FCPX: Hardware changes - PART Two
COW Library : Creative Community Conversations (was FCPX Debates) : Gary Adcock : FCPX: Hardware changes - PART Two
Do not forget for a second that there is a multi-billion dollar hardware eco-system built around using the previous versions of Final Cut.
I focus mostly on the hardware side, mainly because most of my income comes from working around and supporting that rarified top 10% of all users. I am talking about the people and products that are used for feature film productions, episodic television, live sports broadcasting, commercial production, industrials and the like. I am also including people doing documentaries and news.
The people I work with may actually represent the smallest percentile of actual "professional' FCPX app purchases. Yet that same small percentage of companies actually represents an overwhelming amount of purchasing power in that multi-billion dollar FCP ecosystem.
Those who need more than software-only support from FCP, and FCPX, also represent the majority of people on Creative COW.
Look at the hardware specs for running FCPX. The chances are that, if you have a machine that is more than a couple of years old, it likely will not support FCPX. My 2008 desktop Mac falls into that category, one of those machines that cannot run the app without changing out my stock ATI graphics card.
It's pretty bad when I guy like me has issues with installing a new app on a 2 year old Desktop system.
Graphics Card Support http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4664
And Specs for each app are found here:
WHAT IS GOING ON?Fundamental changes going on underneath the hood of FCP X required massive efforts to re-write the base code, as well as virtually all of the associated applications and the supporting files like plug-ins and codecs.
This new processing structure, running under what Apple calls Grand Central Dispatch, allows the core processing to be distributed across not only the CPU, but also the very powerful GPU that, on the Mac, has only been handling the graphics display until now.
Open CL allows users access to graphics cards from companies other than Nvidia.
This new processing capability in GCD is called OpenCL (OPEN Computing Language) by Apple. This is more than a different implementation of the CUDA programing code as distributed only by NVIDIA, and widely endorsed by Adobe to dramatically accelerate playback and performance of native file formats in Premier Pro and After Effects. Apple's Open CL allows you to access this power on a variety of graphics cards or chipsets, and does not limit you to only one specific graphics engine.
The Idea is simple; your graphics card is essentially a specialized group of CPUs. They aren't like a regular CPU like your computer uses. Like a race car, they are stripped of their creature comforts and hot-rodded, designed just to do complex mathematics blindingly fast, and that is all they do.
The idea of OpenCL is to turn these 16 or more, super-fast psuedo-cpus into one real-life CPU of sorts. Rather than having the 16 processors work on graphics only data, OpenCL allows you to use these cards to solve non-graphics problems.
That additional computing power has the potential to speed up the process by as much as 100X. Now imagine that you had a mathematically difficult scientific calculation. Without this assistance from Open CL, a normal CPU would take forever.
Because OpenCL and OpenGL were written by the same people, one could chew on a set of scientific data using OpenCL, then display the complex 3D artwork with OpenGL, blindingly fast, and without ever needing to leave the graphics card. Apple adds that power into the CPU to create a blazingly fast pipeline to handle all of the additional media being processed.
For more info on OpenCL you can go here: http://www.khronos.org/opencl/
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL?All of these changes in FCPX are related to the app, but also to the changes in the next generation of the operating system that will be here any day now.
Currently, under 10.6 and earlier versions of the OS, QuickTime is given directions from an Application (the director), which uses the QuickTime components to do a job: record video, export a movie, decompress a codec, etc. Each of these components, like a like a bunch of marionettes, are all controlled by QuickTime (as puppeteer). QuickTime, with its marionettes, carries out the play, as demanded by the director.
What appears to be happening in Lion is that QuickTime has been removed in favor of AVFoundation/CoreMedia that is based on the process that the iOS uses. At this point in the evolution, it is very much like removing your puppeteer and replacing it with a brand new one. A better, faster, more efficient one, but one that may not be fully functional, or may have parts missing.
As a result, the new puppeteer (AVFoundation/CoreMedia) has a very different way of operating these puppets. In fact, imagine that the strings that control the puppets are all different. So now, that new puppeteer in Lion can't work with the existing puppets, so new ones have to be built. That is going to take some time and the show must go on.
While it appears that support for the older puppets is still there, we are not sure. Some work will have to be done to figure out how to connect all of the new puppeteers to the older marionettes. But there is a catch: not all of the new strings can be used with the old marionette.
And in many cases, the older marionette strings do not have a corresponding string for the new puppeteer to connect to. A good deal of knitting may have to be done to get things to work correctly, if they will even work at all. Especially where those exotic marionettes that handle higher end formats make me especially concerned.
3rd PARTY HARDWARE SUPPORT IS COMING
It has to. There is no question in the matter. Apple's Lion OS drops in a couple of weeks at this point and much of the upcoming Thunderbolt I/O developments have not been shown hands-on to more than a few people.
Yet today, not much is available. All of the available Video out solutions for FCPX are little more than "desktop mirroring," the conversion of the desktop signal to HDSDI via that AJA, Blackmagic or Matrox card.
That means the hardware is taking the desktop output of an 8-bit RGB signal, converting to YUV in hardware and then spitting the signal out via HD-SDI, without the benefit of any assurance of accurate control over the playback's frame rate or color. That is all well and good for a work around until Apple's Lion OS arrives with that new code base written from the ground up.
Please note that adding a dedicated hardware card in your computer as a video out source in previous versions of Final Cut Pro actually forced the computer to "act professionally," ie: maintain proper a SMPTE frame rate and cadence when playing back files all while in a defined color space.
(That hardware also forced Final Cut to be far less tolerant with slow media, and much more attentive towards reporting issues regarding dropped frames during playback. These issues were nearly invisible to the user. Even in my segment of the industry, there were not a lot of people aware that this was the case.)
Without that level of control and functionality available from directly within the application, we are very limited -- but only for today. That is because adding video output cards to your NLE also meant needing better storage, then a monitor to view on, some additional cabling, possibly a new desk, and then let.s not forget to mention a larger network in the facility to handle the traffic and more storage to handle all of that additional content.
So we are back to that Final Cut Pro eco-system debate, where at the essential message should be: Cash talks and BS walks.
I personally think there is way too much money and prestige on the line for Apple to ignore our market segment for too long. It has been very apparent in the couple of weeks since the FCPX launch that Apple has made considerable in-roads with the Developer Community on both the software and hardware fronts.
Apple makes more much money selling hardware products than it does selling software and accessories. While I accept that the future will take us farther and farther from the hardware world I live and work in, as of today IMHO the existing infrastructure is to big to ignore.
I am waiting for the next generation of hardware, I believe that the Thunderbolt I/O technology will dramatically change connectivity to the point where we no longer are bound to a desktop for professional finishing and delivery -- much the same way that solid state recording has changed the size and weight of camera and recording technology.
For the next couple of weeks I will post as many specifics as I can. No cost, no subscription to view, no credit card charge, however there will not be updates more than once or twice a week. I do have other projects and commitments that I need to be working on while I share this info. I also want to acknowledge that a couple of people that choose to remain anonymous have been immensely helpful in helping me explain the real issues with this transition.
In the meantime, I am going to put out an open call to any manufacturers of Thunderbolt related technologies to contact me to discuss what you are planning. I for one cannot wait until mainstream users start to see the speed and power one has when you are editing uncompressed 1080 HD on your laptop in real time.