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Aurora PipePro

CreativeCOW presents Aurora PipePro -- Aurora Video Systems Review


Biscardi Creative Media
Buford Georgia USA
CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.


Aurora PipePro
Aurora PipePro: A Creative COW Report

Walter Biscardi
Walter Biscardi
Biscardi Creative Media, Buford, Georgia USA

© 2004, Walter Biscardi and CreativeCOW.net. All rights reserved.

Article Focus:
Aurora Video Systems' new PipePro is a single-slot PCI card for Mac users which features SDI/Firewire input with embedded audio, analog component, S-Video and composite output, 4 channel AES audio in, 6 channel AES audio out, RS-422 control, Genlock and many other features -- all for $799 (US). Here is Walter Biscardi's report for Cow members...



With the advent of the G5 and super fast hard drive arrays; all the various capture cards used by Final Cut editors work with real-time effects and filters -- this, because real-time is now built right into Final Cut Pro. A discussion on how much real-time a particular system offers is wholly dependant on your support system, i.e. CPU, drive speed, RAM, etc., and so these considerations won’t be a part of this review. To learn how much your own personal system can realistically expect, is a discussion best left for the Cow's Final Cut Pro forum.

So now that Final Cut Pro offers so much real-time on its own, the discussion becomes, "How do I get my footage into the system? Firewire I/O?" Well that’s easy, just connect the source device to any available FW spigot on your Mac. But SDI, Composite, S-Video and Component require some sort of internal card or external device to get the footage into and out of your Final Cut Pro System.


PipePro Basics:
For those who use SDI and Firewire for the majority of their capturing, Aurora Video Systems www.auroravideosys.com has introduced the PipePro, which lists for $799 (US). Don’t let the low cost of this card deceive you, the PipePro packs a lot of power and versatility in a small package.

The PipePro is a single slot PCI card that features:
  • one SDI Input (with embedded audio, up to 8 channels in),
  • two SDI outputs (each with embedded audio, up to 8 channels out)
  • and a breakout cable with the following I/O:
  • Analog Component, S-Video, Composite Output
  • 4 Channel AES Audio Input
  • 6 Channel AES Audio Output
  • 2 Channel unbalanced Audio Output
  • RS-422 control
  • Genlock

Now I’m not a huge fan of breakout cables such as these, I prefer a breakout box so there’s only one cable coming out from the Mac. But for only $799 I can’t expect to get a breakout box. Also, I think the combination of dedicated analog outputs and true RS-422 connectivity far outweigh the lack of a BOB.

If you need additional analog inputs, you can add any number of Analog to Digital converters that would connect to the SDI in.





My Test Set-up:
The editing system I used for this test was an Apple PowerMac G5, dual 2.0ghz machine with 3GB RAM, running Final Cut Pro 4.5 with Mac OS 10.3.4 and QuickTime 6.5.1. I worked with capturing both 8bit and 10bit uncompressed material via SDI (with embedded audio) from a Sony J3/902 multiformat Beta machine and feeding Analog Component out to a Sony PVM 20L5/1 monitor. The storage was handled by two LaCie Big Disk Extreme Firewire 800 drives striped together as a 1TB RAID. The PipePro was installed in Slot 3 and the LaCie Firewire 800 PCI card was installed in Slot 4. The PipePro drivers were version 2.0.2.



PipePro System Preferences:
PipePro installs a control pane into the System Preferences menu. Here is where you can verify the driver / firmware you’re running on the PipePro and perform some general setup.





Desktop Output allows you to send your Mac desktop out to the external monitor. Very very useful for creating graphics and checking them on your output. This is a dedicated output and is hot at all times when you’re not using Final Cut Pro so there’s nothing to launch or startup. When Final Cut Pro is running, it automatically switches over to the output of FCP. After enabling Desktop Output, you can go into your Display Preferences and set up the Monitor arrangement to place the output monitor wherever you choose.

Field Control lets you decide what you will see when you stop playback. Either both fields of an interlaced image or just one field. Single field is very useful when color correcting or you’re just tired of seeing a jittery image every time you stop on a clip with motion.

NTSC Mode lets you choose between 7.5 IRE or 0 IRE on your output setup.

Genlock appears grayed-out because it’s actually an auto-detection type of set-up. When you connect a genlock source, PipePro automatically detects the input so this preference is not really necessary. The folks I talked to at Aurora said this will probably be removed from future drivers.

Audio Out Control is pretty much the same deal. This pref is not necessary because the audio outputs are all hot. Again, I would expect this to be removed from future drivers.


Final Cut Pro Audio|Video Settings:
The PipePro installs a set of pre-sets directly into Final Cut Pro and which expand the feature-set choices for editors; these extras include:

For Capture and Sequence Pre-sets, you have the option of not only 8bit and 10bit uncompressed, but also the ability to capture to the DV/DVCPro codecs via SDI. This can be quite handy for offline work whereby you can capture any uncompressed SDI source to DV without the need to dub down to DV tape with matched timecode.





Video Playback choices do give you the option to switch a PAL output to Lower Field First if the project calls for that.





RS-422 control is handled via the direct connection to the PipePro break-out cables. What’s nice is that it is a standard RS-422 port on the PipePro connection so you don’t need to order any special cables, just any standard RS-422 cable will work.





Using the PipePro:
Now for the past three years, we’ve used the Pinnacle CineWave exclusively in our shop so I had a pretty good benchmark to compare the PipePro with.

First off, capturing into Final Cut Pro was very snappy with the PipePro installed. Capture Now worked much faster for some reason when capturing using the PipePro vs. the CineWave or even capturing straight DV. With the CineWave or straight DV via Firewire, there is a lag of 3 – 10 seconds between the time that you hit Capture Now to the time that FCP actually starts capturing. You can compensate for this by shortening the Capture Now time limit.

With the Aurora codecs selected, I found that Capture Now started almost instantaneously no matter what the Capture Now limit was set to. Not really sure why this makes a difference, but it sure made Capture Now much easier to work with. The SDI to DV/DVCPro capture worked perfectly and the footage that was captured dropped right into a DV timeline with no issues.

Frequent visitors to the Creative Cow are familiar with our own “Codec Guru” Marco Solario who has shown for years that Aurora has one of the best codecs in the business. I can say that after finally seeing them first-hand there’s no doubt about that. The 8bit is incredibly clean and is suitable for probably 80% of my projects. The 10bit codec is just about as perfect as you can get. There’s really not much more to say about the codecs except if you really want to see the nitty gritty, visit Marco’s codec page at http://codecs.onerivermedia.com

Synchronization between the Canvas Display and the external NTSC monitor is absolutely dead-on if you set the Playback Offset in Final Cut Pro to 0. That’s such a HUGE help when editing to the beat or making some audio edits.

RS-422 control presented the one issue I really had with the PipePro. Final Cut Pro would just lose communication with the J3/902 at random times. Sometimes when logging and sometimes when performing a batch capture. Closing and reopening Log and Capture resolved the issue. Aurora was not able to duplicate this issue in house and there was a question of whether or not the J3/902 had something unique to its RS-422 setup that was causing the issue. I ended up pulling out my old Keyspan Serial Adapter and running the RS-422 with that for the remainder of the test.

All the video and audio outputs performed as expected, though I did not test the AES I/O because I don’t have any devices for those.

There’s not much else to say about the PipePro because once the footage is captured, you’re working within Final Cut Pro. All realtime effects and filters will be controlled by your system, not the PipePro.


The Verdict:
The editing system performed flawlessly during all testing and the PipePro has been running for over three months in the G5. I can honestly say that the combination of PipePro and Final Cut Pro 4.5 is the most stable editing system I’ve had since I started running Final Cut Pro three years ago. The system simply doesn’t crash, doesn’t unexpectedly quit and seems to totally behave itself. I think in the three months that the card has been installed and FCP 4.5 is running, Final Cut Pro has unexpectedly quit once or twice. That means I’m not getting interrupted in the creative flow and that’s really really good news.

Ok, compared to something like the CineWave, I give up I/O options in that CineWave offers pretty much anything in / anything out through its Breakout Boxes. CineWave also offers SD and HD on the same card with additional RT features not provided directly by Final Cut Pro. But, all those features in the CineWave and I/O really start to add up in the pocketbook and for many folks are features they may not need.

The PipePro comes in at $799 with SDI in directly on the card with Analog outs via the breakout cable. If I need additional analog inputs I can pick up something like the Aurora Diversity series with Component Analog input for $699 or converters from AJA. The RT within Final Cut Pro is about equal, if not more with the PipePro when I’m running the Medea RTRX 1440 (10 drive SCSI array).

Low cost, excellent quality and stability. Can’t ask for much more. I’ll give the PipePro 4 out of 5 Cows, they lose one point for the RS-422 control issue.





###

Note: As of this writing, the Aurora PipePro has not been certified for use with Final Cut Pro 4.5. Aurora has submitted the card and drivers to Apple for Certification.





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