Bella Corporations EZ Keyboard
In an age of sophisticated digital tools that perform incredibly complex tasks at the click of a mouse, it's difficult to imagine anyone waxing nostalgic over the clunky analog edit controllers and video processors of just a few years ago. But the one thing these tools did have going for them was the tactile nature of the analog interface -- switches and dials and sliders that could be delicately tapped, warmly fondled, tightly gripped or occasionally pounded in frustration. In comparison, the dim precision of keystrokes and mouse clicks offers a colder, less intimate methodology of control.
In addition, the controls on an analog box affect specific parameters, while the same keyboard and mouse control a diverse assortment of digital tools. This requires the user to commit to memory a library of arcane keyboard and mouse click combinations in order to achieve the necessary rapidity of workflow.
Bella Corporation's line of EZ Keyboard products renovates the standard keyboard with a variety of enhancements intended to make life easier for users of a wide range of digital editing tools. There are a variety of options to choose from -- the Classic series offers color-coded and function-labeled keys and an array of keys with custom-programmable functions, while the DV Keyboard marries a standard keyboard with a VTR style jog-shuttle control. The Professional series keyboards offer the best of both worlds, combining the Classic series' color-coded and custom keys with the DV series' jog-shuttle control.
The Professional series keyboard was submitted for this review, and, cutting to the chase, I can say that it was a pleasure to use. The jog shuttle control is probably the product's biggest selling point, and although jog-shuttle devices have been available for a while now as outboard mouse-style devices, Bella's integration of the jog-shuttle with a standard keyboard stands as a definite improvement in my opinion. Users who enjoy mousing may disagree, but I found that having the jog shuttle on the keyboard allowed me to concentrate my focus there, which would seem to be the goal if one is buying a keyboard with color-coded and programmable buttons.
The keyboard's gently rounded shape and the extended lip at its base are intended to gracefully substitute for wristpads and other ergonomic paraphernalia. While not as dramatically styled as Apple's sleekly modernist abstraction, the keyboard is aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically satisfying.
The keyboard keys are color-coded by function and labeled with text and icons to demonstrate even more obviously their intended purpose. Naturally, the icons are more easily discerned than the text in a fast-paced editing environment, but it's nice to have the text there too. Should one go crazy with Final Cut Pro 4's keyboard remapping tool, sticker sets are available from Bella match the keyboard keys to their new functions. (http://www.bella-usa.com/Products-Stickers.asp) Two yellow triangle-shaped buttons are located above the jog-shuttle so that one can easily set the TC In or Out while shuttling.
In addition to the standard QWERTY and the jog-shuttle, the Professional keyboard includes a bank of 15 keys set at the top of the board. One is reserved for the Bella software application, five are free-range (labeled M1 through M5) and others are preset for iTunes playback control and two are set to open the default e-mail and Web browser. All these keys can be set to suit the desire of the user, but it's probably easier to leave buttons specifically labeled "WWW" or branded with play/pause/e-mail icons so that they perform their intended function.
I tested the keyboard under OS 10.2.6 with the latest drivers; drivers are also available for OS 9 and for the PC, and can be downloaded from Bella (www.bella-usa.com/Support/Support-Drivers.htm). The DV Keyboard application that comes with the driver software allows for a great deal of flexibility and customization. The jog-shuttle and multimedia keys can be assigned general or application-specific functions. Included for the Mac were presets for Avid Express DV, Final Cut Express and iMovie3. I used the keyboard with the Final Cut Pro application preset. Bella has also created ready-made presets for applications like Photoshop and After Effects, which can be downloaded from the Bella Web site. The majority of these were available exclusively to PC users at the time of this writing, but Bella representatives hinted that this would soon be changed.
Since there is no absolute standard for what a jog-shuttle might do in Photoshop, users might find it just as easy to create their own application presets, which the Bella software allows them to do easily. These presets will then automatically load when their associated application is opened.
When I first began working in Final Cut Pro, I purchased an earlier version of the Classic keyboard to help me quickly become familiar with the keyboard shortcuts. While the color-coding and labels were initially useful, I found that over time, it was best to memorize the keyboard if I wanted to use it quickly. The integration of jog shuttle, multimedia keys and color-coded keys into a single unit in the latest keyboard is a substantial improvement, and makes the keyboard an invaluable tool for just about anyone editing video on their computer, from the novice to the experienced editor.
Bjorn Thoresen is a cinematographer and editor. He can be reached at email@example.com.