Category Archives: Workstations & Accessories

Review: HP’s zBook x2 mobile workstation

By Brady Betzel

There are a lot of laptops and tablets on the market these days that can seemingly power a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch and landing. If you work in media and entertainment like I do, these days you might even be asked to edit and color correct that Falcon 9 footage that could have been filmed in some insane resolution like 8K.

So how do you edit that footage on the go? You need to find the most powerful mobile solution on the market. In my mind there are only a few that can power editing 8K footage (even if the footage is transcoded into manageable ProRes proxies). There is Razer, which offers a 4K/UHD “gaming” laptop with its Razer Blade Pro. It sports a high-end Nvidia GTX 1060 GPU and i7 processor; Dell’s high-end Precision 7720 mobile workstation allows for a high-end Quadro GPU; and HP offers high-quality mobile workstations via its zBook line.

For this review, I am focusing on the transforming HP zBook x2 mobile workstation, complete with an Intel Core i7 CPU, 32GB memory, Nvidia Quadro and much more.

The zBook x2 allows you to go laptop-style to tablet by removing the keyboard. If you’ve ever used a Wacom Cintiq mobile tablet, you’ve likely enjoyed the matte finish of the display, as well as the ability to draw directly on screen with a stylus. Well, the zBook x2 is a full touchscreen as well as stylus-enabled matte surface compatible with HP’s own battery-less pen. The pen from HP is based off of Wacom’s Electro Magnetic Resonance technology, which essentially allows for cable- and battery-free pens.

In addition, the display bezel has 12 buttons that are programmable for apps like Adobe’s Creative Cloud. For those wondering, HP partnered with Adobe when designing the x2, so you will notice that Creative Cloud comes pre-installed on the system, and the quick access buttons around the bezel are already programmed for use in Adobe’s apps. However, they don’t give you a free subscription with purchase — Hey, HP, this would be a nice touch. Just a suggestion.

Digging In
I was sent the top-of-the-line version of the zBook x2, complete with a DreamColor UHD touchscreen display. Here are the specs under the hood:

– Windows 10 64-bit
– Intel Core i7 8650 (Quad Core — 8th gen)
– 4K UHD DreamColor Touch with anti-glare
– 32GB (2×16 GB) DDR4 2133 memory
– Nvidia Quadro M620 (2GB)
– 512GB HP Z-Turbo Drive PCIe
– 70Whr fast charging battery
– Intel vPro WLAN
– Backlit Bluetooth Keyboard
– Fingerprint reader
– One- or three-year warranty, including the battery
– Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
– HDMI 1.4 port
– USB 3.0 charging port
– SD card slot
– Fingerprint reader
– Headset/microphone port
– External volume controls

The exterior hardware specs are as impressive as the technical specs. I’ve got to be honest, when I first received the x2, I was put off by the sharp edged-octagon design. I’m so used to either square shaped tablets or rounded edges, so the octagon-edged sides were a little strange. After using it for a month, I got used to how sturdy and well built this machine is. I kind of miss the octagon shape now that I had to ship the x2 back to HP.

In addition, the zBook x2 I received weighed in at around 5lbs (with the bluetooth keyboard attached), which isn’t really lightweight. Part of that weight is the indestructible-feeling magnesium and aluminum casing that surrounds the x2’s internal components.

I’ve reviewed a few of these stylus-based workstations before, such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Wacom’s mobile Cintiq offering, and they each have their positives and negatives. One thing that consistently sticks out to me is the kickstand used to prop these machines up. When you use a stylus on a tablet you will have a height and angle you like to work at. Some tablets have a few specified heights like the Wacom offering. The Surface Pro has a somewhat limited angle, but the zBook x2 has the strongest and best working built-in stand that I have used. It is sturdy when working in apps, like Adobe Photoshop, with the stylus.

HP’s Wacom-infused stylus is very lightweight. I personally like a stylus that is a little hefty, like the Wacom Pro Pen, but don’t get me wrong, HP’s pen works well. The pen has a similar pressure sensitivity to the Wacom’s pens many multimedia pros are used to at 4,096 levels and includes tilt sensitivity. When using tablets, palm rejection is a very important feature, and the x2 has excellent palm rejection. HP’s fact sheets and website all have different information on whether the pen is included with the x2 or not, but when ordering it looks like it is bundled with your purchase. As it should be).

One final note on the build quality of HP’s zBook x2: the detachable Bluetooth keyboard is excellent. The keyboard not only acts like a full-sized keyboard, complete with numerical keypad (a favorite of mine when typing in specific timecodes), but it also folds up to protect the screen when not in use.

If you are looking at the zBook x2 to purchase, you are probably also comparing it to a Microsoft Surface Pro, a Wacom Cintiq mobile computer and maybe an iPad Pro. In my opinion, there is no contest. Te x2 wins hands down. However, you are also going to be paying a lot more for it. For instance, the x2 can be purchased with the latest Intel 8th gen i7 processors, an Nvidia Quadro GPU built into the tablet —not the keyboard like on the Microsoft Surface Book systems — it has the ability to be packed with 32GB of RAM as opposed to 16GB in all other tablets. And most importantly, in my opinion, this system offers a color-accurate UHD 10-bit-HP DreamColor display. As I said, it is definitely the beefiest mobile workstation/tablet that you will find out there, but will cost you.

One of my favorite practices that HP is starting to standardize among its mobile workstations is the use of quick charging, where you can charge 50% of your battery in a half an hour and the rest over a few more hours. I can’t tell you how handy this is when you are running around all day and don’t have four hours to charge your computer between appointments. When running apps like Blackmagic’s Resolve 14.3 with UHD video, you can drain the battery fast — something like four hours — but being able to quickly charge back up to 50% is a lifesaver in a lot of circumstances.

In the real world, I use my mobile workstation/tablets all the time. I surf the web, listen to music, edit in Adobe Premiere Pro or color correct in Resolve. This means my systems have to have some high-end processors to keep up. The HP zBook x2 is a great addition to your workstation lineup when you need to take your work on the road and not lose any features, like the HP DreamColor display with 100% Adobe RGB color accuracy. While it’s not a truly calibrated work monitor, DreamColor displays will, at the very least, give you a common calibration among all DreamColor monitors that you can rely on for color critical jobs on the run. In addition, DreamColor displays can display different color spaces like BT. 709, DCI-P3 and more.

Putting it to the Test
To test the x2, I ran a few tests using one of the free clips that Red offers to download from: http://www.red.com/sample-r3d-files. It is the Red One Mysterium clip with a resolution of 4096×2304 and runs at 29.97fps. For a mobile workstation this is a pretty hefty clip to run in Resolve or Premiere. In Premiere, the Red clip would play at realtime when dumbed down to half quality. Half quality isn’t bad to work in, but when spending $3,500 I would like to work in a better-quality Red files. Maybe the technology will be there in a year.

If you are into the whole offline/online workflow (a.k.a. proxy workflow — a.k.a. transcoding to a interframe codec like DNxHR or ProRes — then you will be able to play down the full 4K clip when transcoding to something like DNxHR HQ. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get a 10-bit DNxHR HQX clip to play at realtime, and with the sweet 10-bit display that could have been a welcome success. To test exporting speed I trimmed the R3D file (still raw Red) to 10 seconds and exported it as a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime (in the files native resolution and frame rate) and highly compressed H.264 at around 10,000mb/s.

The DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime took 1 minute and 25 seconds to export. I then added a 110% resize and a color grade to really make sure the Quadro GPU kicked in, and unfortunately the export failed. I tried multiple times with different Lumetri color grades and all of them failed, probably a sweet bug.

Next, I exported an uncolored 10,000mb/s H.264 MP4 (a clip perfect for YouTube) in 2 minutes and 41 seconds. I then resized the clip to 110% and performed a color grade using the Lumetri tools inside of Premiere Pro. The MP4 exported in 1 minute and 30 seconds. This was pretty incredible and really showed just how important that Nvidia Quadro M620 with 2GB of memory is. And while things like resizing and color correcting will make sure your GPU kicks in to help, the HP zBook x2 was relatively quiet with the active cooling fan system that kicks all of the hot air up and out of the magnesium case.

Inside of Resolve 14.3, I performed the same tests on the same Red clip. I was able to play the Red clip at about 16fps in 1/16 debayer quality in realtime. Not great, but for a mobile tablet workstation, maybe it’s ok, although I would expect more from a workstation. When exporting the DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime took 2 minutes and the same clip resized to 110% and color graded also took 2 minutes. The H.264 took 2 minutes and 33 seconds without any color grading and resizing, but it also took 2 minutes and 33 seconds when resized 110% and color graded. I had all caching and performance modes disabled when performing these tests. I would have thought Resolve would have performed better than Premiere Pro, but in this case Adobe wins.

As a bonus, I happen to have Fusion, GoPro’s 360 video camera, and ran it through Fusion Studio, GoPro’s stitching and exporting software. Keep in mind 360 video is a huge resource hog that takes lots of time to process. The 30-second test clip I exported in flat color, with image stabilization applied, took an hour to export. The resulting file was a 1.5GB – 4992×2496 4:2:2 Cineform 10-bit YUV QuickTime with Ambisonic audio. That’s a big and long render in my opinion, although it will also take a long time on many computers.

Summing up
In the end, the HP zBook x2 is a high-end mobile workstation that doubles as a stylus-based drawing tablet designed to be used in apps like Photoshop and even video editing apps like Premiere Pro.

The x2 is profoundly sturdy with some high-end components, like the Intel i7 8th gen processor, Nvidia Quadro M620 GPU, 4K/UHD HP DreamColor touchscreen display and 32GB of RAM.

But along with these high-end components comes a high price: the setup in this review retails for around $3,500, which is not cheap. But for a system that is designed to be run 24 hours a day 365 days a year, it might be the investment you need to make.

Do you want to use the table at the office when connected to a Thunderbolt 3 dock while also powering a 4K display? The x2 is the only mobile table workstation that will do this at the moment. If I had any criticisms of the HP zBook x2 it would be the high cost and the terrible speakers. HP touts the Bang & Olufsen speakers on the x2, but they are not good. My Samsung Galaxy S8+ has better speakers.

So whether you are looking to color correct on the road or have a Wacom-style table at the office, the HP zBook x2 is a monster that HP has certified with companies like Adobe using their Independent Software Vendor verifications to ensure your drivers and software will work as well as possible.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: Wacom Mobile Studio Pro 16

By Sophia Kyriacou

As a designer who appreciates how products are packaged, my first impression of the Mobile Studio Pro when it arrived was very positive. I loved the minimalism of the design and how everything was carefully considered and placed within the box. It felt special and aimed at a creative who had earned it.

While I have been using Wacom tablet products professionally for over 20 years, I had never previously used a Wacom PC tablet. I didn’t have any expectations or preconceived ideas of what this box of tricks was capable of. It was great to stumble across things by accident, and it felt very intuitive.

The Mobile Studio Pro is a self-contained computer tablet device. You don’t need a laptop or a desktop to use it, as everything is within one handy box. You can, however, plug the device into a separate monitor should you need the additional screen. While I haven’t done this yet myself, I would imagine a second monitor would be handy when you need to spread out your application interface.

The tablet arrives with Windows 10 pre-installed. It’s essentially a PC computer rather than a mobile tablet device. You simply install your software as you would on your laptop or desktop workstation, and off you go. It’s as simple as that. I installed my Adobe Creative Cloud, with a special interest in Photoshop, as it was perfect for painting and drawing, and even sketching initial ideas. I also installed Allegorithmic’s Substance Painter, a brilliant painting package I use for my texture mapping. I also have my Studio version of Maxon Cinema 4D installed, which I predominately use for exporting my geometry that is ready for texture mapping in Substance Painter.

Digging In
Immediately, I liked the idea of being able to see where my pen was pointing at the screen before the pen had literally touched the screen itself. The little circular indicator was very simple and very useful, as it allowed me to target my pen exactly where it was going. Simple things count. The pen is very comfortable to hold, slightly weightier but not heavier than other tablet pens. It has a sturdy rubber grip and attachment should I want to let the pen hang from the tablet itself.

 

The overall design is minimal with a set of function keys and a wheel to one side. All can be easily changed to suit your needs. The screen is semi matte and perfectly smooth, although I personally prefer a glossy screen as the blacks look more crushed, but I appreciate that is also a personal preference. The screen is super-smooth and easy to glide without the pen slipping as it could on a glossed shiny surface. I did notice some minor light bleeding at the bottom edge in three places, but this didn’t impact my actual workflow and was only slightly noticeable on start-up rather than actually interfering with my workflow.

The 16-inch model is perfect for working between 3D and 2D texturing, although again a personal choice. The full-size version comes with a Quadra Nvidia Quadro M1000M 4GB GDDRS card, which is super-punchy — working with high-resolution imagery and geometry with no lag. Texturing in 4K+ is demanding, so this high-spec box of tricks is essential. The pixel resolution is highly respectable at 3,840×2,160 and along with an i7-6567U processor and 16GB RAM you have a very powerful tablet that perhaps provides more power than you may need but it is there to be taken advantage of when you do need it. The Pro Pen 2 is very accurate with no lag and comfortable, switching between using the pen and touch function feels very natural.

One of the drawbacks for me is the weight of the top-spec model — my MacBook Pro weighs 4.46 pounds and the Mobile Studio Pro weights 4.85 pounds. As the name suggests, it’s a “mobile studio.” For me it felt only mobile from room to room, and is not a device I could carry around with me for too long. The battery drains very quickly (four hours battery time), but given the amount of hardware inside this punchy unit, it is to be expected. The battery brick is very large, so if you are carrying the Mobile Studio out and about, you have to consider this and all the peripherals. While USB-C is still new compared to the USB design, I would have preferred to see perhaps two USB-C and one USB ports, but I guess this is a forward-thinking product and an adapter will do the trick, so this can be forgiven.

I found it very useful using an inexpensive wireless Logitech keyboard with a trackpad as constantly going back and forth between the tablet keyboard and the application was a little cumbersome as it was breaking up my workflow. What I would like to see is a simple button in the top corner that you click once that brings the keyboard up and press again and it’s gone, rather than having to go into bottom menus.

Real-World Work
When I took on the task of reviewing the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro, I thought it would be best suited on a project that benefitted from heavy use of texture mapping and texture painting. I decided to start working on a “concept film” where I would use the tablet to texture all the 3D assets. As this is a work in progress project, I have attached with my review an asset I textured using the Wacom Mobile Studio Pro and plan to finish the film this year, so please come back to see the results.

I am often inspired by sounds and music. Concepts have always been my main focus and I was inspired by a piece of cinematic music, which I thought would work incredibly well. It’s a short sequence about emotion. I want to take the viewer through a series of emotions and leave them thinking and stay with them. At the moment I am inspired by concept art and surrealism and like how chain reactions take you to places. Some scenes may be logical, others not, but will have a thread that links them all together. The opening of the track has a piano piece and the keys travel downwards. To express this I built a spiral staircase travelling in a downward motion taking the viewer into another world.

Pricing
For the MobileStudio Pro 13, prices vary with storage capacity: $1,500 for a 64GB SSD, $1,800 for 128GB, $2,000 for 256GB and $2,500 for 512GB.

As for the MobileStudio Pro 16, the less expensive $2,400 model incorporates an Nvidia Quadro M600M processor with 2GB of video RAM and a 256GB SSD, while the $3,000 model has an Nvidia Quadro M1000M with 4GB of video RAM and a 512GB SSD.

Summing Up
Would I recommend the Mobile Studio Pro? Absolutely. It’s powerful and it’s a computer, so I am able to install and use my software with ease. It works very well within my wider workflow, which is how I prefer to work. I think its success also comes down to the fact that this is a computer tablet device and not just a tablet that relies only on apps.


Sophia Kyriacou is an award-winning motion designer and 3D artist with over 20 years working in the broadcast industry. She is also a full voting member at BAFTA and has presented her various projects on the international stage at IBC for Maxon. She splits her time between freelancing and the BBC in London. Follow her on Twitter (@SophiaKyriacou) and Instagram (@sophiakyriacou).

 

Cinna 4.13

Review: Dell’s 8K LCD monitor

By Mike McCarthy

At CES 2017, Dell introduced its UP3218K LCD 32-inch monitor, which was the first commercially available 8K display. It runs 7680×4320 pixels at 60fps, driven by two DisplayPort 1.4 cables. That is over 33 million pixels per frame, and nearly 2 billion per second, which requires a lot of GPU power to generate. Available since March, not long ago I was offered one to review as part of a wider exploration of 8K video production workflows, and there will be more articles about that larger story in the near future.

For this review, I will be focusing on only this product and its uses.

The UP3218K showed up in a well-designed box that was easy to unpack — it was also easy getting the monitor onto the stand. I plugged it into my Nvidia Quadro P6000 card with the included DisplayPort cables, and it came up as soon as I turned it on… at full 60Hz and without any issues or settings to change. Certain devices with only one DisplayPort 1.4 connector will only power the display at 30Hz, as full 60Hz connections saturate the bandwidth of two DP 1.4 cables, but the display does require a Displayport 1.4 connection, and will not revert to lower resolution when connected to a 1.2 port. This limits the devices that can drive it to Pascal-based GPUs on the Nvidia side, or top-end Vega GPUs on the AMD side. I have a laptop with a P5000 in it, so I was disappointed to discover that the DisplayPort connector was still only 1.2, thereby making it incompatible with this 8K monitor.

Dell’s top Precision laptops (7720 and 7520) support DP1.4, while HP and Lenovo’s mobile workstations do not yet. This is a list of every device I am aware of that explicitly claims to support 8K output:
1. Quadro P6000, P5000, P4000, P2000 workstation GPU cards
2. TitanX and Geforce10 Series graphics cards
3. RadeonPro SSG, WX9100 & WX7100 workstation GPU cards
4. RX Vega 64 and 56 graphics cards
5. Dell Precision 7520 and 7720 mobile workstations
6. Comment if you know of other laptops with DP1.4

So once you have a system that can drive the monitor, what can you do with it? Most people reading this article will probably be using this display as a dedicated full-screen monitor for their 8K footage. But smooth 8K editing and playback is still a ways away for most people. The other option is to use it as your main UI monitor to control your computer and its applications. In either case, color can be as important as resolution when it comes to professional content creation, and Dell has brought everything it has to the table in this regard as well.

The display supports Dell’s PremierColor toolset, which is loosely similar to the functionality that HP offers under their DreamColor branding. PremierColor means a couple of things, including that the display has the internal processing power that allows it to correctly emulate different color spaces; it can also be calibrated with an X-Rite iDisplay Pro independent of the system driving it. It also interfaces with a few software tools that Dell has developed for its professional users. The mo

st significant functionality within that feature set is the factory-calibrated options for emulating AdobeRGB, sRGB, Rec.709 and DCI-P3. Dell tests each display individually after manufacturing to ensure that it is color accurate. These are great features, but they are not unique to this monitor, and many users have been using them on other display models for the last few years. While color accuracy is important, the main selling point of this particular model is resolution, and lots of it. And that is what I spent the majority of my time analyzing.

Resolution
The main issue here is the pixel density. Ten years ago, 24-inch displays were 1920×1200, and 30-inch displays had 2560×1600 pixels. This was around 100 pixels per inch, and most software was hard coded to look correct at that size. When UHD displays were released, the 32-inch version had a DPI of 140. That resulted in applications looking quite small and hard to read on the vast canvas of pixels, but this trend increased pressure on software companies to scale their interfaces better for high DPI displays. Windows 7 was able to scale things up an extra 50%, but a lot of applications ignored that setting or were not optimized for it. Windows 10 now allows scaling beyond 300%, which effectively triples the size of the text and icons. We have gotten to the point where even 15-inch laptops have UHD screens, resulting in 280 DPI, which is unreadable to most people without interface scaling.

Premiere Pro

With 8K resolution, this monitor has 280 DPI, twice that of a 4K display of similar size. This is on par with a 15-inch UHD laptop screen, but laptops are usually viewed from a much closer range. Since I am still using Windows 7 on my primary workstation, I was expecting 280 DPI to be unusable for effective work. And while everything is undoubtedly small, it is incredibly crisp, and once I enabled Windows scaling at 150%, it was totally usable (although I am used to small fonts and lots of screen real estate). The applications I use, especially Adobe CC, scale much smoother than they used to, so everything looks great, even with Windows 7, as long as I sit fairly close to the monitor.

I can edit 6K footage in Premiere Pro at full resolution for the first time, with space left over for my timeline and tool panels. In After Effects, I can work on 4K shots in full resolution and still have 70 layers of data visible in my composition. In Photoshop, setting the UI to 200% causes the panel to behave similar to a standard 4K 32-inch display, but with your image having four times the detail. I can edit my 5.6K DSLR files in full resolution, with nearly every palette open to work smoothly through my various tools.

This display replaces my 34-inch curved U3415W as my new favorite monitor for Adobe apps, although I would still prefer the extra-wide 34-inch display for gaming and other general usability. But for editing or VFX work, the 8K panel is a dream come true. Every tool is available at the same time, and all of your imagery is available at HiDPI quality.

Age of Empires II

When gaming, the resolution doesn’t typically affect the field of view of 3D applications, but for older 2D games, you can see the entire map at once. Age of Empires II HD offers an expansive view of really small units, but there is a texture issue with the background of the bottom quarter of the screen. I think I used to see this at 4K as well, and it got fixed in an update, so maybe the same thing will happen with this one, once 8K becomes more common.

I had a similar UI artifact issue in RedCine player when I full-screened the Window on the 8K display, which was disappointing since that was one of the few ways to smoothly play 8K footage on the monitor at full resolution. Using it as a dedicated output monitor works as well, but I did run into some limitations. I did eventually get it to work with RedCine-X Pro, after initially experiencing some aspect ratio issues. It would playback cached frames smoothly, but only for 15 seconds at a time before running out of decoded frames, even with a Rocket-X accelerator card.

When configured as a secondary display for dedicated full-screen output, it is accessible via Mercury Transmit in the Adobe apps. This is where it gets interesting, because the main feature that this monitor brings to the table is increased resolution. While that is easy to leverage in Photoshop, it is very difficult to drive that many pixels in real-time for video work, and decreasing the playback resolution negates the benefit of having an 8K display. At this point, effectively using the monitor becomes more an issue of workflow.

After Effects

I was going to use 8K Red footage for my test, but that wouldn’t play smoothly in Premiere, even on my 20-core workstation, so I converted it to a variety of other files to test with. I created 8K test assets that matched the monitor resolution in DNxHR, Cineform, JPEG2000, OpenEXR and HEVC. DNxHR was the only format that offered full-resolution playback at 8K, and even that resulted in dropped frames on a regular basis. But being able to view 8K video is pretty impressive, and probably forever shifts my view of “sharp” in the subjective sense, but we are at a place where we are still waiting for the hardware to catch up in regards to processing power — for 8K video editing to be an effective reality for users.

Summing Up
The UP3218K is the ultimate monitor for content creators and artists looking for a large digital canvas, regardless of whether that is measured in inches or pixels. All those pixels come at a price — it is currently available from Dell for $3,900. Is it worth it? That will depend on what your needs and your budget are. Is a Mercedes Benz worth the increased price over a Honda? Some people obviously think so.

There is no question that this display and the hardware to drive it effectively would be a luxury to the average user. But for people who deal with high resolution content on a regular basis, the increased functionality that it offers them can’t be measured in the same way, and reading an article and seeing pictures online can’t compare to actually using the physical item. The screenshots are all scaled to 25% to be a reasonable size for the web. I am just trying to communicate a sense of the scope of the desktop real estate available to users on an 8K screen. So yes, it is expensive, but at the moment, it is the highest resolution monitor that money can buy, and the closest alternative (5K screens) does not even come close.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

 


Boxx intros next-gen workstation with new Intel Coffee Lake processors

Boxx Technologies, makers of computer workstations, rendering systems and servers, will be at Autodesk University next week showing its new Apexx S3 workstation, featuring an overclocked, 8th generation, Intel Core i7 processor. Along with the immediate availability of the new Intel Coffee Lake processor, Boxx is showing the workstation in a next-generation chassis — as well as a new Apexx workstation nomenclature based upon the Intel scalable processor platform. According to the company, the workstation is designed to accelerate 3ds Max, Maya and other creative apps.

Apexx S3 replaces the Boxx flagship workstation, Apexx 2 2403, and features the latest Intel Core i7 processor overclocked to 4.8 GHz. The liquid-cooled system sustains that frequency across all cores. The 8th generation Intel processors offer a significant performance increase over previous Intel technology and Boxx is offering a three-year warranty. Boxx also removed unused, outdated technology (like optical drive bays) in order to maximize productive space. Inside its new, compact, industrial chassis, the computationally dense Apexx S3 supports up to two dual-slot Nvidia or AMD Radeon Pro pro graphics cards, an additional single slot card and features solid-state drives and faster memory at 2600MHz DDR4.

 

 


Review: OWC’s USB-C dock

By Brady Betzel

Whether you have a MacBook Pro with only one USB 3.1 Gen 1 port (a.k.a. USB-C) or a desktop PC and aren’t fond of reaching around the back of your tower to plug in peripherals, you’ll need a dock. At first you might think a dock isn’t necessary, but it is. With the popularity of the USB-C connection you can use one single cable to plug in your dock and connect with many different devices, including HDMI, Mini DisplayPort, SD cards and multiple other USB connected devices.

OWC has a reputation for having high-quality, Mac-focused products like external RAID storage solutions. OWC branded SSD drives, memory upgrades and even refurbished Mac OS-based systems. One of the company’s latest products is the USB-C dock that is compatible with both Mac OS- and Windows-based computer systems. The OWC USB-C dock comes in two versions: Mini DisplayPort and HDMI. Otherwise, the rest of the ports are identical.

In the front of the dock is an SD card reader, 3.5 headphone/microphone combo port and high-powered USB 3.1 Gen 1 USB port. On the back are three USB 3.1 Gen 1 ports (one of those is another high-powered charging port), one USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C, Gigabit Ethernet, a USB 3.1 Gen 1 connection for your system, HDMI or MiniDP port, and the DC power connection. The docks come in four different colors that match Apple’s MacBook Pros, including space gray, silver, gold and rose gold. The Mini DisplayPort version costs $148.75, and the HDMI version costs anywhere from $127.99 to $148.75.

What I really love about the USB-C dock from OWC, aside from the abundance of ports, is the addition of high-powered charging ports. I have a Samsung Galaxy S8+ phone, which can charge at a high speed with ports like these, so having them on the dock is extra handy. Besides the S8+, other electronics like the GoPro Hero 5 Black Edition can benefit from these ports.

Where the USB-C dock will really shine is in an environment where you don’t want to carry around all your peripherals and you use a newer MacBook Pro that features USB 3.1 Gen 1 Type-C connections. Keep in mind that the dock will supply up to 60W of power for your computer in addition to the 20W for other peripherals, so if your computer needs more than 60W to charge it may charge slowly or not at all.

For us desktop users, the USB-C dock expands our connections by adding multiple USB ports, an HDMI connection, and even add a Gigabit network adapter all at close range instead of having to reach around the back of your workstation.

The HDMI port supports connection via HDMI 1.4b-enabled displays or televisions: and a high-speed HDMI cable is required for display resolutions of 1080p or higher. Most HDMI cables these days are high-speed, you can even find the AmazonBasics high-speed HDMI cables for $7.99.

As mentioned earlier, the OWC USB-C dock is compatible with both Windows and Mac OS systems, but a driver is required if using the Gigabit Ethernet port on Mac OS X system 10.10 and 10.11. You can find that driver here.

In a Windows-based environment you will not have to update the Ethernet driver, but in both Mac OS and Windows environments if you have the HDMI version, you will need to install the following firmware update.

Summing Up
Out of selfishness, I wish there was one more USB port on the back of the USB-C dock to host my four Tangent Element color correction panels, each of which has its own USB connections. Instead, I have one poking out of the front. In addition, it would be nice to have a Thunderbolt 1/2 port on the dock for my legacy Thunderbolt-connected RAIDs; instead, I will have to buy an additional adapter. Other than those two suggestions, the dock is awesome and works great. It measures just over an inch tall, 3.5 inches wide, and just under 8 inches long. It weighs .9 lbs and comes with a power supply that is actually heavier than the dock, and what I think is a way-too-short Type-C cable measuring at about 20 inches. Obviously, for those using the dock with a laptop this is sufficient, but for those using this dock with a tower something triple that length is needed.

The USB-C dock comes with a two-year limited warranty which in simple terms means that if anything goes wrong with the product because of bad manufacturing they will fix or replace it. They will not cover your data or shipping, so keep that in mind.

The dock’s manual features tips, like the Type-C USB 3.1 port between the traditional USB ports and the Ethernet port is for data and power only; it will not support video signals or video adapters. In addition, this dock is not compatible with Apple’s USB-C Digital AV multiport adapter or USB-C VGA multiport adapter. There are plenty of other usage notes you will want to read, so make sure that you check the manual out before you use the dock.

If you not only want a dock. but also want to update an older MacBook Pro, OWC has some great SSD and memory bundles.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.


Sonnet intros Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort adapter for Mac, PC

Sonnet has introduced the Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort adapter, a compact, bus-powered device that allows users to connect up to two 4K ultra-high-definition (UHD) DisplayPort monitors, or one 5K DisplayPort monitor to a single Thunderbolt 3 port on their computers.

This allows desktop users to work with multiple monitors without having to connect to multiple ports on their computer. For many users of thin and light notebook computers wanting to connect two large UHD monitors, an adapter to connect them is required.

Users can plug in the Sonnet adapter to their computers, connect the monitors with standard DisplayPort cables (sold separately) and then configure the displays through the operating system.

Although the Sonnet Thunderbolt 3 to Dual DisplayPort adapter supports up to two 4K DisplayPort monitors at 60Hz or one 5K DisplayPort monitor at 60Hz, it also supports monitors with lower resolutions, such as full HD 1080p (1920×1080) and 1920×1200, making it well-suited for different home and office workspace applications. Plus, with the Sonnet adapter’s built-in audio support users don’t need to connect additional cables to hear sound from the monitors.

The Sonnet adapter is also compatible with “active” DisplayPort-to-HDMI, DisplayPort-to-DVI, and DisplayPort-to-VGA adapters, enabling the connection of a wider variety of monitors.

The Dual DisplayPort adapter is available now and costs $89.


Boxx Apexx 4 features i9 X-Series procs, targets post apps

Boxx’s new Apexx 4 6201 workstation features the new 10-core Intel Core i9 X-Series processor. Intel’s most scalable desktop platform ever, X-Series processors offer significant performance increases over previous Intel technology.

“The Intel Core X-Series is the ultimate workstation platform,” reports Boxx VP of engineering Tim Lawrence. “The advantages of the new Intel Core i9, combined with Boxx innovation, will provide architects, engineers and motion media creators with an unprecedented level of performance.”

One of those key Intel X-Series advantages is Intel Turbo Boost 3.0. This technology identifies the two best cores to boost, making the new CPUs ideal for multitasking and virtual reality, as well as editing and rendering high-res 4K/VR video and effects with fast video transcode, image stabilization, 3D effects rendering and animation.

When comparing previous-generation Intel processors to X-Series processors (10-core vs.10-core), the X-Series is up to 14% faster in multi-threaded performance and up to 15% faster in single-threaded performance.

The first in a series of Boxx workstations featuring the new Intel X-Series processors, Apexx 4 6201 also includes up to three professional-grade Nvidia or AMD Radeon Pro graphics cards, and up to 128GB of system memory. The highly configurable Apexx 4 series workstations provide support for single-threaded applications, as well as multi-threaded tasks in applications like 3ds Max, Maya and Adobe CC.

“Professionals choose Boxx because they want to spend more time creating and less time waiting on their compute-intensive workloads,” says Lawrence. “Boxx Apexx workstations featuring new Intel X-Series processors will enable them to create without compromise, to megatask, support a bank of 4K monitors and immerse themselves in VR — all faster than before.”

 


New AMD Radeon Pro Duo graphics card for pro workflows

AMD was at NAB this year with its dual-GPU graphics card designed for pros — the Polaris-architecture-based Radeon Pro Duo. Built on the capabilities of the Radeon Pro WX 7100, the Radeon Pro Duo graphics card is designed for media and entertainment, broadcast and design workflows.

The Radeon Pro Duo is equipped with 32GB of ultra-fast GDDR5 memory to handle larger data sets, more intricate 3D models, higher-resolution videos and complex assemblies. Operating at a max power of 250W, the Radeon Pro Duo uses a total of 72 compute units (4,608 stream processors) for a combined performance of up to 11.45 TFLOPS of single-precision compute performance on one board, and twice the geometry throughput of the Radeon Pro WX 7100.

The Radeon Pro Duo enables pros to work on up to four 4K monitors at 60Hz, drive the latest 8K single monitor display at 30Hz using a single cable or drive an 8K display at 60Hz using a dual cable solution.

The Radeon Pro Duo’s distinct dual-GPU design allows pros the flexibility to divide their workloads, enabling smooth multi-tasking between applications by committing GPU resources to each. This will allow users to focus on their creativity and get more done faster, allowing for a greater number of design iterations in the same time.

On select pro apps (including DaVinci Resolve, Nuke/Care VR, Blender Cycles and VRed), the Radeon Pro Duo offers up to two times faster performance compared with the Radeon Pro WX 7100.

For those working in VR, the Radeon Pro Duo graphics card uses the power of two GPUs to render out separate images for each eye, increasing VR performance over single GPU solutions by up to 50% in the SteamVR test. AMD’s LiquidVR technologies are also supported by the industry’s leading realtime engines, including Unity and Unreal, to help ensure smooth, comfortable and responsive VR experiences on Radeon Pro Duo.

The Radeon Pro Duo’s planned availability is the end of May at an expected price of US $999.


Review: Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel

By Brady Betzel

If you’ve never used a color correction panel like the Tangent Element, Tangent Ripple, Avid Artist Color, or been fortunate enough to touch the super high-end FilmLight Blackboard 2, Blackmagic Advanced Panel or the Nucoda Precision Control Panel, then you don’t know what you are missing.

If you can, reach out to someone at a post house and sit at a real color correction console; it might change your career path. I’ve talked about it before, but the first time I sat in a “real” (a.k.a. expensive) color correction/editing bay I knew that I was on the right career path.

Color correction can be done without using color correction panels, but think of it like typing with one hand (maybe even one finger) — sure it can be done, but you are definitely missing out on the creative benefit of fluidity and efficiency.

In terms of affordable external color correction panels, Tangent makes the Ripple, Wave and Element panel sets that range from $350 to over $3,300, but work with pretty much every color correction app I can think of (even Avid if you use the Baselight plug-in). Avid offers the Artist Color panel, which also works with many apps, including Avid Media Composer, and costs about $1,300. Beyond those two, you have the super high-end panels that I mentioned earlier; they range from $12,000 to $29,999.

Blackmagic recently added two new offerings to their pool of color correction panel hardware: the DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel and DaVinci Resolve Mini Panel. The Micro is similar in size and functionality to the Avid Artist panel, and the Mini is similar to the center part of most high-end color correction panels.

One important caveat to keep in mind is that you can only use these panels with Blackmagic’s Resolve, and Resolve must be updated to at least version 12.5.5 to function. They connect to your computer via USB 3 Type C or Ethernet.

I received the Resolve Mini Panel to try out for a couple of weeks, and immediately loved it. If you’ve been lucky enough to use a high-end color correction panel like Blackmagic’s Advanced Panel, then you will understand just how great it feels to control Resolve with hardware. In my opinion, using hardware panels eliminates almost 90 percent of the stumbling when using color correction software as opposed to using a keyboard and mouse. The Resolve Mini Panel is as close as you are going to get to professional-level color correction hardware panel without spending $30,000.

Digging In
Out of the box, the panel feels hefty but not too heavy. It’s solid enough to sit on a desk and not have to worry about it walking around while you are using it. Of course, because I am basically a kid, I had to press all the buttons and turn all the dials before I plugged it in. They feel great… the best-feeling wheels and trackballs on a $3,000 panel I’ve used. The knobs and buttons feel fine. I’m not hating on them, but I think I like the way the Tangent buttons depress better. Either way, that is definitely subjective. The metal rings and hefty trackballs are definitely on the level of the high-end color correction panels you can see in pro color bays.

Without regurgitating Blackmagic’s press release in full, I want to go over what I think really shines on this panel. I love the two five-inch LCD panels just above the main rings and trackballs. Below the LCDs and above the row of 12 knobs are eight more knobs that interact with the LCDs. Above the LCDs are eight soft buttons and a bunch of buttons that help you navigate around the node tree and jump into different modes, like qualifiers and tracking.

Something I really loved when working with the Mini Panel was adding points on a curve and adjusting those individual points. This is one of the best features of the Mini Panel, in my opinion. Little shortcuts like adding a node + circle window in one key press are great features. Directly above the trackballs and rings are RGB, All and Level buttons that can reset their respective parameters for each of the Lift Gamma and Gain changes you’ve made. Above those are buttons like Log, Offset and Viewer — a quick way to jump into Log mode, Offset mode and full-screen Viewer mode.

When reading about the user buttons and FX buttons in the Resolve manual it states that they will be enabled in future releases, which gets me excited about what else could be coming down the pike. NAB maybe?

Of course, there can be improvements. I mean, it is a Version 1 product, but everything considered Blackmagic really hit it out of the park. To see what some pros think needs to be changed and/or altered troll over to the holy grail of color correction forums: Lift Gamma Gain. You’ll even notice some Blackmagic folks sniffing around answering questions and hinting at what is coming in some updates. In addition, Blackmagic has their own forum where an interesting post popped up titled DaVinci Mini Panel Suggestion Box. This is another great post to hang around.

Wishlist/Suggestions
When using the panels, when I would exit Resolve the LCDs didn’t dim or go into screen-saver mode like some other panels I’ve used. Furthermore, there isn’t a dimmer for the brightness of the LCD screens and backlit buttons. In the future, I would love the ability to dim or completely shut off the panels when I am in other apps or presenting to a client and don’t want the panel glowing. The backlit keys aren’t terribly bright though, so it’s not a huge deal.

While in the forums, I did notice posts about the panel’s inability to do the NLE-style of transport control: double tapping fast forward to go faster. Furthermore, a wheel might be a nice transport addition for scrubbing. In the node shortcut buttons, I couldn’t find an easy way to delete a node or add an outside node directly from the panel. On other panels, I love moving shapes/windows around using the trackballs but, unfortunately, you can only move/adjust the windows around with knobs, which isn’t terrible but is definitely less natural than using the trackballs. Lastly, I kind of miss the ability to set and load memories from a panel, with the Mini Panel we don’t have that option….yet. Maybe it will come in an update since there are buttons with numbers on them, but who knows.

Mini and Micro Panel
Technically, the Mini Panel is the Micro Panel but with the addition of the top LCDs and buttons. It also has the ability to connect the panel not just by USB-C but also via Ethernet. If connecting via Ethernet, there has been some talk of power over Ethernet (PoE) compatibility, which powers your panel without the need for a power cable. Some folks have had less success with standard PoE, but have had success using PoE+ appliances — something to keep in mind.

Both the Micro and Mini Panels have the standard three trackballs and rings, 12 control knobs and 18 keys hard coded for specific tasks and transport controls. In addition, the Mini Panel has two 5-inch screens, eight additional soft buttons, eight additional soft knobs and 30 additional hard-coded buttons that focus on node navigation and general mode navigation.

Both the Micro and Mini Panels are powered via USB-C, but the Mini Panel also adds PoE connection as mentioned earlier, as well as a 4-pin XLR DC power connection. Something to note: I thought that when I received the Mini Panel I might have been missing a power cable from the box because I had a test unit, but upon more forum reading I found that you do not get a power cable with the Mini Panel. While Blackmagic does ship a USB 3.0 to USB-C adapter cable with the Mini and Micro Panels, they do not ship a power cable, which is unfortunate and an odd oversight, but since the panels are affordable I guess it’s not that big of a deal. Plus, if you are a post nerd like me, you probably have a few 5-15 to C13 power cables lying around the house.

I can’t shake the feeling that Blackmagic is going to be adding some additional external panels to piece together something like the Advanced Panel set-up (much like how the Tangent Element panel set can be purchased). Things like an external memory bank or an X-Keys type set-up seem not too far off for Blackmagic. I would even love to be able to turn the LCD screens into scopes if possible, and even hook up an Ultrascope via the panel so I don’t have to purchase additional hardware. Either way, the Mini Panel gets me real excited about the path Blackmagic is carving for their Resolve users.

Summing Up
In the end, if you are a professional colorist looking for a semi-portable panel and haven’t committed to the Tangent Element ecosphere yet, the Resolve Mini Panel is for you … and your credit card. The Mini Panel is as close to a high-end color correction panel that I have seen, and has a wallet-friendly retail price of $2,995. It is very solid and doesn’t feel like a substitute for a full-sized panel — it can hold its own.

One thing I was worried about when I began writing this review was questioning whether or not tying myself down to one piece of software was a good idea. When you invest in the Mini Panel, you are wholeheartedly dedicating yourself to DaVinci Resolve, and I think that is a safe bet.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Review: LogicKeyboard’s Astra PC keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5

By Brady Betzel

I love a good keyboard. In fact, my favorite keyboards have always been mechanical, or pseudo-mechanical, like those old Windows keyboards you can find at thrift stores for under 10 bucks — in fact, I went back and bought one just the other day at a Goodwill. I love them because of the tactile response and click you get when depressing the keys.

Knowing this, you can understand my frustration (and maybe old-man bitterness) when all I see in the modern workplace are those slimline Apple keyboards, even on Windows PCs! I mean I can get by on those, but at home I love using this old Avid keyboard that is as close to mechanical as I can get.

LogicKeyboard’s Astra latest Resolve-focused backlit keyboard answers many problems in one slick keyboard. Logic’s scissor switch designed keys give me the tactile feedback that I love while the backlit keyboard itself is sleek and modern.

After being a primarily Avid Media Composer-focused editor with keyboards emblazoned with Avid shortcuts for many years, I started using other apps like Adobe After Effects and Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve and realized I really like to see shortcuts displayed on my keyboard. Yeah, I know, I should pretend to be able to blaze through an edit without looking at the keyboard but guess what, I look down. So when learning new apps like Resolve it is really helpful to have a keyboard with shortcuts, moreover with keys that have backlighting. I don’t usually run into many Resolve-focused keyboards so when I heard about Logic’s backlit version, I immediately wanted to try it out.

While this particular keyboard has Resolve-specific shortcuts labeled on the keys it will work as a standard keyboard and will run backlit regardless of what app you are in. If you are looking for a keyboard with shortcuts for a specific app check out LogicKeyboard’s site where you can find Windows and Ma OS keyboards for Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, Avid Media Composer, Autodesk Smoke and even non-video-based apps like Pro Tools or Photoshop.

Taking it for a Drive
The Astra keyboard for Resolve 12/12.5 is awesome. First off, there are two USB 2.0 cables you need to plug into your PC to use this keyboard: one for the keyboard itself and one for the two USB 2.0 ports on the back. I love that LogicKeyboard has created a self-powered USB hub on the back of the keyboard. I do wish it was USB 3.0, but to have the ability to power external hard drives from the keyboard and not have to fumble around the back of the machine really helps my day-to-day productivity, a real key addition. While the keyboard I am reviewing is technically for a Windows-based machine it will work on a Mac OS-based system, but you will have to keep in mind the key differences such as the Windows key, but really you should just buy the Mac OS version.

The Astra keyboard is sleek and very well manufactured. The first thing I noticed after I plugged in the keyboard was that it didn’t walk along the desk as I was using it. Maybe I’m a little hard on my equipment, but a lot of keyboards I use start to move across my desk when typing; the Logic keyboard stays still and allows me to pound on that keyboard all day long.

As a testament to the LogicKeyboard’s durability, one day I came home after work and one of the shift keys on the keyboard had come off (it may or may not have been my two year old — I have no concrete evidence). My first thought was “great, there goes that keyboard,” but then I quickly tried to snap the key back on and it went on the first try. Pretty amazing.

What sets the LogicKeyboard backlit keyboard apart from other application-specific keyboards, or any for that matter, is not only the solid construction but also the six levels of brightness for the backlit keys that can be controlled directly from the keyboard. The brightness can be controlled in increments of 100%, 80%, 60%, 40%, 20% and 0% brightness. As a professional editor or colorist, you might think that having backlit keys in a dark room is both distracting and/or embarrassing, but LogicKeyboard has made a beautiful keyboard that glows softly. Even at 100% brightness it feels like the Astra keyboard has a nice fall off, leaving the keyboard almost unnoticeable until you need to see it and use it. Furthermore, it kicks into what Logic calls “smoothing light” after three minutes of non-use — basically it dims to a dull level.

In terms of shortcuts on the Resolve 12/12.5-specific Astra keyboard, you get four levels of shortcuts: normal, shift + key, control + key, and alt + key. Normal is labeled in black, shift + key are labeled in red just like the shift key, control + key are labeled in blue just like the control key, and alt + key are labeled green just like the alt key. While I love all of these shortcuts I do think that it can sometimes get a little overwhelming with so many visible at the same time. It’s kind of a catch-22; I want every shortcut labeled for easy and fast searches, but too many options lead me, at times, to search too long.

On the flip side, after about a week I noticed my Resolve keyboard shortcuts getting more committed to memory than before, so I was less worried about searching each individual key for the shortcut I needed. I am a big proponent for memorizing keyboard shortcuts and the Astra keyboard for Resolve helped cement those into my memory way faster than any normal non-backlit keyboard. Usually, my eyes have a hard time going back and forth between a bright screen and a super dark keyboard; it’s pretty much impossible to do efficiently. The backlit Astra solved my problem of hunting for keys in a dark room with a bright monitor.

The Windows version is compatible with pretty much any version of Windows from the last 10 years, and the Mac version is compatible with Mac OS 10.6 and higher. I tested mine on a workstation with Windows 10 installed.

Summing Up
In the end, I love Logic’s Astra backlit keyboard for DaVinci Resolve 12/12.5. The tactile feedback from each key is essential for speed when editing and color correcting, and it’s the best I’ve felt since having to give up my trusty mechanical-style keyboards. I’ve been through Apple-like low-profile keyboards for Media Composer, going back to the old-school ps/2-style mechanical-ish keyboards, and now to the Astra backlit keyboard and loving it.

The backlit version of LogicKeyboards don’t necessarily come cheap, however, this version retails for $139.90-plus $11.95 for shipping. The Mac version costs the same.

While you may think that is high for a keyboard, the Astra is of the highest manufacturing quality, has two fully powered USB 2.0 ports (that come in handy for things like the Tangent Ripple or Element color correction panels), and don’t forget the best part: is also backlit! My two-year-old son even ripped a key off of the keyboard (he wants me to add, allegedly!) and I fixed it easily without having to send it in for repairs. I doubt the warranty will cover kids pulling off keys, but you do get a free one-year warranty with the product.

I used this keyboard over a few months and really began to fall in love with the eight-degree angle that it is set at. I use keyboards all day, every day and not all keyboards are the same. Some have super flat angles and some have super high angles. In my opinion, the LogicKeyboard Astra has a great and hurt-free angle.

I also can’t overstate how awesome the backlit element of this keyboard is, it’s not just the letters that are backlit, each key is smoothly backlit in its entirety. Even at 100% brightness the keys look soft with a nice fall off on the edges, they aren’t an eyesore and in fact are a nice talking point for many clients. If you are barely thinking about buying a keyboard or are in desperate need of a new keyboard and you use Resolve 12 or 12.5 you should immediately buy the Astra. I love it, and I know you will not regret it.

Check out my footage of the LogicKeyboard Astra backlit keyboard for Resolve on my YouTube page:

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Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.