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WiebeTECH Firestore 800 Drives

COW Library : FireStore : Walter Biscardi : WiebeTECH Firestore 800 Drives
CreativeCOW presents WiebeTECH Firestore 800 Drives -- FireStore Review

Biscardi Creative Media
Buford Georgia USA All rights reserved.

Firewire drives have become the backbone of many video editors and producers. And now, with the advent of Firewire 800, the possibility that uncompressed video editing via Firewire has been raised. In this article, Walter takes a look at the WiebeTECH Fire800™ and finds out that this is one powerful new technology.

Firewire drives have become the backbone of many video editors and producers. They hold a lot of storage, they’re fast enough to edit DV video and they make it a snap to share projects and media between editors, even if they’re not in the same ZIP code! Just send the drive wherever it needs to go and presto, you have the entire project and can complete whatever elements you need to provide. At a price that’s significantly lower than SCSI and Fibrechannel, they also offer a lot of storage for the buck.

With the advent of Firewire 800, the possibility that Uncompressed Video Editing via Firewire has been raised. Can we really push 8bit or 10bit uncompressed material onto a Firewire 800 device and edit? I have been extremely skeptical of any claim of uncompressed editing using Firewire devices as I come from over 7 years of editing on SCSI and Fibrechannel drives. So I was really looking forward to testing out one of the units from the fine folks at WiebeTech.

The Unit

The unit is a Fire800. It’s a slick little box with a brushed aluminum skin and features a fanless design so it’s completely quiet. It’s a very flexible device with multiple connections: (2) Firewire 800 ports, (1) Firewire 400 Port and (1) USB1.1/2.0 Port. It features the Oxford OXUF922 bridge, is fully ATA-5 and ATA-6 compatible and is compatible with 3.5” IDE drives. Compatibility is Windows 98SE, ME, 2000, XP and Mac OS 9.1, 9.2 and OS 10. The literature on the box claims 60+MB/sec transfer rate in FireWire mode, but we’ll look at that in a moment.

My unit arrived with a 250GB drive installed and the instruction manual features a very simple overview on how to open the chassis and swap out the drive with another. This is great if you want to store a project “on the shelf” inexpensively since the actual drives themselves are cheaper than purchasing a self-contained Firewire drive unit each time.

The system we’ll be testing it on primarily is a PowerMac G4, Dual 1.25 with 1.5GB RAM, Final Cut Pro 4.0.1 with CineWave 4.0, BetaSP footage fed via SDI through the CineWave Pro Digital and Analog Breakout Box and DVCAM footage fed via Firewire 400 directly to the Mac. The Fire800 is connected via the FW 800 port on the G4 so we are truly running Firewire 800 unless otherwise noted in this review.

Speed Tests

As I noted above, WiebeTech’s literature claims 60+MB/sec transfer rate in FireWire mode. When capturing 8bit uncompressed with the CineWave, the data rate is 20mb/sec and when capturing 16bit the data rate is about 40mb/second. So if 60+ MB/sec is accurate, then 8bit and 10bit uncompressed should be a breeze.

To check the speed of the drive, I used the Disk Performance Test Utility provided by Pinnacle Systems with the CineWave product. This is a pretty accurate test from what I’ve seen and is a great product to test the speed of a drive as it relates to video production. I ran two tests, the Standard Definition test and one for High Definition. Here are the results:

The Read speeds are approaching 60MB on the HD test, but are below 30MB on the write for both tests. So it’s looking good for 8bit – 20MB/sec capture, but it doesn’t appear that we’re up to speeds where we can capture 10bit or 16 bit material. One thing I cannot tell you here is whether the slower write speeds are related to the G4 or the Fire800 itself. I did not have a G5 to test the drive on to see if there are any differences there.

DV testing

I have been working on a long-term project with over 8 hours of Mini-DV footage that had been captured at full DV NTSC resolution to another drive using Final Cut Pro 4. I transferred all the footage over to the Fire800 to start with. Yes, I did some DV capture tests, but those will come later. For those not familiar with FCP 4, it features what Apple calls “RT Extreme” which gives you software and host CPU based real-time preview effects and filters. Depending on the speed of your system and drives, you’ll more or less real-time features. In my DV testing, I set the RT capabilities to “Unlimited RT” to see just how much RT I could attempt before the drive started dropping frames.

My first test was to see how many streams of DV video would play back without dropping frames. I set up a timeline to stack video tracks on top of a base video track. As you can see from image below, I got up to 4 scaled down video tracks playing on top of a single full scale video track. 5 video layers of DV footage in real-time preview from a single FireWire 800 unit! Ok, I’m starting to like this drive.

Note: The red (Render) bar is actually for the audio, not the video. The orange bar just above the red bar indicates Unlimited RT video with Final Cut Pro 4.0.1. Click here to view larger image .

I did add a 6th video track scaled down but that did finally cause the system to drop frames. As I said, I’m starting to like this unit.

Now let’s get some motion graphics, filters and compositing going. How about a “Picture in Picture” effect with 3 Way Color Correction on the smaller image with a Lower Third (Photoshop) graphic sliding in while an FCP generated Text layer moves from top to bottom of the screen?

Note the green line at the top of timeline, so we’re still full RT preview. (Click here for larger image. ) Yes, the color on the car is very ugly but I just made some extreme color swings in the blacks, mids and whites. How about a bunch of motion and more tracks of video and graphics? I took the above timeline and added 1 more video track, another graphics track (Photoshop image), added 3 Way Color Corrector filter to the base track (video track 1) and added motion to every video track except the base layer.

I highlighted all the layers so you can see the motion keyframe lines. The color in the timeline goes orange for the bulk of the timeline, but again, everything plays back in real-time with no dropped frames. I’m really starting to like this unit. Here’s 6 layers of material with Color Correction and motion playing back in real-time preview off a single Firewire drive. For those who work in DV and DVCAM material, this should be pretty exciting. I did finally get it to drop frames after applying a Gaussian blur to the base layer (Video track 1)

For Final Cut Pro 4.0 and working with RT Extreme filters and effects, this drive really performed well. Every single Video Transition showed up as a real-time effect. I tested all the transitions using a single video track and performing the transitions in that single track. Only the more intensive stuff like the Slides and Quicktime effects dropped frames consistently, but for the most part, every single transition played in real-time preview. Excellent.

For the Video Filters, approx. 90% of the filters showed up as a real-time preview effect. For the most part, as long as I was only using one filter at a time (not stacking filters up either in one clip or multiple clips) and using the default setting, I got the real-time preview of that filter. For some things, like the Color Corrector above, I was able to get quite a bit of real-time while stacking filters and using motion. Things like blurs obviously take more processor power so you’ll get less RT so what you use and how much you use will determine how much RT you’ll get. Of course, the G5 adds even more RT so your experience will vary. BUT, I’m really really really liking this unit.

Oh yeah, Capturing DV footage to this drive was flawless. There’s really nothing to report here because the drive operated perfectly during several capture tests.

Uncompressed Testing

The moment of truth. Is it possible to work with uncompressed material using a single FireWire device? According to the Disk Performance numbers, it appears that the write speed should be enough for 8bit capture via the CineWave. But does it work?

For this test I used a Sony J3/902 MultiFormat Beta Player hooked up via SDI to a CineWave Pro D&A BOB as mentioned before. Capture was set for a single file (video and embedded audio) to be captured to the Fire800. I used Capture Now which, for those of you who don’t use FCP, means I brought up the Log and Capture window on FCP, used the controls to simply hit “play” on the deck and hit “record” on FCP. Capture started and ……… it worked. Hmmmmm, I stopped the capture after 10 seconds. The captured clip played back with no problems.

I captured 7 more uncompressed, 8bit clips with the longest being 1 minute 30 seconds. The Fire800 captured each clip with no dropped frames, no issues whatsoever. I checked each clip and scrubbed furiously along the clip back and forth. The drive stayed right with me. Hmmm, Hmmmmmmmmmmmm. I captured a few more short clips (about 15 frames each) and placed them all into a timeline, back to back. One video track and then looped out for 19 minutes and 54 seconds and hit play. The entire timeline played through with no dropped frames. Almost 20 minutes of uncompressed 8 bit video playing off a single FireWire unit. I’m pretty darn excited.

20 minute timeline of 8bit uncompressed material

How about capturing and playing back a really long clip, say 10 minutes? Surely it will drop frames trying to maintain the data rate during that long of a capture. Nope, 10 minutes without a single dropped frame. Again, scrub the clip furiously back and forth and the drive stayed right with me.

I then tried a tortuous timeline of about 1 minute 30 seconds with no shot longer than 10 frames with large sections of 30 shots of 1 frame each. This is a great test for a drive because it needs to pull up so many files of only one frame each. The first time I hit play, the drive dropped a frame within the first 3 seconds. After that, I played the timeline 10 times without a dropped frame. I’m duly impressed and am ready to stop this review right here.

1:30 timeline with lots and lots of 1 frame shots .

The Kicker

The Pinnacle CineWave card features 40+ CPU independent, truly real-time effects in both 8bit and 16bit SD. These are not real-time preview like RT Extreme, but effects that do not need to be rendered and play out in full resolution at all time. You need to have very fast SCSI or Fibrechannel drives to run CineWave because you’re running dual streams of video at the same time to achieve a transition. Surely this single Firewire drive would not be able to perform any real, real-time with the 8bit video, would it?

In a word…… yes. Oh yes! I’m beyond words and just truly amazed at what this product can do because it didn’t just stop at a real-time transition. Take a look at this:

You are looking a 3 stream 8bit Uncompressed CineWave timeline. On video track 1 are four video clips with a Cross-Dissolve, Center Wipe and Clock wipe in that order. The final clip (where the playhead is parked) has a 3 Way Color Correction filter applied. Video track 2 is an FCP generated Text and Video track 3 is a still graphic created in Photoshop. This timeline played in a loop for 5 minutes with no dropped frames! Transitions on the first layer and 2 layers of graphics with alpha channels above. The orange color above the timeline indicates that I’m in Unlimited RT mode. CineWave will continue to play the video in full uncompressed resolution as long as the drives can keep up. The drive never faultered.

Then I added motion to Video Tracks 2 and 3 making sure that they were both in motion over the Color Corrected clip. Still no dropped frames in full 8bit Uncompressed quality. Absolutely outstanding.

The Verdict

I’m converted! Firewire 800 looks like it’s the real deal. To truly see 8bit Uncompressed running on a single Firewire device AND be able to run true real-time transitions was just a jaw dropper on my end. And keep in mind, this is just a single device. I can’t wait to see what happens when folks get a chance to test out multiple drives striped in a Firewire 800 enclosure. I’m sure 10bit will be possible with some RT there as well!

And I have to say I’m really impressed with WiebeTech as a whole. I had never heard of the company until their banner ads appeared at the Creative Cow, nor had I ever used their product before. The enclosure looks good, it’s quiet and when I had one small problem with the drive, they were in contact with me almost immediately to correct the issue.

Are we giving Cows yet over here? I’m giving the Fire800 “5 out of 5 Cows with Two Thumbs Up!”

Walter Biscardi, Jr.
Creative Director
d’Arte media creations
Creative Cow Final Cut Pro, CinéWave and Atlanta FCPUG Forum Host


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