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Kona 3 with K3 Breakout Box

By Kevin McAuliffe

When I think of HD, I think of power. Powerful images, powerful color and the powerful systems needed to edit HD content.  When looking for a capture card to take your footage from your tape to your edit system and back again, look no further than the Kona 3, AJA's flagship product, and the center of any great edit system. 
The Setup
The Kona 3 comes in two card configurations, the PCIe and PCIX, and installs like any standard graphics or capture card. The installation of the card is quick and easy, and once installed, there are two cables that attach the K3 card from the back of the Mac to the breakout box. The installation of the card is just that simple, and should take you no longer than about 10 minutes. No fuss, and no headaches. This is the way these cards should be. The card comes standard with the usual bells and whistles for what it needs to do. Two HD SDI inputs/outputs for single or dual-link, depending on if you will be doing 4:4:4 (HD Cam SR 10-bit), Genlock Loop (reference), 8 XLR AES audio input/outputs, eight BNC AES audio input/outputs, Component out for monitoring and RCA stereo outs for audio monitoring. Pretty standard fare for a capture card, but it was what was under the hood that blew me away. Overall Ease of Setup = 10 (out of 10)

The Interface
Let me start off by saying that before working on my current system, I had never had to use a "capture card" other than an Avid Breakout box, which are pretty idiot-proof, so needless to say, the first time I sat in front of a Kona 3 Control Panel, I was intimidated.  That intimidation quickly disappeared. The Kona 3 Control Panel is a concise, easy to use application that has a learning curve of about 15 minutes. Every tool you need is broken down in front of you into detailed panels that show you exactly what is going on with your card, and primarily for editing, you will only really use three tabs:  Input, Format and Control. All of your input routing is handled by the "Input" tab of the control panel, and once you take a signal (SD or HD), and patch it into the SDI input on your card, you will immediately see the signal appear beside the SDI input you've plugged it into.

The "Input" tab also allows you to choose the type of audio you will be capturing (i.e. - Embedded, BNC or XLR), and also lets you map stereo channels from 1-16 to left and right stereo. The "Format" tab is where you tell the card what format you will be capturing/working in. It also handles up/down conversions from not only standard definition, but 720p to 1080i up/down conversions as well. You also have the flexibility to tell the card how you want your footage unconverted (anamorphic, pillarbox 4x3, Zoom 14x9, Zoom letterbox, Zoom wide) and downconverted (letterbox, anamorphic, edge crop). Finally, the "Control" tab is where you will tell the card what type of reference you are using. Since the card has one reference input, you would normally have Black Burst (525i) as reference going in here, and you would switch to "Input Video" if you are editing in 720p or 1080 23.976 to keep a stable reference lock. There are other tabs that compliment these in the control panel, but you will find yourself using these primarily to do most of your work.
Kona Control Panel = 9 (out of 10)

Final Cut Pro Integration
Once set up, and software has been installed, you will have access to all of Kona's easy set-up's, and let me say that AJA has thought of just about everything. Deselecting "Show All" in the Easy Setup will give you access to the meat and potatoes of what you will need.

1080i 29.97 8 Bit Uncompressed, 1080 23.976 8 Bit Uncompressed, 720p 8 Bit Uncompressed and NTSC 8 Bit are the basics of this group, but you also get access to other easy setups like "NTSC 8 Bit to DV" which is a great easy setup to go from SD SDI to DV, and 720p DVC Pro for use with the Panasonic Varicam. Once you click on "Show All", in the Easy Setup, you now have access to the wide range of formats supported by the Kona 3, such as 1080 25p (Pal HD), 1080 24 psF (segment frame 24p), and native support for 720 23.98 DVCPro Varicam. Any format you need to tackle, you have at your fingertips. Final Cut Pro Integration = 9 (out of 10)

Bells and Whistles
A capture card should do what itís supposed to do, capture. Anything else is a bonus.  In my opinion, the fact that this card can do real-time cross and up/down conversions is a major selling feature. I have only had a couple of problems with the upconverting from 720p to 1080i on longer captures (45 min to 1 hour), but for the most part, it is rock solid.  Added 2K support is also great for people doing high-end film work, and the added feature of a real-time downstream keyer to add keys to your footage while you are outputting, is excellent. I can't tell you how many times I have been asked by a client to add a bug to the entire show (1-2 hours long), and I just call it up in the downstream keyer and I'm ready to roll.  

Much like all standard capture cards, the Kona 3 is supported in Adobe After Effects, and other graphics applications, so you are able to see the output of your composition on a broadcast monitor.  One of my final big "plusses" for this card is the ability, in Final Cut, to have the card do a real-time conversion from 1080 23.976 to 1080i while I'm editing. This may not sound like a big deal, but many of the clients don't like looking at the flicker of 24p, and now they won't have to. I can show them an accurate representation of what their show will look like when it is being broadcast in 1080i.
Bells and Whistles = 10 (out of 10)

For editing HD on your system, this is my card of choice.  Even if you arenít planning on going the HD route for a year or two, and are only planning to purchase a standard definition suite, I highly recommend picking this card up when you purchase your system, as it will save you from having to pick up an "HD" card later. This card is a purchase you definitely won't regret. Overall Total = Kona 3 = 9.5 (out of 10). For more information, visit

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Kevin P McAuliffe is currently a Senior Video Editor working in HD post production in Toronto, Canada. He has been in the television industry for 12 years, and spends his days onlining on a Final Cut Pro HD. Kevin's high definition onlining credit list includes concerts for Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, Snow Patrol, Sum41, Paul Anka, Il Divo and Pussycat Dolls, to name a few. Also, Kevin is an instructor of Advanced Final Cut Studio 2 at the Toronto Film College. If you have any questions or comments, you can drop him a line at [email protected]

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