Sponsored by AJA
As demand for 4K/UltraHD grows, and virtual sets introduce custom configurations, productions are working harder than ever to achieve consistent, colour-accurate looks from lens through to post. As Digital Image Technician (DIT) Jamie Metzger put it, “Staying on top of monitoring and data technology is a job in and of itself, but it’s important to find the time to discover tools that can make the job easier.”
One tool that’s helping Metzger and other production professionals keep pace with evolving colour management strategies on-set is AJA ColorBox. The portable, high-performance converter for colour-managed workflows supports low latency, in-line HDR/SDR algorithmic, and LUT colour transforms for live production, live event, in-studio, and on-set applications. Available since fall 2022, ColorBox is proving itself invaluable across a diverse range of environments as productions navigate new technology and workflows.
Intuitive look management for consistency across production and post
To easily manage complex colour workflows, ColorBox has several built-in modes called “pipelines.” Built around a 33-point 3D LUT processor with tetrahedral interpolation, the AJA Color Pipeline provides additional 4x 1D LUTs and 2x 3×3 matrices that are each individually configurable as Proc Amps or RGB Colour Correctors. It also includes processing pipeline modes from Colorfront and NBCU LUTs, as well as the AJA Color Pipeline. Licensable upgrade options are available for advanced colour-managed workflows, including the Colorfront Engine, BBC HLG LUTs, and ORION-CONVERT. ORION-CONVERT’s real-time floating point math approach to colour transforms produces precision results that provide access to “the colours between the colours.” This enables pixel-perfect colour transforms and round tripping where maintaining colours is paramount.
The compact and silent AJA ColorBox unit is accessed through a browser-based user interface (UI) with a confidence monitor for previewing incoming signals in real time. Supporting Standard Dynamic Range (SDR), High Dynamic Range (HDR), and Wide Colour Gamut (WCG) signals, it utilizes 12G-SDI and HDMI 2.0 for single wire 4K/UltraHD HDR up to 4:2:2 10-bit 60p or 4:4:4 12-bit 30p.
ColorBox also offers a sophisticated test pattern generator and frame store, bringing valuable tools to the workflow, including the ability to capture up to a 4K image as a 16-bit .tiff file. ColorBox can even overlay information onto the image, including helpful user-definable text fields and user-loaded overlays. These captures can be saved locally on ColorBox or onto connected PCs running applications like Pomfort’s Livegrade Pro/Studio, Assimilate Live Looks, and QTAKE Video Assist software.
As workflows evolve, so has the AJA ColorBox, with the newest update (v2.0), expanding its Colorfront Engine video processing options with new TV and Live Modes. Along with adding support for the latest v1.6 BBC HLG LUTs, the release also updates ORION-CONVERT with a gamma compensation function to ensure compatibility between different colour conversion philosophies. AJA continues to add features to address customer requests that answer common obstacles and unlock new opportunities.
4K HDR live grading on-set
Metzger provides DIT services for feature film, episodic and commercial productions. Although HD SDR grading is the norm on set, he’s seeing new interest in live grading in 4K HDR because it allows the production team to catch more issues and correct them ahead of time. That evolution is making the ColorBox an essential component of his cart.
He explained, “When I’m on a long-form project, live grading is only one aspect of my job. I also gather and manage reference stills. My DIT cart is usually DC-powered, and I love that I can power my ColorBoxes with my DC battery, so they’re up and running at the start of the day. ColorBox also makes setup with Pomfort Livegrade Studio software straightforward.”
“When you’re setting up your equipment, every roadblock can be frustrating, so it’s nice to know I can count on the ColorBox units to work. They help give me a clear picture so I can easily create references, live grade, and make camera and exposure adjustments.”
Metzger completed his most recent long-form 4K HDR live grade using a 4K HDR and HD SDR cart. For the 4K HDR cart, he ran 4K BNC cables from ARRI ALEXA 35 cameras straight to two AJA ColorBox devices integrated with Pomfort Livegrade Pro for live dynamic grading. He fed the output through the ColorBox units into two 4K HDR monitors.
Live grading for unscripted series
LA-based DIT Sam Petrov helps productions bridge technical realities and creative goals. While he customizes the technology he uses for each project, Petrov leans on AJA ColorBox for setup and look management with live grading.
He recently worked on dating series for a popular streaming platform, setting the initial look for the season and ensuring it was consistent across the different components of the show. The production used more than 30 digital cinema cameras and the same number of robotic cameras. Several of the cameras recorded up to 70 terabytes of 4K footage to AJA Ki Pro Ultra 12G ProRes and DNx recorder/players a day, and the AJA ColorBox supported live grading on-set in 1080 SDR.
“ColorBox gives us the confidence that the look of all the different camera angles match up. It’s powerful, robust, cost-efficient, and fills a real niche,” he said. “Our profession has long awaited a device like this. Just having the ability to generate a signal up to 4K and test a system is invaluable.”
He explained, “I just navigate to the web UI and can crank out a colour test pattern, then change different frame rates to whatever we need for the technical standard. I know we’re getting exactly what’s needed from the hardware before we even get to the creative side of colour.”
Colour Management in an LED Volume
For DIT Eduardo Eguia, who recently wrapped production in an LED volume for a major episodic series, ColorBox plays an important role in his on-set approach to colour management in HD and 4K.
LED volumes require a different colour management approach than traditional production environments. There’s a virtual production team in charge of the 3D world rendered on the screens to extend the film set and blend it with the practical, on-set elements.
In collaboration with the virtual production stage technician, Eguia and his team designed a workflow that served traditional video monitoring as well as virtual production, outputting both HD and 4K signals. The HD signal is fed to one cart wirelessly where it’s processed; then, they create the desired look. Separately and using an additional output from the camera in 6G, they send an SDI wire to a second cart that processes the 4K signal. In this cart, they route this signal to the AJA ColorBoxes. Eguia runs an ethernet cable between carts so he can control the ColorBoxes from the HD cart. Essentially, Livegrade Pro controls both boxes, one locally and one through ethernet, so whatever colours he applies go to both places at the same time. It allows the team to see the same colour correction in HD and 4K simultaneously.
Said Eguia, “Livegrade Pro seamlessly handles the devices with the same colour correction we’re watching on OLED monitors, and everything matches perfectly. We can see more detail in the picture and know exactly what we were getting out of the cameras. ColorBox is a steady workhorse and gives us additional functionality to work smarter on set.”
As production workflows and technologies evolve, AJA continues to expand ColorBox functionality, striving to streamline colour-managed workflows so customers can focus on delivering a consistent, high-quality look for productions, even as content moves throughout various technologies and stakeholders across the production chain.
To learn how your production or pipeline can benefit from ColorBox, visit: www.aja.com/colorbox.
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