Blackmagic Design DeckLink Studio Review

Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink Studio is as close as you will get to a Rosetta Stone for capturing and displaying video.

While the current buzz in the video world is all about tapeless workflow, it’s important to realize that there is still thirty plus years of tape out there to deal with, and the myriad of formats, tape sizes, and analog or digital signals can be a bewildering sea of acronyms to wade through. Blackmagic Design has aimed to create a device that will help you navigate those waters, and rather ambitiously allow you to input video from any tape format, and output to any other tape format that there is. This device is the DeckLink Studio.
The first thing you will notice in unpacking the Blackmagic Design DeckLink Studio is the sheer volume of the breakout cables. The DeckLink Studio includes in and outs for: component, composite, S-Video, analog audio, and AES audio. Even connections for Reference Video, and RS-422 deck control are included, as well as SD/HD-SDI on the card itself. The only connector missing in this model was HDMI, but they do offer a separate product called Intensity with this feature (Reviewed in the April 2009 issue, or online at www.videomaker.com/article/14080).

What can you do with all of these inputs and outputs? Well, if you’re a small studio, or deal with clients bringing you many different tape formats, you now have the ability to capture them all natively, which is especially important quality-wise for analog formats, and you can output them back just about any way you want. S-VHS to Betacam SP? No problem. Hi8 to Digital Betacam? No problem. HDV to VHS? Can do. There’s not really a tape format that the DeckLink Studio can’t handle, all the way from VHS to HDCAM, and anything in between.

In our tests, we successfully captured material from a Hi8 tape from 15 years ago via the S-Video connector, and analog audio connection, and combined it with uncompressed HD footage we shot yesterday using the HD-SDI inputs. We then rendered it out on an SD timeline and laid everything back to an old S-VHS deck we had laying around. It’s quite a round trip, but it worked perfectly, and shows the incredible flexibility of this capture card.

The card itself is a one-lane PCI Express card that you simply slide into an available slot on your desktop workstation’s motherboard, and install the drivers. The DeckLink Studio is compatible with both Mac and Windows based computers, and has drivers for each platform as well as a software developer’s kit for third parties to develop software for these boards. This kind of dedication to multiple platforms and openness to third parties should be applauded, and greatly extends the usefulness and flexibility of your equipment.
Once installed, and your video equipment is connected, you have capture and output capabilities in a wide variety of applications. Blackmagic wisely decided to handle the video internally using the most common video formats in each OS. Meaning that the DeckLink studio will handle video in Windows in DirectShow, while on the Mac it uses QuickTime. This allows easy compatibility with third party software that also use these media types.

There are a myriad of different applications that work with DeckLink Studio on Windows or Mac, which you can find on Blackmagic’s website (http://blackmagic-design.com/products/decklink/compatibility/).
Configuring the DeckLink Studio is done by a preference panel on the Mac, and a control panel on Windows. These panels allow you to select the technical attributes of your cards, for example, what inputs and outputs to make active, as well as setup for PAL or NTSC signals, etc.

Capture using the DeckLink Studio is fairly straightforward. The drivers install presets for common video editing software such as Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere, and you simply select the preset video format you want to edit your project in. Blackmagic includes presets for a large range of codecs, including Uncompressed, HDV, DVCPRO HD, and Apple ProRes, among others. You just need to make sure that the proper inputs and device control settings are set in your DeckLink Preferences and then simply ingest the video using your normal capture tool in your editing software, and edit away.

Laying off your finished production back to tape is also very simple. The DeckLink Studio comes with RS-422 device control, which is the standard control protocol for professional VTRs. This means you can hook up and control most broadcast decks right from your editing software interface. Simply select the in-point on where you want the tape to begin, and sit back as your program is recorded to tape in real time.
The DeckLink Studio also contains Blackmagic’s hardware based HD to SD downconverter which means you can do real-time conversions to SD while you’re editing and working in HD. The quality of this downconversion is exceptional, and you can switch the type of conversion between letterbox, 16:9 anamorphic, or 4:3 center cut, on the fly. This feature is a huge time saver if you need an SD copy of your HD video, saving the considerable time involved in rendering out a new copy of your timeline to SD.

In addition, DeckLink Studio comes with some handy utilities that take advantage of the video horsepower of the card. LiveKey allows you to add graphics over a video signal coming in through the card and overlay them in real time to the card’s outputs. If you had a small logo or bug you wanted to add in the corner of the program, you would normally have to digitize the program, overlay the logo in your editing software, render it, and then lay it back to tape. With LiveKey you can do the whole thing in one pass, and save yourself hours of capture and render time. Deck Control is a simple capture utility that allows you to take control of your VTR and capture video. You may want to use this on small simple jobs where firing up your whole editing software to do some simple captures would be overkill. There’s also the Disk Speed Test utility, that analyzes any storage device connected to your computer and tells you how fast your drives are, not just in terms of MB/s, but in video terms, such as the number of frames per second you’re likely to get in uncompressed HD formats.

While DeckLink Studio’s main virtues lie in its capture and output capabilities, it is also a very useful monitoring tool for broadcast and motion graphics. Through its support of After Effects, Photoshop, Combustion, Nuke, and Fusion, many people use these cards to get a true WYSIWYG look at their artwork that’s destined for TV screens.

Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink Studio is a seriously versatile capture card, and if you are working with multiple tape formats and resolutions, the DeckLink Studio moves into the must-have category. The cross-platform device drivers, application support, and included time-saving utilities are even more icing on the cake. With a list price of only $695, it’s definitely a bargain.

TECH SPECS

Card Format: PCI Express 1 Lane

OS compatibility: Windows 32-bit/64-bit,
Mac OS X, Linux

Connectors:

RS-422 Deck Control

Genlock

Component Out

Component In

AES/EBU In

AES/EBU Out

Analog Audio In (4 Channels)

Analog Audio Out (4 Channels)

Composite In

Composite Out

S-Video In

S-Video Out

HD/SD-SDI In

HD/SD-SDI Out

Strengths

  • Multi-Platform, Impressive amount of connectors,
  • Many time saving features.

Weaknesses

  • No HDMI I/O

Summary

Blackmagic Design’s DeckLink Studio is as close as you will get to a Rosetta Stone for capturing and displaying video.

John Burkhart is Videomaker‘s Editor in Chief.

Blackmagic Design

1551 McCarthy Blvd., Ste. 106

Milpitas, CA 95035

www.blackmagic-design.com

$695

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1 COMMENT

  1. Very good review, but it was written in 2009 and there have apparently been some updates to the card since then. The currently shipping model also includes a second backplane plug in strip with both HDMI in and out. They must have read John’s review! Check the blackmagic-design.com website for details. As of this writing (Nov ’10) I found prices as low as
    $660.