Osee LCM156 – Color Redemocratized

There is no peaking on this display. If that’s a deal-breaker, turn back now.

Edit (October 2016): Osee is listening! The display now features peaking (focus assist), zebra, horizontal flip, false color and anamorphic support! This article has been updated to include features of the improved 156 so please read on.

The acquisition of DaVinci Resolve by Blackmagic democratized color grading software. Osee is now here to democratize the hardware. 10-bit panels and SDI inputs generally command a premium. This display includes both and does so for well under $1000.

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Oh say can Osee, make a decent and affordable 10-bit SDI display? Yup.

Many people will find the 15.6” diagonal on the small side, but I really quite love it. It’s sufficient for me to monitor my work, not only in the field, but in the studio, where 99% of the projects I work on are still only HD. I don’t grade for clients who need to share the screen so the size and position-ability of it is perfect. The weight of the display is very reasonable: with my quick release plate attached the 156 came it at about 3 kilos or roughly 6.5 lbs. That’s without a battery, mind you, but still extremely reasonable, especially when compared with the near 20 lbs of the 24 incher (XCM240). And with that HP quick release system I can move the 156 from field to studio with relative ease.

HP quick release system makes transporting the monitor relatively painless.

HP quick release system makes transporting the monitor relatively painless.

I sometimes find myself wishing for backlit buttons in the studio, and the buttons can be a little awkward to press (many displays suffer this phenomenon) but the overall build and functionality is a positive experience. Picture in picture and side by side work great and it’s nice to be able to show both SDI and HDMI inputs at the same time.

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Buttons. You press them. Could be better, could be worse.

 

 

 

 

 

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From left to right: LCM156, XCM240, Dreamcolor z27x. The Dreamcolor is in AdobeRGB mode by the way. Its used mainly for photography or GUI only for grading.

 


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For anyone interested in grading and optimizing your shadow/highlight detail it is difficult to shoot flat and then go back. The trouble becomes monitoring the flat signal on set. With more and more cameras popping up with log profiles (even the ‘point and shoot’ RX100 for example) this becomes something of an issue. With lighting setups where I’m allowed to take my time, I really do appreciate being able to see an image with something at least approximating the contrast of the post-LUT result. Just today I tried shooting an interview on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera. It’s LCD is about as informative as the tripod is for judging the image critically so I grabbed an external monitor. Even with that, I just found myself unable to control the transition area of light falloff on the subjects face accurately with the log profile. I very much look forward to customizable LUTs on this display. And the good news is, it holds up to 15 of them (though not all user-defined) if I read correctly.

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SDI, HDMI, and ethernet connectivity.

I didn’t receive a manual with the display and don’t see one online. I’ve heard frequently about accompanying software designed to upload the LUTs to the display and also have yet to see that. I understand that many users could completely destroy the effectiveness of a calibrated display by not loading a LUT properly so I’m pleased that Osee is trying to get the process solid and as user-proof as possible, but it is one of the main draws to this display and hopefully we’ll see that software soon. As of now it’s a feature I’m excited for, but haven’t utilized. October 2016 Update: There is now both a manual, and LUT uploading software available for the LCM 156.

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The unit does have a 12-volt input and both V-mount and Anton Bauer batteries plates can be supplied. I can’t yet evaluate the v-mount battery accessory as that has not yet shipped, but I can’t imagine (as long as it doesn’t cover up the VESA mount) that it could disappoint. I’ve also not yet tested power draw. October 2016 Update: I’ve now tested the display with a V-mount battery and have no complaints at all. Power draw is perfect for a display this size and, due to the field case (more info below) this makes for an excellent on-set monitor.

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Rear of the unit features all the basics (QR plate does not come with display)

A critical observer might be unimpressed with the calibration results of this display, but for my needs I am satisfied at the price. It simply depends on your acceptable margin of error. This one isn’t as consistent as others I’ve used, but I think it’s still quite usable and well above what’s appropriate for the price range. Take into account the fact that a LUT can be used to tune the display much more accurately than a lot of ‘calibrated’ displays were tuned several years ago and you’ve got a pretty good deal. Backlight bleed on a dark screen looks well enough managed, but the area I found the display to suffer most in is its black level. The unit I tested has a poor black level and nowhere near the contrast ratio of higher end displays or prosumer options like the DreamColor z27x. Do bear in mind, however, that the localized inconsistencies demonstrated by the display are not correctable with a LUT. There are actually several points on the screen which are independently adjusted with their own offset to maintain uniformity. When the user does his/her own calibration, these offsets are maintained.

October 2016 Update: I’m pleased to say that the updated version of the 156 has improved both its black level, and, consequently its contrast ratio. I wouldn’t say it’s awesome (the aforementioned z27x still has noticeably superior blacks), but it’s now at least good enough to be usable in my opinion. The blacks were so lifted before I had issues with using it for grading.

My first test of the display was just a light grey field, filling the entire screen. I have to admit this disappointed a little, but unfortunately it does so on many displays. Don’t do it on your screen unless you’re willing to let the resulting knowledge gnaw at you. There’s very apparent green and magenta coloration–much more than I’ve ever seen on the XCM240 or DreamColor. It’s not terrible, but it’s definitely there. Just know that the bottom line (for me at least) is that while I see some imperfections with the display I would still consider the display to perform beyond its price point.  This green magenta issue in the lower left corner is bad enough that I wonder if it’s simply the unit I got. The majority of the display performs quite well with ∆E under 2, but that ugly left hand corner has a ∆E over 7. Gross. UPDATE: I received another unit from OSEE and the green/magenta blotch unfortunately remains.

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I want to stress that the above image, as captured by a camera’s CMOS sensor is not as helpful at determining a displays image quality as you might think. Take a display you know to be accurate and subject it to this same test. That said, the green/magenta discoloration in the lower left corner is very visible to the naked eye.

The 10-bit panel, as advertised, has no problems with gamut so great job there OSEE. The RGB LED display in its ‘native’ mode does seem to well exceed Rec-709:

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I did run across several minor bugs–things which I optimistically assume will be sorted out with firmware updates. I assigned ‘native’ to a function button when testing for downscaling. When I pushed the associated function button it turned markers on and off instead. Resetting seemed to fix that. Didn’t see any anamorphic unsqueezing options though the markers do let you mask for 2:35 and 1:85 which is cool. Support for Animorphs also is not explicitly included with the display. Display of scopes doesn’t seem assignable to a function button and it took me a bit to realize that you push the ‘Enter’ button to change volume (as well as brightness, contrast and chroma). The aforementioned update does make the menus a bit more intuitive, with things like LUTs living under a “look profile” menu rather than “color temperature”.

Calibration can be a whole different topic and price range, but I’d like to briefly mention a couple things: The evolution of ArgyllCMS is ever-impressive to me, especially their Android app. Sorry iPhone users, but you’ve chosen to participate in an ecosystem with limitations which inhibit doing something technically useful like plugging a probe into a phone. But there’s a GUI for the desktop software, very intuitive pattern generation in Resolve, and the whole thing is feeling a lot more solid these days. I actually feel like using it might make my display better rather than worse (user error can easily screw up the ignorant) by using it these days. That said, I’d still thoroughly recommend LightSpace from Steve Shaw or CalMAN from SpectraCal. The latter has the nicer looking website, but the former (from my limited experience) has a much more reliable track record. If you don’t feel confident trusting your calibration in the hands of free software with its roots in icc profiling then go with the much more confidence-inspiring paid alternatives.

For me, I’m not really sure what the point of the XCM240 is. It gets into OLED territory, price-wise, and while it’s a great display it just doesn’t offer enough additional features (for me at least) to justify the higher cost. The 156 has no alternatives that match that price point by a long shot. The 240 has competition.

UPDATE: The price has now dropped on the XCM240, making it more compelling. It’s contrast ratio, black level and feature set are very noticeably a step above the 156 (it has peaking, though I wouldn’t lug that thing into the field). Build quality and usability are great.

Again, I absolutely love the 15.6” display for HD. Getting into 24” for 1920×1080 I see the pixels and, maybe high density phone screens have just spoiled us, but it bugs me. I also had issues with audio playback over SDI on the XCM240 and the three button press required to turn it off was ever-painful. It also makes a bit of a hum I don’t get with the 156.

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You can read more about other users’ experiences with this display on Lift Gamma Gain, RedUser, Personal View and EOSHD. The Lift Gamma Gain thread sort of become a battle between who knows more about HDMI and SDI, then spirals into me trying to verify my calibration setup as accurate, but there’s still some good content there. I am not as informed as half of you reading this article will be so do shoot me a message if anything needs edited and I’ll try to be proactive about making this as objective and informative as possible.

When the monitor was a bit delayed in arriving I contacted Osee and from there on out received nothing less than excellent communication from Kyle Belford. While he might not have all the technical details of the monitor or be able to do a lot to expedite the order fulfillment process, he was very generous with his time and in making sure I got the display for my needs as soon as possible. That means a lot. Thom Belford was also generous with his time and information during a phone call to attempt resolution of the green/magenta issue.

The soft-case for field use cements this display as my go-to field monitor for anything where I need something bigger than a 7″ screen.

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A lot of people are going to compare this with buying an Atomos monitor/recorder at this price point and I think it’s fair to spend some time addressing that point. The Osee is unique in that I feel comfortable using it both in the field and in the studio. Like I mentioned, it hits a sweet spot size-wise which lets it fill both needs well. I have been waiting for a good, affordable solution for monitoring via phone or tablet, and I’m still saddened by how low a priority camera manufacturers seem to place on their apps. In the meantime, this Osee display packs a punch in price and versatility. It’s size makes for a truly ideal field monitor and the soft case is well designed and versatile. After shooting for so long with the Atomos devices I find myself absolutely loving the 15+” screen of the OSEE. In tandem with the soft case, I feel much more at home (feels more like a “real” film set with SDI Panasonic displays) and confident that I’m truly seeing the image. The Atomos in the hot shoe thing is fast, but I’m always a little nervous about the look of the image until I get back, out of the sun, and into a room where I can pull it up on a bigger monitor.  I’ll still use both regularly, the Atomos for small shoots (and convenience obviously) and the Osee for anywhere I have the luxury of affording myself a larger display. The recording abilities of the Atomos and the 4K downscale are also features the Osee does not have. This Osee feels like it was designed by film people. The inclusion of an SDI input at this price is still, just like when the Osee launched the 156, unique for this size of display, and the V-mount (or AB) option means I can use a pro battery whose charge will last a good part of the day. Quite unlike the Sony batteries attached to my Atomos devices which I find myself swapping more often than I’d like. The sun shade case packaged wtih the OSEE is well-made tool, designed to make the monitor very useful, even on bright days. A lot of other solutions at this price point, while they certainly help reduce glare and make the image somewhat visible for framing purposes, simply don’t offer the coverage one needs to make the image truly visible when it comes time to making accurate decisions based on the image itself–especially if two people need to view the screen at the same time. Again, at this price point a lot of people are going to ask how it compares to Atomos devices. I’d say that I love the tools we’re getting from both brands, but when I need a device dedicated to monitoring, and I truly need to see as accurate an image as possible, the OSEE really takes the cake. The lack of ability to downscale a 4k image is now my main complaint with the LCM156. Things like built-in Tx/Rx, touch screen, and recording capabilities are nice features of other displays, but for monitoring an image critically on-set, the size, convenience and value of this display leave me very satisfied.

 

The Good:

  • SDI inputs and outputs
  • HDMI input
  • User-generated LUT support
  • 10-bit RGB LED panel with full Rec709 capability
  • Size and weight
  • 16-channel audio metering, waveform, vectorscope
  • Great customer support
  • Field accessories available (Brick battery support and soft case)
  • Affordable
  • Peaking, false color, zebra, anamorphic and horizontal flip included

The Bad:

  • NO PEAKING
  • Flickering scopes
  • No manual?
  • Scopes only display on SDI input
  • Dimly backlit buttons would be nice, button construction also seems flimsy
  • Minor bugs
  • Oft-mentioned software yet to appear for LUT loading
  • Color issue with green and pink corner
  • Poor black level lowers overall contrast ratio
  •  No 4k downscale
  • Can’t assign scopes to custom function button
  • No touch screen or recording capability

The Conclusion

October 2016 Update: The above list of things Osee has fixed in this display since launch is very encouraging! With some slight improvements to the visual capabilities of the display plus the soft-case for field use, updated software including must-have features like peaking, and the still-excellent price point, it becomes a very dependable field monitor in my book. Most of the functional drawbacks I’d addressed previously have been resolved with this new version of the display. Focus peaking is now included, with the option of grayscaling the image for maximized visibility and the additional option of setting a threshold. The threshold setting is particularly important for anyone shooting in low contrast or working with an image whose log gamma has not been normalized. Speaking of log gammas, the display does come with several built-in LUTs for most of the popular log formats. False color is also an option, and the scopes work on both SDI and HDMI signals. The flickering on the scopes is also gone. The ability to load a custom LUT is now improved as well, and there is a manual available.

All in all contrast ratio remains a bit on the low side, but gamut is there, and for the full package and the sheer functionality of the display for the price I say get one. My conclusion at end of day is: what else are you going to get at that price? Flanders, Ikan, Marshall–all have similar setups but none that pack this set of features into this price range.

Get yourself Resolve Lite. Get yourself an old Mac pro with a PC NVidia CUDA card and a used GUI card.  Now with all the money you haven’t had to spend get yourself a LCM156. All that’s left is to call yourself a colorist and go bug the real pros on forums.

You can get the display on Amazon here or right from Osee here. The affordable quick release system I reference is also on Amazon here. None of these are affiliate links so I’m not compensated for taking time away from family to do this writeup. If you’re feeling generous send me something through the PayPal link below or include me in your prayers or something.




Thanks video community of the interwebs. You rock.