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Angelina and Lindsay battle over their favorite RED scopes!

standalone scopes vs. software scopes vs. built in scopes - What you need to know!

By Steve Hullfish | May 31, 2008


Let's face it: if I didn't start with a title like that, there's no way you'd read a story about waveform monitors. They're boring! They're not creative! They're all the same! They're not sexy. They're not RED.

Scopes are important if you're doing real work that gets duplicated, broadcast or color corrected. They can be used "creatively." They can help you do better work. Without them, all that other cool gear is worthless.

So WHY are scopes the "Rodney Dangerfield" of the production and post production world? Some of it is probably fear of not understanding them. Some is probably that they don't really seem to DO anything other than cost a lot of money. Some is probably because they have a lot of unrealized potential.

If you've read either of my color correction books, you know that the basis for my approach to color correction is that you have to be able to analyze your image before you can grade your image. Scopes are a big part of that. And you don't need to understand ANYTHING about all that arcane terminology about blanking, sync pulses, burst, backporches, breezeways and millivolts.

I have preached often enough on the importance of scopes, so I'm going to leave that behind and do a little review of some of the choices out there for scopes. There are basically four types. There are all-inclusive scopes with built in displays. I've got a Tektronix WFM7120 that does standard and high def and displays waveforms, vectorscopes, jitter, gamut, audio phase and levels and more. There are also rasterizers. These are little 1 or 2 rack-unit-high instruments that get mounted in a rack and then display the data on a separate computer monitor. I also have one of these: an aging SD-only VideoTek VTM-300. There is also a new category of scopes that uses software, a spare computer and a video card to deliver an "external" scope. The data is displayed on the computer monitor of the computer on which the software is running, which is NOT the same computer as the "video feed" is coming from. I am running demos of two of these types of scopes: for the Mac - Scopebox - and for the PC - Hamlet's VidScope and Adobe's OnLocation. Finally there are the built-in scopes in the editing, color correction and compositing software you use.

Because I understand that most people don't want to spend 10 times as much for their scopes as they did for their editing software (FCP $1200 compared to good Tek scopes at $12,000), I wanted to compare some of the choices that are out there that purport to do the same thing for a LOT less money.

I suppose it shows my bias to hold the Tektronix scope up as the gold standard. (If I had a Leader or OmniTek scope or some other brand, I'm assuming that it would give me a similar result.) But, prior to my "scope shootout" I double-checked the accuracy of my Tek scopes at an on-line post-house I do work with, looking at color corrected footage from one of my favorite colorists that was bound for broadcast. The Tek scopes were very accurate with great, fine detail. One of the differences between the manufacturers of scopes is that some of them, especially Tektronix, have patented certain displays, like the Diamond and Lightning displays. No other manufacturer can offer these methods of analyzing your signal. So before you buy, find out what exclusive displays each manufacturer brings to the table.

Some other advantage to the Tek scopes (and for most other manufacturers of "standalone" scopes, for that matter), include a crucial ability to customize the way that the data is presented. That includes being able to adjust the gain and position of the waveform and vectorscope as well as to include NTSC set-up or not. These scopes can also present numerous displays simultaneously in either "parade" mode (next to each other) or overlaid (superimposed on each other). The Tek scope is also capable of logging errors and identifying the timecodes at which the errors occurred. The WFM 7120 can display multiple tools either full-frame or with four different displays in quadrants on its face. All of which are easily customizable with dedicated buttons and not too much "delving into menus" for the commands you need. Obviously it can also save these views as presets which can be quickly and easily called up.

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George Kroonder: | June, 01, 2008

Dang Steve,

No Angelina, no Lindsey and nothing on the software scopes!

Hope it’ll be worth the wait…


stevesherrick: | June, 03, 2008

Yes and no. If DMTs are utilized properly on set and there are proper workflows established then it becomes really hard to go back to tape. The immediacy of digital files, ready for editing without hours and hours of logging and digitizing is very attractive. Where I think the real bottleneck exists is in archiving. It’s expensive if you do it right (hard drive, video tape, and data tape for triple redundancy). So in a sense, some people are playing with fire because they are electing to store only on hard drives, which could fail somewhere down the line. The solution?

A robust medium needs to emerge that is truly archive quality which means it can resist temperature and moisture adversity, will have no moving parts, does not scratch, and won’t be obsolete years down the line. It will need to be driven by intelligent, bug-free software engines that can assure accurate, verifiable data transfers. And this data will need to be retrievable many OS versions down the line. In other words, you need a technology that is not only forward thinking but always respectful of the past, i.e. backwards compatible.

Some may argue that LTO and DLT fit many of these requirements but I think we can do better. Speed is one area that can be improved. Holographic solutions are beginning to emerge, but it’s still new and unproven. Blueray seems viable but the capacities are too small. What we need has yet to be developed in my opinion. It’s the bulletproof system that would put everyone’s minds at ease, at a price point that is in line with the way the rest of the media industry is going, which is what I would describe as “relatively affordable”. Once this is in place, tape can be a thing of the past and we don’t have to get caught up in the “things were better in the past conversations”.

stevesherrick: | June, 03, 2008

Sorry guys, wrong field. This is a response to another article. Not sure how to delete it.

DEvans: | October, 21, 2008

Yeah, but its more interesting than ‘Scopes wink 

XD Cam with its $30, 20Gb, MXF file based (plus low res proxy) optical disks seem ideal to me, but isn’t having much take up in UK.  M


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