Category Archives: Workstations

Review: Custom-built workstations from Mediaworkstations.net

By Brady Betzel

While workstations that optimize the tools you use in the media and entertainment industry are easily accessible, what if you wanted to drill down even deeper?

What if you wanted a workstation built specifically for Adobe Premiere Pro editing of 4K RAW Red R3D files? Or if you are working in Blackmagic’s Resolve, and want playback of 4K RAW Red R3D files? What if you also wanted to dabble in Adobe After Effects?

While the big workstation manufacturers allow customization, that can only go so far online. If you want more personal support and micro-customizations, you will need to find a smaller company that builds very niche computer systems. Mediaworkstations.net is one of those companies.

MediaWorkstations.net’s offerings are custom built computers focused on the media and entertainment professional working in high-end applications like Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe After Effects, Maxon Cinema 4D, Foundry Nuke and many more including realtime renderers like Octane. When you call MediaWorkstations.net you will talk to a real person, like founder Christopher Johnson, who has extensive knowledge about the media and entertainment industry as it relates to hardware configurations.

Customization
To get started, I had a phone call with Christopher to go over my needs in a system, how much of a budget I had to work with and what I thought I would want to be doing in the future. We talked about how I am currently an online editor who does some color correction and grading. For editing, I primarily use Avid Media Composer but I am using Adobe Premiere and Blackmagic’s Resolve more often these days. I also like to jump into After Effects and Cinema 4D to do some basic stuff but without a slowdown. And, finally, I wanted to stay under $10,000 in price.

Following along on the website, Christopher directed me to the i-X series workstation they configure. He ran through some of my CPU options and explained why I would need one processor versus another processor. He suggested putting 128GB of DDR4 2800 SDRAM, which I went with but I considered changing that to 64GB — I would save a little less than $1,000, and it’s something I could always install more down the road.

Christopher had me throw in a 512GB Samsung 960 Pro SSD for the OS drive, a RAID-0 asset drive and the cherry on top was the 800GB Kingston DCP1000 PCIe for another asset drive. The Kingston DCP 1000 is a beast of a drive that I was super excited to test. You can check the specs out here, but essentially Kingston says it can read up to 6,800MB/s and write up to 6,000MB/s (that is megabytes not bits!). Without giving away too much, this drive is the fastest drive I have ever tested. Unfortunately, at the moment you can’t include it in the online configuration to get a price, but it seems like it retails for anywhere from $1,100 to $1,900.

For GPU power Christopher suggested three Nvidia GeForce 1080 Ti 11GB cards, which seem to retail for $979.99 each, according to Amazon and NewEgg. On MediaWorkstations.net that upgrade will run you an extra $4,149 over the standard Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB. Quite the difference in price, but you are paying for full configuration and support.

Beyond the configuration, Christopher took time to explain why I could benefit from three 1080 Ti’s as opposed to only two — apps like After Effects would take more advantage of three or more GPUs where typically Premiere and Resolve don’t see an exponential increase in power. In the end, the configured system totalled $12,095, which is a full 20% higher than the $10,000 budget I had mentioned. To knock that down I would probably cut the memory from 128GB to 64GB, get rid of a GTX 1080 Ti and bump up the CPU to the Intel i9 7920X, which adds a few cores and cache. This gets me to a total of about $8,828 before adding the cost of the Kingston DCP1000, which I assume would get me around $10,000. However, for this review I was sent the original configuration.

After talking with Christopher for over 30 minutes, I got the feeling that he knew what each part of a computer does and how I could use each component to its full potential. We focused on trying to build as much of a future-proof system as we could for around $10,000. Christopher mentioned that these systems will play RAW 4K Red R3D files no problem, and possibly 6K and 8K. That immediately caught my attention, especially when conforming and coloring the R3D files with all of their added benefits.

You should try to build a system for yourself on the Mediaworkstations.net and check out their other offerings like their Enterprise offering called the i-XL which allows for components like dual Xeons or increased memory like 1TB of ECC RAM. They also offer an i-X2 model, which is more like the i-X but with added Xeon processors as well as the a-X which offers AMD Threadripper processors. You can even call them and dial in exactly what components you will need for your specific needs.

Testing the System
So the i-X from MediaWorkstations.net arrived and boy is it loaded with high-end components. Right off the bat, I opened the side panel and started fiddling with the internal components. One of the more impressive parts of the build is the Fractal Design Define XL R2 case. It is easy to open and even has a layer of dense audio dampening material on the inside, which seemed to significantly reduce noise on the outside. You can check out specs on the case at their website.

Also, the power supply is a beast — I immediately noticed the power cable supplied with the system. The power cable is so thick I thought they sent me the wrong one. It definitely makes you feel like you are plugging in a high-end system. You can check out the EVGA SuperNova 1600 T2 power supply here.

Here is a list of the rest of the components that make up the MediaWorkstation.net’s i-X system:

1. Fractal Design’s Define XL R2 Black Silent EATX Full Tower
2. Intel Core i9-7900X Skylake X 13.75M Cache 10-Core CPU
3. Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo CPU Cooler
4. MSI X299 XPower Gaming
5. Corsair Dominator Platinum 128GB (8x16GB) DDR4 2800
6. 512GB Samsung 960 Pro Internal SSD (OS drive)
7. Two 512GB Samsung 960 Pro Internal SSD (Asset drives – RAID 0)
8. 800GB Kingston DCP1000 PCIe asset drive
9. 3 – ASUS GeForce GTX 1080 ti 11GB Turbo Edition GPU
10. EVGA SuperNova 1600 T2, 80+ titanium 1600W power supply
11. Windows 10 Professional, 64-bit
12. Fractal Design FD-FAN-SSR2-140 2nd front internal fan
13. Two Prolimatech 140mm slim fans

That is a hefty build for any system.

MediaWorkstations.net sells this build at a retail price of $12,095. Besides opening the case right away and messing around with the internal components, I also needed to find out what the premium MediaWorkstations.net is charging on their systems.

I consider myself a pretty advanced user and can build my own computer systems, so what if I wanted to build this myself? Would it be worth it or should I just pay someone else to do it? A great place to build a custom PC from various websites and to find out the cheapest prices is www.pcpartpicker.com. If you want to follow along at home you can find the build I created with some prices here.

There are some caveats when using PC Part Picker: The prices can change, so it may not be 100% accurate, although it is typically pretty close and includes rebates. Also, you must add shipping and tax yourself. And, finally, I had to manually add some parts that I couldn’t find through PCPartPicker. I got my build to $9,387.68 without tax or shipping, this also included $60 in rebates. I would say that we could safely add about $250 in taxes and shipping.

So, if I assume the cost to be about $9,600 MediaWorkstations.net is adding about $2,500. In my opinion that isn’t a bad markup considering someone else is putting in the hours to build and test the system with the applications you use like Resolve, Premiere, Media Composer and many others. In addition to the standard one-, two- or three-year warranties, they offer a 24/7/365, as well next business day warranties available. You may have to add another $500 to $600 for a 24-hour-a-day-warranty, but it’s worth it.

Alright enough tech specs and pricing nerdiness and on to the testing. To be clear, I had a short amount of time to test the performance of the i-X, so I only dove into the basics. This system is very fast. However, I wasn’t able to playback Red RAW R3D files higher than 4K in realtime at full debayer quality in either Premiere or Resolve 14.3.

When I was first asked to review the i-X, I was told it should be able to playback Red RAW R3D files up to 8K in part because of the new Kingston DCP1000 SSD. While this drive was extremely fast, I wasn’t able to playback anything in realtime above 4K resolution. There are a few factors in this that could affect performance, such as whether they were 9:1 or 1:1, but I was told it would work and it didn’t.

On the bright side I was able to color and playback RAW Red R3D files in true 4K resolution. It was pretty amazing that I could add a few nodes and do live grading on 4K resolution Red R3D files without a dropped frame. I also tried exporting the same 18-second 4K Red R3D file in a few different scenarios.

In the first scenario I placed the RAW R3D file on the blazingly fast Kingston SSD and exported it back to itself. Initially, I exported the file with no effects on it other than a simple one-node color correction. I exported it as a 4K DPX sequence, and it took 30 seconds. When I added Temporal Noise Reduction it took 39 seconds. On top of that I then added a serial node with Gaussian Blur that took 40 seconds to export.

I quickly thought that these speeds were a little slow considering the power I had under the hood of this beast. I then exported the same file to the RAID-0 made up of the two Samsung 960 Pro 512GB SSDs, which confirmed my suspicion. With just a simple color correction, the 18-second  Red RAW R3D file took just 10.5 seconds, around 45-48fps to export. With Temporal Noise Reduction it took 38.5 seconds, but with Temporal Noise Reduction and a Gaussian Blur it took 39 seconds. In my testing, I turned off all caching and performance mode improvements.

While I didn’t have the system long enough to test as I would have liked, I was able to get a good taste at how fast the new Intel i9 processors run and how multiple 1080 ti GPUs can help with rendering resizes, noise reduction effects, or even blurring. In the first part of my review, I mentioned that I would likely have swapped out half the RAM and one of the GeForce GTX 1080 Ti’s for a higher-end processor, which would have kept the price down. I didn’t see any improvement in performance because of the the third GPU, but I also didn’t do any testing in After Effects or Cinema 4D, which may have harnessed that extra GPU energy.

Summing Up
Check out the Mediaworkstation site for yourself and maybe even compare those prices with a duplicate build on PCPartsPicker. If you are within a $1,000 or so, then going through MediaWorkstations.net is a great deal. If nothing else, having one single warranty through one company is worth hundreds of dollars in time, money and shipping costs instead of having to manage multiple warranties from dozens of companies.

For peace of mind, I would heavily consider the next–business-day or 24/7/365 warranty instead of the standard one-day warranty simply because waiting for your system to be fixed could leave you without a machine for days or even weeks.

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.

Cinna 4.13

Dell makes updates to its Precision mobile workstation line

Recently, Dell made updates to its line of Precision mobile workstations targeting the media and entertainment industries. The Dell Precision 7730 and 7530 mobile workstations feature the latest eighth-generation IntelCore and Xeon processors, AMD Radeon WX and Nvidia Quadro professional graphics, 3200MHz SuperSpeed memory and memory capacity up to 128GB.

The Dell Precision 7530 is a 15-inch VR-ready mobile workstation with large PCIe SSD storage capacity, especially for a 15-inch mobile workstation — up to 6TB. Dell says the 7730 enables new uses such as AI and machine learning development and edge inference systems.

Also new is the 15-inch Dell Precision 5530 two-in-one, which targets content creation and editing and features a very thin design. A flexible 360-degree hinge enables multiple modes of interaction, including support for touch and pen. It features the next-generation InfinityEdge 4K Ultra HD display. The Dell Premium pen offers precise pressure sensitivity (4,096 pressure points), tilt functionality and low latency for an experience that is reminiscent of drawing on paper. The new MagLev keyboard design reduces keyboard thickness “without compromising critical keyboard shortcuts in content creation workflows,” and ultra-thin GORE Thermal Insulation keeps the system cool.

This workstation weighs 3.9 pounds and delivers next-generation professional graphics up to Nvidia Quadro P2000. With enhanced 2666MHz memory speeds up to 32GB, users can accelerate their complicated workflows. And with up to 4TB of SSD storage, users can access, transfer and store large 3D, video and multimedia files quickly and easily.

The fully customizable 15-inch Dell Precision 3530 mobile workstation features eighth-generation Intel Core and next-generation Xeon processors, memory speeds up to 2666MHz and Nvidia Quadro P600 professional graphics. It also features a 92WHr battery and wide range of ports, including HDMI 2.0, Thunderbolt and VGA.


Review: Lenovo’s ThinkStation P910

By Brady Betzel

With so many options out there for building and/or buying a workstation, how do you confidently choose where to spend thousands of dollars? From the big-named computer companies to the DIY build-your-own systems, there are dozens of subset options to take your multimedia work to the next level. While not yet as common in the M&E workplace as an HP, Dell or Apple, Lenovo has some serious workstation offerings at great prices, with all of the same guarantees that the big dogs offer.

I was sent the ThinkStation P910 workstation — the top-of-the-line Lenovo desktop — but as I was finishing up this review they released the P920 version. For this review, I will keep my focus on the P910 as there are only a few differences in the products, which are faster memory speed, increased memory capacity and an overall upgrade in hardware, such as CPU cores and speeds.

Keep in mind the critical difference between workstations and standard desktop computers: workstations are meant to be consistently run over a long period of time without breaking down or failing. Your run-of-the-mill desktop system purchased from Best Buy, or the like, is not guaranteed to run 365 days a year and 24 hours a day in a critical environment.

What’s Inside
Under the hood of the P910 are dual-Intel Xeon E5-2620 v4 processors equaling 16 cores at 2.1GHz; Windows 10; an Nvidia Quadro P6000; a 24GB, 1TB SSD M.2 PCIe NVMe Opal boot drive; 2x16GB DDR4-2400 ECC totaling 32GB; four USB 3.0 ports; four USB 2.0 ports; and and other features like the standard audio and networking ports.

In addition to the specific components, the Lenovo ThinkStation workstations have a few unique or interesting features: the patent pending tri-channel cooling, which pushes fresh air to both the processors and memory compartments; the chassis are designed to be as tool-less as possible when replacing or upgrading parts with only the CPU heatsink needing a screwdriver; and, finally, a front-facing Flex connector that can be swapped for different connections such as an external PCI x4 connection.

With workstations, you typically get certifications that the system will perform with certain professional software efficiently. These ISV certifications (certifications from independent software vendors) include Avid Media Composer and Adobe Premiere Pro. There are many other software vendors that are compatible, but Adobe and Avid are the ones that I personally encounter the most frequently. You can check out a list of these ISVs for the P910 or any other model on Lenovo’s website.

Workstations also typically come with in-depth warranties, and because these systems are not meant to fail, the warranties are made to be executed quickly with little downtime. Lenovo supplies a three-year On-Site Warranty, which is surprisingly hard to find specifics on. After about 20 minutes of searching the Internet and Lenovo’s website I decided to stop searching. Other than that I can’t provide too many details, unfortunately.

Working primarily with multimedia applications, I typically need a workstation that not only works all the time but also one that will chew threw high-resolution 4K, 6K or even 8K video files while editing and color correcting. To really push the boundaries, I like to use the Blackmagic Resolve color correction app to color and add noise reduction to high-resolution Red camera files. When working with these Red files you need a lot of muscle, especially when adding post production effects like noise reduction and blurring, and when you are finished, exporting.

Unfortunately, Lenovo doesn’t have Resolve listed under the ISV certifications, but maybe they could add it in the future with Resolve’s heavy presence in M&E projects. One big leg up that the P910 has in the multimedia world is the Nvidia Quadro P6000 with 24GB of RAM, and the crazy expandability from 32GB of ECC RAM to up to 512GB with the 16 DIMM slots when filled with 32GB sticks.

Testing
To test the P910, I ran a few benchmarking apps as well as some of my own tests in Resolve Studio 14.3. First I ran the AJA System Test a few times. I set the resolution to 3840×2160 4K Red HD, 16GB file size, the codec type as 12-bit RGBA and Target Disk being the system drive — it gave a read speed of 2871MB/s and write speed of 1742MB/s, which is pretty good and one I was expecting with the speedy NVMe system drive.

Next, I ran Maxon’s Cinebench, which is a benchmark that is designed to test real-world 3D scenarios against your systems hardware. It tests CPU and GPU abilities, and the higher the resulting numbers the better. The Thinkstation P910 scored very high on multiple CPU testing and the Open GL GPU testing. However, in the single CPU testing it fell the fourth place behind systems that had much higher single-core clock speeds. I noticed the rendering on the multiple CPU tests was very fast. It was faster than most of the other systems I ran this test on, not to mention the Nvidia Quadro P6000 really earning its place at the number one position — it chewed through the test.

Finally, I wanted to test the rendering speed on some high-resolution Red files in Resolve 14.3. There were a couple of tests I wanted to run, so I downloaded one of the many sample R3D files that Red offers: http://www.red.com/sample-r3d-files. I downloaded an 11-second, 6K, 23.98fps R3D file, imported it into Resolve 14.3, added two serial nodes (color correct node and color grade node) and rendered it to a DNxHR HQX file.

For those counting at home, I disabled any caching, and unchecked Performance Mode. Second, I wanted to add a third serial node of Temporal Noise Reduction. I initially wanted to simply play down the clip at full debayer quality but it stuttered and played at about 5fps, unfortunately not a full 23.98 fps. I was only able to get the playback to 17fps using 1/16 debayer quality. With just two color correction nodes I exported the 11-second clip as a DNxHR 444 12-bit QuickTime. It took 52 seconds. When I added the third node with Temporal Noise Reduction set to three frames, Motion Estimate set to Better and Luma and Chroma Thresholds set to 25, it took one minute and 42 seconds to render the same QuickTime. I then duplicated the clip in a sequence to make a one-minute long sequence; without noise reduction it took 10 minutes and 30 seconds to export, and when I added the Temporal Noise Reduction it took 11 minutes and 30 seconds. Overall, it really didn’t add too much time with the noise reduction, which was a nice surprise. I want to give some heavy credit to the Quadro P6000.

Summing Up
The Lenovo Thinkstation P910 is a phenomenal machine with the guts to chew through all of the bandwidth-hogging media we use today. When building the system out, I wasn’t able to price the P910, however I built a similar P920, which came out to $8,278. You are getting a few higher-end features, but essentially it is the same computer. That price is high, but the Nvidia Quadro P6000 is a top-of-the-line GPU and that is adding an additional $4,150 to the system’s total.

While the P6000 is incredible, you may want to consider something a little less beefy like the P4000, which adds a mere $580 and gives you a much more reasonable total of $4,128. Either way, you are getting a great workstation that is as easy to repair and replace parts as it is to boot up. I opened the side door and was able to easily pull out and replace almost every internal part with ease, and the best part was the system booted up on first try!

Check out Lenovo’s top-of the-line workstations at their website.


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: HP’s ZBook Studio G4 mobile workstation

By Brady Betzel

It seems like each year around this time, I offer my thoughts on an HP mobile workstation and how it serves multimedia professionals. This time I am putting the HP ZBook Studio G4 through its paces. The ZBook Studio line of HP’s mobile workstations seems to fit right in the middle between ease of mobility, durability and power. The ZBook 14u and 15u are the budget series mobile workstations that run Intel i5/i7 processors with AMD FirePro graphics and top out at around $1,600. The ZBook 15 and 17 are the more powerful mobile workstations in the line with the added ability to include Intel Xeon processors, ECC memory, higher-end Nvidia Quadro graphics cards and more. But in the this review we will take the best of all models and jam them into the light and polished ZBook Studio G4.

The HP ZBook Studio G4 I was sent to test out had the following components:
– Windows 10 64 bit
– Intel Xeon 1535M (7th gen) quad-core processor – 3.10GHz with 4.2 Turbo Boost
– 4K UHD DreamColor/15.6-inch IPS screen
– 32GB ECC (2x16GB)
– Nvidia Quadro M1200 (4GB)
– 512GB HP Z Turbo Drive PCIe (MLC)
– 92Whr fast charging battery
– Intel vPro WLAN
– Backlit keyboard
– Fingerprint reader

According to the info I was sent directly from HP, the retail price is $3,510 on hp.com (US webstore). I built a very similar workstation on http://store.hp.com and was able to get the price at $3,301.65 before shipping and taxes, and $3,541.02 with taxes and free shipping. So actually pretty close.

So, besides the natural processor, memory and hard drive upgrades from previous generations, the ZBook Studio G4 has a few interesting updates, including the higher-wattage batteries with fast charge and the HP Sure Start Gen3 technology. The new fast charge is similar to the feature that some products like the GoPro Hero 5/6 cameras and Samsung Galaxy phones have, where they charge quicker than “normal.” The ZBook Studio, as well as the rest of the ZBook line, will charge 50% of your battery in around 30 minutes when in standby mode. Even when using the computer, I was able to charge the first 50% in around 30 minutes, a feature I love. After the initial 50% charge is complete, the charging will be at a normal rate, which wasn’t half bad and only took a few hours to get it to about 100%.

The battery I was sent was the larger of the two options and provided me with an eight-hour day with decent usage. When pushed using an app like Resolve I would say it lasted more like four hours. Nonetheless it lasted a while and I was happy with the result. Keep in mind the batteries are not removable, but they do have a three-year warranty, just like the rest of the mobile workstation.

When HP first told me about its Sure Start Gen 3, I thought maybe it was just a marketing gimmick, but then I experienced its power — and it’s amazing. Essentially, it is a hardware function available on only 7th generation Intel processors that allows the BIOS to repair itself upon identification of malware or corruption. While using the ZBook Studio G4, I was installing some software and had a hard crash (blue screen). I noticed when it restarted the BIOS was running through the Sure Start protocol, and within minutes I was back up and running. It was reassuring and would really set my mind at ease if deciding between a workstation-level solution or retail store computing solution.

You might be asking yourself why you should buy an enterprise-level mobile workstation when you could go buy a laptop for cheaper and almost as powerful at Best Buy or on Amazon? Technically, what really sets apart workstation components is their ability to run 24/7 and 365 days a year without downtime. This is helped by Intel Xeon processors that allow for ECC (Error Correcting Code memory), essentially bits don’t get flipped as they can with non-ECC memory. Or for laymen, like me, ECC memory prevents crashing by fixing errors itself before we see any repercussions.

Another workstation-level benefit is the environmental testing that HP runs the ZBooks through to certify their equipment as military grade, also known as MIL-810G testing. Essentially, they run multiple extreme condition tests such as high and low temperatures, salt, fog and even high-vibration testing like gunfire. Check out a more in-depth description on Wikipedia. Finally, HP prides itself on its ISV (Independent Software Vendors) verification. ISV certification means that HP spends a lot of time working with software vendors like Adobe, Avid, Autodesk and others to ensure compatibility with their products and HP’s hardware so you don’t have to. They even release certified drivers that help to ensure compatibility regularly.

In terms of warranty, HP gives you a three-year limited warranty. This includes on-site service within the Americas, and as mentioned earlier it covers the battery, which is a nice bonus. Much like other warranties it covers problems arising from faulty manufacturing, but not intentional or accidental damage. Luckily for anyone who purchases a Zbook, these systems can take a beating. Physically, the computer weighs in around 4.6lbs and is 18mm thin. It is machined aluminum that isn’t sharp, but it can start to dig into your wrists when typing for long periods. Around the exterior you get two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI port, three USB 3.1 ports (one on left and two on the right), an Ethernet port and Kensington Lock port. On the right side, you also get a power port — I would love for HP to design some sort of break-away cable like the old Magsafe cables on the MacBook Pros — and there is also a headphone/mic input.

DreamColor Display
Alright, so now I’ll go through some of the post-nerd specs that you might be looking for. Up first is the HP DreamColor display, which is a color-critical viewing solution. With a couple clicks in the Windows toolbar on the lower right you will find a colored flower — click on that and you can immediately adjust the color space you want to view your work in: AdobeRGB, sRGB, BT.709, DCI-P3 or Native. You can even calibrate or backup your own calibration for later use. While most colorists or editors use an external calibrated monitoring solution and don’t strictly rely on your viewing monitor as the color-critical source, using the DreamColor display will get you close to a color critical display without purchasing additional hardware.

In addition, DreamColor displays can play back true 24fps without frame rate conversion. One of my favorite parts of DreamColor is that if you use an external DreamColor monitor through Thunderbolt 3 (not using an SDI card), you can load your color profile onto the second or third monitor and in theory they should match. The ZBook Studio G4 seems to have been built as a perfect DIT (digital imaging technician) solution for color critical work in any weather-challenged or demanding environment without you having to worry about failure.

Speed & Testing
Now let’s talk about speed and how the system did with speed tests. When running a 24TB (6TB-4TB drives) G-Speed ShuttleXL with Thunderbolt 3 from G-Technology, I was able to get write speeds of around 1450MB/s and read speeds of 960MB/s when running the AJA System Test using a 4GB test file running RAID-0. For comparison, I ran the same test on the internal 512GB HP Z Turbo Drive, which had a write speed of 1310MB/s and read speed 1524MB/s. Of course, you need to keep in mind that the internal drive is a PCIe SSD whereas the RAID is 7200RPM drives. Finally, I ran the standard benchmarking app Cinebench R15 that comes from the makers of Maxon Cinema 4D, a 3D modeling app. For those interested, the OpenGL test ran at 138.85fps with a Ref. Match of 99.6%, CPU 470cb and CPU (Single Core) 177cb with an MP Ratio of 2.65x.

I also wanted to run the ZBook through some practical and real-world tests, and I wanted to test the rendering and exporting speeds. I chose to use Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve 14.2 software because it is widely used and an easily accessible app for many of today’s multimedia pros. For a non-scientific yet important benchmark, I needed to see how well the ZBook G4 played back R3D files (Red camera files), as well as QuickTimes with typical codecs you would find in a professional environment, such as ProRes and DNxHD. You can find a bunch of great sample R3D files on Red’s website. The R3D I chose was 16 seconds in length, shot on a Red Epic Dragon at 120fps and UHD resolution (3840×2160). To make sure I didn’t have anything skewing the results, I decided to clear all optimized media, if there was any, delete any render cache, uncheck “Use Optimized Media If Available” and uncheck “Performance Mode” just in case that did any voodoo I wasn’t aware of.

First was a playback test where I wanted to see at what decode quality I could playback in at realtime without dropping frames when I performed a slight color correction and added a power window. For this clip, I was able to get it to playback in a 23.98/1080p timeline in realtime when it was set to Half Resolution Good. At Half Resolution Premium I was dropping one or two frames. While playing back and at Full Resolution Premium, I was dropping five or six frames —playing back at around 17 or 18fps. Playing back at Half Resolution Good is actually great playback quality for such a high-quality R3D with all the head room you get when coloring a raw camera file and not a transcode. This is also when the fans inside the ZBook really kicked in. I then exported a ProRes4444 version of the same R3D clip from RedCine-X Pro with the LUT info from the camera baked in. I played the clip back in Resolve with a light color treatment and one power window with no frames dropped. When playing back the ProRes4444 file the fans stayed at a low pitch.

The second test was a simple DNxHD 10-bit export from the raw R3D. I used the DNxHD 175x codec — it took about 29 seconds, which was a little less than double realtime. I then added spatial noise reduction on my first node using the following settings: Mode: Better, Radius: Medium, Spatial Threshold (luma/chroma locked): 25. I was able to playback the timeline at around 5fps and exported the same DNxHD 175x file, but it took about 1 minute 27 seconds, about six times realtime. Doing the same DNxHD 175x export test with the ProRes4444 file, it took about 12 seconds without noise reduction and with the noise reduction about 1 minute and 16 seconds — about 4.5 times realtime. In both cases when using Noise Reduction, the fans kicked on.

Lastly, I wanted to see how Resolve would handle a simple one minute, 1080p, ProRes QuickTime in various tests. I don’t think it’s a big surprise but it played back without dropping any frames with one node of color correction, one power window and as a parallel node with a qualifier. When adding spatial noise reduction I started to get bogged down to about 6fps. The same DNxHD 175x export took about 27 seconds or a little less than half realtime. With the same spatial noise reduction as above it took about 4 minutes and 21 seconds, about 4.3 times realtime.

Summing Up
The HP ZBook Studio G4 is a lightweight and durable enterprise-level mobile workstation that packs the punch of a color-critical 4K (UHD — 3840×2160) DreamColor display, powered by an Nvidia Quadro M1200, and brought together by an Intel Xeon processor that will easily power many color, editing or other multimedia jobs. With HP’s MIL-810G certification, you have peace of mind that even with some bumps, bruises and extreme weather your workstation will work. At under 5lbs and 18mm thin with a battery that will charge 50% in 30 minutes, you can bring your professional apps like DaVinci Resolve, Adobe Premiere and Avid Media Composer anywhere and be working.

I was able to use the ZBook along with some of my Tangent Element color correction panels in a backpack and have an instant color critical DIT solution without the need for a huge cart — all capable of color correction and transcoding. The structural design of the ZBook is an incredibly sturdy, machined aluminum chassis that is lightweight enough to easily go anywhere quickly. The only criticisms are I would often miss the left click of the trackpad leaving me in a right-click scenario, the Bang & Olufsen speakers sound a little tin-like to me and, finally, it doesn’t have a touch bar… just kidding.


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.


Configuring an iMac Pro for video editing

By Larry Jordan

Ever since Apple released the iMac Pro, my inbox has been clogged with people asking advice on how to configure their system. This article is designed to help you make more informed decisions when you don’t have an unlimited budget. Also, while the iMac Pro is designed for many different markets, I’m focusing here on digital media.

If money is no object, buy the top of the line. It will be blindingly fast, it will work great and you’ll have enormous bragging rights. But… if money IS an object, then you need to make trade-offs, balancing the performance you need with the money you have. The good news is that you don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line to get a system today that can meet your editing needs for the next several years.

Some background
When Apple rebuilt Final Cut to create FCP X, they focused on upgrading its underlying architecture to take advantage of coming advances in hardware. This includes an all-64-bit architecture, optimization for core technologies including Metal, tight integration with both CPU and GPU and the ability to take advantage of faster I/O — both to the processors and storage.

There are no optimizations in Final Cut, Motion or Compressor that focus specifically on the iMac Pro. Instead, Apple’s media apps take advantage of whatever technology or performance benefits are provided in the hardware. In other words, there are no new features in FCP X that appear if it is running on an iMac Pro. What does appear is faster performance.

This is from the Apple website, comparing the iMac Pro to the fastest Quad core iMac:

“The iMac Pro takes Mac performance to a new level, even when compared to our fastest quad-core iMac.”

  • Photographers can work with enormous files and perform image processing up to 4.1 times faster.
  • Music producers can export massive multi-track projects up to 4.6 times faster and use up to 12.4 times as many real-time plug-ins.
  • Video editors can edit up to eight streams of 4K video, or edit 4.5K RED RAW video and 8K ProRes 4444 at full resolution in realtime without rendering. The iMac Pro can also export HEVC video three times faster.

Keep in mind that Apple reports these performance numbers are based on: “Testing conducted by Apple in November 2017 using pre-production 2.3GHz 18-core Intel Xeon W-based 27-inch iMac Pro systems with 128GB of RAM and pre-production 3.0GHz 10-core Intel Xeon W-based 27-inch iMac Pro systems with 64GB of RAM, both configured with Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics with 16GB of HBM2.”

Do You Really Need an iMac Pro?
Well, “need” is a relative term. If you principally work with SD or HD material, an iMac will be perfectly fine. The performance benefits of the iMac Pro don’t justify the expense. If you are hobbyist, no, you don’t need an iMac Pro. You might “want” one, but you don’t “need” one.

However, if the bulk of your work involves 4K or greater frame sizes, 360-degree VR, RAW files, or HDR, the performance benefits of this new system make it worth considering, because the design of the iMac Pro significantly speeds working with larger frame sizes, faster frame rates, more effects and more processor-intensive codecs (such as HEVC).

With that being said, let’s take a look at the specific components to see which ones make the most sense for video editing.

Display
The iMac Pro uses the same display technology as the 5K iMac. So everything you see on a current iMac looks the same on the iMac Pro:

– 5K display
– One billion colors
– P3 wide color gamut
– 500 nits

But, while the display of the iMac Pro is the same as an iMac, the display capability of the iMac Pro is greater:
– It can drive two other 5K displays or up to four other 4K displays.
– It has enhanced external connectivity and more Thunderbolt 3 ports (so you still have Thunderbolt ports left over for other accessories after connecting a display).

CPU
Before the shouting starts, let me say again that if money is no object, buy the top-of-the-line iMac Pro. However, for most of the editing that most of us are doing, we don’t need to buy the top-of-the-line system to get significantly improved editing performance.

The 8-core system is fine for most editing and compression. For example, H.264 compression takes advantage of a hardware encoder that is built into all current Macs. This hardware encoder is independent of CPU cores. However, there are benefits to more cores, especially when decoding and encoding heavily threaded codecs like ProRes or HEVC. Also, the 10-core system offers a higher Turbo Boost speed of 4.5GHz versus 4.2GHz for the 8-core CPU. This additional speed benefits rendering and exporting.

The 14- and 18-core systems are designed for applications other than video editing. I would invest my money elsewhere in the system because video editors will see greater benefits in upgrading RAM and GPU when using Final Cut Pro on an iMac Pro.

An exception to staying within a 10-core system is that editors using Red Raw media or working with multiple streams of ProRes — for example, multicam work — will see improved performance with higher-core systems.

I recommend 8 cores for general editing and 10 cores for multicam editing and RAW video workflows.

Performance vs. Heat 
One of the issues I’ve heard about the current Mac Pro is that it has a problem with heat under heavy load. What I discovered is that, even more than the Mac Pro, the iMac Pro internals are designed specifically to dissipate heat under heavy load.

Outside, the iMac Pro is millimeter for millimeter the same size and shape as a standard 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K display; outside of the space gray color and a few extra vents on the back. But, on the inside, it’s radically different.

One of the key things Apple was able to do is make the system all flash-based; 3GB/s of fast SSD is pretty darn fast! Switching to all flash allowed Apple to remove the 3.5” hard drive and use that large space for a dual blower design and a massive heatsink and heat pipe architecture.

This delivers 75% more airflow and 80% more thermal capacity, enabling far more CPU and GPU power in the box over a traditional iMac. It is also worth noting that it does all this while still being super quiet (it is an iMac, after all), letting you focus on your work.

GPUs
In general, cutting video tends to use more of the CPU while effects and graphics tend to rely more heavily on the GPU. Increasingly, both FCP X and Premiere rely on the GPU for more and more tasks. Also, the greater the VRAM, the better the GPU performance. Whether you use Motion, After Effects, Premiere or Final Cut, investing in the best GPU will be a wise choice.

While VRAM is important, it is not the only determinant of a superior graphics card. For example, the Vega 64 is significantly faster in addition to the larger amount of VRAM. Also, more VRAM offers benefits when working with large frame sizes, multiple video streams (i.e. multicam), multiple displays and complex motion graphics.

RAM
The 32GB default RAM is fine for virtually all editing. If, on the other hand, you run multiple applications at once — say FCP X, Motion, Compressor, Photoshop and a web browser — 64GB of RAM is better.

While there is value in more RAM beyond 6GB, you won’t get enough bang for your buck to justify the additional cost.

Storage
The iMac Pro ships with a 1TB SSD. I haven’t measured it, but it is probably way past blindingly fast. (Apple says 3GB/second!) The problem is that most media projects today far exceed 1TB in storage. You will need an external high-speed, Thunderbolt 3 RAID system for even medium-sized projects.

Video Compression
Unlike video editing, video compression has its own requirements for system resources. While this is worth its own article here are some thoughts.

Both H.264 and HEVC are relatively highly compressed formats. This compression, of course, leads to smaller file sizes, but the resulting compression requires more processing power. With H.264 and HEVC, decoding and most encoding actions are processed via dedicated H.264 hardware within the system.

A select set of custom H.264 encodes in Compressor may use the H.264 software encoder, which is threaded across multiple cores. So while ProRes encoding benefits from faster, higher-core CPUs, H.264 and HEVC are not similarly CPU bound. Also, it’s important to note that video compression often includes other operations including retiming, scaling, and color conversion — all of which use the GPU.

If you are interested in HDR, 8-bit HEVC does, in fact, support HDR. Still, 10-bit encoding is recommended for the highest quality HDR output when using the HEVC codec. The reason this is important is that current Macs only support hardware acceleration of 8-bit HEVC. This makes the iMac Pro about 3x faster in HEVC encoding than an iMac.

For 10-bit encoding, the HEVC software codec is threaded and can therefore take advantage of multiple CPU cores when encoding; more cores means faster video encoding.

Wait, What About the Mac Pro?
First, Apple has announced and reiterated that they are working on a new, modular Mac Pro. However, they haven’t announced specs nor a release date.

The current Mac Pro is getting long in the tooth. In terms of performance, the iMac Pro is a better choice.

That being said, there are still two reasons to consider the existing Mac Pro:
– You can add any monitor you want
– Many of the components inside are upgradeable

For me, while these benefits are not trivial, the hardware inside the system has not be upgraded in several years. If you are focused on video editing, the existing Mac Pro is not the best current choice.

Summary
Here are my two recommendations for an iMac Pro for video editing: A budget version and a top-of-the-line version for editors. (The mouse and keyboard come standard, so I make no recommendations about either of these.)

Budget Version:


Top of the Line

Here are two other configuration articles you may find useful:


Larry Jordan is a trainer, writer, editor, producer and director who’s been explaining technology since, well, forever.This article first appeared in his website: LarryJordan.com


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.

 


First Impressions: Apple’s new iMac Pro

This London-based video editor gives it a ride

By Thomas Carter

Over the last few days I’ve had the chance to play with the new iMac Pro from Apple. I’m a professional editor at Trim Editing in London, where I cut high-end commercials, music videos and films. I was really excited to see how this new machine, and the upcoming version of Final Cut Pro X (10.4) NLE, could benefit us here and what sorts of things it might be able to achieve.

The Design
This thing looks like an iMac, no doubt about it. It’s the same all-in-one form factor we’ve become accustomed to, but in space grey. I love this design, and I’m a sucker for anything that nears a matte black finish. It’s pretty incredible to have a machine this powerful essentially living inside a display, and it looks great in the edit suite, especially as it comes paired with a space grey keyboard, mouse and trackpad.

Space grey aside, the only external tweaks are around the back — there are four USB 3 ports, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, a 10GB Ethernet port and large “Vader-like” vents to help cool the eager internals. While those Thunderbolt ports can support two additional 5K displays, what I’m most excited about here is the 10GB Ethernet port. We can now directly attach our LumaForge Jellyfish shared storage without the need for Thunderbolt conversion.

One last point, because I know I’d be asking this question. Can you buy the keyboard, mouse and trackpad separately? Sadly, apparently you cannot. But if you can somehow justify spending $4,999 on a space grey keyboard, mouse and trackpad, at least you’ll get a free iMac Pro!

The Performance
As I said, I’ve only had my hands on the machine for a couple of days, so I haven’t had the chance to run a full-blown editing job through it yet. But it’s abundantly clear to me that this thing is a beast. It’s by far the fastest Mac I’ve ever used, and according to Apple the most powerful they’ve ever built.

Thermal cooling

The machine I had access to featured a 10-core 3GHz processor, 128GB memory, 2TB SSD and Radeon Pro Vega 64 graphics with 16GB memory. The internal SSD is ridiculously fast. When I tested the speed I got 3021MB/s write and 2465MB/s read. And for anyone who knows what it means (not me) the GeekBench 4 score on the processors was 37003.

But let’s forget the paper specs for a moment. Here are a few real-world editing tests I ran:

A feature film has been cutting here at Trim over the past few months, so I took the opportunity to hijack the project to see what the export speeds were like. A ProRes HD file took 2 minutes 34 seconds, which is pretty great for a 90-minute timeline. But compressed H.264s are far more common for me as an editor when dealing with upload and review of my cuts. My biggest frustration with all previous Mac Pro machines was that their H.264 export speeds always seemed terrible. This is due to the fact that “workstation-class chips” don’t have the hardware-acceleration necessary for these tasks. So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Apple seem to be bypassing these limitations somehow, and the iMac Pro is also delivering fast H.264 exports. I have no idea what they are doing behind the scenes to achieve this, but it works and will save me hours in encoding time.

Next I decided to push the resolution right up and see how it might handle a ludicrous 8K timeline with footage shot on the Panavision Millennium DXL. With 8K ProRes 4:4:4:4 files, the iMac Pro played the sequence back perfectly. Even after adding a couple of color corrections and a blur to the clips it still didn’t drop a frame. I should add that this was playing back at better quality and without rendering. I’ll repeat that once more. 8K. Color correction. Blur. No Rendering. No “1/4 quality” BS. No frames dropped.

Yes, 8K is an impressive number, but I was also interested to see how it might handle a less friendly codec like R3D, a notoriously heavy codec for computers to decode/debayer and playback at full quality. The maximum I managed to test here was 5K Red RAW footage in a 5K timeline. Again, best quality and unrendered. Adding color correction, resizes and titles didn’t cause the machine to drop frames. The sequence played through smoothly, which is nuts.

Trim Editing

While this last test is really impressive, there aren’t many real-world jobs where I’ll be storing an entire film shoot of Red RAW rushes on my internal SSD. So I also checked how this played out on external storage. I’m happy to report that loading the same media onto our Jellyfish shared storage and accessing it over direct-attached 10Gb Ethernet gave me the same results.

These tests really blew me away. They aren’t necessarily going to be everyday scenarios for most people, or even me, but they make it possible to imagine editing workflows in which you’re working at close to the highest quality possible throughout the entire process… on a desktop computer. A space grey one. It’s going to be really interesting to see how the rest of the company reacts to this computer moving forward. While we mainly deal in offline workflows, we have begun to look at possibly taking on more conforming, online, grading work in-house. It’s not hard to conceive that the iMac Pro could be the tool to bring all these elements together for us in a streamlined way.

The Bottom Line
While I really haven’t had enough time to do a deep dive, it’s clearly the best Mac I’ve ever used — it’s stupidly powerful and great to work on.

Thomas Grove Carter

But who is it actually for? Clearly not everyone. It’s quite obviously a pro machine and it comes with a price tag to fit — $4,999. If you’re a pro user who needs a Pro Mac, it’s probably for you (and you can get your hands on one starting December 14). If you’re already an iMac user but you need more power, it’s probably for you too. If I had to make a wildly uninformed guess, I’d say this will be more than enough computer for 90% of pros.

There will still understandably be a number of places where this machine will not be enough, and I don’t mean it’s lacking in power — if you’re someone who needs rack-mountable, user-expandable hardware, this may not be for you.

For me, if an equally powerful Mac Pro existed, I’d still chose this iMac Pro over it, because I love the all-in-one compact design and the way it sits in my edit suite. I can’t wait to use the iMac Pro for genuine work and really put it through its paces. I’m excited and slightly dizzied by its power, and the potential that power has for delivering amazing work.

Also, did I mention that it’s space grey…


Thomas Grove Carter is an editor at Trim Editing in London, where they cut commercials, music videos and films. Follow him on Twitter @thomasgcarter.


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.

 

 

Sonnet’s portable eGPU accelerates computer graphics

Sonnet has introduced a Thunderbolt-connected external GPU (eGPU) device called the eGFX Breakaway Puck, which is a portable, high-performance, all-in-one eGPU for Thunderbolt 3 computers. The Puck offers accelerated graphics and provides multi-display connectivity thanks to AMD’s Eyefinity technology. Users employing a Puck will experience boosted GPU acceleration when using professional video apps.

Sonnet is offering two Puck models: the eGFX Breakaway Puck Radeon RX 560 and eGFX Breakaway Puck Radeon RX 570. Each Puck model is 6 inches wide by 5.1 inches deep by 2 inches tall. Both feature one Thunderbolt 3 port, three DisplayPorts and one HDMI port to support up to four 4K displays in multi-monitor mode.

The Puck connects to a computer with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable and provides up to 45W of power to charge the computer. On the desktop, the Puck has a minimal footprint. With an optional VESA mounting bracket kit, the Puck can be attached to the back of a display or the arm of a multi-monitor stand, leaving a zero footprint on the desktop. The kit also includes a 0.5-meter cable to help reduce cable clutter.

The eGFX Breakaway Puck Radeon RX 560 sells for $449., and the eGFX Breakaway Puck Radeon RX 570 costs $599. The optional PuckCuff VESA Mounting Bracket Kit has an MSRP of $59. All models are immediately available.