Favorite Things for Video Production
COW Library : Adobe After Effects Techniques : Bob Zelin : Favorite Things for Video Production
After every trade show or product announcement, it's easy to forget that anything else exists. Everyone wants to talk about "what's new, what should I buy," but the only thing that you can make money with is "what's real, and what works today."
When making recommendations for a lot of people, I can't get away with "well, it works for me." Maybe you're the exception, maybe you're not. How can you tell?
I have a unique perspective on this. Because I install so many systems in so many different environments, my clients represent a non-stop torture test. If they tell me something works, it works. They tell me what's been worth their money, so I'm telling you.
Before I go into the details, I've learned one thing. There are so many companies making editing systems, capture cards, TV monitors, scopes, converters, disk drive systems, etc., that I don't know all of them. I don't even know most of them anymore. With rare exceptions, I point my clients to gear from the popular systems -- fair or not
One more note: there are products not in this article that probably work just fine. But these are products that I know have passed realworld torture tests.
This is an area that changes so quickly it's easy to forget that new products don't necessarily make the ones you own obsolete. You can buy a new card if it has what you need, but the old one probably still works fine for the purpose you bought it for.
Among the new cards, two really stand out: the AJA Io HD and the Blackmagic Eclipse.
AJA Io HD
AJA Io HD
The AJA Io HD is not only a combination Io and Kona 3, but it has HDMI, LTC I/O, and supports the new ProRes 422 codec. It connects to the Mac via Firewire 800, and will not only capture anything (including HDMI signals), but will upconvert, downconvert, and cross convert anything you throw at it.
But remember, it will never do 4:4:4 or even uncompressed HD. You still need the Kona 3 for that.
Blackmagic Design's Eclipse
Blackmagic Design Eclipse
The Blackmagic Eclipse has a lot of similarities to the Io HD. Like the Io, this one does almost everything -- but not exactly the same things the same way. For example, this one supports uncompressed HD and 2K, but will not directly support ProRes 422 in hardware. It connects via a PCI-Express bus interface card instead of Firewire 800.
Both the AJA and Blackmagic products are identically priced at $3495, making both incredible values.
Does this mean that the Kona 3, AJA I/O are obsolete? Will the Blackmagic Eclipse obsolete the Multibridge or Decklink Extreme HD? Absolutely not. These are all great products, and will continue to work great, and be supported.
Convergent Design nanoConnect
This is an unfair and slanted overview, as my customers and I are so taken with AJA's product line. Companies like Convergent Design - to whose outstanding HD-Connect-MI I gave a glowing review at Creative-COW.net - Cobalt Digital, Ensemble Design, ISIS, Miranda, Roland, For-A, and so many others make terrific, price-competitive converters.
With that said: Wow, the AJA FS-1 is the magic box. It does everything!
People always ask "can I use this Blackmagic or AJA box as a stand-alone converter" and the answer until now was, "you have to set it up with the computer first, and then, yes."
Well, no more. The AJA FS-1 is a true stand-alone converter, that you can simply set up with its front panel controls. It converts everything to everything: any SD to HD, HD to SD, cross-conversion 720 to 1080, 1080 to 720, up-conversion, downconversion - it will even take in a 23.98 HD signal, and add the 2:3 pulldown, so you can make a quick dub out to a DigiBeta or VHS, at a normal framerate for SD VTRs.
Of course, both the new AJA Io HD, and the Blackmagic Eclipse have every damned converter in the world built into their products. If you own one of these boxes for your edit system, you don't need any converters.
And if you have an "older" box, and can't be bothered with all these little, expensive boxes, you just get the AJA FS-1, and you're done. It does everything•except HDMI.
If you need HDMI? Convergent Design is the HDMI company. They make HDMI to HD-SDI converters that not only work, they're cheap!
For years, everyone used SCSI and Fibre channel storage. When SATA came around, everyone started to switch, mainly due to the inexpensive prices. I love SATA storage. It's fast, reliable, and inexpensive. But SATA storage didn't offer any RAID protection.
We're starting to see the "next big thing," which is SAS or "serial attached storage." These products are simply a new controller card (a SAS host card) that goes into your computer, just like a SCSI, Fibre or SATA disk drive controller card. But these cards have their own RAID hardware protection, which means that when one of your disk drives drops dead, you don't lose all of your video media.
Faster drives, better-performing NLEs and the buzz around laptop editing have been enough to make people nearly forget what a good thing RAID is.
THE "NEXT BIG THING" IN STORAGE?Some RAID configurations use multiple drives to increase performance. Other times, RAID is for your protection. (The R stands for "redundant.")
When you use protective RAID and one drive fails, you get an indication of a dead drive, but your system keeps running. Pop in a replacement drive, and the system automatically rebuilds itself - just like the Apple Xserve RAID, but with better performance specs, and for a fraction of the price.
How much extra is RAID protection worth to you? Well, how much will it cost you to rebuild everything on your unprotected drives? RAID costs a lot less.
So you buy your shiny new SAS RAID. Inside the disk drive enclosure are the same SATA drives you've been using all along - except now with RAID protection. So, instead of the "old" SATA hookups (one drive per SATA port), or even the "newer" port multiplier technology (one SATA port to five drives), here we have one SAS port hooking up to four SATA drives. These cards also have two SAS ports on them, so you can hook up eight SATA drives. But wait, it gets even more confusing!
There are all kinds of SAS chassis out there, including expander chassis that can hook-up more than 8 drives. ATTO Technology has a 16 drive chassis that hooks up to only two SAS ports.
But remember - these drive boxes are holding inexpensive SATA drives in them. SAS simply offers dramatically better than conventional SATA connection (like port multipliers), and RAID protection.
I'm crazy about the AJA GEN10. This product will output NTSC or PAL color black. AND it will output color bars. AND it will output AES Tone or digital silence.
What makes this product so cool is that it outputs tri-level sync, at any damn frame rate you want. There are six BNCs on the box for sync that can be split into groups of four or two. You can have anything you want, on any of these groups. That means NTSC or PAL black and tri-level sync out of the same generator - at the same time! What makes me cry is that this unit is only $390.
I don't give a COW if you use Avid, Blackmagic, AJA, Discreet, Vegas, Premiere, or anything else - you have to be crazy not to buy this sync generator. There is nothing even close to this product for the price point, it's only $40 more than a Horita SD (or bi-level) sync generator.
If you even think you'll need tri-level sync in the future for working in HD, this is your only choice. See my tri-level sync sidebar just below.
Tri-Level Sync: Why you should avoid working at 23.98
Hamlet Vidscope-vx HD
I used to hate Hamlet, the English company that makes scopes and other monitoring devices. They sure have changed! They now have the least expensive HD scope on the market - and it's great! In fact, it's the first truly affordable HD scope!
It's not a box, like you get from Tektronix or Videotek. It's software: Hamlet Vidscope-vx HD. You download it onto a Windows PC pro workstation. You stick some capture card into the computer (like a card from Blackmagic or AJA), load the software, and you have a killer high-end waveform monitor/vectorscope. But it also does picture monitor, audio meters, audio phase meter, and time-code display.
The software costs about $1000 if you decide to keep it (it runs for 30 days without the dongle, and if you buy it, they send you the dongle to keep it running). So for about $3500 complete - including the computer and video capture card - you have a great HD scope. Its inputs are limited to whatever your capture card will do - so if you get a Blackmagic Decklink HD Extreme, or AJA Xena Lhe, it will do, well, everything!
Mac guys, don't whine. This is a steal! PC and capture card - a complete HD monitoring system - for $3500. Just run your video through one of the cards that you know and love mounted in the PC. You're smart enough to figure out how to boot a PC. If this is the only thing you ever do with it, it'll be worth every penny. Really Mac guys, no whining.
PC users, of course it works with footage captured on a PC, to be edited on a PC.
What's fantastic for me is that when you have problems with this system, you deal with great companies like AJA and Blackmagic, which most of you are already familiar with. Because of this, you don't have to send a "broken box" back to Tektronix or Leader.
I've seen Hamlet demo this product with the very large Dell 2407 monitor. The resolution was great, and you could resize any window to any size you wanted. You can also have all windows open at the same time - just like a $15,000 Videotek, but for 1/5 the price.!
This is an unbelievable breakthrough. Believe it. You now officially have no reason to fail to properly monitor your HD footage.
WHAT WORKS TODAY
Products that I make fun of, like Avid Meridien, are still used every day to cut major TV shows and feature films. But some people throw out working gear like 1" VTRs and Sony D2 VTRs. Not so fast! Lots of the Disney library is still on D2. There are still lots of 3/4" tapes out there. The first non-linear production boom was driven by cheap BetaSP decks, and there are a lot of those tapes out there too.
By the way, the BetaSP went through the same thing that DV, then HDV shooters got, and are still getting. Thousands of people saw the Sony UVW-1800 as their way into broadcast delivery of independent productions, and it was. More than any particular software, the UVW-1800 put nonlinear editing on the map. The old guard said, "That's garbage, you have to have at least a BVW-35 or something."
Fill in the blanks with your favorite DV and HDV cameras. Then get ready for the same thing between the RED guys and the film guys. It's never going to stop.
It's also never going to move as fast as the trade shows and magazines - and maybe even you - think it should.
"That 1080i looks like crap! You need 1080p! Wait, you need 2K! No, 4K!" Yep, it's not going to end.
Well, some people need 4K. But come on! HD is barely taking hold. Most TV stations, and even many big networks, don't require it. As noted elsewhere in this issue, The Sundance Film Festival's preferred delivery format is SD too.
We can talk about HD until we're blue in the face, but if your deliverables are SD, HD means absolutely nothing.
The private post production community does not control the broadcast market. The clients that are my highest-end ones use BetaSP for review - except for the super high-end ones that still use VHS review copies. You'd be shocked if I told you who I'm talking about.
So when you go to trade shows and read magazines that are out of touch with reality (not this one, thankfully), you might think "everyone" is doing HD, and you're the only schmuck still working with BetaSP or DV.
If your older gear is still working, I'll never be the one telling you to throw it away. HD is here, but if you don't have a client paying for it, who cares? "What works today" is what you can find somebody to pay you for.
Over the years, I have heard the COW's Ron Lindeboom argue on the forums that "...it's nonsense to get on the perpetual treadmill of constant upgrades. If a hammer still drives nails, it's a good hammer - use it until you need to replace it. There are plenty of cathedrals, stadiums and great universities that were built long ago without the help of air-hammers and they are still standing today. They'll be around long after most of today's new buildings are gone. It's the craftsman, not the speed of the hammer."
Not bad advice.
Bob Zelin is an old cranky video engineer that got his start in the professional audio business in 1977. By 1981, he was fired so many times, that no one wanted to hire him, so he started his own company in 1982. Today, Bob resides in Orlando, Florida, terrorizing southern editing facilities. He is nevertheless one of the industry's most respected systems contractors. You won't have to look hard to find him at the COW: he posts around 10 times per day across a dozen or so forums.
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