In late 2007 I did a review of Red Lightning Software’s HD Monitor Pro. At the time it was a nice application that let you view video images directly from your video camera, log, and record directly to your hard drive. In this article I’d like to briefly revisit this app, because it has evolved significantly—even to the point of spinning off a second application, Shot Logger Pro.
HD Monitor Pro 1.6
Like the earlier version, HD Monitor Pro 1.6 will act as a software monitor—a very accurate one for Panasonic NTSC DVCPRO-HD cameras as well as for NTSC and PAL DV cameras. Focus, exposure, and white balance are much more accurate when done on production monitors. Considering the price of those monitors, HD Monitor Pro is a realistic alternative with full 1:1 resolution.
I tested the new version on a second-generation 17" MacBook Pro. My media drive was FW 800 connected via an ExpressCard adapter. This leaves the built-in FireWire ports free to simply read the HD video signal coming from my Panasonic HPX170.
I don’t recommend using the built-in FW ports to run a camera and a hard drive. But if your system drive has enough space, you can record to it directly. Just don’t edit video footage directly off of your system drive; hard drives don’t support enough bandwidth to stream video and audio and perform OS and app tasks at the same time.
I’m very impressed with the image quality in HD Monitor Pro, as well as its ability to zoom in and move around the zoomed image as well. The supplied overlays are also very professional and useful grid lines, such as action safe, title safe, rule of thirds, center crosshair, and alignment (Figure 1, below).
The new version also gives us very nice audio meters with heavy, black lines at 12db increments and the usual green, yellow, and red color areas. The audio meters also conform to standard DVCPRO-HD with channels 1 and 2 grouped together and channels 3 and 4 grouped together. Of course there are standard zebra stripes, flip and squeeze display modes, and a tool to calibrate your Mac’s screen to match NTSC colors as closely as possible.
A new feature I really like is the Image Overlay feature. It allows me to find a frame I’ve already shot (in the shot log; I’ll talk about that later), pick a frame, and make it the Image Overlay. By adjusting the opacity of it, in order to see both my shot frame and the frame of what I’m about to shoot, I can do pickup shots and be sure I’ve framed them to match. A simple keystroke to quickly switch back and forth between the two shots can help you adjust exposure and white balance. You can, of course, always use a saved graphic image with an alpha channel to overlay on a shot, to be sure your greenscreen or other composite work shooting is lined up properly. It won’t record the overlay, but it makes your compositing work in post a lot easier.
A video recording buffer indicator and a dropped-frame indicator are very nice to see. Dropped-frame information even gets written to the log in the Clip Manager (more on that soon). Markers are another very useful feature. You can create custom sets of marker labels, using the 1–9 and 0 keys to play markers in real time as you record or by scrubbing through the clip after you’ve recorded it. With the ability to create multiple marker label sets, you can have one set for weddings, one for legal, and so on (Figure 2, below). Markers can also be given durations just like in Final Cut Pro (FCP).
Monitoring your video signal on a larger screen with all these tools by itself is really useful, but the Clip Manager is where a lot of HD Monitor Pro’s power lies. First, set up Project Folders. You can set up several and determine which folder the shot you’re about to record goes to.
The ability to enter metadata such as markers, name, shot, rating (five stars), scene, take, comments, and log is a must-have for logging clips on a set. The ability to export all of this metadata to an XML file ready for FCP is even better. Open the XML file in FCP 6 or 7; not only are your clips in the browser ready to edit but all of your vital metadata is there also.
RED ONE Rigs
One new feature of HD Monitor Pro 1.6 that I found very interesting is its ability to do all of the same things with the RED ONE camera that it does with Panasonic and other models. When recording from a RED, HD Monitor Pro creates QuickTime Proxies and can match them up for offline use in FCP. It will even work with the RLS Wireless Bluetooth remote for this setup. I wasn’t able to get my hands on a RED for this review. But based on the quality of everything else this software does, I’m willing to bet it’s just as solid when working with the RED ONE.
HD Monitor Pro Conclusion
HD Monitor Pro is a very complete package. With a MacBook Pro it could help take your production up a notch. Obviously, you won’t be using this for run-and-gun events. But if you’re doing film-type work, TV spots, legal depositions, and the like, it could be a very practical and productive tool.
I found the quality to be outstanding, with no crashes or glitches at all. The user manual goes above and beyond, offering a lot of information outside of the immediate use of this application, such as graphics creation with alpha channels in Photoshop for SD, 1080p, and 720p video; a list of keyboard shortcuts; and explanations of trackpad use, mouse use, and troubleshooting. You can visit www.redlightningsoftware.com to download a 15-day limited-use trial copy to get an idea of what HD Monitor Pro will do for your own workflow.
Shot Logger Pro
Shot Logger Pro (SLP) is the Clip Manager I wrote about earlier, but on steroids. It doesn’t record your video and doesn’t need a connection to your camera. It records “virtual clips” you enter metadata for (logging info) that you’ll “connect” to the physical clips later. The connection phase writes the metadata to the actual clips and imports them into FCP with all the video and information intact.
I think of it this way: I have an assistant director taking shot log notes from my director. Instead of paper, I’d have them use a Mac laptop, using SLP (Figure 3, below). All the metadata the Clip Manager records is the same as in SLP. The only difference is that SLP “connects” the clip notes to the actual QuickTime clips from the camera.
For each clip it records all the metadata Clip Manager can, including shot, name, rating, scene, take (automatically incremented with each shot), and comments.
To work with Clip Manager, begin by manually syncing, as close as possible, the clock time in the camera with the clock time in the Mac. Then, when the camera starts rolling, click the record button for a clip in SLP. When the camera stops rolling, stop recording in SLP. This gives a general length and timing of each clip recorded in SLP.
You can also just record your clips as you wish and then come to SLP later and enter all your metadata (logging info) and connect them. The advantage to this, as opposed to doing it directly in FCP, is that you can see the list of clips with headings in a very different way from FCP’s Log & Transfer window.
As with Clip Manager, you can select a Project Folder of clips you’ve connected your SLP clip notes to and export them into FCP with the same XML workflow. Both will also allow you to export your clip notes as a text file.
All in all, this is a very handy tool. I used it on a recent TV spot job and was very pleased with its performance. I normally use an iPhone app that emails log notes or an assistant with my shot notes form on a clipboard. And even though I had to use a larger MacBook Pro and deal with its battery-life issues, it was nice to be able to have all of that info imported directly into FCP with the clips, rather than adding it all manually later. As long as the time between the Mac and the camera are close enough, it works very well.
Currently, Shot Logger Pro links up clips from Panasonic P2, RED, XDCAM, and Canon DSLR cameras. Red Lighting says its developers are expanding the list of compatible cameras. Again, not for run-and-gun work, but for film, TV spots, legal depositions, documentaries, and such, this could be a useful, productive tool in your production arsenal. You can visit www.redlightning software.com to download a 15-day limited-use trial copy to try it before buying.
Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Master Trainer and Support Professional based in Louisiana. He produces media, consults for studios, and teaches media production nationally.