Let’s start off 2013 with a review of a really cool product…the AJA T-TAP.
Until recently when you wanted to send a signal to an external monitor from your edit system, you needed to get an “I/O Device.” I/O meaning “In and Out,” and device being either a card that you installed internally on a tower computer, or an external box…or combination of the two. These devices allowed one to capture incoming video signals (from tape or directly from cameras or switchers), and output video signals (to client and color correction monitors). In the age of tape this was the way to get footage into your system.
But in the current age of tapeless capture, the “I” part of the “I/O” is no longer needed. All we want/need/desire is output to a client monitor…or broadcast color correction monitor. So instead of shelling out $500 to $8000 for an I/O device…you can get the AJA T-TAP for a mere $299.
The device is remarkably simple. It connects to your computer via Thunderbolt (so unfortunately it won’t work on Mac Pro towers or PC towers as they lack this connection type) and then outputs full 10-bit video via SDI or HDMI with 8 channels of embedded audio. And it’s so small, it can fit into a small compartment in your backpack, or in your pocket, and allow your edit system to be very lightweight and mobile. The T-TAP is also very versatile. It is compatible with the three major editing systems: Avid Media Composer 6 and 6.5 (and Symphony), Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 and Final Cut Pro (X and 7). Unlike other options that AJA has, the audio out of this device is only available via HDMI or SDI, so you will have to monitor audio from the client monitor, or patch audio from that monitor to your mixer…depending on the edit software you use. FCP 7 and Adobe Premiere Pro allow you to route audio through the computer speakers, while Avid Media Composer locks the audio output to the device.
The T-TAP supports resolutions from SD (525i NTSC and 625i PAL) all the way up to 2K. Frame rates from 23.98, 25, 29.97, 50 and 59.94.
I ran three real world tests with the T-TAP, and had great success with all three tests.
First…the out of date, end of line Final Cut Pro 7. After I installed the driver I got a call from a client to do changes to a sizzle reel that I had cut in FCP. So I opened it and worked on it for two days. With this option, I was able to play audio out of my computer headphone jack directly into my mixer. The video offset was similar to what I used with the AJA Kona 3 and AJA IoXT. The video output was very clean…similar to what I get from other I/O devices. And I got all the flexibility of output I have come to expect from this…now discontinued software. It worked well.
Next I tested it with Adobe Premiere CS6. For this I used it with a family video project. Now, prior to this I hadn’t used and I/O device with CS6. I had tried to use CS5.5 with the AJA Kona 3, and it was less than solid. You had to use custom AJA settings, and I could see the canvas (program monitor) output, but not the Viewer (preview). I had used CS6 to edit, but not monitor externally. So when I launched it with the T-TAP attached, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that it worked, and worked VERY well. No longer did I need custom AJA settings, the base T-Tap driver and Adobe plugin was all that I needed and I got a solid signal from CS6. Viewer, Canvas…zero latency and no audio drift. No slowdown in performance. It simply worked, and worked well. And like with FCP 7, I could either monitor audio via the T-Tap, or route it through the direct out (headphone jack). It was perfect.
The final test was with Avid Symphony 6.5. And this was a full on, frying pan to fire test. I was hired to do a remote edit…travel to the location to edit footage being shot on location, and turn around the edit in one day. The shoot was tapeless, shot with XDCAM EX cameras. The footage came in, I used AMA to get it into the system, and then edited on my 2012 MacBook Pro, and I monitored externally via the T-Tap and the hotel’s HDTV. For the first part of the edit I didn’t use the device, I did everything with the laptop. That’s because Avid locks the audio output to the AJA T-Tap….meaning that audio followed video, and I’d have to monitor audio via the HDTV. A tad difficult as it was bolted to the dresser. Unlike FCP 7 and Adobe Premiere CS6, I couldn’t choose an alternate output for the audio. So I did the initial edit without the T-Tap, but when it came time to show the client my cut, I connected it to the TV and was able to play back (with zero latency and frame offset) for the client at full quality. All while I was confined to the really small hotel table. My computer, hard drive and T-Tap barely fit…but nothing was really crammed in, there was elbow room. And the edit went smoothly.
Unfortunately I did not test this with FCP-X, as I do not have that on my system. However, I do know that it works with FCP-X, and the latest update of FCP-X and the T-TAP drivers make external viewing very solid.
Bottom line is…the AJA T-Tap is amazingly simple, and simply works. It’s great no-fuss no-muss video output for the major editing systems. The simplicity, the price point, small footprint and the flexibility of this little box make it a must have in my book. It works with any Thunderbolt equipped Mac and it perfect for low cost, high quality video output monitoring. AJA has a reputation, and track record, for compatibility and stability…and that tradition is carried on with the AJA T-TAP.
(NOTE: The T-Tap review unit was returned to AJA after a 4 week test period).