Often when shooting video on a DSLR the screen is simply not pointing in the right direction for optimal / ergonomic viewing as cameras are often placed up against something, held high, held low. And there’s the matter of critical focusing that is very important especially when using low apertures and larger censor cameras like the Canon 5DMKII.. So I began my quest of looking for a field monitor that would fit within my current budget of $500.
The first model I purchased was a sub $200 7″ model from Lilliput. It quickly became apparent that I was going to need a monitor that had some sort of color calibration. While the Lilliput monitor offered color controls, there was no real way to calibrate it with my cameras. And without calibration, there is no way to be assured that the images you see on the screen are what’s being recorded by your camera. So I returned it and continued my search. With my search now narrowed down to two monitors, the iKan VL5 and the Marshall V-LCD50. I made the decision to go with the VL5 as it was half the price, and offered DSLR scaling, whilst and the Marshall did not.
Since I purchased this monitor for my Canon 5DMKII, and it’s obviously marketed at HDSLR shooters, this review will be based on use with an HDSLR. More specifically, the Canon 5DMKII.
What’s in the box:
Upon opening the box you will find the a battery plate (more on that later) shoe mount, AC adapter, sun visor and the VL5 monitor.
The VL5 is made of plastic and is lightweight. The sun visor as well as battery plates attach firmly to the monitor, and by no means feel as they will break at any given time. Buttons are decent size for the size of the display and are very responsive with good physical feedback that a buttons has been pressed. Being light weight, and with the smaller form factor, I don’t have reservations when mounting it on my cameras hot shoe.
Understanding what the issue with scaling with Canon HDDSLR’s for example will help one appreciate and desire the feature. There are tons of websites that do a fantastic job of explaining DSLR Scaling. So if you want the full 411 on it, a simple Google search will help you get up to speed. The brief and quick explanation I can provide you is this. Canon DSLR’s output an image that’s 3:2, the same size of the cameras censor. And most field monitors are 16×9 or 4:3 even. Resulting of a big loss of screen real estate. And make matters worse. Canon made the information that is overlaid on the picture by pressing the info button, outside of the boundaries of the actual image when displayed on external monitors. Monitors that have DSLR scaling, are able to expand the image to take advantage of more if not all of the screen real estate. The larger the image is on screen, the easier it is to frame shots, focus etc.
Peaking is a camera or monitors ability to put an outline around objects in the image is are in focus. With peaking enabled on the VL5, the screen switches from color to monochrome and as you rack focus on the lens you will see a red outline around whatever in the image is critically in focus. With large censor cameras and use of low apertures “shallow depth of field”, being able to determine exactly what is in focus can be difficult without the use of peaking or false color.
As I mentioned above; one of the biggest downfalls to the 7″ Lilliput monitor was the lack of a color calibration system. Simply no easy way to calibrate that display to your camera. And those who’ve shot video and used an external monitor can attest.. It’s tough to reliably produce images when your monitor doesn’t accurately display what colors and exposure the camera sees. The VL5 also has that covered with Blue Gun. Blue Gun separates the blue channel from all other colors allowing for proper setup or calibrated. The first order of business to calibrate your monitor is to get the SMPTE color bars on your cameras memory card to display them on screen. Some cameras are capable of generating the color bars, for those that are not, you can find them online and follow this super easy method as outlined by Richard Harrington to get it on your Canon HDSLR’s memory card in a format that it can display on screen. Once the SMPTE color bars are displayed on the VL5′s screen, enter the menu and enable Blue Gun. Now, adjust the image by using the contrast, brightness, hue and saturation settings found in the menu. Ikan has a video on how to calibrate one of their higher end monitors online. The principal is the same, just slightly different on the VL5. Also, this is a pretty good post on how to calibrate an external field monitor with SMPTE color bars. The VL5 can also be adjusted with RGB color settings in the menu.
When you order the VL5, you have your choice of battery pack. Available are Sony L series, Panasonic D54, Canon 900 as well as the ever popular Canon LP-E6. I have both the Sony L series and Canon LP-E6 plates. I have easily gotten over 3 hrs of battery life on a single LP-E6 battery. And to be honest, I have yet to fully kill an LP-E6 battery. My only complaint with battery use, is the unit will continue to discharge batteries when shut off. Once you’re done shooting for the day, it’s best to remove the battery. If you leave the battery connected, it will continue to discharge it’s power.. For those times when shooting in doors and when power outlets are readily available, the AC adapter can be used.
Screen & Display Output:
The matte screen is easily viewable from various angles 45, 90 degree’s etc. As well as outdoors on a bright sunny day. The sun visor helps a little, but I would like to see iKan make a sun visor similar VL5 like those available for Marshall and the SmallHD’s.
Signal inputs from 480p to 1080p are supported via HDMI only as there are no other types of signal inputs on the monitor. Actual resolution of the display is 800X480. With a 600:1 contrast ratio. Aspect ratios are switchable from 16:9 to 4:3
Also worth of mention since I never turn them off are the aspect ratio guides. Used to properly frame and compose shots, plus, they look cool as hell.
Negatives that I have with the VL5 are somewhat small, but are there none the less. With the VL5, there is no instruction manual. And the “quick start” guide can be lacking to many as it provides a high level overview, and doesn’t go into some of the monitors features. It does not come with an HDMI cable, and I believe it should as some who purchase it may assume it would, and when they receive it is when they will realize it’s an extra purchase. Plus, the less expensive Lilliput came with an HDMI cable. When the unit is turned off, the power button switches from free to red, and the batteries continue to drain. Is that something that could be corrected with a firmware update? Possibly. But it would be nice to simply shut it off, and store it for a while (shoot or day) not needing to take out the battery.
For the price I paid, $259.95… I am pleased with the feature set and performance of the iKan VL5. It’s lightweight, compact, built solid, and the “pro-like” features without the “pro” price make it a very compelling purchase for anyone who is looking for a small inexpensive field monitor.
Creatives from all over the world know, and will tell you how important screen real-estate is when it comes to workstation displays. As they are typically multi-tasking within several applications and or projects at any given time. The best way to get the maximum screen size for your workflow is to employ some sort of multi-monitor (two, or more) displays. This is easy to accomplish with a desktop computer. Simply crack the case and add a 2nd or 3rd GPU, plug in and configure your monitors, and you’re good to go.
But, what do you do if your workstation is a laptop where it’s not possible to add additional GPU’s? Now more than ever, people are switching from PC to Mac, and also moving from big, bulky desktop computers, to portable, and lightweight laptop computers. The answer comes from Matrox. The Matrox DualHead2Go DisplayPort (DP) Edition. The DualHead2Go is also available in digital and analog configurations. And is compatible with Windows and OS X. *Check with Matrox to see minimum hardware and OS requirements.
How it works:
The DualHead2Go DP Edition is powered via USB and connects to your computers DisplayPort (video output system) using your systems existing GPU power to render uncompressed graphics to attached monitors. Supporting a maximum resolution of 3840×1200 (2x1920x1200) under MacOS X. It’s easy to setup and configure, limited only by each monitors resolution, not screen size. Unlike USB display adapters, the Matrox family of GXM’s (Graphics eExpansion Module) are not limited by the bandwidth of USB.
What’s in the box:
Included when you purchase the DualHead2Go DP Edition.
(1) Matrox DualHead2Go DP Edition GXM
(1) Mini-display port to display port adapter
(1) 2’ display port to display port adapter
(1) 3’ USB cable
Installation CD and installation instructions.
Optional accessory used for this review:
(2) Display port to DVI adapters (CAB-DP-DVIF)
Installation of the DualHead2Go is as simple as installing the software and connecting it to your computers display port & USB port, then your monitors. Optionally, you can purchase the Matrox power supply kit GXM-PSKIT-IF if you are short on USB ports.
As stated above, the DualHead2Go supports a maximum resolution of 3840×1200, and is limited only by your monitors supported resolutions. The 3840 is 1920×2. What this means is the two external displays, each set at 1920×1200 connected to the DualHead2Go are treated as one large display on your system. My setup (as tested) consists my MacBook Pro, 15″ Intel 2.2Ghz Intel i7 with AMD Radeon HD 6750M. 8GB DDR3 RAM. And (2) ASUS 23” LED displays, each supporting a maximum resolution of 1920×1080.You can use monitors of different sizes, however, they must support the same resolution and refresh rates. The screen grab below shows how OSX sees the two external displays.
Once installed, the Matrox PowerDesk software gives you a few options on your menu bar, for configuring DualHead2Go.
Matrox GXM Control Panel is where you go to configure. It is easiest of you choose the “configure based on attached displays” option. Select the number of displays and standard or wide. You can also update the GXM’s firmware from this screen.
Matrox PowerDesk Change Display Settings is where you select which of your monitors displays your menu bar and dock. As well as right or left from your laptop display.
Lastly.. Desktop Management Preferences are where you can change dock start position. And the hot-key modifiers. This is one of my favorite features, as it quickly and easily allows you to move open and active applications to any of the displays 1, 2 or 3 and make it full screen. I can’t tell you how awesome, and frequently I use this feature. It’s as easy as command+tab to cycle thru open applications, then command+option and 1, 2, or 3. 1 Being the display of my MacBook Pro, 2 & 3 are the two external ASUS 23” displays.
During my testing for the DualHead2Go, I ran it thru it’s passes with a number of applications, ranging in CPU & GPU demand. Some that I use on occasion. But most that I use almost daily. The DualHead2Go shined in all of my tests. With the main advantage being it’s use of the existing GPU’s and bandwidth. Not being limited to USB’s throughput is the key here. Safari, Google Chrome and FireFox all performed just as any normal monitor setup and connection. 1080p and 4k video plays with zero lag and latency.
FinalCut Pro X is simply a joy to work with, especially when it is spanned the length of the dual 23″ displays (3840×1080). An editors dream, as you can enlarge the view of the clips in the magnetic timeline for optimal viewing and working. Thumbnails in the event library browser are much easier to see and skim thru. And lastly, the size of the viewer is much larger, and easier to view your edits, effects, transitions, color corrections etc. These views in FCPX are simply better and easier to work in the larger they are. And being able to stretch them across two displays is an editing game changer. I doubt I will ever edit complex video projects on a single display ever again.
As many know, I have done live broadcasts / podcasts with Wirecast for a while now. And putting on such a production is always a chore. Complicated to setup and manage as the shows go on, especially when having multiple guests that Skype in for the show. On average, I would have the following applications running during the show: Wirecast 4 to stream the production, who’s interface is much like a video editing suite. Desktop Presenter to capture video sources for the live broadcast. Safari for including website video of products/websites discussed. Collouqy which is the IRC chat client that connects to the chatroom for the live shows. Twitter for gathering questions for the shows. One to four instances of Skype with guests video. Audio Hijack Pro to capture and record the audio from the stream. iTunes for playing viewer questions/comments. As you can see, this is quite the undertaking for one display, and to be honest. This is the bare minimum for any given show. Many podcasters that I know, turn to multiple system solutions for shows similar to mine. Not because they can’t be produced on one computer., but due to the complicated nature of putting on such a production and the amount of applications running that constantly need to be accessed and brought into the broadcast. With the DualHead2Go, I am able to organize windows and applications across the three displays 15″ MacBook Pro, and dual ASUS 23″ LED”s, to import all video sources from Wirecast and Desktop presenter into the shows.
In my search for my multi-monitor solution, I tested less expensive products that connect monitors via USB like the Sabrent USB-DH88 display adapter that died on me while I was testing the product for review. While these less expensive options can work for extending your multi-monitor setup, they can not be used for anything more than simple web surfing. Any application that is CPU and or GPU dependent, will suffer greatly. Playing HD content thru the USB-DH88 wasn’t even possible, whether it was local, or the web on sites like YouTube and Vimeo. Netflix in Safari and Chrome was possible only in SD. And as badly as I wanted to, running applications such as FinalCut, Aperture, Lightroom were simply not possible due to the limitations of USB 2.0, and the need for support for real-time high bandwidth demand, it failed miserably.
It is no secret that I absolutely love my Matrox DualHead2Go DP Edition. To me, it is the single most important peripheral to my MacBook Pro for what I do as a creative professional. Multi-monitor setups instantly add screen real-estate and improve productivity, efficiency and workflow process. All work and no play? Not so fast…
If you are looking to add a multi-monitor setup for your desktop or laptop computer, the easy way. The Matrox DualHead2Go is the answer. Need more than two monitors, that the DualHead2Go, or 3 that the TripleHead2Go support? You can add multiple’s of each GXM to work in tandem for a total of 4 or 6 displays on a single system.
This final image shows my 23″ ASUS LED displays connected to my 15″ MacBook Pro and the DualHead2Go. FinalCut Pro X on the left with a project that I am currently editing, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 4 on the right. And Safari on my 15″ MacBook Pro display. All running in full screen mode.
Should you have any comments and or questions, feel free to post below. As usual… I will be happy to answer any questions. And feel free to see Matrox’s website for more information on both the DualHead2Go and it’s sister product TripleHead2Go.
My video review for the Sony HDR AX-2000.