Barco ImagePro II- Review

The following appears in the current issue of PLSN Magazine, and many thanks go to the team there- Justin Lang and the entire editorial staff, the web folks, the sales team, and all the other fantastic writers. I couldn’t ask for a better team to work for (when I get the chance) and the quality of the mag is beyond great. Be sure to visit PLSN.com and subscribe! There is so much more with the electronic version as well. If you work in the Biz, than you need to read it. Simple as that. The current issue is chock full of articles from industry experts Nook Schoenfeld, Vickie Claiborne, and Brad Schiller, as well as some great pieces on portable power, the Clay Paky Alpha Spot QWO 800, a tribute to Chip Monck,…..just get there and read!

Barco ImagePro II
I often wonder exactly what my job title is- Entertainment Technician? Stagehand? Video Technician? None of these seem to describe exactly what it is that I do (and they won’t let me use “miracle worker”) except that I’m “the video guy”. A lot of what we do as video professionals is nebulous to the uneducated and usually is perceived as being in the world of black magic, but it almost always involves making an image look pristine somewhere in the rig, whether it’s a display monitor, a projection, or part of an LED set. A long time ago, say, 5 or 6 years, we used scan converters and line doublers to get the CGI world and TV to talk to one another, but since the advent of HD those lines have blurred and it’s our job to keep them crisp. We have some magical tools at our disposal these days and one of those unsung hero-tools of this process is the Image Pro II from Barco. Long regarded as the standard for live event black box processing, the Image Pro (and it’s distant cousins the Screen Pro and Presentation Pro) served a pretty specific need- taking any signal in and spitting any signal out. The latest incarnation is the Image Pro II and it is still a wonder of image processing technology. I was able to put my hands on one for this review and I have to say I’m more than impressed.

Garbage In, Garbage Out

The old axiom stands true, but if you have a pristine image coming in on say, analog 1280×768, and it needs to get to full raster HD-SDI 1920×1080…what do you do? You send it to a black box like the Image Pro II. The Image Pro II is an advanced high performance all-in-one video scaler, scan converter, switcher and transcoder converting any input signal format to any output format. ImagePRO-II supports Universal Analog, DVI single and dual link, HDMI, DisplayPort and SD/HD/3G SDI signal formats. With features like HDCP and EDID management, USB back up and restore, multiple video effects and web page interface, ImagePRO-II is the most advanced and flexible signal processor in the rental and staging industry making it the best suitable solution for any live event.

An All-In-One Solution

The Image Pro-II is not just a scaler/converter, it’s a switcher too and any input can be switched seamlessly from one to another. The front panel also has dedicated buttons for Logo (still-store), Freeze, and Black. If you want more advanced effects, you’ll need to step up to a more robust solution, but switching is almost an afterthought on the Image Pro II. That’s not to say it’s not a capable switcher. Quite the contrary, a rental house or production company looking to have a multi-signal capable switch solution would benefit greatly by having this on a gig. Whether the Image Pro is at the head-end before the switch rack (for scaling multiple sources) or the last thing downstream before display, the image quality is second to none. It uses the 5th generation of Barco’s custom image processing technology, the Athena scaler. Because of this it supports higher resolutions (WQXGA), higher frame rates, higher quality de-interlacing with advanced motion-adaptive processing, faster source acquisition, better color depth and native support for all the latest computer formats. As formats and interface requirements frequently change, the Athena scaler is built to be adaptable providing superior signal clarity, while maintaining a low processing latency of only one frame.

Build quality is superb and since it was designed primarily for the live event industry it is shock resistant, 1 RU high, has Ethercon connectors, and has field-replaceable DVI connectors. DVI, analog, and SDI inputs are loop-through. And while it won’t change the oldest axiom in video, it will guarantee that your image looks as “Pro” as possible.

Around the Panels

The buttons on the Image Pro II react with a satisfying ‘click’ for any pressure push and spacing/lighting is adequate to keep you from pressing the wrong one in a pinch. I like the fact that they’re labeled now, and there’s still space to put some console tape above if you want to label your own. It’s the exact same layout as the Image Pro 3G, with the exception of a conspicous USB interface on the left side front panel. This enables you to save a config and transfer to multiple Image Pro’s without having to set each one up as well as restore settings should the inevitable happen. Quite a convenience! The back panel is set up for DVI, HDMI, SDI, DisplayPort, and Universal Analog. Outputs are set up the same way and the unit is passively Gen-lockable. One small feature I fell in love with is the small screw hole above the HDMI ports for what can only be a future lacing harness adapter- I hope this is the case! The LCD navigation panel on the front is the same as the old model, with a knob for scrolling through the various options. If the front panel doesn’t suit you, the Image Pro II can be controlled via Ethernet through a browser (read- tablets, smartphones, etc.) or by Barco’s Encore switcher. Hook it to a wireless AP and walk the stage for a closer view of your end source! The front and side panels are well louvered for maximum airflow and unlike a lot of single rack space processors- it didn’t sound like a jet engine when the meat of the work kicked in.

Signal and more signal….

Although the resolution limit is 2560 x 1600, I threw every resolution I could at it and everything came out crisp and clean on the other end. In addition, the unit will automatically recognize your output source and adjust accordingly using DisplaySense technology. ‘Area of Interest’ is one of the new features and it allows you to center-cut a source and fill the display horizontally and/or vertically. AOI also puts out a single-pixel raster box indicating size. There are also a few “effects” built-in, namely color correction, invert, monochrome, flip, strobe, and mask. There is an optional dual-output card that allows you to route one input to two completely separate output sources. On-board test patterns are standard, unglamorous, and numerous with ramp, color bars, various size grids, and raster boxes.

ROI

For anyone in the live event industry, ROI is important but not at the cost of a gig. There are simply too many variables on a jobsite to take chances with quality and the Image Pro II is the insurance policy for that. Rental companies will benefit just as they have from the previous generation of Image Pros, but with much greater flexibility. Produced shows and one-offs gain rock solid performance in an easy to use package.

Many thanks to the entire Barco team for support and the use of an incredible piece of gear.

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