Accurate field monitoring is a critical component of any shoot, particularly in HD. While many camcorders, particularly the smaller ones, now have color LCD screens this has become a non-issue in some circles. However, the bigger the budget, the more critical every technical issue becomes, including basics such as accurate focus. The "flip-out" camera LCD monitor isn't always up to this, as more demanding work requires a larger and sharper monitor. Luckily, there is a new generation of such portable monitors to fill the void. While many of them still cost more than top of the line big screen flat panel 1080p LCD TVs, there are a few pushing the $1,000 price barrier. One relatively new addition has now broken that barrier, Ikan's V8000HD. This compact LCD monitor actually lists for three-quarters of that figure, bringing it into the affordability range for many pros at, and below, the fat middle of the bell curve.
The Ikan Corp. V8000HD LCD monitor kit The Ikan Corp. V8000HD is a light weight, ultra portable 8-inch HD monitor designed for easy field monitoring. It's encased in strong and durable plastic housing, and at the same time keeping the weight down—the monitor weighs in at slightly more than a pound without the battery. Dimensions of this TFT LCD unit are about 2-by-6-by-8 inches, making it easy to pack and carry around in the field. Despite this compact size, it accommodates multiple HD and SD formats, and is capable of displaying 1080, 720, and 480 line video, along with PAL formats. Both 16: 9 and 4:3 aspect ratios are supported.
The V8000HD has a full complement of analog inputs and outputs, with BNC connectors used for everything except S-Video, and all feature video loopthrough. The V8000HD kit also comes with a sturdy metal carrying case, an AC adaptor, an L-series battery, charger and a lightweight, but sturdy post for mounting it atop a camera for use as an external viewfinder.
The V8000HD draws less than 10 W and the IBS 970 battery provided should power the unit for 3.5 hours. (A smaller IBS 750 battery, which fits inside many camcorders, can run it for about 1.5 hours.) An optional cigarette plug–style car battery power adaptor is also available.
Inputs, aspect ratios and display parameters can all be manually adjusted via clearly labeled switches on the monitor's front panel. They can also be controlled via an ultra-thin compact remote, which fits easily into a shirt pocket. Screen adjustments include: brightness, contrast and color. Red, green and blue can be individually adjusted.
The monitor's resolution is specified as 800x480, with a contrast ratio of 200:1. It has an anti-glare screen and its brightness is rated at 400cd/m2. Its viewing angles are quite respectable and it was designed for use in a broad range of climatic conditions, with an operating temperature range of from zero to 65 degrees Celsius. It's ready for use around the globe as it handles PAL signals and has a multilingual menu, which includes Chinese.
The V8000 comes with a 1/4-20 thread mount on its base for attachment to the adjustable mounting bracket in the kit. This bracket includes a mounting bolt connected to a swivel ball allowing it to be used atop a camera. It connects to a camera via a standard "shoe" mount.
The V8000HD does not have an underscan mode as such, but the image area has been reduced so as to display everything that the camera captures. This is intended to reduce operator error and prevent things like boom mikes from creeping into frame edges. Basically what you see is what you get.
The V 8000HD comes with a one page "quick start" guide for setting it up and navigating the menu, allowing the unit to be used "straight out of the box." However, in my haste to check out all of the components shipped with the V8000HD, I temporarily mislaid the guide. However I had no trouble in accessing and adjusting most key functions. These are very intuitive; my experience was akin to navigating the control panel of an HDTV display.
Initially I connected the composite output from a Sony HVR 25 deck to the composite input on the monitor's I/O panel and powered from the included AC adaptor However, I didn't see the image being displayed on the small monitor in the source deck; all I got was a blue screen. My troubleshooting revealed that the S-Video mode had been engaged and not the composite that I needed. I depressed the input button on the control panel again in an attempt to select the proper signal mode; however, I still wasn't where I needed to be, as this toggled the monitor to its component setting which left the blue screen unchanged. One more button push got me to "AV" or composite, and now the V8000HD image matched the one on the video source deck. However, I noticed that the people on the screen seemed a bit heftier than they should. They quickly assumed their normal physiques after I pressed the aspect ratio tab that selects 16:9 or 4:3.
My efforts to tweak the color was a bit more frustrating though, as the only parameter I was able to modify with the front panel menu button was brightness, the first of four options on the menu. Using the "right/left" buttons on the front panel, I could raise or lower brightness in one percent increments. After taking it 10 percent or so in both directions, I returned things to the factory's 50 percent setting. Finally, after multiple attempts, I cracked the code for scrolling down the menu to select the other parameters—contrast and color temperature—by using the "left" button. Just as with brightness adjustments, contrast is adjusted in one percent steps. It's the same with red, green and blue adjustments. The V8000HD also comes with a compact and user-friendly remote control with buttons closely corresponding to the functions and layout on the monitor. This can speed up the adjustment process.
There's also an auto-configuration mode option in the menu that automatically adjusts brightness, contrast and color temperature to display a pleasing image, even with less than perfect video. This mode appears to set median values for all parameters, resulting in a properly color balanced, medium contrast, well-exposed image.
Unfortunately the monitor lacks an onboard memory for your particular tweaks, should you make some. However there is a reset button that restores all parameters to factory specs in the event that you get carried away with custom adjustments. This came in handy when I inadvertently changed the menu language to German. Fortunately, I knew enough German to get back to the language option page to restore the English default. This experience made me thankful that I hadn't accidentally selected one of the Chinese options, as I don't think I could have found the reset option in that menu.
After my initial testing in composite mode, I reconnected the Sony HVR25 deck to the V8000HD via component I/Os. This is the only mode that displays HD, and it indicates which HD flavor is being displayed. Despite the monitor's specified maximum resolution of 800x480, the quality of the HDV imagery displayed was more than adequate for confidence monitoring in the field, and for critical focusing.
Fast Facts Application
Event coverage, ENG/EFP
Small size, light weight, multiformat capability
MSRP for monitor only is $795; the complete kit reviewed is $895; car plug adapter is $10
Ikan Corp. | 713-272-8822 | www.ikancorp.com The unit also performed well as a basic studio monitor. I used it for this application primarily with the HVR 25 deck and a DVD player/ recorder. When using the component input, it automatically displayed HD and SD material without noticeable delay. I should note that the monitor does not perform letterboxing or edge trimming if the incorrect aspect ratio setting is selected. You will either get short squatty people or unnaturally tall and skinny ones. This should make it obvious at once that the aspect ratio setting is incorrect.
The V8000HD's multiple I/Os enabled me to use it for monitoring multiple sources in a studio context. I actually used all three sets of I/Os in my testing, going back and forth as needed. I found that switching sources was even a bit faster using the remote.
The V8000HD's compact size and light weight make it well suited for use in the field. Although the deluxe kit comes with a durable foam-padded travel case, in order to beat the airlines' extra bag surcharge, I elected to wrap the monitor in light foam, slipped it into a thick plastic bag and put it into my carry on camera bag, along with battery and charger. This provided me with the peace of mind in knowing that I would arrive with camera and field monitor in hand—ready to shoot—even if my other baggage went astray en route. By using my 120 VAC car inverter, I was ready to power the V8000HD anywhere I drove without having to recharge the IPS 970 battery.
There is one caveat that I would offer—the V8000HD is not designed for use outdoor use in bright light without a hood. While I didn't test it with a custom-fitting pro hood, I did use pieces of cardboard, and even a magazine, to shade it in light overcast with satisfactory results. Hoodman and others do offer custom-made and adjustable hoods that could help in such situations.
Luckily, HD field monitoring doesn't have to cost thousands any longer thanks to new alternatives such as the V8000HD LCD monitor. It delivers dependable, high resolution color-balanced imagery with at a size that is more than adequate to ensure the accurate focusing of any high-definition camera, whether mounted on a tripod, or even a Steadicam.
It's perfect for smaller independents in the event market, and also for budget-minded broadcasters, Webcasters and for those involved in the production of lower budget commercials. It could also make a great backup or second monitor for pros working at the higher end of the budget spectrum.
Carl Mrozek operates Eagle Eye Media, based in Buffalo, N.Y., which specializes in wildlife and outdoor subjects. His work regularly appears on the Discovery Channel, The Weather Channel, CBS, PBS and other networks. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.