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Record, Monitor, Repeat: Improved Production with Video Devices’ PIX-E5

Sound Devices has been so successful in its PIX line of on-camera and studio solid-state monitoring/recording devices that the company spun off a separate product line called Video Devices.

While other manufacturers were releasing on-camera products with varying capabilities, Sound Devices seemed missing from the party, with only the venerable PIX 220i and 240i in production. The 2015 NAB Show saw the introduction of the PIX-E series, consisting of the PIX-E5, E5H and E7 monitor/recorders. These products garnered awards from a variety of publications.

But like so many products, we had to wait until summer or autumn of 2015 for shipment. And owing to its popularity, we had to wait even longer for our review loaner.

A recent firmware update added the H.264 codec and the ability to record ProRes and H.264 files simultaneously.

It was worth the wait. The PIX-E5 arrived in its kit configuration, consisting of the recorder, cables, two batteries and charger, AC power, articulating arm, sunshade and two SpeedDrive enclosures, one populated with a 240 GB mSATA SSD. And all neatly packaged in a custom-configured hard case.

The E5H differs from the E5 in the following areas: the E5H is HDMI only instead of HDMI and SDI I/O; it has six audio tracks as opposed to eight; and the highest-quality codec supported on the E5H is ProRes 422 HQ, as opposed to 4444 XQ on the E5.

The E7 sports a 7-inch display with 1920 x 1200 resolution, in contrast to the E5/E5H’s 5-inch 1920 x 1080 display. The E7 features a second SDI in and another BNC connection for LTC in. All other controls and features are identical.

All of the E Series models record 1080 signals up to 120p and 4K signals (UHD and DCI) up to 30p.

The PIX-E5 lends itself to today’s generation of DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and smaller video cameras. Weighing about 1 pound without batteries and measuring 5.4” x 3.4” x 1.6”, the E5 feels solid and well-constructed. Its die-cast aluminum chassis and Gorilla Glass IPS panel screen can withstand a tumble without damage. The left side of the unit has two full-size BNC and HDMI inputs. Power options include a choice of two Sony-L batteries, 10-34V external DC or optional AC adapter. There is an SD card slot on the right side.

Among the greatest innovations of the PIX-E series is SpeedDrive, a USB 3.0 enclosure barely larger than a thumb drive that houses an mSATA drive. SpeedDrive streamlines the file delivery process by eliminating the need for card readers or docking stations. When connected to the rear of any PIX-E monitor, the SpeedDrive’s USB 3.0 interface automatically switches to a SATA interface. Once recording is complete, users simply remove it from the back of a PIX-E and plug it directly into any USB computer port to transfer data at USB 3.0 rates.

SpeedDrive is a removable mSATA drive that mounts securely on the rear of the PIX-E5.

Users may purchase a 240 GB SpeedDrive or an enclosure-only version into which they may fit any capacity of mSATA drive. mSATA drives are available in capacities up to 1 TB, with 1 TB drives topping out under $400.

The SpeedDrive locks securely on the rear of the PIX-E and there is a release switch to unlock the drive, so there’s no chance of accidental drive removal.

The PIX-E is operated by menus as well as buttons, which are positioned below the screen. In describing this as a “best of both worlds user interface,” Video Devices notes that some functions are better controlled by touchscreen—for example, when interacting directly with a specific area of the displayed image, such as zooming in to a point of interest with TapZoom. Buttons, on the other hand, let the operator locate a control without looking and provide a tactile response to leave no doubt that a function has been activated.

Let’s start with menu structure. Anyone who has used PIX recorders before will be familiar with the menu structure. Press the menu button, use the dial on the lower right to scroll through choices, press the button again to make a selection.

Left and right views of PIX-E5

PIX-E5 does not detect input automatically, so the first step must be selecting SDI or HDMI input. While it can perform automatic recognition of progressive or PsF input, there is also a manual option. Metadata options allow custom file naming and reel naming conventions. Codecs range from ProRes Proxy to ProRes 4444 XQ. At the 2016 NAB Show, Sound Devices announced that a firmware update for the PIX-E Series was adding the H.264 codec and the ability to simultaneously record a ProRes file and an H.264 MP4 file. The update (v3.00) became available to users in late May.

With PIX-E5’s dual recording capability, ProRes is recorded to the SpeedDrive and H.264 is simultaneously recorded to an SD card. While recording 4K in ProRes, the monitor will automatically scale the 4K to 1080p for recording H.264, thereby reducing its file size.

The PIX-E ships with several LUTs for popular log formats, including Sony S-Log2, S-Log3 and Canon Log. User LUTs may also be loaded via SD card or by placing them in a LUT folder on the SpeedDrive’s mSATA card. Only four LUTs at a time are available for selection, and those four LUTs may be selected from the LUT menu on the PIX-E. Selecting which monitoring LUT to apply is another innovation of the PIX-E, which carries into other button selections. Use the LUT menu to determine which LUT is assigned to positions 1, 2, 3 or 4. Then press the LUT button to invoke a LUT. Press and hold the LUT button for a second or two and then selections appear at the bottom of the screen. Select the viewing LUT by tapping with your finger or scrolling with the right-hand dial and pressing the button for selection.

Four-way monitor mode splits the screen into four quadrants, simultaneously displaying the video signal, histogram, waveform and vectorscope. 

Other buttons work the same way. The buttons below the display control false color, zebra, four-way (image, histogram, waveform, vectorscope), waveform, vectorscope, histogram, LUT, TapZoom (2x/4x), peaking and markers. A long press on each of these brings up a range of options for each function. False color allows for either four or 12 colors. The monitor’s waveform modes are luma (white), luma (green), RGB overlay and RGB parade. Likewise, vectorscope and histogram have options. The intensity of the scopes can be adjusted via the PIX-E5’s right-hand dial.

The device’s TapZoom functionality is invoked by tapping on the screen. Tapping zooms either 2x or 4x, depending on how the function is configured via the zoom soft key. Area of interest can be located simply by panning around the screen with your finger. In four-way mode, tapping any of the quadrants brings that quadrant to full screen.

The IPS panel is a delight to view. Brightness is 500 nits, with a 1000:1 contrast ratio and 179° angle of view. With the optional sunshade, it holds up as well in sunlight as any similar panel would. The colors are vibrant and the image is sharp. The combination of the sharp IPS panel and peaking ensure accurate focusing.

Another nice feature is that the scopes measure the actual display—LUT-ed or not.

Vectorscope interface

Previous to the recent firmware update, LUTs were not able to be burned in to recorded files. With the addition of H.264, an applied LUT is burned in to the H.264 MP4 file and saved via SD card, while a master ProRes 4K file is saved to the SpeedDrive without a LUT burned in. This is ideal when you want to simultaneously record a full dynamic range, log-encoded ProRes master file for the edit suite and a Rec. 709 H.264 file suitable for normal viewing.

Recording of HD/UHD/4K is via HDMI or SDI. UHD or 4K signals are limited to 30p, while the maximum frame rate for HD is 120p. The PIX-E series also lacks the ability to record camera raw or to convert raw input to ProRes.

Moving to audio, the PIX-E5 and E7 can record up to eight tracks of embedded audio. External audio can be recorded and monitored via two unbalanced line 3.5mm mini jacks. Adding the optional $399 PIX-LR audio interface adds two balanced XLR mic/line inputs with limiter. The LR, not available at our testing of the unit, mounts to the bottom of the PIX-E via a 1/4-20 mount, tightened by an Allen wrench. It connects cordlessly to the PIX-E. The PIX-LR features the same mic pre-amps as found in Sound Devices’ high-quality audio recorders, along with LED metering and dedicated transport and gain controls.

Waveform controls

Sound Devices, through its Video Devices brand, has missed absolutely nothing with this monitor/recorder for today’s smaller cameras. It is lightweight and portable. It packs useful features. It is solid. Despite its numerous options, the menu structure and button options are straightforward and easy to navigate. It is reasonably priced and media options are relatively inexpensive.

I hope that DNxHD will become available in a future update. Raw recording would be a wonderful addition, but I am not certain that it is possible within the hardware constraints. I hope I am wrong and that raw functionality eventually finds its way onto the PIX-E.

The PIX-E5 proved to be everything I expected when I first encountered it at the 2015 NAB Show. I highly recommend it to those looking for external ProRes recording with a first-rate monitor and top-notch construction.   dv

Quick Take:

Product:Video Devices PIX-E5


Pros: Solid construction. High screen quality. Records all flavors of ProRes. Extensive, easily navigable menu structure. PIX-LR audio option. Compact size. Robust media.

Cons: No DNxHD recording. No raw recording. Audio input without PIX-LR option is only via 3.5mm mini jack.

Bottom Line: The top product in its class for small monitor/recorders. It may have some format and codec limitations, but for those shooting today’s small cameras, it is an ideal solution for ProRes recording and clear, accurate monitoring.

MSRP: $1,395