High-End Post Quality, Priced for Mass Appeal

My first memorable experience with Teranex was on a documentary about a decade ago. We had roughly 10 different source formats in different frame rates and frame sizes, and it all had to end up at 1080p at 23.98 fps. After exhaustive tests using every piece of software we could find to convert our footage, we realized that there was no way to turn video footage that was shot at 720 x 480 at 29.97 fps, into the delivery frame size and frame rate without creating noticeable artifacts. It wasn’t until I took some of the footage to an expensive post facility that we discovered the magic of Teranex.

While I pride myself on being pragmatic and relatively technical, I am comfortable just believing that the Teranex uses voodoo and science to perform its miracles. Seemingly impossible transcodes happen in real time, and with few or no artifacts. Blackmagic Design purchased Teranex in Dec. of 2011, and I was concerned that the Teranex I knew would be gone forever. I have never been so pleased to admit I was completely wrong. The newest Teranex solutions from Blackmagic produce the same amazing results, now at a fraction of the cost. At the current price tag, the Teranex 2D Processor ($1995) and soon-to-be-released Teranex 3D Processor are a necessity for anyone that’s working with lots of different formats.

I was fortunate enough to work with the Teranex 2D Processor in the state-of-the-art machine room at Shapeshifter Post in Los Angeles. At first glance, new users might be intimidated by the many illuminated buttons on the front panel.  Fortunately, the button panel is intuitively laid out from left to right. Once an active input is selected using the “IN” button, the frame size and frame rate are instantly recognized. Hit the “OUT” button, (just below “IN”), and you can select any or all outputs simultaneously, along with frame size, frame rate, aspect ratio, and even timecode conversions. Shapeshifter’s engineer had been using it for weeks without a manual and rarely had to venture past the front panel buttons to get the results he needed. Clearly the folks at Blackmagic Design have figured how to make the Teranex converters small, affordable and easy to use.

We tested the Teranex by converting various types of footage from a current project on which Shapeshifter was working. We used a long-time competitor to Teranex for comparison, and all tests were done digitally over SDI, despite the many analog connections available on the Teranex. (Unfortunately the test footage we used has not been cleared for release, so I’m unable to provide screenshots.) The footage, shot at 1920×1080 at 23.98, combined many different scenes, including a football game, rock climbers, a luau, and a rodeo. We started by downconverting HD to SD. In the past, I’ve been lukewarm on the results of the Blackmagic Design Decklink’s downconversion on certain types of footage, specifically converting frame rates from 23.98 to 29.97. While BMD has improved this over the years, the Teranex absolutely closed the gap, creating incredible conversions. Easily selectable options for HD-SD conversion include the most common “center crop”, letterbox, and anamorphic options, amongst others. Blackmagic Design has really stepped up downconversion quality with this Teranex.

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Equally impressive, however, was how the Teranex handled the upconversion of SD footage (720×486 @ 29.97NDF) to HD (1920×1080 @ 23.98p). Blackmagic Design has stayed away from SD/HD upconversions in the past, but they've jumped right into the deep end with Teranex, the company that set the standard for this type of conversion. I’m happy to say that Blackmagic Design has allowed Teranex do what it does best. The images looked as good as I’ve seen from any upconversion, and certainly better than the big, expensive converter we were using in our test for comparison. We didn’t notice any of the motion artifacts typically associated with this type of conversion. I did notice that the thin ropes supporting the mountain climbers in one scene were made slightly jagged as they rappelled off the face of the cliff. I assume this is a result of the frame-rate conversion, but it wouldn't be very noticeable without the frame-by-frame scrubbing we did in our evaluation.

To be fair, most of the test footage from the Teranex competitor was similar in quality to the Teranex and perfectly acceptable, though the colors in the conversions did seem to shift a bit. Their reds became slightly brown, and the yellows shifted slightly green. We also noticed subtle banding in gradients. However, roughly four out of five clips had unacceptable artifacts when we did a frame-rate conversion from 29.97 to 23.98 or vice versa. Where the Teranex created nearly flawless conversions, the competitor created dramatic and unusable moiré artifacts in the video. Where football stadium bleachers occupied most of the background, the moiré patterns made us dizzy as we watched the conversion. Moire problems also showed up in trees whizzing past a speeding car’s window, and in the moving ropes of the mountain climbers, especially when the thin black ropes were set against the blown-out white sky. It seems that any vertical object moving against a contrasting background created artifacts when converted by the Teranex competitor. But the Teranex lived up to its name and performed like a champ.

The Teranex 2D is not just a standalone converter for edit bays and machine rooms. It also operates as a video and audio IO for Apple Final Cut Pro, Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro, as well as for graphics apps like Photoshop, Nuke and even Pro Tools, provided you’ve got a Thunderbolt connection or a Thunderbolt converter that’s compatible with your system. Unfortunately, this was one function of the Teranex that we did not get the chance to test, as we just didn’t have any Thunderbolt connectivity available to us at the time of testing.

Blackmagic Design has always offered products for the masses that enhance the quality and capability of the individual. The Teranex continues that tradition. It isn’t for everyone, and it’s more than some users will ever need. However, for those that regularly ingest from or output to many different formats, Teranex is a magic bullet. The ability to ingest from anything and output to anything with high-end quality had previously been available only in expensive equipment for larger post houses. Thanks to Blackmagic Design, I’ll be using a Teranex on my next documentary from day one.

Nathan Adams is a freelance post supervisor and owner of Cinematomic. In addition to his tenure consulting on equipment for various resellers, Nathan Adams has worked as an engineer and post-production specialist for almost two decades. Cinematomic is a post-production company in Los Angeles specializing in independent feature films, documentaries, television and web content.