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Review: Blackmagic Design Teranex 2D Media Processor

Blackmagic Design's rackmount format converter and Thunderbolt recording/playback interface is a tightly packed workflow genie of (almost) unlimited options.

More Buttons Than Your Old Cardigan

Over the years I’ve tested lots of gear with lots of buttons, but the Teranex 2D comes in at the top spot (or maybe a close second to a piece of Sony gear) in terms of the number of blinking and glowing buttons: 47 primary chiclet-style backlit buttons crowded on to the 17” by 1.75” front panel surface, plus 8 tiny backlit buttons, plus a rotary knob, plus 8 system status lights plus 16 audio status lights, plus an LCD screen.

There’s lots of information going on here, and the buttons are mostly necessary, given the fact that the Teranex can be used both in standalone and connected modes. I personally feel it would be easier for users to navigate the Teranex unit if the workflow were built across three LCD screens—the existing one in the center of the front panel, as well as an input screen and an output screen.

One confusing aspect of the front-panel workflow is that active connections, both inputs and outputs, are designated by blue backlit buttons. The upside of the 47 primary backlit buttons is that it’s easy to tell whether the unit has shifted from input mode to output mode, as the button sequences will change. When in doubt as to whether the unit is displaying input or output settings, look to the far left for confirmation on the backlit “In” and “Out” buttons (Figure 2, below)—and try not to think too hard about those a double-double animal style at your favorite west coast burger chain.

Figure 2. I/O options ID'd on the Teranex 2D.

Specifics, though, are harder to tell on the front panel (Figure 3, below), as almost every column of three buttons has a non-backlit column designation (e.g., “frame”, “rate”, “aspect”, “format”, etc) screen printed near the top of the unit. This means that older eyes in low-light situations might have to strain or squint to see the column heading.

Figure 3. The Teranex 2D’s front panel. (Click the image to see it at full size.)

One Screen To Rule Them All

Most sessions we did with the Teranex unit relied on the central LCD panel, with its eight small backlit buttons and a mid-sized rotating knob, to confirm we were recording or playing back. The buttons surround the LCD panel, four on each side, and offer soft-menu keys for options such as confidence monitoring, playback, and value control settings (e.g., gain, black level, hue, R-Y versus B-Y, etc).

We found the confidence monitoring and playback to be indispensable parts of the workflow, readily confirmed for us whether the unit was in capture (input) or playback (output) when the Teranex was connected to a Macintosh computer via the Thunderbolt cable.

Semi-portable Encoding

Speaking of Macs and Thunderbolt, it is very important to read Blackmagic Design’s specifications surrounding supported Mac devices.

Unlike the low-end Intensity Shuttle capture unit that’s used by many for streaming capture, which can be used with any Thunderbolt-equipped Macintosh, the Teranex is a professional product with significant graphic display requirements that limit it to a handful of current Mac models.

While the Teranex unit can be physically connected via Thunderbolt to MacBook Air and Mac Mini computers, the integrated graphics in those devices isn’t enough to power the required graphics overlay needed for some of the included software that Blackmagic bundles with the Teranex.

As an example, here’s a notation Blackmagic Design uses for its UltraScope product, detailing the robust needs for this graphics-intense waveform tool included with Teranex 2D: “Blackmagic UltraScope requires a graphics card that supports Open GL 2.1 or better,” a Blackmagic webpage states, “and have a Texture Fill Rate of >22,000 MT/s.”

When it comes to recording, whether via Adobe Premiere or Blackmagic Design’s own Media Express software, there aren’t GPU requirements per se, but we did find that a number of integrated-graphics Macs that we tested couldn’t handle uncompressed 8-bit or 10-bit encoding. These included the Mac mini and MacBook Air 13” (2011 and 2012 versions), which yielded black screens in both Premiere and Media Express when attempting to record uncompressed content from analog input devices.

To deal with the processing power required for 8-bit analog recordings, we settled on an iMac 21” (2012) for recording and playback. This setup allowed us to use Teranex as a semi-portable encoding solution for field work: the iMac screen acting as our primary encoding and recording confidence monitor with the integrated LCD in the Teranex as our secondary confidence monitor.

Given the increasing power of integrated graphics—the main source of graphics for the MacBook Air and all but one of the new 2013 MacBook Pro laptops—we asked the spokesperson about the use of Iris/Iris Pro graphics for recording uncompressed content in the field with just a Teranex and the new crop of 13” and 15” MacBook Pros.

“Media Express can be used with the Iris/Iris Pro intergrated graphics,” she said. “Media Express doesn't require any GPU power as it's just being used to draw the screen.”

She went on to say, though, that the UltraScope application mentioned above would still not work with integrated graphics.

“The new Iris Pro graphics are below the texture fillrate that is required by the UltraScope application,” she said, answering our question about the newest crop of 13” and 15” MacBook Pros, which use integrated Intel Iris/Iris Pro graphics. “Even though the Iris Pro is a good 25% faster than the older Intel HD Graphics, it still falls a little short for the UltraScope application.”

We look forward to testing the Teranex with one of these new MacBook Pros at some point in the near future, as the combination of a laptop and the Teranex 2D could create a compelling HD field recording and live streaming solution.

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