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The long-awaited AJA Io HD!

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The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
A Creative COW Review


The long-awaited AJA Io HD!

Gary Adcock
Gary Adcock,
Chicago, Illinois USA
©Gary Adcock and CreativeCOW.net

Article Focus:
Creative COW Community leader Gary Adcock has also worked closely with a number of industry manufacturers over the years, including AJA. Gary offers a guided tour through the features of the much-anticipated Io HD, and its promise of portable, hardware-supported ProRes editing.


The eagerly awaited Io HD started shipping a couple of weeks ago and with it. It capably handles all SD formats and the vast majority of HD formats available for a variety of users. (Dual Link HD / 4:4:4 / 2K workflows are not supported.) And while it's not the “holy grail” that many users wanted, it's one of the best examples of how hardware can change how and where you work.

IO HD front
Click image for larger version

As AJA's website notes, Io was co-developed with Apple to provide a seamless non-linear editing experience for FCS 2. It's only device in the world that supports Apple ProRes 422 and Apple ProRes 422 (HQ) in hardware.

Io HD includes every input and output that users run across in most working situations, and in traditional AJA fashion, all the connections are useable for both HD and SD workflows. It does this by handling the incoming baseband HD and SD material in 10bit compressed form via Apple’s ProRes codec. Encoding and decoding are handled via proprietary hardware inside the Io HD, easing the CPU intensive processing load that ProRes requires.

The Io HD has 2 (HD) SDI, and single HDMI, component, composite, and Y/C (S-video) connections for both video input and output. Audio I/O has 4 channels XLR analog, 8 channels of AES digital for input and output and a Stereo RCA output pair for monitoring. Coupled with a 9-Pin connection for RS422 deck control and the first LTC input and output on a Mac centric product, users now have the ability to capture SLTC timecode over SDI live.

Io HD rear
Click image for larger version

Due to the smaller file sizes and data rate of ProRes compressed material, all of this information can be carried over a single Firewire 800 connection, regardless whether you are working with SD, 720 or 1080 HD acquisition. Io HD offers you all of the framerate and format size options available in FCP. You can work with 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30, 50, 59.94 and 60 frame rates in your chosen format.

What the Io HD does
I did extensive testing of a pre-release unit, instantly falling in love with the ability to capture and output True HD from my laptop. Having nearly all of the functionality of the Kona series of hardware, the IoHD does not disappoint. I tested 1080 and 720 in all of the most common frame rates in use—23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 50, and 59.94—on both my Intel laptop and Intel desktop systems without issues.

Amazingly, Io HD users now have full access to up and down conversion, and even the haloed Kona 3 cross conversion capabilities (720 > < 1080) are built in. So users can handle some of the most powerful functions available on any hardware for FCP, AJA’s industry leading realtime hardware conversion capability. Some of those options are shown below.

downconvert

That also means that like all AJA products, the Io HD can function as a converter / monitoring tool. Setting the Control Panel to allow for “Input Passthru” allows the Io HD to convert the incoming video to any of the formats available on the unit, as shown below.

Fortunately, this is all easy to set up, as shown in the image below.

Settings

 

So 1080 HD-SDI video can be viewed on a composite or Component monitor. Or SD can be up converted in realtime and give the user live output as SDI, Component, Composite, Y/C and even HDMI. (Note that the Composite and Y/C ports continuously down convert to standard def.)

This functionality gives users an added usage, using the included AJA TV application users can take their laptop, storage and an Io HD into a meeting and show your clients a true HD output experience in their offices via SDI, Component or HDMI, even animation codec graphic files from Motion or AE can be played out via the AJATV app as long as your storage is fast enough to playback the files.

Desktop systems have the added ability to playback of uncompressed HD material via Io HD if the storage attached is capable of handling the data. It does this by allowing the CPU to hand off the data as ProRes to the Io HD.

What the Io HD does not do
It may disappoint some users that thought Io HD was going to bring ProRes capture to their G4 computers. Sorry but that's not going to happen. All of us have by now found out that it is nearly impossible to work with ProRes on anything less than an Intel Mac, and IoHD doesn't change that. As with any modern hardware solutions, which traditionally do not work with older technology, the Io HD is no different.

AJA recommends that the user work with with a Quad G5 or Intel PowerMac (basically any desktop Mac with a PCI-e or later interface) or an Intel Macbook Pro, as the lesser iMacs and MacBooks are just not powerful enough to handle the information being supplied from the Io HD. The only capture option would be to the internal boot drive. That's not a viable solution for a professional hardware tool like this.

The Io also does not let you use a FireWire camera or drive at the same time you're using the IoHD.

Additional notes
The 2 biggest issues for users will be a lack of HDV playback and that due to limitations of both FCP and the Firewire bus no other serial device can be on the same computer (that would include any kind of deck or camera connected to your computer via FW).

Note that external FireWire devices require using extra care. Since the FW bus is fully saturated with HD data, finding alternative storage is required because nothing else will work when the IoHD is on the single FW bus on your Mac. You can't work with FireWire for IO and storage at the same time, unless the FireWire ports are on different busses. Not separate ports, separate busses. To get one, you'll need to add it to your computer.

For laptops, an Express card adapter to add an additional FW bus runs less than $75 USD. You'll need to buy something similar if you want to use FW storage with your desktop system at the same time you're using the Io HD.

This is why AJA recommends SATA storage, many of which are relatively inexpensive, and many of which have adapters specifically designed for laptops.

Now, HDV is all about the processing power. FCP has never really liked HDV content, and the HDV implementation in FCP is woefully behind what is possible on many PC editing systems. Even if FCP worked as well with HDV as they do, the limited 8bit 4:2:0 color space of HDV is really only intended as an acquisition medium in the FCP workflow.

Many people have already seen the light and have started capturing HDV content to the DVCProHD codec, resulting in more responsive playback, even though it is a highly compressed 8bit codec, offering the user playback advantages at the cost of recompressing the already compressed original.

Capturing or Transcoding HDV content to ProRes offers even more advantages with cleaner file handling when compositing or finish color correction. While the file sizes are considerable larger than with DVCProHD content they are about 1/10 the size of the same content captured as 10bit Uncompressed.

As long as you remember that the IoHD was designed from the ground up as a ProRes capture and playback interface, all is well. Playback of native DVCProHD content is also supported, but understand that those files are being transcoded thru ProRes during output.

One more thing
I'm pretty geeky when it comes to all of the ins and outs of working in 720p HD. I've worked for Panasonic, JVC and currently Sony on the oddities of the 720p workflow. One of the things I work on at length is the handling of Variable Frame Rate data, first found on film cameras and then later on Panasonic’s top of the line Varicam camera and now available on the a number of the cameras in the P2 line. It will also be available soon with Sony’s XDCamEX.

Extracting this VFR (variable frame rate) data from the 720p60 video stream has always been an undocumented feature of the Kona cards. AJA even includes a special easy setup with the “Varicam” moniker on it as part of their basic install, but few people know about this added function.

The Io HD includes this same function and can be set to act as a live frame rate converter, removing the redundant frames from the HD-SDI stream on capture. It selects jjust the flagged frames in the RP188 timecode track, interpreting timing displacement effects as the cinematographer intended.

This is a huge deal. Expensive, dedicated frame rate conversion hardware that was created to handle this process on set is much like the software FRC feature found in FCP. Both of these methods only extract the flagged frames from DVCProHD compressed materials.

Instead, the Io HD allows you to record that data as a true 10bit video stream in ProRes, offering Varicam users the higher quality captures available when you need to key or composite your video in post.

Lastly, understanding LTC timecode on-set is something those of us that work in live environments have all searched for. Io HD at last offers on-set capture of SLTC / camera timecode over SDI when using AJA’s VTR Exchange app. This overcomes a serious limitation in the current version FCP that only allows serial information to be passed to FCP over a 9 pin serial connection.

The image below, from another tab on the Io HD Control Panel, shows a few of the timecode options.

LTC

Conclusion
AJA has delivered a simple solution for taking HD out of the backroom and onto higher ground, freeing us from the darkened, dusty catacombs of our HD edit suites into the freedom of working on the road, without the limitations or bounds of our bays. It offers a wide range of inputs for real-time, hardware-supported ProRes capture and editing in Final Cut Studio, and supports every frame rate and frame sizes from SD to 1080. The single FW 800 connection makes it easy to use. Reliability and picture quality are exactly what you'd expect from AJA.

If you need ProRes capture, editing and output on the road, whether with laptops or live shoots, the AJA Io HD is for you.

 

Gary Adcock, Founder of Studio37 an HD and Film Consultancy based in Chicago, Il USA. He is NAB Post Production Conference Chairman for HD Solutions and Tech Chair for NAB’s the Director of Photography Track. A regular speaker around the world on HDTV production and Digital Technologies, Gary has been associated with AJA Video Systems since making the jump to HD Production in 2000.


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Comments

The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by gary adcock
Sorry Ann.

How do I import 1080i at 59.94... say from the Sony HDW-1800?

in 1080 interlace 29.97 frames and 59.94 fields are the same thing. So ANY Listed 29.97 Sony format is actually the same as saying 59.94.

I tend to only mention 29.97 for SD workflows,

in HD I always call it at 60 frames or 60 fields a second ///60i for 1080 and 60p for 720 \ since those are the SMPTE designated formats.
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by gary adcock
For Ann

No the IoHD does not do 1080 60p- that requires a Dual Link connection, however I did test 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30p, 50i and 60i in 1080 along with 23.98, 24, 25, 29.97, 30p, 50p and 60p ( 59.94) in 720.

so there are a number of frame rates to work with.
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by gary adcock
For Adrian.

I am an AJA guy, and from my quick peak at the MXO2- the biggest issue is that all of the functionality of the unit is based too much on the host CPU - with the IoHD the ProRes conversion is in hardware outside of the host CPU.



The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by Ann DeVilbiss
HI, you said you tested it in both 1080 and 720 in multiple frame rates.

How do I import 1080i at 59.94... say from the Sony HDW-1800?

HELP! Thanks, Ann
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by Film Crafter
Hey Gary,
What about the Matrox MXO2?
Best wishes,
Adrian
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by Simon Cox
Thanks Gary. I've been getting lots of different answers as to whether the IO HD is worth including in the workflow between the EX-1 and FCP. Do you see benefits in having the two work together? I realise that in a 'live' situation, the IO HD has huge benefits - but I am less likely to implement this - with my needs being for documentary film making. I would like my editor to be able to get any editing advantage in the field that we can get. The down convert, cross convert, and output (as well as monitoring) options are all appealing too. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Simon Cox
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by gary adcock
Simon,

Funny that you ask this, but the footage of mine that Sony is showing from my tests of the EX1 were captured thru an IoHD as 720p24 over the HDSDI. It worked flawlessly (especially since I had the camera before the 6.02 update that allowed me to use the EX card transfers)

One note however, remember that Like the P2 capture, if you capture 720p24/25/30 has native frame rates the output from the card in the camera no longer has the frame flags so that FCP knows what the frame rate is .

So if your are shooting in 720p and need to output the captured content via the HDSDI out remember to stay in 24/60 shooting modes (same with 25 or 30 fps)
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by Simon Cox
Great review. What I'd love to know, being the owner of a shiny new Sony EX-1 camcorder is, how would the IO HD be best implemented within a workflow with this camera? What would be the benefits of using the IO HD, the EX-1 and a MacBook Pro with real-time ingest, over just slotting the SxS card into the side of the laptop and ingesting the data that way (then transcoding to ProRes 422 within FCP)? Difficult to find an answer on this one......

Simon
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by rborroto
You're right Gary... ProRes HD capture is very different than ProRes SD capture, and my point was to clarify their different limitations.
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by gary adcock
mr rrborroto.

Capturing HD is vastly different than the SD you capture, I can capture SD in the Apple ProRes codec on any machine with dual processor or better, However the requirements for HD require fully configured intel based processors.
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by rborroto
"All of us have by now found out that it is nearly impossible to work with ProRes on anything less than an Intel Mac, and IoHD doesn't change that."

Great article, however I do capture and play back ProRes422HQ in real time to FW800 mirrored drives every day using a BlackmagicSP card on a Dual 2.5GHz G5 tower, without problems or dropped frames... ever. I've always known that I'm rare.
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by Sam Zimman
Nice review Gary. What was your frame offset in playback control? is it still 4 like the other IOs?
The long-awaited AJA Io HD!
by gary adcock
One Clarification

The IoHD has the ability to down convert BOTH 720 and 1080 HDSDI or Component content to standard definition, not just 1080 as is implied in one paragraph.




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