Sponsored by AJA
4K HDR has significantly enhanced the viewer experience, enabling vastly more compelling visuals. Behind the scenes, however, it’s created new complexities from lens through to post and delivery. Achieving a consistent, colour-accurate look as 4K/UltraHD HDR footage moves throughout the chain can be difficult, making colour and look management on-set and in-post essential for modern productions. Being able to load, modify, save, and share looks easily; capture 4K reference images; test out looks in pre/post-production; process video with ultra low latency; and convert signals into a single master HDR format and multiple downstream deliverable formats are quickly becoming non-negotiables. With this in mind, AJA launched ColorBox at IBC 2022. The portable device streamlines and accelerates workflows with powerful in-line algorithmic or LUT colour transforms and low-latency video processing packed into a single unit that easily complements desktop or rackmount setups whether on or near set, in a post facility, or in a venue.
Digging deeper into AJA ColorBox
Look management methodologies on set, in post, or in a live environment are rarely the same, so AJA designed ColorBox to support a broad range of approaches. The passively cooled, fanless device supports 12G-SDI in/out and HDMI 2.0 out for up to 4K/UltraHD 60p 10-bit YCbCr 4:2:2 and 30p 12-bit RGB 4:4:4 signal support for local monitoring and other needs. Compact and weighing less than half a kilo, it doesn’t take up much desktop real-estate, and you can mount up to four ColorBoxes in a 1RU for production and post setups, DIT carts, fly away kits, and equipment racks. An additional 12G-SDI loop-through output is available for passing through the clean signal to other devices. Among many other valuable features, ColorBox also includes an RGB colour corrector and ProcAmp, extensive LUT, 3×3 matrix and image libraries, powerful still image capture and recall capabilities, and ancillary (ANC) metadata management.
Device setup and operation are straightforward, with an intuitive web-based user interface that can be accessed directly from a wired ethernet connection or wirelessly via a built-in USB OTG port and a third-party USB WiFi adapter. The browser-based user interface (UI) includes a confidence monitor through which you can preview incoming signals and see changes reflected in real-time. ColorBox users can also access one of five colour processing pipelines at a time, including AJA Color Pipeline (ACP), Colorfront, NBCU LUT, ORION-CONVERT, and BBC HLG LUT. The latter two modes require a license for watermark removal. AJA’s Color Pipeline (ACP) includes a 33-point 3D LUT processor with tetrahedral LUT interpolation, four built-in user-configurable 1D LUTs, and two user-configurable 3×3 matrices.
Streamlining look management on-set
A perfect complement to any on-set grading pipeline, ColorBox conveniently integrates with many industry standard colour and look management tools. It currently supports Pomfort’s Livegrade Studio digital imaging system and Livegrade Pro software, as well as Assimilate’s Live Looks and Live Assist live grading solution and video assist software. ColorBox also ensures a smoother, more seamless LUT update experience as the 3D LUT is dynamically controlled when you adjust the colour decision list (ASC CDL) via colour wheels and colour value changes are applied across the full video frame. ColorBox also includes a powerful toolset for more precise 4K HDR monitoring. You can capture a true 4K image for reference and manipulate it using any of the colour processing pipelines that ColorBox offers including AJA’s Color Pipeline. This pipeline includes seven nodes of real-time 12-bit RGB processing, plus overlay, for complete control over colour space, video level, and dynamic range conversion.
Achieving look consistency through communication
Communicating on-set image details – including the LUT and colour space conversion – downstream can be tricky. AJA ColorBox and the AJA Color Pipeline provide pipeline configuration overlays with user text fields to ensure configuration data is retained and shared accurately. DIT or other team members can enter custom information (i.e., camera and lens type, standard or high dynamic range, etc.) and node status (i.e., on, off, enabled, disabled, file loaded etc.) and overlay it onto the video output. All the status and origin details of the image and the filenames used to create it are baked into the captured image so that it can be communicated to other crew with the proper context.
What’s more, with ColorBox presets, multiple parties across the production chain (i.e., on-set, editorial, grading, etc.) can share and access presets, so everyone is working with the same look. All files loaded into AJA Color Pipeline nodes can easily be exported as a single preset file with all the others nested inside. When a team member shares the original image created on set with another ColorBox user on the project, they can load the preset. ColorBox then automatically populates the library with all the files used to create the look and configures the colour pipeline as it was seen on set.
In virtual production environments, ColorBox can also be used to apply a colour grade and transfer it to a viewing station on-set so that team members can then fine-tune looks on the real-time composites with ultra-low latency.
Accelerating decision-making in dailies and post
Combined with a laptop, monitor, and video recorder like AJA Ki Pro Ultra 12G, ColorBox makes tweaking or auditioning alternate looks in real real-time much more straightforward. It allows dailies teams to access LUTs used earlier in the day and apply them for playback needs. Since LUT files can be uploaded to ColorBox and played out, versus rendering and playing out files from colour grading software with looks applied, post-production teams can also easily preview and try out different looks without waiting for various renders, which is a huge time saver.
A colour conversion Swiss Army Knife for live production
Working with a combination of SDR and HDR, including log signals from cinema cameras, is a given in any live production environment. To ensure a consistent look, a production team must be able to convert SDR sources into a master HDR production format so that a production switcher can mix them all in the same dynamic range and colour space. ColorBox supports diverse conversion needs from SDR to HDR and HDR to SDR, roundtripping, and camera log input from camera sources for conversions.
HDR approaches also vary based on the deliverable (i.e., HLG or PQ), so, where one production may leverage NBC Universal LUTs, another might prefer BBC HLG LUTs. Still, others may demand a more custom look. AJA ColorBox supports both of these but also enables custom look creation with the AJA Color Pipeline. For those who prefer Colorfront’s colour science, ColorBox also supports the renowned Colorfront pipeline. It also offers a pipeline that eliminates interpolation errors by using floating-point math to ensure greater precision via an optional license for ORION-CONVERT.
Live is only live once, and most standard live production colour processing pipelines involve multi-frame delays, but AJA ColorBox provides high-quality colour processing with extremely low latency that is less than half of a video line. Using existing ColorBox integrations with SKAARHOJ and CyanView hardware control solutions, operators can also colour correct one or many ColorBox channels at the same time. For instance, five ColorBox units might perform the same conversion on similar sources but they all require a modification. You can easily use either of these third party control solutions to make changes, choose a parameter to modify the looks originating from those cameras, and then use the knobs to change all of the cameras simultaneously. It streamlines and accelerates setups and colour correction in live environments. AJA expects additional ColorBox integrations to follow, with its Software Development Kit (SDK) also available to developer partners.
Whether using ColorBox on or near set, in post-production, or for live production, ColorBox includes an expansive toolset that allows a video professional to walk into any project knowing they have the tools they need to meet client expectations in one compact box. There’s no other kind of colour processing device on the market that offers that level of flexibility.
To learn how your pipeline can benefit from ColorBox, visit: www.aja.com/colorbox.
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