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Ultimatte 8: First impressions



For those of you who don't know me (and that's most of you), I have been
involved with using Ultimattes one way or another (mostly in production)
since 1978, when I bought my first one.  

I currently own a bunch of units, including a (very) low end 300, several
4's and the high end analog 6.  I don't own any digital units since I don't
consider them viable for production at the moment:  there are no real
digital cameras yet, and I have some reservations that I can get clients to
pay the extra rental I would have to charge for an expensive high-end box
such as the 8 and the other support equipment which would be required to
round out such a package.

You guys and gals in post have none of those limitations ;-).

I do not work for Ultimatte (although I know pretty much everyone who
does), and have never received any money or free goods or services from
them for any reason. I did have a beer and a couple of sandwiches while I
was there yesterday, but I don't think that biased my views very much.

So, having said all that, I was at the Ultimatte open house yesterday
afternoon, and spent several hours playing with the new serial 4:4:4
Ultimate 8.  I though some of you might be interested in what I saw.  

The box:

This is a two piece device, with a movable remote for the telecine or
editing suite, and a base station to be installed in the equipment rack.

The two rack remote connects to the base via an RS422 cable.  For those of
you familiar with the 6, the remote looks physically identical.  For those
not familiar, it consists of an LCD screen displaying the menus, and
several buttons functioning as softkeys along the left side and bottom of
the screen.  There are also five shaft-encoded controls which change
function depending on which menu is active.  

The base station is three rack units high, with connectors for inputs,
reference input, external key input, and two sets of outputs.  All I/O is
serial digital.  The unit can be changed from the remote to 4:2:2 for those
houses not (yet) capable of doing 4:4:4.  The construction seems first
rate.

Operation:

The automatic operation of the unit seems greatly improved over all
previous Ultimatte models.  Specifically, the unit's intelligence with
respect to its ability to deal with color flare on hair or fleshtone is
excellent.  Matting a blond model on greenscreen was ridiculously simple,
requiring very little touch up on my part to make it close to perfect.

Of course, the circuitry controlling automatic setup is not perfect, and
there is always a little tweaking which will make things even better, but
overall they did a very nice job on it.  If the DP didn't totally screw up
(or the clever client hired me as a consultant on the shoot), the results
of just pressing the intelligent reset button on the box will amaze your
clients and bring you fleeting fame and glory.

The unit also comes with built-in screen correction which is much improved
over the version that shipped with the 6.  

The framestore required to hold the correction reference is now built in,
and looks at up to 8 frames as a reference while doing its interpolation,
which results in a MUCH quieter reference correction frame. 

Additionally, it no longer matters if the production company did not shoot
a reference frame.  The 8 allows the operator to build a screen correction
reference frame on the fly, even if there are objects and moving people in
it.  

I have to warn here that the procedure for building the reference frame
after the fact is somewhat tedious and takes some time (depending on how
seriously screwed up the background is and how much talent motion is
involved), but you can now correct backgrounds where they cleverly allowed
that blue night-effect light to accidentally hit the green background.  

As always, if the camera or lens move during the shot, screen correction
cannot be used at all.

The unit I worked with yesterday was significantly quieter than the version
demoed at NAB last year.  The version they showed at the show sucked.  This
version is much better.

Some other nifty stuff includes five scratch memory locations so the
operator can INSTANTLY compare two different sets of settings.  These are
in addition to the 100 permanent non-volatile memory locations.  

They are also promising to release an API spec in January which will allow
you computer jockeys to write code controlling every aspect of the
operation, including interpolation of transitions along selectable curves
and so forth.  I saw none of that working, so take that for what it's
worth.

My overall impression is that this is a VERY nice box, a great improvement
over all previous versions, including its predecessor, the serial 4:2:2
Ultimatte 7.  

Anyone interested in further details or pricing (around $50k) should
contact Ultimatte directly at 818-993-8007.

If you have any specific questions, I will try to answer them here if the
group seems interested, or via private mail if not.

Your mileage may vary, read all safety precautions, and under no
circumstances should you flush until the train has left the station.

--Bob