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Aurora Video's PipeStudio

CreativeCOW presents Aurora Video's PipeStudio -- Apple Final Cut Pro Review


director, editor, www.davidbattistella.com
Toronto Ontario Canada
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.



Aurora PipeStudio: A little PCI card that packs a punch



I should preface this entire article by letting you all know that I am an existing Aurora Igniter Pro X Owner and I have been since 2002. I was first running my card on OS9 and went through all of the OSX growing pains, as I am sure many of you did. I have to say that I have been happy with my existing product. I use the card with FCP HD in a Dual 1ghz, quicksilver 2002 machine. It has been a workhorse. I work in a professional studio environment with tape formats varying from DV, Betacam, and Digital Betacam, and VHS.

I want this review to reflect the experience you will have as an existing customer or if you are a first time customer of Aurora so I am taking it from the very basics. The card I am reviewing is the Aurora PipeStudio, which is one of the new family of Aurora products. The PipeStudio provides 10-bit SDI, component, composite and S-Video, as well as analog and digital audio in a single package.

Seems like a lot of IO and that is a huge selling point for this card. You will be blown away with what you can plug into the breakout box. It's not just bells and whistles either; you can really get just about every machine in your setup hooked in and ready for production. The other nice thing is that all of the outputs on this card are simultaneously live with no latency. That is a huge advantage and a time saver too. FCP ships with the latency set to four frames so be sure to set it to zero if you ever install a PipeStudio

First off:

The PipeStudio ships in a brown cardboard box, the Contents are:

  1. The PCI card in a static bag
  2. The breakout box with an ample 2 meters (7 feet) of cable
  3. An installer disk
  4. A rack mount kit
  5. A desktop kit (if you don't have rack
  6. A stylish Aurora faceplate :)
  7. Lots of grey foam.



First thing I noticed is that this card is much more compact than the Igniter card and it has no daughter card so it is physically smaller. For the first part of the testing I installed the card in a Dual 1.25 MDD G4. The card installs in a matter of minutes. If you are not comfortable doing a card installation most VAR's will do the install for you at no additional charge. I also installed an ATTO UL3S card, which connects to a HUGE MEDIA VAULT. In addition I installed (in the G4 configuration only) a Keyspan serial pro card. This card offers up to 4 serial ports to connect to up to four decks, with the Pipe built in RS-422 that allows for up to five decks, WHEW! The Keyspan does not install in the G5 PCI slots (bummer) and as far as I know there is no plan for Keyspan to create this card for the G5.

G4-slot-location




THE COMPANY



Just a bit about Aurora here: they have been building Macintosh-only solutions for Desktop video since 1997. I often equate them to the guys in the back room of the Lucas ranch. You could present them with a problem and they would build you a solution to put in your machine. They are true engineers and they build their product out of high quality components. They also support their products well and work hard to keep up with software updates and OS releases. They are not the best marketers so not many people have really heard of their products. This is not to suggest that any other manufacturer does not use the best components, etc., but I guess I am just saying they don't get the word out as well as others. I have been an owner of their products since 2001.


INSTALLATION


Once I had the door closed I powered up and went to the Aurora download site for the latest version of the driver. www.auroravideosyst.com/pub . Once here I downloaded version 3.0 of the driver and installed it. I had no previous version of Aurora on this machine, if I did I would have to uninstall the Igniter or any other Aurora product and then do a clean install the PipeStudio drivers.

Then I restarted the computer, checked “about this mac” to make sure the computer was seeing the card and that all was good.

Here is the slot configuration for the G4



Here is the slot configuration for the G5:




Then it was off to the PipeStudio preference in the System preferences window where the Pipe Icon shows up as a Lime green Icon in the ‘other’ pane.



This is one set of controls:



This is the other:



A BIT ABOUT THE CHOICES



With Desktop output enabled, the PipeStudio lets you view After Effects, Photoshop or QuickTime files by just dragging them over to the NTSC monitor. This is very handy for graphics creation because you can view and edit on the NTSC monitor, no surprises when you import into your NLE program. I even could drag LiveType windows over to check out the graphics quality on screen.


STILL FIELD CONTROL:
This is a nice option, especially for clients. With both fields checked, if you happen to pause on the wrong frame you can get a pretty wild interlacing effect going, switching this to single field tells the PipeStudio to display only one field when the media file is stopped. This would also be handy for checking for field related dropouts, a nice little feature to make life a bit simpler.

NTSC MODE
The card complies with both American and Japanese NTSC standards. In Japan NTSC blacks are set to zero instead of 7.5, and the color burst frequency is 4.43MHz. Here in the Americas, 7.5 is the standard, and 3.58Mhz is the color burst. This is the reason that option is there, so if you move to Japan, you are good to go. If you are from Japan, you are good too go, the card complies with Japanese NTSC standards.

GENLOCK CONTROL.

Let's say for example, you are in a live studio setup. You want to playback files from your FCP system to a switcher in a control room. You can do this. If you were cutting a live sporting event using FCP and the PipeStudio, you could use the Genlock mode to time the output of the PipeStudio so that it can integrate in this environment without going to tape. The output could be sent directly to a switcher for playback. Cool! PipeStudio’s Genlock will auto-detect a reference signal, and lock the outputs to it. SO if you have a black burst generator in a multi suite studio setup you are ready to rock and roll.


COMPONENT VIDEO OUTPUT

Offers you the choice between RGB and YUV depending on the deck, or monitor you have connected.


UNBALANCED AUDIO OUTPUTS.

Analog lets you go to a board in your existing set up, or directly to an analog deck, SPDIF lets you send SPDIF audio to a digital deck such as the Sony DSR2000, or to a third party card with a SPDIF input.


BALANCED AUDIO OUTPUTS

Analog lets you go to a board in your existing set up, or directly to an analog deck, AES/EBU allows you to you pump out 4 channels of balanced AES digital to digital decks such as Sony A500 or to a third party device with balanced AES input.

8 channels of embedded digital 24 bit audio is present in the SDI outputs at all times. This means you could archive your project to a D-88 machine or you could send that to a digital board and monitor each channel of your mix independently, or you could send 4 channels of audio to a Digital beta deck or to a BVW series Betacam VTR. Not all of this functionality is in FCP yet but it will be in up and coming versions of FCP and QuickTime. Apple recently announced multi-channel audio input capability for QT 6.6. I am assuming that future releases of FCP will take advantage of that functionality.

LET'S GET TO WORK


The PipeStudio Installer loads the following presets and easy set-ups to make it easier for you to integrate in FCP right away.

This includes presets for:

  • SDI 8 and 10bit uncompressed
  • SDI for DV Input and Output
  • COMPONENT 8 and 10bit uncompressed
  • COMPONENT for DV Input and Output
  • S-VIDEO 8 and 10bit uncompressed
  • S-VIDEO for DV Input and Output
  • COMPOSITE 8 and 10bit uncompressed
  • COMPOSITE for DV Input and Output





And Also Support for Apples SD DV/DVCPRO 50 Codecs

They all Capture and play through the Pipe.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT



I'm going to give you a bit of an overview here. I know this sounds crazy but I did all of this stuff over a weekend with about four existing projects on the machine. I then did it on a subsequent weekend when I moved everything to the G5. I had five projects on the machine when I did that! Most of you are thinking that this is a recipe for disaster, but I think it sort of demonstrates the confidence I have in Aurora and that the products work out of the box. That is the faith I put in my existing products, so why should it be different with the PipeStudio? Two of my projects are on DV and two of them are on 8-bit eXtreme uncompressed. This it turns out is no big deal for the PipeStudio because it plays back both of these digital formats along with any of the Apple 8 or 10 bit codecs and also Blackmagic/AJA 8 and 10 bit codecs as well. One thing not included in the PipeStudio is hardware support for M-JPEG compression. You can do software compression on the fly with a faster Macintosh.

With “Mirror on Desktop” turned off, these codecs should work also.

I ran a few tests. The M-JPEG and Photo JPEG can be captured by the PipeStudio, it just can not be played back on the G4 and as of this writing I had not tested the M-jpeg on the G5. Let's say that you had very limited space, or a tremendous amount of footage that required a compressed codec, you could still cut Capture and edit M-jpeg and photo j-peg and then render to a DV timeline for outputs. You would not see the M-jpeg through the external monitor on the G4 while editing though.

I don't think that excluding full support for these codecs is a huge drawback as DV is a great ‘offline resolution” and with the cost of storage so low and DV picture quality so good, there is now room to move away from M-jpeg as a storage solution. It would be nice to see someone come up with DV10 or something like that to get a bit more footage on the drives, which must be in the plans somewhere?

The first time I re-launch FCP. Everything works; everything from the old projects was there. One of the uncompressed projects on my system was originally captured in the 8-bit advanced codec and the PipeStudio does not read that Codec, so I had to recompress the project (using the much improved media manager) to the 8-bit extreme PipeStudio codec, this took less than an hour and I did it over lunch.

There was a bit of a surprise, a noticeable one. I have been looking at this footage for weeks and when I loaded it up and watched it through the PipeStudio it actually looked better. Even the DV seemed to be a little bit better defined and slightly better color saturation. I would attribute this to the brand newness of the card (built for OSX and also to the quality of components that Aurora uses in building the card.) the fact that is a ten bit card probably helps the DV picture quality too.


The PIPE STUDIO- HOOKING IN!



So many outputs, so many inputs,
Here is the list:

This is what you can plug into the Pipe:

  • 1 SDI input
  • 1 Component Input
  • 1 Composite input
  • 2 AES/EBU inputs
  • 2 Balanced Analog inputs
  • 2 Un-balanced Analog inputs

This is what the PipeStudio simultaneously outputs:

  • 2 SDI output
  • 1 Component output
  • 1 Composite output
  • 2 AES/EBU output
  • 2 Balanced Analog output
  • 2 Un-balanced Analog output





A REAL LIVE STUDIO SET-UP



So what does all of this I/O mean? Well, for starters it means flexibility. If you are a small studio you can have a D-beta, Beta SP, DVCAM and VHS deck hooked in and out of the PipeStudio at all times. With an RS-422 patch bay you can have machine control to any one of them. But some of you might be asking, who cares? To me this is a time saver. I can for example pull a D-Beta, Beta and a vhs dub of show in one pass. That can be a real time saver at the end of an edit day.

It also gives me the functionality to deal with multiple video formats and sources that are flying around these days. Clients can have a mixture of DV and betacam footage a D-beta archive on any given project and this card helps me deal with all of those in one package. It is important for me to mention that there are no converters needed with this card. The entire A to D conversion is built in. You could add a DA to your rack and send a composite signal to the DA and route that to monitors or more VHS machines as another possible solution and more flexibility. The second SDI output could be sent to an SDI monitor to view that pristine video for any color grading or when you want to look at graphics a the highest possible quality. It could also be sent to a DV deck equipped with SDI I/O. If you needed more SDI outputs Aurora makes SDI DA’s too.




Then there is the fact that I can instantly output my DV projects to D-beta or DVCAM or Betacam right from the card. This means I avoid dubbing from Mini DV or DVCAM to Beta or D-Beta. (Do people do that? you bet your bum they do) I know about videos that are being shot in 35mm, transferred to DV and cut an output to DV, then dubbed to D-BETA for mastering. With stuff being cut all over the place, home, laptops, on airplanes, and the popular, “hey it's digital, man” attitude, these things can do and are happen.


REAL TIME



This is a bit a bone with me right now. Here is why. Apple has built FCP with the RT extreme engine in mind. This means that your Real Time functionality is only as fast as your computer and its on board processors. In OS9 Aurora, with the Igniter for example, built processing of real time effects onto the card. CineWave and other products do this as well. In OSX and with RT extreme and the way FCP is engineered effects are completely processor dependant. This means that manufacturers are less inclined to build their own real time into the card. Igniter, for example can handle the 3-way CC filter and others but with the advent of RT extreme manufacturers seem to have moved away from building DUAL STREAM CARDS. This could add functionality to FCP but it looks like Apple wants continue to drive sales of G5 Processors. This is a sad trend if it is true, why not put a G5 chip on a card and let that handle some things and take the load off of the computers processors? Or, Give the RT extreme code to developers so they can make things work more efficiently. It is something to think about.




In Conclusion

The PipeStudio is a professional product designed for professionals in a real world environment. With care and research in setting up an editing system with fast hard drives and a product like this, you can achieve great results from FCP and this card combination.

The Aurora team are not the best at letting you know about their product and in my dealing with them over the years I have found them to be a modest, hard working bunch of guys from Michigan. They have built a real quality product and I commend them. I am giving them 4.5 cows out of 5 for this product -- the deductions come for not letting more people know about the product and it would be a nice touch to include an RS-422 cable in the original box for deck inter connectivity.

David Battistella


More product info at: www.auroravideosys.com

4 1/2 cows.


© 2004 David Battistella | Creative Cow
Photo Credit: SDI I/O box and Product Shot: Aurora Video Systems. All other photos, David Battistella.
All Rights Reserved


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