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Blackmagic URSA, world’s first user-upgradable 4K digital film camera, has a Xilinx Kintex-7 FPGA inside

Xilinx Employee
Xilinx Employee
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Blackmagic URSA 4K digital film camera in action on set



The supremely flexible Blackmagic URSA, “the world’s first user-upgradable 4K digital film camera,” is certainly one of the most disruptive pieces of photographic gear to appear in the past few years and it owes at least part of its revolutionary nature to the Xilinx Kintex-7 FPGA inside. Blackmagic designed the $5995 URSA 4K camera to revolutionize workflow on the set. It’s built to accommodate the needs of large film crews and it’s also designed for single-person use. The camera incorporates a massive 10-inch fold-out, on-camera monitor; a large, user-upgradeable Super 35 4K image sensor with a global shutter and lens mount; 12G-SDI output and input; and internal, dual RAW and ProRes recorders.



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Blackmagic URSA 4K Digital Film Camera




Because the sensor and lens-mount assembly can be changed in the field, Directors of Photography can choose EF or PL lens mounts or use a broadcast lens with a B4 mount. The camera can also accept HDMI inputs from other types of imagers. This input flexibility means that Blackmagic customers can upgrade to the newest sensor technology in the future while preserving their investment in the camera body.


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Blackmagic URSA Lens and Sensor Mounts



Lens and sensor flexibility are two key features for this camera. Extremely flexible connections to standard broadcast equipment is another. The Blackmagic URSA 4K camera uses a 12G-SDI video output that can be down-converted to HD or used directly with amazing Ultra HD quality. There’s also a 12G-SDI input that can display return video on the camera’s integrated 10-inch monitor when working on live events or with an external video source. A separate SDI output is available for attaching external viewfinders and eye pieces. For audio, there are two professional XLR connections with 48v phantom power, the audio I/O standard for the industry’s best professional microphones. The camera also includes ports for getting timecode in and out of the camera and a LANC connector for remotely controlling the camera, lenses, and accessories.



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Blackmagic URSA Broadcast I/O Ports



The inside of the Blackmagic URSA 4K camera is no less revolutionary. The camera incorporates a 4K sensor with an incredible 12 stops of dynamic range that blows away regular video cameras and even high-end broadcast cameras, delivering dramatically better images that look like true digital film—that’s the look that professional Directors of Photography crave. The camera’s wide dynamic range preserves detail in dark shadows and does not clip bright highlights, which makes the task of post-production color grading much, much easier and faster (and therefore reduces workflow costs). The extra-large Super 35 image sensor produces 12-bit lossless Cinema DNG RAW video. (In video terms, that translates into incredible image quality.) The camera can also shoot Ultra HD or HD in Apple ProRes format for easy post-production workflow with minimum storage requirements.


The Blackmagic URSA camera’s groundbreaking flexibility and versatility grows directly from very clever design—both mechanical and electronic. Part of that cleverness went into selecting the Xilinx Kintex-7 FPGA and placing it at the heart of the camera where it can deliver proprietary video-rate image processing for shooting resolutions of 3840x2160, 1920x1080, and 4000x2160 pixels at imaging frame rates to 80fps and delivered project frame rates of 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94, and 60fps. Because the real-time video processing occurs in an FPGA, Blackmagic is free to update, upgrade, and augment its video-processing algorithms whenever it wants or needs to do so. Similarly, the Kintex-7 FPGA provides that broadcast I/O flexibility listed above. Blackmagic is also free to develop new types of sensor and lens mount combinations for the camera while depending again on the Kintex-7 FPGA's programmability to adapt to nearly any new I/O requirements.


According to today’s press release from Xilinx, “The Kintex-7 FPGA is the first mid-range FPGA in the industry that can support 300MHz fabric speed and 12Gbps line-rate tranceivers for 4K video system development.” Now please do not let this quote in this particular press release give you the impression that 300MHz is the top-end fabric speed for the Kintex-7 programmable logic fabric. Xilinx has wireless customers hitting fabric speeds of 491MHz using Kintex-7 devices. It’s just that Blackmagic’s URSA camera needed 300MHz. It appears they have a lot of headroom with the Kintex-7 FPGA.


That too is clever design.


Blackmagic is a well-known equipment and software developer in the pro-video space. The company prides itself in disrupting the industry’s status quo with innovative designs that consistently deliver more customer value at much lower cost. Coincidentally, Blackmagic is no newcomer to FPGAs or to Xilinx. Here’s what Dan May, president of Blackmagic Design, had to say about his company’s work with Xilinx products: “Our relationship with Xilinx has grown over the past decade as we have expanded our product offering into a wider range of video equipment and solutions. Xilinx offers an industry leading portfolio of technology that allows us to create affordable products that provide our customers the best quality video."


So what do Blackmagic URSA customers say? Well, the camera was introduced at last year’s NAB. Here are some selected comments left by purchasers over the past year on the B&H Photo and Video Web site:


“The workflow is amazing and the quality of the shots are great, the sensor can do anything!”


“…from what we've seen...amazing! Everything you've probably read about the camera is pretty much spot on. The two sided/two person workflow is awesome! The screens are great! It does perform very well and catches great quality.”


“This is simply the best camera I've ever owned. It is rock solid and performs really well. Image quality is superb! The price is unbeatable and you get a 10 inches monitor [sic] for the DoP and a 5 inches for your focus puller.”


“BlackMagic has really outdone themselves on this camera. As of today, the feature set is quite robust and the updates keep coming.”


“Great camera, easy menu flow, awesome video quality and a lot of options.”


Aren’t those the kinds of comments you’d love to get from your customers?


You will find the Blackmagic URSA camera in the Xilinx booth (N5616) at NAB in Las Vegas next week. Come by for a look.