FOR-A’s Little FRCs

As a long-time user and supporter of FOR-A’s flagship FRC-7000 and FRC-8000 frame-rate converters, I have always been incredibly impressed with their high-end performance quality. They are substantially better than anything else on the market; especially in their handling of live sports.

However, I have always felt that there was a huge gap in the market for a mid-range product. Until now, the only alternative was low-end linear converters -- which were never acceptable for serious broadcast applications -- with Snell’s Mach HD being the only middle ground option.

Thankfully, this situation has improved, now that FOR-A has introduced two new frame-rate converters firmly aimed at the mid-price market. Both devices use a scaled-down version of the tried-and-trusted motion estimation conversion principles used by FOR-A’s flagship high-end converters.

The FRC-30 is a standalone 1U half-width Up/Down/Cross and frame-rate converter with motion estimation. We have now been beta testing pre-release versions of the FRC-30 for the first part of this year.

The UFM-30FRC single-card version offers the same features plus optional control from a web GUI. It fits into the FOR-A UFM series modular system.

The FRC-30 converts between 50 and 59.94 frame rates at 1080i, 720p and SD. In addition, it can transfer to and from 1080/23.98PsF. This is the originating format widely used in North American production. It is normally transferred to 59.94i for transmission using 3:2 pulldown, which makes it look as if everything is running on three cylinders!

Besides offering 3:2 pulldown, the FRC-30 can also achieve this conversion using motion estimation; offering a far more visually-pleasing solution at an affordable price.

The conversion performance excels in a wide variety of situations – including the frame-rate conversion of rolling/crawling captions and graphics. Commonly used in rolling news broadcasts, this is an area where many other converters struggle. Here, the FRC-30 is clearly a top performer in its class.

These units have plenty of other plus points. They include excellent quality of Up/Down/Cross conversion; either at the same frame rate or as part of a conversion.

I would place the FRC-30 well in the upper performance band for SD or 720P to 1080i where other comparable products struggle with aliasing artefacts – especially on sharp-edged captions and graphics. There is also a wide selection of aspect ratio conversions available when converting to or from SD.

Although the FRC-30 is a very compact device, it is equipped with a comprehensive range of features. They include 16-channel embedded audio throughput with adjustable delay, frame synchronisation, proc amp level control and the passing of EIA608 closed caption information (59.94 frame rates only). Many broadcasters now demand 16-channel embedded handling for stereo plus discrete surround channels x2 for dual-language programming.

For most general programming, the conversion quality is very smooth and certainly more than adequate for most news and cable/satellite channel requirements. Performance only starts to become an issue with more-demanding material, such as fast moving sports where, for instance, backgrounds may judder with fast pans following players.

Unfortunately these devices won’t handle encoded Dolby E signals. But that would be a little too much to expect at this price point.

There are two oddities of note. First, I’m not sure why the FRC-30 offers composite video input/output, especially as there’s no provision for any accompanying AES or analogue audio. Maybe this is a legacy item, but I see it as rather pointless.

Second, the user interface on the standalone FRC-30 is on the front panel. Comprising a single line of text and a knob, it takes a little time to work out, as it’s not particularly user friendly. Once mastered, this user interface is fine, but for beginners I recommend having a copy of the menu flow diagram on hand.

The modular UFM-30FRC version has the option of utilizing a Network Control Interface Card to allow any number of the cards to be controlled by a GUI over IP. I think this approach is simpler and more user friendly.

Galaxy Light & Power LLC has the largest inventory of broadcast frame-rate converters for rental in the world, also offering tape and file conversions at our in-house transfer facility. We have added FRC-30 standalone units to our hire stock as they make the most sense for a majority of applications.

However, I’m also looking to purchase modular versions, housing up to 10 UFM-30FRC converter cards plus the network control card in one box. This is to satisfy requests from broadcasters wanting multiple simultaneous conversions run under central control.

In my opinion, the FRC-30/UFM-30FRC successfully fills the gap between high-end and low-end quality frame rate conversion, offering a very high quality level of conversion for a wide range of material at a very affordable price.

Andy Grant is the founder and chief executive of Galaxy Light & Power LLC, based in London and New York. He has a wide practical knowledge of television engineering from the operational, production and design aspects.