color was in Color’s Secondary room. Missing from the rotary encoder knobs seemed to be the Global Hue parameter. That’s probably not the biggest lost since that particular parameter probably isn’t used as much as the other. A quick glance also makes it appear that the basic Saturation parameter is missing too. But MC Color lists the Saturation Secondaries as Shadow Sat, Midtone Sat and Highlight Sat, in that order. The Color interface lists them as Saturation, Highlight Sat. and Shadow Sat., in that order. It might be a minor complaint but it seems to me the controls on the control surface should match the name and the layout order of the software interface as best they can. This makes it easier (and quicker) to understand the relationship between the software and hardware. And that brings up a question … In the Secondaries tab is the MC Color only manipulating midtone saturations with that knob when the Color interface displays it as overall saturation? I think not as twisting the Midtone Sat knob on the MC Color changes the overall saturation of the picture. I’m not sure why they would have made the hardware labels different from the interface’s software labels. Another example of the MC Color labels not matching Color is in the HSL Qualifier of the Secondary room. Apple uses the terms center, range and tolerance (check the HSL Controls of the Color user manual) to describe the HSL Qualifier controls but the rotary encoders use the terms center, spread and falloff:

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I believe the Tangent Wave did something similar so maybe that’s the proper colorist terms and Apple has it wrong. That said it is very nice to have rotary knob controls for adjusting all the parameters of the HSL Qualifiers. It makes using the HSL controls very easy and much simpler to gain a good key than the click and drag of the mouse alone. Possibly some of these naming issues have been changed by the time you read this review.

Another bug seems to be that the MC Color doesn’t always automatically enable the Secondaries when you begin working on them. In Apple Color 1.0 the user had to manually check the Enabled check box to get the Secondaries working. You might often have one of those moments of frustration as you kept changing a parameter with no results only to realize you didn’t check Enabled. When you finally did BOOM! There was a big difference. Now with Color 1.5 you can click into the Secondaries room for the first time, change a parameter and Color automatically enables the Enabled check box … as it should. If you move into Secondaries via the MC Color and start to twirl away you usually won’t see the result as it doesn’t automatically enable. There is a Toggle Secondary button mapped to one of the Soft Keys and this will turn the Secondaries on and off but you shouldn’t have to push it the first time. I would expect this to be fixed in a software update, if it hasn’t been already. I did notice that the MC Color would automatically enable the secondaries when I toggled the Mouse Injection mode and selected the eye dropper to grab an HSL Qualifier. It seems odd that it would sometimes and wouldn’t others.

Euphonix has also made it easy to access more than one secondary via the hardware:

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It’s nice to have hardware access to choose different Secondaries

When you are in the Secondary room a press of the shift + NAVigation key will change the display to read Second 1 – 6 and you can move to other secondary tabs via a rotary knobs pressdown. With six knobs you get six secondary tabs and then a press of the PAGE > button takes you to a button for Second7. Now there are eight secondary tabs in the Color Secondary room so don’t ask me why MC Color only goes to 7 when there’s five more blank buttons.

And one other odd thing was a Position indicator showing up in the Secondary room when I pressed the Shift button. If I then adjusted the trackball the entire picture moved. This corresponded to Position X and Y in the Geometry room and the parameter could be reset again in the Geometry room. I’m not sure if this Position X and Y access in the Secondary room was a feature or a bug but if it’s a bug (it felt like a bug) I’m sure if can be fixed in software too. Speaking of Geometry bugs, the rotary knobs are setup by default to Scale, Rotation, and Flip (no Aspect Ratio in there). While the twisting of the knobs worked for Scale and Rotation the press down button function of the knobs didn’t work for any of them in the Geometry room. That has to be another bug so it must be fixable as well.

Next up: With a lot of control comes a lot of learning, and which would I buy


With a lot of control comes a lot of learning

With the MC Color being a smaller unit overall than the Tangent Wave, Euphonix has chosen to make fewer buttons operate more functions. This can be seen when navigating from room to room. When in a particular room both lines of the display change to reflect the knobs and trackballs so when you want to move to a different room you have to push, as I’ve already mentioned, the NAV, or navigation key. With that the display changes to the different room names and you press the corresponding knob to change rooms.

Once in a room there are two sets of buttons that you will become very familiar with. Those would be the Page left and right and the Bank 1 and 2 buttons. I was a bit confused trying to figure out exactly how these buttons corresponded to the Color interface so a trip to the user guide helps clarify. Think of the Bank keys as a way to move between tabs in a Color room, such as the Basic and Advanced tabs in the Primary room. Think of the Page keys as the way to move the rotary knobs to more functions, such as accessing Printer Points while in the Advanced tab of the Primary room.

The Bank keys won’t always move you to the different tabs such as in the Geometry room where there aren’t any control surface options for the Shapes and Tracking tabs. You must familirize yourself with the Page and Bank buttons as they will be used often.

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The PAGE buttons will be frequently used as will the BANK buttons located on the upper right of the unit

One of the MC Color’s signature features would be its nine Soft Keys. These are grouped in 3’s above each of the track balls and labeled F1 – F9. The Shift key gives each button more than one function. The function of these keys depends on how they are setup in the EuControl software. What you’ll find when examining the EuControl software is a SoftKeys tab which is where you set the MC Color’s controls. There is a pop-up menu with 8 different pages. Each page corresponds to a room in Color. There’s a little button located on the top right of the MC Color (it looks like an eyeball) that is the “Show” key. This key will open the EuControl panel at any place in Color. The Show button will become your friend because as I said in the heading to this section, with a lot of control comes a lot of learning so it will take time to learn all of the soft keys.

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The EUControl settings in my Color Primary In room

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Toggling Shift will allow access to the Shift+press of a softkey

As for the pages: Page 1 = Setup, Page 2 = Primary room, Page 3 = Secondaries room and so on until Page 8 = Render Queue. And each of these rooms has the ability to access the Shift key as well so that’s a lot of potential softkeys if you have different functionalities mapped for everything. I found that I was trying to standardize a lot of Soft Keys across the rooms that I used the most. For the occasional colorist like myself I wanted a few less buttons to remember hence the standardizing that I tried to do amongst the Color rooms. If you’re working in Color most all day every day then then all the different soft keys offer a huge level of functionality; it just might take some time to learn them all.

The functionality of MC Color extends beyond just the menu items of Color itself. Euphonix’s EuControl software will also allow the user to customize the control surface with keystrokes beyond what is just in the Color menu. For example I wanted to be able to zoom in and out of the Color timeline so I mapped the zoom timeline commands to the shift F2 and F3 buttons since I didn’t see them in the EuControl software as a default Color option:

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Setting up a softkey to zoom the timeline. You can also see the result in the Toggling Shift image two images above

Another example of the multifunction nature of the MC Color buttons as well as the customization of the unit happens when you press both Page buttons simultaneously. This brings up adjustment for trackball and trackwheel sensitivity. These can be adjusted to your liking and inclues trackwheel adjustments for both the slow and fast operation of the trackwheels. Add to this sensitivity setting the Trackball & Wheel Accel command which “multiplies acceleration of ball and wheel 10 times” and there’s not really any sensitivity that you can’t achieve. There’s also a Mouse Injection mode which will let the center trackball to control the cursor and you can use the MC Color for basic mouse control as well without having to reach for another input device. Like a similar function on the Tangent Wave, it’s not for extended mousing use but handy to adjust a curve or something else in Color.

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The right trackwheel can be toggled to a jog/shuttle controller

One complaint that I’ve been seen from several early MC Color users is about the lack of an integrated jog/shuttle wheel. There are transport control buttons for playback but no dedicated jog/shuttle wheel. You can toggle the right trackwheel into jog/shuttle mode and use it for that purpose so all is not lost but the is an extra step to jog/shuttle. On my unit the transport control buttons did have buttons that defaulted to step to previous and next edits:

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My preference is for the next and previous edit buttons to be mapped to step frame by frame

A compromise for no dedicated wheel might be to have those buttons step frame by frame as I found with the way I worked with the MC Color I would rather have had the frame step button as a non-modifier key button. If you are building a dedicated grading suite and can afford Euphonix’s MC Transport then you could have a dedicated job/shuttle wheel as well as a number of other controls added to the mix. That raises the price above the Tangent Wave at that point but it would make for a very nice console.

Avid buys Euphonix

One bit of news that came out a few weeks ago at NAB was that Euphonix had been purchased by Avid. This might seem like a bit of a surprise if you only know Euphonix for the MC Color but they have long made quality, dedicated audio consoles. While Avid’s strategy was probably mostly driven to integrate Euphonix with their Pro Tools audio line I would bet they will also be adapting the MC Color to other uses across their product line. It has already been approved for use with RED’s RedCine-X application and the new low priced DaVinci Resolve probably isn’t far behind since it can use the Tangent Wave. Avid Symphony finishers will probably welcome the MC Color to the Avid color correction tools as I don’t think there’s a grading control surface available for the Symphony. Ditto for the Avid D|S. I would guess both of these markets would buy the MC Color in droves.

Which would I buy

When it comes down to the question of which control surface would I buy between the Tangent Wave and the Euphonix MC Color I would have to look at two different ways of working to make that decision.

My current use of Apple Color is sporadic, mainly coloring lower budget jobs that don’t go to our colorist or my own projects. It’s usually cranking up Color for a few hours at a time, half a day max. For this way of working I would go with the MC Color. It’s smaller size easily integrated into my desktop meaning I could keep the keyboard accessible and it’s quality construction made it a joy to use. While I had customized a lot of the controls to my liking I continued to refine them up until I sent the unit back and would have done even more. The lack of the dedicated jog/shuttle control didn’t bother me as much as I first thought.

But if I was setting up a dedicated color grading suite then my choice would lean toward the Tangent Wave. While I think the MC Color is a better looking and better constructed unit overall I would want that dedicated job/shuttle wheel if the control surface was my daily interaction with the computer and color grading application. Having that kind of control always there and available without having to toggle into a mode would make a difference when working on the surface all day, every day. If I could afford to add the MC Transport ($399) to the dedicated color suite then that would be my choice, the MC Color and MC Transport. But that takes the overall purchase price higher.

If you’re making this decision for yourself then do your best to put your hands on each of the surfaces before you buy as that’s going to let you have the most informed decision. Beg or buy your way into a suite that has the unit you want or try to get to some type of trade show or reseller that will let you feel each surface. The feel of one over the other might sway a buying decision. And when you are buying something like a control surface that you will have to touch and feel for hours at a time it’s important to touch before you buy.

As I said above the magic price point for these dedicated Color control surfaces is, IMHO, $999. If either the MC Color or the Tangent Wave (or maybe some yet to been seen product) was priced at $999 then that would be the winner in a shootout between the two. Until then, prepare to spend a bit more. But whichever control surface you choose the fact remains that any control surface will make for a much more pleasant color grading experience and you a more efficient colorist.

Pros: Well constructed, good looking, hight quality display, very nice feel to the trackwheels

Cons: lots of buttons to push for certain functions, no dedicated jog/shuttle wheel

Wish List: A dedicated jog/shuttle wheel but that might require a raising of the price

I’d buy the MC Color as it makes a great addition to the editing suite and will make life in Apple Color much easier and the color grading task a more pleasant one … though that lack of a jog/shuttle wheel might lean my purchase more toward the Tangent Wave for full time grading.

FTC Disclosure: Per the new FTC guidelines regarding bloggers and disclosure, Euphonix sent me the MC Color a couple of months ago free of charge per a request I made to them for a review unit. It was on loan for around a month and then returned at my expense.

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PVC Staff
Scott Simmons was born in rural West Tennessee and didn't really realize that movies and tv had to be made by actual people until he went to college. After getting degrees in both Television Production…

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