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Blackmagic delivers its first Thunderbolt-based i/o interface, the UltraStudio 3D

By Allan Tépper | September 05, 2011


Blackmagic Design has begun shipping its first Thunderbolt based audio/video i/o interface, which is officially known as the UltraStudio 3D. As its suffix indicates, it is capable of 3D stereoscopic workflows, although it is certainly capable of 2D workflows too. However, we must be diligent and refer to it with its full name (including the “3D” suffix) in order to differentiate it from other Blackmagic models whose names also begin with “UltraStudio”. This first look at the US$995 UltraStudio 3D will cover its features, specs, and even an initial limitation for HP DreamColor monitors, together with a somewhat costly workaround. You’ll also learn everything you need to know about the UltraStudio 3D’s end-point Thunderbolt connection and its current limitations.

UltraStudio 3D features and specs

The UltraStudio 3D offers:

  • Compatibility with all Macs that offer Thunderbolt (iMac, MacBookAir, MacBookPro, MacMini). (The UltraStudio 3D’s Thunderbolt port is an end-point, which means no loop-ability. Connect it at the end of the chain, after your Thunderbolt-based RAID. More details about this later in this article.)

  • 10-bit hardware architecture

  • Dual-link 3 Gb/s SDI

  • Support for up to 1080p60 in SDI and component analog (This also includes 1080p59.94 which is the standard maximum framerate.)

  • Analog video i/o including component, Y/C (“S-Video”), and composite via a breakout cable (one of these three possibilities at a time)

  • HDMI 1.4a connections (although currently no RGB output over HDMI, as explained later in this article)

  • Genlock/tri-sync input

  • RS-422 deck control with Sony protocol

  • Hardware-based, 10-bit up, down, and cross conversion.

  • Hardware-based SD and HD keying.

  • Supports Final Cut Studio, Premiere Pro, Photoshop, ProTools, After Effects, DaVinci Resolve, and other apps. (Due to the current limitations in FCP X, UltraStudio 3D cannot support it directly so far.)

  • Free developer SDK.

  • 2-channel balanced analog i/o

  • 2-channel digital audio (AES/EBU) i/o

  • International power supply with included plugs for different regions (More info about this ahead in this article)

  • Full resolution dual-stream 3D support

  • Includes free Media Express 3 capture/playback software which allows batch capture and playback of 2D and dual-stream stereoscopic 3D in DPX, ProRes (10-bit), uncompressed YUV and RGB (8 or 10-bit), DV100 (“DVCPRO HD”) (8-bit), and MJPEG files (8-bit).

  • 3D workflows featuring interleaved, side-by-side, frame-packed, and dual stream capture and playback. Dual-stream 3D allowing the use of the dual-link SDI connections to capture and play back two streams, one for the left eye and one for the right eye.

In that 3D mode, the two streams are recorded into two separate media files. Blackmagic explains that dual-stream 3D is higher quality because each eye is full resolution video, but dual-stream is less compatible with current editing software. To solve this problem, the included Media Express 3 software has been upgraded to handle both interleaved and dual stream 3D for capture and playback of 3D media.


International power supply with included plugs for different regions

This type of power supply and interchangeable plug reminds me of one that I received many years ago when I used to use a Blackberry. I believe that this is the first time that Blackmagic is including plugs for different regions. All of the other Blackmagic products I have ever seen so far that require AC power (i.e. the ones that are not powered by a host computer, like the Multibridge Pro and the HDLink Pro) have come from the factory without any AC power cable, so that either the reseller or end-user would acquire one locally to match the type of electrical outlet used in that region.

UltraStudio 3D pricing, in general and for HP DreamColor users

The UltraStudio 3D is available now for US$995 from Blackmagic Design resellers worldwide. However, if you use (or plan to use) a DreamColor monitor from HP, currently you’ll need an additional device (HDLink Pro 3D DisplayPort, which is the upgraded version and name of the HDLink Pro DisplayPort which I covered in my 2009 article DreamColor converter boxes for non-compliant systems). This will mean an additional US$495 to be added to the US$995 (plus an electrical cable and an HD-SDI cable), at least until Blackmagic Design adds the digital RGB over HDMI. At NAB 2011 when the UltraStudio 3D was first announced, Blackmagic was considering the possibility of adding this feature via a future firmware update, and when I contacted their public relations department last week, this was still under investigation but not yet confirmed. If you use any other HD monitor, than you’ll be able to connect it directly via an HDMI or HD-SDI cable.

UltraStudio 3D’s end-point Thunderbolt connection

The Thunderbolt port on the UltraStudio 3D is what’s called an end-point, which means that there is no looping capability beyond the UltraStudio 3D. If you are going to have a Thunderbolt-based disk array RAID like a Promise Pegasus, then you’ll need to place the Pegasus in the middle of the chain and the UltraStudio 3D at the end. Today, this means that you won’t be able to connect any GUI (graphic user interface) monitor on the Thunderbolt bus (or on that particular Thunderbolt bus, since some Macs have two Thunderbolt buses). Of course, you can connect a video monitor to the HD-SDI or HDMI output of the UltraStudio 3D, but that’s -well- for video, not to display your computer’s GUI. If you are using a MacBookPro or MacBookAir, you’ll certainly have the laptop’s internal monitor as your GUI and that will be it. If you use a 21.5” iMac, you’ll have the 21.5” monitor as your GUI and that will be it. If you use a 27” iMac, then you have two Thunderbolt ports, so you’ll have the 27” as your GUI, plus potentially an additional one from the second Thunderbolt port. If you use a MacMini, then you’ll be able to connect a GUI monitor directly to the MacMini’s own HDMI output. In the future, you will be able to have the capability of adding a GUI monitor on the same bus with the UltraStudio 3D, either with a monitor with built-in loopable Thunderbolt, or by adding a GPU to the Thunderbolt bus. This situation is identical with Matrox’s current offering, as you’ll see in a related article.

Please consider reading the following related articles:

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Contact Allan T©pper for consulting, or find a full listing of his books, articles and upcoming seminars and webinars at Listen to his TecnoTur program, which is now available both in Castilian and in English, free of charge. Search for TecnoTur in iTunes or visit for more information.

Disclosure, to comply with the FTC's rules

None of the manufacturers listed in this article is paying Allan T©pper or TecnoTur LLC specifically to write this article. Some of the manufacturers listed above have contracted T©pper and/or TecnoTur LLC to carry out consulting and/or translations/localizations/transcreations. Many of the manufacturers listed above have sent Allan T©pper review units. So far, none of the manufacturers listed above is/are sponsors of the TecnoTur programs, although they are welcome to do so, and some are, may be (or may have been) sponsors of ProVideo Coalition magazine. Some links to third parties listed in this article and/or on this web page may indirectly benefit TecnoTur LLC via affiliate programs.

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Conscientian: | September, 05, 2011

I’m looking to capture gameplay off of my Xbox 360 via HDMI at 1080p 59.94. Store it via my iMac which has a thunderbolt port and then edit it in Final Cut Pro X.

All complications aside will this device work well for this situation or will I hit a wall as I have with countless other products?

Allan T: | September, 05, 2011


Thanks for reading and thanks for commenting!
You will have a problem if the Xbox 360 uses HDCP, since the UltraStudio 3D won’t work if the signal uses that protection scheme.

Allan T

Conscientian: | September, 05, 2011

Luckily It doesn’t Im currently using the Intensity Shuttle over USB 3.0 but id much rather buy this to get full 1080p and move it all over to my mac. Other than that you mentioned it cannot output RGB over HDMI would that cause an issue with a standard HP monitor? Also thanks for commenting back.

The monitor i wish to output to.

Allan T: | September, 05, 2011

Hello Conscientian,

I cannot guaranty that your Xbox 360 does not use HDCP, especially considering so many hits I get when I Google Xbox 360 HDCP, but perhaps you have a special Xbox 360 that doesn’t have it. I cannot think of any other reason why it wouldn’t work together with the UltraStudio 3D (or with a Matrox MXO2 family device with the Thunderbolt adapter).

The digital RGB over HDMI is only a requirement for the DreamColor Engine in the DreamColor monitor. I have never seen any other monitor that requires it. All others will accept digital YUV, which is what the UltraStudio 3D already outputs.

Allan T

Conscientian: | September, 05, 2011

Alright thanks for the insight. Also Xbox 360 works on a game by game basis for HDCP I use Halo Reach to create machinima, this does not have HDCP as I’ve been capturing over HDMI for some time now. The PS3 however i believe has system wide HDCP but luckily i don’t use that to capture. Anyway thanks for the information.

friv: | September, 07, 2011

Thanks for this great post that you share to us, i think i need it

aloe vera drank: | September, 07, 2011

Great, thanks for this post.. Although it’s still hard to get it right with HDCP.. but we’ll manage. grin

Allan T: | September, 07, 2011

Aloe Vera Drank,

Thanks for reading and commenting, but apparently you have it in reverse. It will only work without HDCP.

Allan T

Dan Carr: | September, 08, 2011

I’m not entirely sure that I follow why you can’t connect a Thunderbolt monitor on the bus , doesn’t the Apple 27” Thunderbolt monitor have loop through anyway ?

Allan T: | September, 08, 2011

Thanks for reading and for commenting. Absolutely correct: Apple’s Thunderbolt Display will likely be the first available monitor with loop-able Thunderbolt connections, and I had that in mind when I wrote the article. However, when I published the article and even now, Apple’s Thunderbolt Display is not available for immediate shipment from It still says: “2-3 weeks”. Only a couple of days ago, Apple allegedly began shipping them to their physical stores. That’s why I wrote: “in the future”. Also, beware of the glare from Apple’s Thunderbolt Display. I hope they will later offer it with a matte option, and that other manufacturers also offer the that way.

Allan T

Dan Carr: | September, 08, 2011

Ah I see, thanks for clarification Allan!

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