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Review: Blackmagic Design Video Assist

The Blackmagic Video Assist serves two primary functions. As a monitor, it can supplement the preview capabilities provided by the LCD panels on most camcorders and DSLR cameras. As a recorder, it allows producers to record with higher-quality formats than H.264-based output from most of these cameras. In this review we'll explore both of these uses after running through the basics of the unit.

The Blackmagic Design Video Assist ($495 retail) is a 1920x1080 5" monitor with a high-speed U1 SDHC/XC card slot that enables recording in multiple ProRes formats and Avid DNxHD, but not H.264. The unit, which accepts both HD-SDI and HDMI input, can also convert between the two formats, and comes with DaVinci Resolve.

At a high level, the unit serves two primary functions. As a monitor, it can supplement the preview capabilities provided by the LCD panels on most camcorders and DSLR cameras. As a recorder, it allows producers to record with higher-quality formats than H.264-based output from most of these cameras. We’ll explore both of these uses after running through the basics of the unit.

Overview

Physically, the unit is about 5.5” x 3.5” x 1”, with two slots on the back for rechargeable (and hot-swappable) Canon LP-E6 batteries that are not supplied. There are three 1/4"-20 threaded mounting holes on the top and bottom for mounting the unit. Blackmagic sent along a Vello Multi-Function Ball Head cold shoe mount ($14.95) that worked perfectly for my tests.

On the left of the Video Assist are full-sized HDMI and mini-BNC inputs and outputs. Mini-BNC adapters are not supplied, so remember to purchase them with the unit if you plan on connecting via HD-SDI. On the right are the SD slots, headphone jack, on/off switch, and power connector, with a USB port and kickstand on the bottom so you can stand the unit securely on a desk or other flat surface.

Bundled software includes the Blackmagic Video Assist Utility for updating the hardware, and a copy of DaVinci Resolve.

Monitor

As a monitor, the unit displays full 1920x1080 resolution in a 5" diagonal viewing size. As you can see in Figure 1 (below), the unit displays source and capture-related information at the top of the screen, with scopes and record and playback controls on the bottom. You can swipe the information and controls out of the display when not needed.

Figure 1. The Video Assist features a 1920x1080 5" display with histogram and volume meter. Click the image to see it at full size.

You configure display and recording options by pressing the appropriate configuration option at the top of the screen. For example, click the monitor icon on the upper-left corner and you can select shooting guides for different aspect ratios and enable or disable a rule-of-thirds grid.

Click the Codec label to select between various flavors of ProRes and DNxHD. Click Trigger Rec to set the unit to record automatically when HD-SDI (but not HDMI) video is sensed, and click Source to choose the input source. Clicking Card opens storage-related functions like formatting your SD card and checking capacity. From that menu, you can also click the Display tab to adjust brightness, contrast, and saturation, and Setup to enter the date and time and choose the menu language.

On the bottom is the red recording button that you click to start recording. Once videos are captured to disk, you click the play button to start play back, and navigate between the stored clips using the Go To Previous, and Go To Next buttons on the bottom right. There is no thumbnail view of the videos on the unit; you just have to navigate through them one by one. During playback, a playhead appears that you can use to drag through the video, and you can click the audio meters to bring up a volume control for the headphones.

 

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