Anatomy Of Grading Suite: Technical Setup

Anatomy Of Grading Suite: Technical Setup

September 20, 2015

In part 2 of the series, learn about monitor and bias light setup, viewing distance, industry monitoring recommendations, routing & more


updated: July 25, 2016 – The original video on metamerism was replaced with an updated video (since the old one disappeared).

Choosing A Room Is Just The Start – Gear Setup Is The Next Step

In part one of this series we took at look at grading suite design considerations including room size, controlling light, furniture and lighting essentials, along with a few other tidbits.

In part 2, I want to get a little more technical about the room setup including looking at making the choice to have computers and other gear in or out of the room, some ergonomic essentials, reference, client and computer monitor selection, bias light positioning and setup, audio for a color suite and few other bits of info.

While much of the information in this Insight is based on published recommendations, some of it is also my opinion.

In other words, topics in this article can be considered a ‘guide’, but not necessarily dogma – as a wise colorist once told me – when it comes to technical room setup, perfection is hard, but getting close is usually pretty easy.

Gear In the Suite Or A Dedicated Machine Room?

So you have your room picked out, have protected the suite from ambient lighting, have the perfect desk and chair and you’re all set to get all your gear in the room and connect everything, right?

While every grading suite is bound to have quite a bit of gear in it – monitors, control panels, etc., one decision you’ll need make that does impact other equipment choices is whether you’re going to have computers, RAIDs, and various other pieces of gear – legalizer, hard disk recorders, etc., in the room with you, or in a separate machine room.

In my opinion there are quite a few reasons to consider putting gear into a dedicated machine room:

  • Noise – Computers, RAIDs and pretty much most gear used in postproduction makes noise. Personally, I find the whine of a RAID or some other fan from a piece a gear that I spend 10-12 hours a day with intolerable.
  • Heat – What do you think all those loud fans are for?  Gear makes heat and having a comfortable climate in your grading suite is something that you and your clients will appreciate.
  • Connective Possibilities – Especially if you have a lot of gear or other rooms each with their own set of gear, having computers, I/O devices, etc. all in one place makes routing and patching easy. Even if you aren’t going to route and patch things via a central patch bay, having everything in the same room makes for short direct cable runs and easy connectivity.
  • Temperature Controlled – One thing that every machine room needs is air flow and cooling – after all you have a lot heat generating equipment. In my facility, we have a large ductless cooling unit attached behind our gear racks. Having a temperature controlled room that runs on the cooler side can actually lengthen the life of your gear.
  • The Neat Factor – It’s amazing how having the majority of your gear in a machine room can make your suite feel more like an inviting, comfortable place rather than a technical operating room. Less gear in the room makes your room feel more tidy, and with less gear in the room there is also less cabling to manage (read hide). The other part of the neat factor? Clients think machine rooms are impressive. Indeed, large facilities use their machine rooms as showcases for client tours.


A tidy machine room is not only impressive, it’s practical! This shot is from Dan’s facility Smoke & Mirrors London.

Of course with those positives there are some negatives about having gear in a machine room vs in the actual color suite:

  • Space – While quite often a storage space or even large closet (assuming there is cooling in it) is often workable as a machine ‘room’ you might not even have that and taking up another normal sized room just for gear might not make sense.
  • Cost – Having a dedicated machine room while convenient also carries with it some cost.  Racks, patch bays and or routers are pretty affordable, but cooling units and installation can get pricey. In addition, there might be some construction needed to route cables and vent cooling units.
  • Cabling – While to certain degree having a lot of your gear in a machine room makes connectivity and patching easy you’ll need to consider what cabling you’ll need back to your room. Almost assuredly this will mean multiple SDI runs, but what about HDMI? How far is the run?  If it’s further then say 100-150ft you may have consider adapters, active cables, or even going to optical connections.  While the new crop of 4k+ computer monitors look amazing you may be limited because of HDMI issues or if you’re running DVI monitors you may have to consider optical or DVI over Cat 5/6 cabling and even still there are resolution restrictions.  What about USB connectivity for control panels? Do you need Thunderbolt in your room? Remember, all of this gear needs to connect back your computer in the machine room.  Below I have a small shopping list of gear I’ve been using to do these extended runs to rooms in my shop.
  • The P.I.A Factor – While my personal preference is for a machine room setup, there is something nice about just leaning over and plugging in a client supplied drive, or other common tasks that you do with equipment all the time.  So, there is a certain pain in the ass factor about a machine room – need to plug something in?  Well, you have to get up and walk down the hall.  Drive didn’t mount.  Yep, walk back down the hall.  At least you’ll get some exercise!

If you choose to have your gear in your room with you that in no way means that you’re not as sophisticated or less high end than a shop with a machine room.  But I do think it’s worth making sure you think about keeping tidy and organized.  Small under the table racks or even larger wood racks to go in a corner work well.

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Homepage Forums Anatomy Of Grading Suite: Technical Setup

  • Great P2, Robbie! Interested about Pats thoughts about ref monitor placement. I keep mine similar to Pats as I still use other applications , even in a full time color suite (After Effects, Premiere, Camtasia for screen capturepresentations, etc) . Ive given it a lot of thought, but still keep my ref display a bit to the right but turned towards me.

  • Robbie Carman

    I know this is a preference but I would challenging you to give it a try. As a said when you’re looking at the image and not the UI good things happen!

  • A challenge I will likely try in the near future. 🙂

  • Patrick Inhofer

    I keep my placement where it is for purely client reasons. Since that’s the only display in the room, if I don’t put it off to the side, then they’re sitting on top of me 🙂 Otherwise they can’t see around my head.

  • Toby Tomkins

    Wow! Incredible detail here Robbie!! Great post!

  • Hey Patrick, do you have any other suggestions for bias lights? Do you highly recommend the cinemaquest one you have? And if so, which model?

    I went on their site and noticed that it was only listed at 90 CRI. I would think it would need to be at least 95 in order to be sufficient for color work. What are your thoughts?


  • Robbie Carman

    Hi Luke – I wrote the article so I’ll chime in.

    I have in multiple suites and as well as in my home all cinemaquest products for my bias lights. I recommend them 100%.

    You’re correct the Ideal Lume and the Panel light are CRI of 90 which is still quite high compared to ‘over the counter’ bulbs. While not the only factor you should consider for a bias light 90+ is very good.

    If you want even better CRI the Ideal Lume Pro which is much more expensive is 94CRI which is fantastic. With the reference monitors in our suites we use the Pro for a backlight while client monitoring gets the panel lights. To be honest, with just the eye test its pretty hard to tell the difference.

  • Marvin N

    Thank you for this article! Now one thing that is still unclear to me that hasn’t been covered here is how to wire the monitors. In particular, which monitor do you connect to the I/O box and which one goes straight into your computer?

    I have a blackmagic ultra studio 4K mini, an LG Oled CX as my client monitor, and an ASUS ProArt as my reference monitor.
    Currently, I’m sending a clean feed through resolve to my client monitor while having the Asus connected to my I/O device. Is that the right way to go and what would be the disadvantages of this set up? Is it recommended to buy another I/O device?
    I’m using an iMac Pro.
    Thank you!

  • Robbie Carman

    Marvin –

    Wow, nice job finding this series so many years later! It’s in need of an update for sure.

    In an SDI connected world this set up is pretty simple:

    Option #1: Video I/O > SDI Reference monitor > SDI Loop Out to Client monitor (using SDI>HDMI converter)

    Option#2: Video I/O > SDI Distribution Amp > Direct connections to monitors using SDI > HDMI converters as necessary

    Option #3 Video I/O > SDI Router > Direct connect > Direct connections to monitors using SDI > HDMI converters as necessary This just gives you the ability for flexible routing.

    Of course in your setup other then your 4k Mini the other devices don’t have SDI. The disadvantage fo the way you’re doing it right now is you have two different signal paths – Clean feed via your GPU and another via your I/O.

    What I would do in this setup is by 1×2 or 1×4 (if you want room to grow) HDMI splitter like this one from Monoprice –

    So you’d plug your 4k mini into your iMac Pro per usual via Thunderbolt 3 and setup Resolve to use that in preferences. Then connect the splitter to the HDMI out of the 4k mini and one out to your CX and one to your ProArt. This way you have a properly managed signal by the Mini 4k box and you have a single signal path.

    If you wanted more flexility to route that HDMI signal to multiple places, you could look at using an HDMI matrix but if those are the only two monitors your using then that by be more complex than you need.

  • John L

    Hi, Robbie
    Is there any signal degradation when you split the signal? I use decklink mini 4k through hdmi port that I assume 10 bit signal. I appreciate if you recommned the hdmi splitter that keeps the quality of signal intact (above link seems to be dead.). thanks!

  • Rich Marino

    Hello, I be interested in opinions on the new Apple Studio Display as a 2nd UI display. Really like the specs my only concern is if the light silver finish would be distracting to the eye, strange that they don’t offer it in the darker Space Grey. I see that Patrick used to have an older silver Apple display, wonder if he had any kind of issue with the finish. Thanks.


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