Larger Than 4K: Larger Than Life!
COW Library : Windows Hardware & Software : Walter Soyka : Larger Than 4K: Larger Than Life!
I started my career in corporate editorial as a staff editor before going freelance and building my business around Macs running Final Cut Pro. Over the course of a few years, I developed finishing skills and my work gradually shifted to graphics and animation.
Now I focus on designing and producing presentation and motion graphics, and I have a niche specialty in large-format work. Sometimes this means multiple screens, sometimes this means custom-shaped LED tile configurations, sometimes this means curved projection surfaces, and sometimes this means blended projection -- but it always means working beyond HD. I'm typically working at easily twice the resolution of the RED EPIC's 4.5K.
I'm currently working on a couple pieces of content for an installation with a 120-foot video wall running a brand-new display technology with a total system resolution of 14,200 x 1200. It's a refresh of an existing video wall, replacing a big blended projection system with a new tiled display system. We've reformatted and scaled existing content for the new wall, and we've created two new abstract animations. You can see the actual scale of the animations below.
Click image for larger view - 1000px wide x 78px. Original scale was 15,370px x 1,200px.
A one minute-long animation that I just completed for the video wall generated 972 GB (not a typo) of multi-pass image sequences. That's a bit over 16 GB/s. Retrieving a single frame meant reading over 500 MB off disk. Every little bit of performance counted.
On the display side, we use a single computer with multiple graphics outputs or a network of computers outputting visuals in perfect synchronization to fill that canvas. These systems are built around specialized PC-only media server applications like Dataton WATCHOUT.
As a result, I've had PCs in the office for years for some tasks, but due to my history with Final Cut Pro, I have always done my creative work on Mac computers. After creating all my content on my Macs, I would then move the renders over to PCs for programming the displays.
The launch of FCPX gave me the opportunity to re-evaluate my workflow. I realized that the software packages I was working with most -- Adobe's Creative Suite and MAXON's CINEMA 4D -- are cross-platform. Final Cut Pro 7 was the only thing I was using that I absolutely needed a Mac for, and when it reached the end of its life as we knew it, I would eventually need to replace FCP7 with another NLE like Premiere Pro, anyway.
I knew from ten years of experience that Macs offered great build quality, good performance, stability, security and ease of use. I wasn't sure if I could expect all this from a PC. Last year, HP sent me a Z800 Workstation to try alongside my Mac Pro -- and the Z800 changed my mind about what was practical with a PC. I wound up buying four more HP workstations to go with the Z800.
Walter Soyka's "render garden," with the four HP workstations he bought to complement his Z800. Click image for larger view.
There's a common misperception among Mac users that PCs are unreliable, too hard to administer or too unpleasant to use. That may have been true years ago, and it may be true today with low-quality hardware, but in my experience, it hasn't been true at all with the Z800 -- and that's why I'm happy to talk about how adding HP machines has helped my business. I want other Mac users like me to know that you can use a PC for everyday creative work, that PCs are more artist-friendly than they may think, and that HP's Z-series are great workstations that open-minded Mac-based shops should consider.
Switching to a cross-platform creative workflow, I was impressed with how quickly I was able to hit the ground running. I set aside a day to install and configure all my software and plugins, and then I jumped right in and started a paying job on it. I had my Mac Pro under my desk next to the HP Z800 in case of disaster, but I didn't need it. I was surprised at just how smooth the transition was.
The biggest adjustment working on a PC has been learning to use my pinky finger on the Control key instead of my thumb on the Command key for keyboard shortcuts, and now I can switch back and forth between Macs and PCs easily.
HP's build quality is outstanding. The Z-series are solid machines with clean internals and tool-less chassis, more room for internal expansion than my Mac Pro, an integrated carrying handle and an optional rack mounting kit. Running Windows 7 has been a great experience on HP's hardware, offering me the same stability and security I was used to on OS X, and really surprising me with how easy it's been to configure and use compared with my experience on Windows XP.
Left, a visual comparison between the Mac Pro on left (3 card slots, 4 drive bays, 32 GB RAM) and HP Z800 workstation on right (7 card slots, 7 drive bays, 512 GB RAM). Click image for larger view.
I am always looking for performance, and the HP Z-series delivers. HP offers a really broad range of configurations, so you can spec the best system for your needs. There are high-performance options like the new Intel E5 Xeon processors or high-end NVIDIA graphics cards that simply aren't available or supported on the Mac platform.
What does that mean for me in practical terms? I looked at published CINEBENCH scores, which are computed by measuring render performance of a real-world CINEMA 4D scene. The top Z800 from 2011 outperformed the top 2010 Mac Pro by about 18%; the top Z820 of today outperforms the current Mac Pro (which Apple has not updated to Intel's new Sandy Bridge architecture) by almost 65%!
Integration with my existing infrastructure and workflows was critical too. I've got a big investment in Apple hardware, with eight Macs in use in my studio, and I wasn't sure if I was ready to drop Apple-only software like Final Cut Pro altogether.
Using cross-platform software from Adobe and MAXON, I can move a project from a Mac to a PC -- and back again -- seamlessly. I didn't need to dump my entire Apple hardware investment. I just added the HP Z800, bought additional licenses of the software I was already using, and kept right on working.
Above left, the same Adobe After Effects project running on Walter's Z800 workstation (with the 30" HP ZR30 LCD display, the first 10-bit display with over 1 billion colors) and his MacBook Pro. Click image for larger view.
I've since started buying additional HP computer for distributed renders. It's still more of a render garden than a render farm at this point, but while Apple has been slow to release new professional-grade computers, I'm confident that HP will continue building the kinds of machines that my business needs to grow.
Adding HP workstations to my little operation has been a big help. I can get the performance I need on reliable workstations from a vendor I can trust, and I can use them alongside my existing Mac systems. If you need a workstation, HP's Z-series is worth a look.