Blackmagic launches ‘two in one’ HD / UHD URSA Broadcast camera

Written by Adrian Pennington

Blackmagic DesignThe URSA Broadcast, two cameras in one

A studio camera and field production camera in one package? That's exactly what Blackmagic has come up with with the URSA Broadcast. Adrian Pennington reveals all.

Spotting what it believes is pent up demand for a cheaper way for broadcasters and internet video publishers to get into 4K UHD, Blackmagic Design has unveiled a raft of new kit headed up by a multi-purpose HD and UHD camera.

The URSA Broadcast is billed by Blackmagic Design chief Grant Petty as “the world’s first affordable professional UHD broadcast camera” and is targeting traditional broadcasters who he says have been reluctant because of production cost to move into UHD.

“We’re going to change that. This is two cameras in one. A studio camera that records or a production camera with a studio camera hidden inside.”

It costs $3495 and in a nutshell contains all the capabilities of the firm’s existing URSA range and a whole lot more, not least the ability to shoot with 12 stops of dynamic range or in RAW as needs be.

“We also want to galvanise a new generation of web creators to upgrade,” said Petty. “Why use a DSLR and fumble with that when you can have all the feature set of a professional camera?”

A camera for everyone

Petty’s typically exhaustive and earnest presentation made it clear that Blackmagic is marketing this at everyone. We’re talking live studio work to outside broadcasts as well as handheld news and documentary shoots, high end nature docs and even indie films and drama.

The body comes with a B4 lens mount as standard – great for a wide field of view but not the traditional aesthetic for high end creative work. It does though mean that the focus doesn’t change as you zoom – which is why they’re incredibly handy for live or ‘run and gun’ work.

If you don’t own a B4 lens Petty suggested you can buy one cheaply on e-bay.

“We did this and tested out several lenses and got 2.5K even 3K from them,” he said. “The mount can be removed and a photographic (prime) lens attached should you require.”

Problems solved

Petty said Blackmagic had attempted to solve a number of problems with existing UHD cameras.

“Broadcasters have no money to upgrade but they do want to move to new technologies and so camera development has stagnated,” Petty claimed. “There are other problems too such as the use of strange file formats and exotic media cards. Another problem is that cameras – whether HD or UHD – spend a lot of time unused. If you are able to use [a camera] more you will get a better return on your investment. When a studio camera is not being used it’s a waste.”

Consequently, the URSA Broadcast will shoot UHD and down-convert the image to HD if required. To cover more bases it supports 1080 interlaced, and progressive. It will record to regular SD, SSD or C-fast cards in conventional broadcast editing formats ProRes or DNx145, DNx220X within the camera – so you can skip the transcode process and go straight to the edit.

There are two 12G SDI links: one will output HD or UHD at up to 60 frames a second; the other supports tally, lens control and other typical broadcast communications.

Blackmagic may have got into making cameras in order to supply images for its Da Vinci colour correction software, Petty said the URSA Broadcast approached this from the other way round.

It can shoot RAW (images without colour correction) and comes with a mode that maps the dynamic range of the sensor’s 12 stops into the output image to produce “an image that incorporates DR… between film and video.”

The benefit of this is for faster turnaround production where the enhanced dynamic range picture can be edited in Da Vinci and output in HDR.

“It’s got better dynamic range than most broadcast cameras which is important as people transition to HDR workflows,” claimed Petty. “All in all the [camera] is an extremely fast way to do production work and it can be changed to live studio work at any time.”

Although you don’t need to pair them, Blackmagic also announced its most advanced production switcher. The ATEM 4 ME switcher costs less than $6000 and houses twenty 12G SDI inputs each with full resync (up to 60 fps), an audio mixer, two multiviews and 16 chroma keys.

If you’ve already got the older ATEM 2 ME then Blackmagic are giving the software upgrade away free “as a thank you to customers who bought the first one and thereby helped us fund the research for this version” he said, adding “its arguably the biggest upgrade to any product ever – and it’s free.”

Last but not least there are signs at last that the company will move away from SDI and into the IP world. It is bringing out a convertor for outside broadcast which will connect the URSA Broadcast to outside broadcast trucks (and presumably the new ATEM switcher) over distances of 2km. It is built to the conventional SMPTE standard but includes within it the ability to work with IP signals straight out of the back of the camera via a software patch which Blackmagic plan to turn on in time.

Tags: Production


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