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Ultimatte DV: Ultimate Value

Bringing Oscar- and Emmy-winning chromakeying to the studios of mere mortals By Charlie White

Chromakeying is probably the most widely-used camera trick. Until recently, if you wanted to create a first-rate chromakey, youd need to use specialized and expensive hardware. Now a company thats widely respected and recognized for its sophisticated chromakey hardware has decided to offer a unit thats lower-priced yet retains some of the high-end features of its more-expensive brethren. Ultimatte DV ($2995 retail) is designed to let you plug in SVideo or DV sources and create a chromakey that can be output in either DV or SVideo. Lets take Ultimatte DV into the studio and see what it can do.

Ultimatte DV is a handsome-looking unit about one rack unit high. The front of the solidly-constructed device sports a sharp-looking backlit Ultimatte logo, and in the back there are background and foreground inputs for SVideo and composite video, as well as a 1394 port for both input and output of foreground, background, or your final composite. Theres an SVideo and composite video output for your final product as well. The unit is also switchable between 525-line video systems, such as NTSC, and 625 line systems, such as PAL.  

The Ultimatte DV unit allows for considerable tweaking, which is done via an on-screen menu activated by pushing the various buttons on the front of the unit. As you select one of the buttons, such as Brights or Darks, you then can fine-tune those controls with the knob on the right. Theres also a convenient freeze control which allows you to grab a frame of video to use as your background if you dont have a deck handy to play back a moving background.

When we first set up the Ultimatte DV, we attempted to use the DV port for the background, but this didnt work very well. For some reason, our DV playback resulted in digital hash as the background or the foreground, so we then decided to use this 1394 port as the output of the final composite. The 1394 port can only be used in one direction at a time, so since we were having very little luck bringing signals into the Ultimatte DV with that port, we chose to use it as an output.

Next we used a Sony studio cameras SVideo out for our foreground source, while playing back a moving background loop that we had created on a DV tape. We fed the signal from the DV deck into the Ultimatte DVs background input via SVideo. At first, the resulting composite appeared to be 180 out of phase, but with a little tweaking, the signal came around to a point to where it looked realistic. At the same time, our background appeared to be about 10 units too dark, so we were able to bring that up as well by fiddling with the darks and lights controls in the transparency settings. After all this tweaking, we were glad to see that it was possible to save all those settings for future use, a capability that proved itself to be quite handy, especially since the Ultimatte DV must be reset every time you unplug any of the cables. 

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Related Keywords:Chromakeying, camera trick, chromakey, hardware, Ultimatte DV, SVideo, DV, review


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