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Review: Video Devices PIX E5H Recording Video Monitor

The Video Devices PIX E5H 5" LCD Monitor and 4K recorder offers a lot of capability--4K ProRes and H.264 dual recording, image assessment, and tools to assist with video shooting--in a small and rugged package.

Operation

Booting up the Pix the first time takes a while--a good 30 seconds, which, in production time, can seem like forever. My GH4 is ready to record in about 1 second from flipping the power switch, but the battery is already in it. When you re-cycle the power for the Pix, boot-up times after the initial startup are considerably shorter--only 8 seconds.

The FullHD, 500-nit, IPS screen appears very bright and sharp. Immediately you'll like the ability to tap the screen to punch in for critical focus. Across the top of the screen are displays for recording indicator, timecode, audio levels, file name, input status, space left on media, and battery & power status/levels (Figure 7, below).

Figure 7. Top-of-screen displays. Click the image to see it at full size.

Across the bottom are the labels for the tactile buttons which you can toggle between (Figure 8, below): Display overlays on/off, False color, Zebra, 4-way, Waveform, Vectorscope, Histogram, LUT, Zoom, Peaking, and Onscreen guides. There are also two buttons dedicated to Alt and Menu. Hitting Alt will change the buttons to Display Overlays on/off, Audio Screen, Files for playback, Stop, Rewind, Play, Fast Forward and Record. Menu brings up the main menu, which completely takes over the screen.

Figure 8. Tactile buttons on the Pix E5. Click the image to see it at full size.

I need to note here that while recording, a lot of this functionality is not available. Not that you'd want to change recording formats in the main menu while recording, but toggling waveform, the audio screen, or the 4-way image assessment display would be wonderful to have while recording. But an alert comes up saying it's not possible. This was a big disappointment in a product at this price and quality level.

Unlike most recorders, which make one recording onto one media, the Pix monitor/recorder can utilize SD cards and the SpeedDrive, meaning you can record 4K ProRes HQ onto the Speed Drive, and HD onto the SD card in H.264. In addition, if you are recording LOG, but have enabled a LUT on the monitor to preview the footage, the LUT will be applied to the HD footage, essentially making deliverable HD proxies while preserving the 4K LOG master recording. This is a pretty amazing capability in such a tiny device. It's also kinda funny to think of FullHD as "proxy" footage.

In Use

I challenged the Pix E5 with my Panasonic DMC-GH4, which has the ability to output both 8-bit and 10-bit, HD and 4K over HDMI. Specifically, I wanted to test if 10-bit external high-bitrate ProRes 4K recording offered immediate advantages over the heavily compressed 8-bit H.264 internal recording on my GH4.

Based on my tests, the answer is that it does. But, as with all things, testing can reveal some unanticipated “gotchas.” In particular, the GH4 can output the video using a 0-255 range of values, or 16-235, or 16-255. When I had the GH4 output using the full 0-255 range, the blacks were heavily clipped in the Pix recorder (Figure 9, below).

Figure 9. Comparison of 8-bit and 10-bit footage. Blacks heavily clipped with Pix recorder. Click the image to see it at full size.

I worked with Video Devices to identify the issue, and even secured an Atomos Shogun recorder to test how the Shogun handles these varying ranges of 4K output, as described in the video below. It turns out that both recorders end up with clipped blacks when the GH4 outputs 0-255. Setting the GH4 to either of the other two settings, starting blacks at 16, delivers acceptable results from the external recorders. So, as in all things, test your gear for any unknown limitations before using it on a shoot.

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