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By Mark J. Foley, Technology Editor, ProductionHUB

A Short Introduction to the Blackmagic Video Assist

Coming off of a recent review of the Blackmagic Design Micro 4K, I was excited to take on (along with the Micro 4K) the Video Assist 4K Recording Monitor. The Video Assist 4K did not disappoint providing clean, clear, crisp images along with solid recording 4K settings. The dual built-in, high speed UHS-II recorders use off the shelf SD cards to record HD and Ultra HD video as professional 10-bit 4:2:2 ProRes or DNxHD files. This means not having to shell out extra dough on proprietary recording card; which in turn, means not getting caught short when recording long scenes or having to stop midstream to dump the SD cards. The caveat is that you have to really pay attention when recording because as you know, the higher the resolution, the less recording time you have, but since you can record in 10-bit broadcast quality files such as ProRes and DNxHR, you can go to edit right away because you don’t have to mess around with any compression schemes before starting your edit, a great feature when you are pressed for time. 

Getting Started

When I took the Video Assist out of the box there were two things that I noticed Blackmagic Design continues to do really well. First, Blackmagic Design gets a big A+ for simplicity.

Basically, it consists of plugging the Video Assist 4K in with the supplied power supply, or using dual LP-E6 Batteries, using a very responsive touch menu and off you go to work. It's very intuitive, which is great if you have to get going and start shooting and recording right away. Then just slug in the 2 SD cards and away you go. Just as a point of reference, I used two Lexar 64G UHS-II SDXC cards with no problem, and as I stated earlier, I love the fact that you can get the SD cards you need just about anywhere (hint: Best Buy) as long as they have the correct rating. 

The next part of the Blackmagic Design Video Assist that was impressive was the ruggedness of the unit. The body is machined aluminum and comes in just shy of two pounds (1.75 lbs to be exact). I also liked the fact that it had multiple mounting points, giving the end user a lot of choices. It felt solid, but not so heavy as to be a detriment to the shoot. During some of the testing days I put it together with the Micro 4K and they worked well together.

But what if I was going to use the Blackmagic Design Video Assist everyday? 

I honestly might suggest using it with a larger camera for better balance or maybe go to the 5” screen. The display screen on the Video Assist worked well indoors and had a lot of robust features that I will cover in the review a little later. It did have a few issues in bright sunlight, making it difficult to read the settings. This was was easily remedied, however, with a typical hood, which wasn’t an issue. Other than that it had very low reflectability, didn’t smudge and seemed as though it would be pretty scratch resistant. Oh yeah, before I forget, I ran this product like forever, and had absolutely no heat issues to speak of. I also liked the little built in speaker for playback. 

Staying Connected

If the Video Assist display wasn’t enough to get you interested there are so many other features and connections to take note of:

SDI Video Input1 x SD/HD/Ultra HD 6G-SDI via BNC
SDI Video Output1 x SD/HD/Ultra HD 6G-SDI via BNC
HDMI Video Input1 x HDMI 2.0a connector
HDMI Video Output1 x HDMI 2.0a connector
SDI Audio Input2 channels embedded via 6G-SDI
SDI Audio Output2 channels embedded via 6G-SDI
HDMI Audio Input2 channels embedded via HDMI 2.0a
HDMI Audio Output2 channels embedded via HDMI 2.0a

*Analog Audio Input2 x balanced mini XLR with phantom power
*additional Normal XLR to XLR mini cables required

Getting Under the Hood Part One

This is where it really gets interesting. Let's just start out with the monitoring part, which is very shooter/director friendly. Very. The touchscreen LCD resolution at 1920 x 1200 made it very easy for me to obtain and keep focus, which is not always so easy in the eyepiece or small pop out monitor. Also, the wide 135° viewing angle made it easy for us to look at shots without killing each other to see what was going on. As a shooter, I thought it was a great idea to make peak monitoring, zebra and bracketing very easy to see and set up. As a director, I want a monitor that I can trust. When I am looking at the monitor, I want to know what I shot is what I got. You only have to have a bad monitor on ONE shoot to make you crazed about monitor performance. I can’t have overexposed images or any focus issues. Swiping the LED touchscreen made it easy to set resolution and format, as well as screen brightness and contrast. When swiping in another direction all the other controls appeared such as recording status, histogram, audio level, timecode, and battery status. The controls had a semi-transparent overlay, so I could still see my shot while adjusting the settings.

Here Comes the Boom

If the Blackmagic Design Video Assist was JUST a 7” HD monitor it would be a darn good production tool. But low and behold it is also a fantastic 4K recorder that opens up a whole lot of possibilities without breaking the bank at only $895. Check out these specs. 

The codecs support Apple ProRes 422 HQ, ProRes 422, ProRes LT, ProRes Proxy, Avid DNxHD, and DNxHR.

HD Format
720p50, 59.94
1080p23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60
1080i50, 59.94

Ultra HD
2160p23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30

720p50, 59.94
1080p23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, 60 
1080i50, 59.94

Ultra HD 
2160p23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30

SD Format 
525i59.94 NTSC, 625i50 PAL

If that is not enough format options I don’t know what would be. So if you need to record in any number of formats, the Video Assist has you covered. Lastly, think about this interesting production flow. Remember when I was going on about redundancy and how much I loved backups? The Blackmagic Video Assist captures video in the popular ProRes and DNxHD formats. That means one can record full 10-bit 4:2:2 HD or Ultra HD files on the Video Assist, and capture full resolution 4K RAW digital negatives in camera. Both sets of files will have matched timecode so you can finish your program using the files from the Video Assist and you’ll still have the camera original RAW files for visual effects and color grading. Pretty smart workflow and a great way to backup your work. Not much to not like about that.

It’s A Wrap

For the price point and what it does, the Blackmagic Video Assist is a pretty sweet product. Solid on performance and on price the Blackmagic Design Video Assist would be a very good choice in field monitoring and recording. Easy to find recording on SD cards, good battery life, easy to navigate touch screen, and a great looking screen make this a must check out before I buy product. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that there is some good competition in this space. But that being said, check it out. I think you will come away impressed. I did.

About Mark J. Foley

Mark J. Foley, MBA BA is the Technology Editor for ProductionHUB. Foley brings an extensive production background to his role as Technology Editor, having produced and directed award-winning, live college and professional sports, broadcast and documentaries to his credit.