I think you may be missing


I think you may be missing the point of a monitor. It is used to judge the quality of your video image. There are a lot of very good reasons to make these judgments on a properly adjusted monitor. You mentioned using DV Rack to adjust a computer monitor to act as a video monitor. I use DV Rack Express on my laptop and wished I gotten the 2.0 upgrade before they were bought out by Adobe. The only way to get a full version is to purchase a production package that includes “On Location” with Premiere Pro and some other useful stuff, but the package is running over $800 to bring home. You can get the DV Rack Express package I have from B & H Photo, but I don’t know how useful it will be.

There is a broadcast monitor module in all of these packages. So far as I’m able to judge, it works exactly as it should. The on-screen image is adjusted by software controls using NTSC color bars. I use it for both adjusting the camera controls to get a good image, and to record the video direct to the hard drive in AVI2 format. I don’t know of a way to use it as a monitor for editing. It is designed to look at the video/audio signal into the Firewire port. I don’t see how the computer could be programmed to use an OUT signal as an IN signal. But there could be a work around, I’ve never investigated. I far & away prefer to view my work the same way my audience will view it, so I use a television with a video input (either composite or S-video.)

The point of a monitor in post production is to see things as your viewers will see it. So I’d think it’s crazy to get an expensive monitor to edit programs that are aimed for the web. It is also crazy to use an RF converter into an old TV set you found on the curb. You want to be the most critical viewer of your program. You’ll be surprised at the low quality most viewers willingly accept. Until automatic setting using the vertical blanking interval became common, color drifted and I had to restrain myself from adjusting color on other people’s TV’s. But the point I want to make is how poorly most TV’s are adjusted. And why is that? Most people don’t do precise color comparisons.

In psychology research, individuals with jobs requiring precise color comparisons were compared to folks with ordinary jobs. They established each group’s “just noticeable difference” (JND’s) between shades of color. They found some of the “color experts” could judge as much as 50 shades between colors ordinary folks found just noticeably different. So those of us who deal with color on a day in, day out basis are waaayyyy better judges of color, contrast, brightness & saturation. Now the blue filter or button is supposed to make adjustments more precise, more repeatable and much easier. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do what the blue button does some other way.

In the studios I managed, we had very expensive physical versions of many of the test charts. And being around color bars all the time sharpened my color judgment to where I could adjust a monitor just to NTSC bars. But there is the poor boys tool for adjusting a monitor. You locate as nice of a JPG of just color bars as you can find, and as large as possible. Then have it printed at least as an 8″x10″ print at a good photo printer. (I know individual shops can vary colors, but going to a camera store will get the best available. And besides, I know you aren’t yet good enough to see the difference if a shop got it wrong. But you gotta get bars you believe are right.) Then you hold the bars next to the TV and match the colors. You’ll be as close as you’re able to judge anyway.

When we discuss a broadcast monitor, we are really talking about an engineering monitor. It has the special functions the video techs need to make studio systems match perfectly, so you can’t tell one camera or tape roll from any other. In the post-production process, you gotta have a TV to judge the skin tones, know if the graphic colors stand out or smear together, make sure nothing is outside the safe zone and judge the brightness & contrast of your field source video. Having the TV adjusted to within your own “just noticeable difference” of perfect isn’t going to be very far off, certainly within the JND’s of your project audience. And practice will improve your ability.

Now once you have a TV monitor to watch your program on, adjusted more accurately than most could tell and sitting conveniently in the center of the stereo speakers running off your computer’s sound card, or headphone out. So let’s talk about the professional’s secret editing method, know as workflow planning. It is much faster to do editing “passes” to make a professional product. My rather rudimentary workflow plan begins with “capture all source video, convert graphics and gather media in a new Vegas file.” Then I compare my, generally, three source video tracks to each other, with emphasis on matching the two close-up shots to the cover (master, wide, key) shot. Now as strange as it may sound, it won’t matter if your TV isn’t too accurate in the color settings. (Not so much with the brightness & contrast.) You generally want to pick a camera that’s the best looking, then adjust your other video sources to match it. Once my shots match as well as possible, my workflow then moves on to cutting the show together. I need a monitor during the graphics pass to insure all the text is legible and large enough to read from the equivalent “TV size”/”sofa distance” ratio of my audience. (Or in the case of drug, insurance, legal services, et. al. to look legible but be too small to read.) I may use the monitor to tweak cut-aways, but the requirement of a TV monitor has passed for this show. My workflow moves to audio tweaking and final reviews.

So I’ll close as I began. Don’t get lost in trying to get equipment you don’t really need. Look at how you are going to use the monitor in the productions you plan on doing. And keep in mind the JND’s (just noticeable difference) of your viewing public gives you a bit of learning latitude. I used to be able to just look at a set of color bars and know what to adjust & about how much. Of course, then I was working master control at the cable company and my job was to use engineering tools to send beautiful pictures & level sound out to the cable viewers. And I was adjusting the video signals with TBC’s (Time Base Corrector’s) and fine tuning with vectorscopes & waveform monitors. But I was back to my problem of craving to adjust the TV’s at friend’s homes or waiting rooms, so anyway.

Hope this helps you decide what you really need in a monitor for now. Engineering monitors make it fast & easy to adjust to NTSC bars, but practice will improve your ability to judge color and so better adjust your own monitor. There are some editing tasks (or workflow passes) that don’t even require a monitor and the same goes for projects viewed only on the web. In my years as an independent producer, I’ve found it much easier on the budget to make do with less than “industry standard” equipment. My first lighting package featured work lights on heavy duty stands and battered foamcore for reflectors, with a back-up roll of kitchen foil on hand. My first editing monitor on my NLE was an ancient Commodore 64 monitor with a composite video input. Once warmed up, it held settings very well and was too big for the space I had available. Check out TV’s with video inputs, composite & S-video, at pawn shops, you can often find a good deal to get you started. Because the sooner you start the practicing, the sooner it pays off in better video.

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