Category Archives: Workstations

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 Boxx also removed unused, outdated technology (like optical drive bays) in order to maximize productive space.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.

 

Dell 6.15

Review: Boxx’s Apexx 4 7404 workstation

By Brady Betzel

The professional workstation market has been blown open recently with companies like HP, Apple, Dell, Lenovo and others building systems containing i3/i5/i7/i9 and Xeon processors, and  AMD’s recent re-inauguration into the professional workstation market with their Ryzen line of processors.

There are more options than ever, and that’s a great thing for working pros, but for this review, I’m going to take a look at Boxx Technologies Apexx 4 7404, which the company sent me to run through its paces over a few months, and it blew me away.

The tech specs of the Apexx 4 7404 are:
– Processor: Intel i7-6950X CPU (10 cores/20 threads)
– One core is overclocked to 4.3GHz while the remaining nine cores can run at 4.1GHz
– Memory: 64GB DDR4 2400MHz
– GPUs: Nvidia Quadro P5000 (2560 CUDA cores, 16GB GDDR5X)
– Storage drive: NVMe Samsung SSD 960 (960GB)
– Operating system drive: NVMe Intel SSDPEDMW400 (375GB)
– Motherboard: ASUS X99-E WS/USB3.1

On the front of the workstation, you get two USB 3.0, two USB 2.0, audio out/mic in, and on the rear of the 7404 there are eight USB 3.0, two USB 3.1, two Gigabit Ethernet, audio out/mic in, line in, one S/PDIF out and two eSATA. Depending on the video card(s) you choose, you will have some more fun options.

This system came with a DVD-RW drive, which is a little funny these days but I suppose still necessary for some people. If you need more parts or drives there is plenty of room for all that you could ever want, both inside and out. While these are just a few of the specs, they really are the most important, in my opinion. If you purchase from Boxx all of these can be customized. Check out all of the different Boxx Apexx 4 flavors here.

Specs
Right off the bat you will notice the Intel i7-6950X CPU, which is a monster of a processor and retails for around $1,500, just by itself. With its hefty price tag, this Intel i7 lends itself to niche use cases like multimedia processing. Luckily for me (and you), that is exactly what I do. One of the key differences between a system like the Boxx workstation and ones from companies like HP is that Boxx takes advantage of the X or K series Intel processors and overclocks them, getting the most from your processors all while still being backed by Boxx’s three-year warranty. The 7404 has one core overclocked to 4.3GHz which can sometimes provide a speed increase for apps that don’t use multiple cores. While this isn’t a lot of cases it doesn’t hurt to have that extra boost.

The Apexx 4 case is slender (at 6.85-inches wide) and quiet. Boxx embraces liquid cooling systems to keep your enterprise-class components made by companies like Samsung, Intel, etc. running smoothly. Boxx systems are built and fabricated in Texas from aircraft grade aluminum parts and steel strengthening components.

When building your own system you might pick a case because the price is right or it is all that is available for your components (or that is what pcpartpicker.com tells you that is what fits). This can mean giving up build quality and potentially bad airflow. Boxx knows this and has gone beyond just purchasing other companies cases — they forge their own workstation case masterpieces.

Boxx’s support is based in Austin – no outsourcing — and their staff knows the apps we use such as Autodesk, Adobe and others.

Through Its Paces
I tested the Apexx 4 7404 using Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Media Encoder since they are really the Swiss Army knives of the multimedia content creation world. I edited together a 10-minute UHD (3840×2160) sequence using an XAVC MP4 I shot using a Sony a6300. I did a little color correction with the Lumetri Color tools, scaled the image up to 110% and exported the file through Media Encoder. I exported it as a 10-bit DNxHQX, UHD, QuickTime MOV.

It took seven minutes and 40 seconds to export to the OS drive (Intel) and about six minutes and 50 seconds to go to the internal storage drive (Samsung). Once I hit export I finally got the engines to rev up inside of the Boxx, the GPU fans seemed to kick on a little; they weren’t loud but you could hear a light breeze start up. On my way out of Premiere I exported an XML to give me a headstart in Resolve for my next test.

My next test was to import my Premiere XML into Blackmagic’s Resolve 14 Studio and export with essentially the same edits, reproduce the color correction, and apply the same scaling. It took a few minutes to get Resolve 14 up and running, but after doing a few uninstalls, installing Resolve 12.5.6 and updating my Nvidia drivers, Resolve 14 was up and running. While this isn’t a Boxx problem, I did encounter this during my testing so I figured someone might run into the same issue, so I wanted to mention it.

I then imported my XML, applied a little color correction, and double checked that my 110% scaling came over in the XML (which it did), and exported using the same DNxHQX settings that I used in Premiere. Exporting from Resolve 14 to the OS drive took about six minutes and 15 seconds, running at about 41 frames per second. When exporting to the internal storage drive it took about six minutes and 11 seconds, running between 40-42 frames per second. For those keeping track of testing details, I did not cache any of the QuickTimes and turned Performance Mode off for these tests (in case Blackmagic had any sneaky things going on in that setting).

After this, I went a little further and exported the same sequence with some Spatial Noise Reduction set across the entire 10-minute timeline using these settings: Mode: Better; Radius: Medium; Spatial Threshold: 15 on both Luma and Chroma; and Blend: 0. It ran at about nine frames per second and took about 25 minutes and 25 seconds to export.

Testing
Finally, I ran a few tests to get some geeky nerd specs that you can compare to other users’ experiences to see where this Boxx Apexx 4 7404 stands. Up first was the AJA System Test, which tests read and write speeds to designated disks. In addition, you can specify different codecs and file sizes to base this test off of. I told the AJA System Test to run its test using the 10-bit Avid DNxHQX codec, 16GB file size and UHD frame size (3860×2140). I ran it a few times, but the average was around 2100/2680 MB/sec write and read to the OS drive and 1000/1890 MB/sec write and read to the storage drive.

To get a sense of how this system would hold up to a 3D modeling test, I ran the classic Cinebench R15 app. OpenGL was 215.34 frames per second with 99.6% ref. match, CPU scored 2121cb and CPU (single core) cored 181cb with MP Ratio of 11.73x. What the test really showed me when I Googled Cinebench scores to compare mine to was that the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 was in the top of the heap for all categories. Specifically, within the top 20 for overall render speed being beaten only by systems with more cores and placed in the top 15 for single core speed — the OpenGL fps is pretty incredible at over 215fps.

Summing Up
In the end, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 custom-built workstation is an incredible powerhouse for any multimedia workflow. From rendering to exporting to transcoding, the Boxx Apexx 4 7404 with dual Nvidia Quadro P5000s will chew through anything you throw at it.

But with this power comes a big price: the 7404 series starts at $7,246! The price of the one I tested lands much higher north though, more like just under $14,000 — those pesky Quadros bump the price up quite a bit. But if rendering, color correcting, editing and/or transcoding is your business, Boxx will make sure you are up and running and chewing through every gigabyte of video and 3D modeling you can run through it.

If you have any problems and are not up and running, their support will get you going as fast as possible. If you need parts replaced they will get that to you fast. Boxx’s three-year warranty, which is included with your purchase, includes getting next day on-site repair for the first year but this is a paid upgrade if you want it to continue for years two and three of your warranty. But don’t worry. If you don’t upgrade your warranty you still have two years of great support.

In my opinion, you should really plan for the extended on-site repair upgrade for all three years of your warranty — you will save time, which will make you more money. If you can afford a custom-built Boxx system, you will get a powerhouse workstation that makes working in apps like Premiere and Resolve 14 snappy and fluid.


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.


Boxx intros 16-core workstation supporting multi-threaded apps

The new, configurable Apexx 4 6301 workstation from Boxx features the new 16-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper processor, which provides support for multi-threaded apps like Autodesk’s 3ds Max and Maya, Adobe’s CC, Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, Maxon’s Cinema 4D and Chaos’ V-Ray.

Whether rendering complex 3D scenes, encoding or powering simulation and analysis, AMD’s Ryzen architecture allows Apexx 4 6301 users to simultaneously multitask without losing efficiency or performance.

The 16-core Ryzen Threadripper features 64 PCIe lanes, quad channel DDR4 memory and AMD simultaneous multithreading. The Ryzen Threadripper 1950X offers support for 32 processing threads. Apexx 4 6301 also includes up to three pro-grade AMD Radeon Pro WX series or Nvidia graphics cards, and up to 128GB of system memory.

The Apexx 4 6301 is available now with a starting price of $3,931.


Review: Lenovo’s ThinkPad P71 mobile workstation

By Mike McCarthy

Lenovo was nice enough to send me their newest VR-enabled mobile workstation to test out on a VR workflow project I am doing. The new ThinkPad P71 is a beast with a 17-inch UHD IPS screen. The model they sent to me was equipped with the fastest available processor, a Xeon E5-1535M v6 with four cores processing eight threads at an official speed of 3.1GHz. It has 32GB of DDR4-2400 ECC RAM, with two more slots allowing that to be doubled to 64GB if desired.

The system’s headline feature is the Nvidia Quadro P5000 mobile GPU, with 2,048 CUDA cores, fed by another 16GB of dedicated DDR5 memory. The storage configuration is a single NVMe 1TB SSD populating one of two available M.2 slots. This configuration is currently available for $5,279, discounted to $4,223.20 on Lenovo.com right now. So while it is not cheap, it is one of the most powerful mobile workstations you can buy right now.

Connectivity wise, it has dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, which can also be used for USB 3.1 Type C devices. It has four more USB 3.1 Type A ports and a Gigabit Ethernet port. You have a number of options for display connectivity. Besides the Thunderbolt ports, there is a MiniDP 1.2 port and an HDMI 1.4 port (1.4 based on Intel graphics limitations). It has an SDXC slot, an ExpressCard34 slot, and a single 1/8-inch headphone mic combo jack. The system also has a docking connector and a rectangular port for the included 230W power adaptor.

It has the look and feel of a traditional ThinkPad, which goes back to the days when they were made by IBM. It has the customary TrackPoint as well as a touchpad. Both have three mouse buttons, which I like in theory, but I constantly find myself trying to click with the center button to no avail. I would either have to get used to it, or set the center action to click as well, defeating the purpose of the third button. The Fn key in the bottom corner will take some getting used to as well, as I keep hitting that instead of CTRL, but I adapted to a similar configuration on my current laptop.

I didn’t like the combo jack at first, because it required a cheap adapter, but now that I have gotten one, I see why that is the future, once all the peripherals support it. I had plugged my mic and headphones in backwards as recently as last week, so it is an issue when the ports aren’t clearly labeled and the combo jack solves that once and for all. It is a similar jack to most cell phones, and you only need an adapter for the mic functionality, regular headphones work by default.

The system doesn’t weigh as much as I expected, probably due to the lack of spinning disks or optical drive, which can be added if desired. It came relatively clean, with Windows 10 Pro installed, without too many other applications or utilities pre-installed. It had all of the needed drivers and a simple utility for operating the integrated X-Rite Pantone color calibrator for the screen. There was a utility for adding any other applications that would normally be included, which I used to download the Lenovo Performance Tuner. I use the Performance Tuner more for monitoring usage than adjusting settings, but can be nice to have everything in one place, especially in Windows 10.

The system boots up in about 10 seconds, and shuts down even faster. Hibernating takes twice as long, which is to be expected with that much RAM to be cached to disk, even with an NVMe SSD. But that may be worth the extra time to keep your applications open. My initial tests of the SSD showed a 1700MB/s write speed with 2500MB/s reads. Longer endurance tests resulted in write speeds decreasing to 1200MB/s, but the read speeds remained consistently above 2500MB/s. That should be more than enough throughput for most media work, even allowing me to playback uncompressed 6K content, and should allow 4K uncompressed media capture if you connect an I/O device to the Thunderbolt bus.

The main application I use on a daily basis is Adobe Premiere Pro, so most of my performance evaluation revolves around that program, although I used a few others as well. I was able to load a full feature film off of a USB3 drive with no issues. The 6K Cineform and DNxHR media played back at ½ res without issue. The 6K R3D files played at ¼ res without dropping frames, which is comparable to my big tower.

My next playback test was fairly unique to my workflow, but a good benchmark of what is possible. I was able to connect three 1080p televisions to the MiniDP port, using an MST (Multi-Stream Transport) hub, with three HDMI ports. Using the Nvidia Mosaic functionality offered by the Quadro P5000 card, I can span them into a single display, which Premiere can send output to, via the Adobe’s Mercury Playback engine. This configuration allows me to playback 6K DNxHR 444 files to all three screens, directly off the timeline, at half res, without dropping frames. My 6K H.265 files playback at full res outside Premiere. That is a pretty impressive display for a laptop. Once I had maxed out the possibilities for playback, I measured a few encodes. In general, the P71 takes about twice as long to encode things in Adobe Media Encoder as my 20-core desktop workstation, but is twice as fast as my existing quad Core i7 4860 laptop.

The other application I have been taxing my system with recently is DCP-O-Matic. It takes 30 hours to render my current movie to a 4K DCP on my desktop, which is 18x the runtime, but I know most of my system’s 20 cores are sitting idle based on the software threading. Doing a similar encode on the Lenovo system took 12.5x the run time, so that means my 100-minute film should take 21 hours. The higher base frequency of the quad core CPU definitely makes a difference in this instance.

The next step was to try my HMD headset with it to test out the VR capability. My Oculus Rift installed without issues, which is saying something, based on the peculiarities of Oculus’ software. Maybe there is something to that “VR-ready” program, but I did frequently have issues booting up the system with the Rift connected, so I recommend plugging it in after you have your system up and running. Everything VR-related ran great, except for the one thing I actually wanted to do, which was edit 360 video in Premiere, with the HMD. There was some incompatibility between the drivers for the laptop and the software. (Update: Setting the graphics system to Discrete instead of Hybrid in the BIOS solves this problem. This solution works with both PPro11’s Skybox Player, and PPro12’s new SteamVR based approach.)

There are a variety of ways to test battery life, but since this is a VR-ready system that seemed to be the best approach. How long would it support using a VR headset before needing to plug in? I got just short of an hour of heavy 3D VR usage before I started getting low battery warnings. I was hoping to be able to close the display to save power, since I am not looking at it while using the headset. (I usually set the Close Lid action to Do Nothing on all my systems because I want to be able to walk into the other room to show someone something on my timeline without effecting the application. If I want to sleep the system, I can press the button.) But whenever the Rift is active, closing the lid puts the machine to sleep immediately, regardless of the settings. So you have to run the display and the HMD anytime you are working in VR. And don’t plan on doing extensive work without plugging in.

Now to be fair, setting up to use VR involves preparing the environment and configuring sensors, so adding power to that mix is a reasonable requirement and very similar to 3D gaming. Portable doesn’t always mean untethered. But for browsing the Internet, downloading project files and editing articles, I would expect about four hours of battery life from the system before needing to recharge. It is really hard to accurately estimate run time when the system’s performance and power needs scale so much depending on the user’s activities. The GPU alone scales from 5 watts to 100 watts depending on what is being processed, but the run time is not out of line with what is to be expected from products in this class of performance.

Summing Up
All in all, the P71 is an impressive piece of equipment, and one of only a few ways you can currently get a portable professional VR solution. I recognize that most of my applications aren’t using all of the power I would be carrying around in a P71, so for my own work, I would probably hope to find a smaller and lighter-weight system at the expense of some of that processing power. But for people who have uncompromising needs for the fastest system they can possibly get, the Lenovo P71 fits the bill. It is a solid performer that can do an impressive amount of processing, while still being able to come with you wherever you need to go.


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


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.


Dell intros new Precision workstations, Dell Canvas and more

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of Dell Precision workstations, Dell announced additions to its Dell Precision fixed workstation portfolio, a special anniversary edition of its Dell Precision 5520 mobile workstation and the official availability of Dell Canvas, the new workspace device for digital creation.

Dell is showcasing its next-generation, fixed workstations at SIGGRAPH, including the Dell Precision 5820 Tower, Precision 7820 Tower, Precision 7920 Tower and Precision 7920 Rack, completely redesigned inside and out.

The three new Dell Precision towers combine a brand-new flexible chassis with the latest Intel Xeon processors, next-generation Radeon Pro graphics and highest-performing Nvidia Quadro professional graphics cards. Certified for professional software applications, the new towers are configured to complete the most complex projects, including virtual reality. Dell’s Reliable Memory Technology (RMT) Pro ensures memory challenges don’t kill your workflow, and Dell Precision Optimizer (DPO) tailors performance for your unique hardware and software combination.

The fully-customizable configuration options deliver the flexibility to tackle virtually any workload, including:

  • AI: The latest Intel Xeon processors are an excellent choice for artificial intelligence (AI), with agile performance across a variety of workloads, including machine learning (ML) and deep learning (DL) inference and training. If you’re just starting AI workloads, the new Dell Precision tower workstations allow you to use software optimized to your existing Intel infrastructure.
  • VR: The Nvidia Quadro GP100 powers the development and deployment of cognitive technologies like DL and ML applications. Additional Nvidia Pascal GPU options like HBM2 memory, and NVLink technologies allow professional users to create complex designs in computer-aided engineering (CAE) and experience life-like VR environments.
  • Editing and playback: Radeon Pro SSG Graphics with HBM2 memory and 2TB of SSD onboard allows real-time 8K video editing and playback, high-performance computing of massive datasets, and rendering of large projects.

The Dell Precision 7920 Rack is ideal for secure, remote workers and delivers the same power and scalability as the highest-performing tower workstation in a 2U form factor.  The Dell Precision 5820, 7820, 7920 towers and 7920 Rack will be available for order beginning October 3.

“Looking back at 20 years of Dell Precision workstations, you get a sense of how the capabilities of our workstations, combined with certified and optimized software and the creativity of our awesome customers, have achieved incredible things,” said Rahul Tikoo, vice president and general manager for Dell Precision workstations. “As great as those achievements are, this new lineup of Dell Precision workstations enables our customers to be ready for the next big technology revolution that is challenging business models and disrupting industries.”

Dell Canvas

Dell has also announced its highly-anticipated Dell Canvas, available now. Dell Canvas is a new workspace designed to make digital creative more natural. It features a 27” QHD touch screen that sits horizontally on your desk and can be powered by your current PC ecosystem and the latest Windows 10 Creator’s Update. Additionally, a digital pen provides precise tactile accuracy and the totem offers diverse menu and shortcut interaction.

For the 20th anniversary of Dell Precision, Dell is introducing a limited-edition anniversary model of its award-winning mobile workstation, the Dell Precision 5520. The Dell Precision 5520 Anniversary Edition is Dell’s thinnest, lightest, and smallest mobile workstation, available for a limited time, in hard-anodized aluminum, with a brushed metallic finish in a brand-new Abyss color with anti-finger print coating. The device is available now with two high-end configuration options.


Choosing the right workstation set-up for the job

By Lance Holte

Like virtually everything in the world of filmmaking, the number of available options for a perfect editorial workstation are almost infinite. The vast majority of systems can be greatly customized and expanded, whether by custom order, upgraded internal hardware or with expansion chassis and I/O boxes. In a time when many workstations are purchased, leased or upgraded for a specific project, the workstation buying process is largely determined by the project’s workflow and budget.

One of Harbor Picture Company’s online rooms.

In my experience, no two projects have identical workflows. Even if two projects are very similar, there are usually some slight differences — a different editor, a new camera, a shorter schedule, bigger storage requirements… the list goes on and on. The first step for choosing the optimal workstation(s) for a project is to ask a handful of broad questions that are good starters for workflow design. I generally start by requesting the delivery requirements, since they are a good indicator of the size and scope of the project.

Then I move on to questions like:

What are the camera/footage formats?
How long is the post production schedule?
Who is the editorial staff?

Often there aren’t concrete answers to these questions at the beginning of a project, but even rough answers point the way to follow-up questions. For instance, Q: What are the video delivery requirements? A: It’s a commercial campaign — HD and SD ProRes 4444 QTs.

Simple enough. Next question.

Christopher Lam from SF’s Double Fine Productions/ Courtesy of Wacom.

Q: What is the camera format? A: Red Weapon 6K, because the director wants to be able to do optical effects and stabilize most of the shots. This answer makes it very clear that we’re going to be editing offline, since the commercial budget doesn’t allow for the purchase of a blazing system with a huge, fast storage array.

Q: What is the post schedule? A: Eight weeks. Great. This should allow enough time to transcode ProRes proxies for all the media, followed by offline and online editorial.

At this point, it’s looking like there’s no need for an insanely powerful workstation, and the schedule looks like we’ll only need one editor and an assistant. Q: Who is the editorial staff? A: The editor is an Adobe Premiere guy, and the ad agency wants to spend a ton of time in the bay with him. Now, we know that agency folks really hate technical slowdowns that can sometimes occur with equipment that is pushing the envelope, so this workstation just needs to be something that’s simple and reliable. Macs make agency guys comfortable, so let’s go with a Mac Pro for the editor. If possible, I prefer to connect the client monitor directly via HDMI, since there are no delay issues that can sometimes be caused by HDMI to SDI converters. Of course, since that will use up the Mac Pro’s single HDMI port, the desktop monitors and the audio I/O box will use up two or three Thunderbolt ports. If the assistant editor doesn’t need such a powerful system, a high-end iMac could suffice.

(And for those who don’t mind waiting until the new iMac Pro ships in December, Apple’s latest release of the all-in-one workstation seems to signal a committed return for the company to the professional creative world – and is an encouraging sign for the Mac Pro overhaul in 2018. The iMac Pro addresses its non-upgradability by futureproofing itself as the most powerful all-in-one machine ever released. The base model starts at a hefty $4,999, but boasts options for up to a 5K display, 18-core Xeon processor, 128GB of RAM, and AMD Radeon Vega GPU. As more and more applications add OpenCL acceleration (AMD GPUs), the iMac Pro should stay relevant for a number of years.)

Now, our workflow would be very different if the answer to the first question had instead been A: It’s a feature film. Technicolor will handle the final delivery, but we still want to be able to make in-house 4K DCPs for screenings, EXR and DPX sequences for the VFX vendors, Blu-ray screeners, as well as review files and create all the high-res deliverables for mastering.

Since this project is a feature film, likely with a much larger editorial staff, the workflow might be better suited to editorial in Avid (to use project sharing/bin locking/collaborative editing). And since it turns out that Technicolor is grading the film in Blackmagic Resolve, it makes sense to online the film in Resolve and then pass the project over to Technicolor. Resolve will also cover any in-house temp grading and DCP creation and can handle virtually any video file.

PCs
For the sake of comparison, let’s build out some workstations on the PC side that will cover our editors, assistants, online editors, VFX editors and artists, and temp colorist. PC vs. Mac will likely be a hotly debated topic in this industry for some time, but there is no denying that a PC will return more cost-effective power at the expense of increased complexity (and potential for increased technical issues) than a Mac with similar specs. I also appreciate the longer lifespan of machines with easy upgradability and expandability without requiring expansion chassis or external GPU enclosures.

I’ve had excellent success with the HP Z line — using z840s for serious finishing machines and z440s and z640s for offline editorial workstations. There are almost unlimited options for desktop PCs, but only certain workstations and components are certified for various post applications, so it pays to do certification research when building a workstation from the ground up.

The Molecule‘s artist row in NYC.

It’s also important to keep the workstation components balanced. A system is only as strong as its weakest link, so a workstation with an insanely powerful GPU, but only a handful of CPU cores will be outperformed by a workstation with 16-20 cores and a moderately high-end GPU. Make sure the CPU, GPU, and RAM are similarly matched to get the best bang for your buck and a more stable workstation.

Relationships!
Finally, in terms of getting the best bang for your buck, there’s one trick that reigns supreme: build great relationships with hardware companies and vendors. Hardware companies are always looking for quality input, advice and real-world testing. They are often willing to lend (or give) new equipment in exchange for case studies, reviews, workflow demonstrations and press. Creating relationships is not only a great way to stay up to date with cutting edge equipment, it expands support options, your technical network and is the best opportunity to be directly involved with development. So go to trade shows, be active on forums, teach, write and generally be as involved as possible and your equipment will thank you.

Our Main Image Courtesy of editor/compositor Fred Ruckel.

 


Lance Holte is an LA-based post production supervisor and producer. He has spoken and taught at such events as NAB, SMPTE, SIGGRAPH and Createasphere. You can email him at lance@lanceholte.com.


Doing more with Thunderbolt 3

Streamlined speed on set or in the studio

By Beth Marchant

It was only six years ago that Thunderbolt, the high-speed data transfer and display port standard co-developed by Apple and Intel, first appeared in Apple’s MacBook Pros and iMacs. Since then, the blended PCI Express, DisplayPort and power plug cable has jolted its way toward ubiquity, giving computers and peripherals increased speed and functionality with every iteration.

Content creators were the first to discover its potential, and gamers quickly followed. Intel, which now owns the sole rights to the spec, announced in late May it would put Thunderbolt 3 into all of its future CPUs and release the spec to the industry in 2018. In a related blog post, Intel VP Chris Walker called Thunderbolt 3 “one of the most significant cable I/O updates since the advent of USB.” The company envisions not just a faster port, but “a simpler and more versatile port, available for everyone, coming to approximately 150 different PCs, Macs and peripherals by the end of this year,” said Walker.

So what can it do for you on set or in the studio? First, some thumbnail facts about what it does: with double the video bandwidth of Thunderbolt 2 and eight times faster than USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 3 clocks 40Gbps transfer speeds, twice as fast as the previous version. T3 also includes USB-C connectivity, which finally makes it usable with Windows-based workstations as well as with Macs. On top of those gains, a T3 port now lets you daisy-chain up to six devices and two 4K monitors — or one 5K monitor — to a laptop through a single connection. According to Intel’s Walker, “We envision a future where high-performance single-cable docks, stunning photos and 4K video, lifelike VR, and faster-than-ever storage are commonplace.” That’s an important piece of the puzzle for filmmakers who want their VR projects and 4K+ content to reach the widest possible audience.

The specification for Thunderbolt 3, first released in 2015, gave rise to a smattering of products in 2016, most importantly the MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt 3. At NAB this year, many more flexible RAID storage and improved T3 devices that connect directly to Mac and Windows computers joined their ranks. In June, Apple released iMacs with TB3.

For directors Jason and Josh Diamond, a.k.a. The Diamond Brothers, upgrading to new TB3-enabled laptops is their first priority. “When we look at the data we’re pushing around, be it 24 cameras from a VR shoot, or many TBs of 8K R3Ds from a Red Helium multicam shoot, one of the most important things in the end is data transfer speed. As we move into new computers, drives and peripherals, USB-C and TB3 finally have ubiquity across our Mac and PC systems that we either own or are looking to upgrade to. This makes for much easier integrations and less headaches as we design workflows and pathways for our projects,” says Jason Diamond, The Diamond Bros./Supersphere.

If you are also ready to upgrade, here are a sampling of recently released products that can add Thunderbolt 3 performance to your workflow.

CalDigit docking station

Clean Up the Clutter
CalDigit was one of the first to adopt the Thunderbolt interface when it came out in 2011, so it’s no surprise that the first shipment of the CalDigit Thunderbolt Station 3 (TS3) docking station introduced at NAB 2017 sold out quickly. The preorders taken at the show are expected to ship soon. TS3 is designed to be a streamlined, central charging hub for MacBook Pro, delivering 85W of laptop charging via USB 3.1 Type-A (plus audio in and out), along with two Thunderbolt ports, two eSATA ports, two USB 3.1 Type A ports, Gigabit Ethernet and a DisplayPort. DisplayPort lets users connect to a range of monitors with a DisplayPort to HDMI, DVI or VGA cable.

CalDigit also introduced the TS3 Lite, shipping now, which will work with any Thunderbolt 3 computer from PCs to iMacs or MacBook Pros and features two Thunderbolt 3 ports, Gigabit Ethernet, audio in and out, an AC power adapter and DisplayPort. It includes two USB 3.1 Type-A ports — one on the back and one on its face — that let you charge your iPhone even when the dock isn’t connected to your computer.

The Need for Speed
Like the other new T3 products on the market, LaCie‘s 6big and 12big Thunderbolt 3 RAID arrays feature both Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3.1 interfaces for Mac- or Windows-based connections.

LaCie 12Big

But as their names imply, the relatively compact “big” line ramps up to 120TB in the 12big desktop tower. The hardware RAID controller and 7200RPM drives inside the12big will give you speeds of up to 2600MB/s, and even 2400MB/s in RAID 5. This will significantly ramp up how quickly you ingest footage or move through an edit or grade in the course of your day (or late night!). Thanks to Thunderbolt 3, multiple streams of ProRes 422 (HQ), ProRes 4444 XQ and uncompressed HD 10-bit and 12-bit video are now much easier to handle at once. Preview render rates also get a welcome boost.

The new Pegasus3 R4, R6 and R8 RAIDs from Promise debuted at Apple’s WWDC 2017 in early June and were designed to integrate seamlessly with Apple’s latest Thunderbolt 3-enabled offerings, which will include the upcoming iMac Pro coming in December. They will deliver 16TB to 80TB of desktop storage and can also sync with the company’s Apollo Cloud personal storage device, which lets you share small clips or low-res review files with a group via mobile devices while in transit. When used with Promise’s SANLink Series, the new Pegasus3 models can also be shared over a LAN.

Lighten the Load on Set
If you regularly work with large media files on set, more than one G-Technology G-Drive ev series drives are likely on your cart. The latest version of the series so popular with DITs has a Thunderbolt 3-enabled drive for improved transfer speeds and an HDMI input so you can daisy-chain the drive and a monitor through a single connection on a laptop. Users of G-Tech ev series drives who need even more robust Thunderbolt 3 RAID on location — say to support multistream 8K and VR — now have another option: the 8-bay G|Speed Shuttle XL with ev Series Bay Adapters that G-Tech introduced at NAB. Shipping this month, it comes in RAID-0, -1, -5, -6 and -10 configurations, includes two T3 ports and ranges in price from $3,999.95 (24TB) to $6,599.95 (60TB).

Sonnet Cfast 2.0 Pro card reader

Transfer Faster on Location
One of the first card readers with a Thunderbolt interface is the SF3 Series — Cfast 2.0 Pro launched in May by Sonnet Technologies. Dual card slots let the reader ingest files simultaneously from Canon, Arri and Blackmagic cameras at concurrent data transfer speeds up to 1,000 MB/s, twice as fast as you can from a USB 3.0 reader. The lightweight, extruded aluminum shell is made to handle as much abuse as you can throw at it.

Stereoscopic-Ready
The Thunderbolt 3 version of Blackmagic’s UltraStudio 4K Extreme resolved two critical obstacles when it began shipping last year: it was finally fast enough to support RGB and stereoscopic footage while working in 4K and it could

Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K Extreme

be connected directly to color correction systems like DaVinci Resolve via its new Thunderbolt 3 port. The 40 Gbps transfer speeds are “fast enough for the most extreme, high bit-depth uncompressed RGB 4K and stereoscopic formats,” says Blackmagic’s Grant Petty.

Blackmagic introduced the UltraStudio HD Mini with Thunderbolt 3 at NAB this year. It adds 3G-SDI and HDMI along with analog connections for 10-bit recording up to 1080p60 and 2K DCI, likely making it the first of its kind. It’s aimed at the live broadcast graphics editing and archiving.

Connect Back to PCI-E and Be Eco-Friendly
OWC makes little black boxes that do two very important things: retrieve your PCI-Express card options, while also helping the planet. The zero emissions Mac and PC technology company began shipping the updated OWC Mercury Helios with Thunderbolt 3 expansion chassis in May. The box includes two Thunderbolt 3 ports, a PCI-E post, and a Mini DisplayPort, which lets you connect to high-bandwidth NIC cards, HBAs and RAID controllers and add video capture and processing cards and audio production PCIe cards. An energy saver mode also powers it on and off with your computer.

My top workstation accessories

By Brady Betzel

As a working video editor, I’m at my desk and on my computer all day. So when I get home I want my personal workstation to feel as powerful as possible and having the right tools to support that experience are paramount.

I’m talking workstation accessories. I’ve put together a short list based on my personal experience. Some are well known, while some are slightly under the radar. Either way, they all make my editing life easier and more productive.

They make my home-based workstation feel like a full-fledged professional edit suite.

Wacom Intuos Pro Medium
In my work as an offline editor, I started to have some wrist pain when I used a mouse in conjunction with my keyboard. That is when I decided to jump head first into using a Wacom tablet. Within two weeks, all of my pain went away and I felt that I had way more control over drawing objects and shapes. I specifically noticed more precision when working inside of apps like Adobe’s After Effects and Photoshop when drawing accurate lines and shapes with bezier handles.

In addition, you can program minimal macros on the express keys on the side of the tablet. While the newest Wacom Intuos Pro Medium tablet costs a cool $349.95, it will pay for itself with increased efficiency and, in my experience, less wrist pain.

Genelec 8010A Studio Monitors
One workstation accessory that will blow you away is a great set of studio monitors. Genelec is known for making some great studio monitors and the 8010A are a set I wish I could get. These monitors are small —  around 8-inches tall by 4-inches deep and 4-inches wide — but they put out some serious power at 96dBs.

Don’t be fooled by their small appearance; they are a great complement to any serious video and audio power user. They connect via XLR, so you may need to get some converters if you are going straight out of your station, without runing through a mixer. These speakers are priced at $295 each; they aren’t cheap, but they are another important accessory that will further turn your bay into a professional suite.

Tangent Element & Blackmagic Resolve Color Correction Panels
If you work in color correction, or aspire to color correct, color correction panels are a must. They not only make it easier for you to work in apps like Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve, but they free your mind from worrying about where certain things are and let your fingers do the talking. It is incredibly liberating to use color correction panels when doing a color grade — it feels like you have another arm you can use to work.

The entire set of Tangent Element Panels costs over $3,300, but if you are just getting started, the Tangent Element Tk (just the trackballs) can be had for a little over $1,100. What’s nice about the Tangent panels is that they work with multiple apps, including Adobe Premiere, FilmLight Baselight, etc. But if you know you are only going to be using Resolve, the Resolve Micro or Mini panels are a great deal at under $1,000 and $3,000, respectively.

Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard
This one might sound a bit odd at first, but once you do some research you will see that many professional editors use these types of pads to program macros of multiple button pushes or common tasks. Essentially, this is a macro pad that has 25 programmable keys as well as a thumb controlled joystick. It’s a really intriguing piece of hardware that might be able to take place of your mouse in conjunction with your keyboard. It is competitively priced at only $79.99 and, with a little Internet research on liftgammagain.com, you can even find forums of user’s custom mappings.

Logickeyboard Backlit Keyboard
Obviously, the keyboard is one of the most used workstation accessories. One difficulty is trying to work with one in a dark room. Well, Logickeyboard has a dimmable backlit keyboard series for apps like Resolve and Avid Media Composer.

In addition to being backlit, they also have two powered USB 2.0 ports that really come in handy. These retail for around $140, so they are a little pricey for a keyboard but, take it from me, they will really polish that edit suite.

OWC USB-C Dock
With ports on Mac-based systems being stripped away, a good USB-C dock is a great extension to have in your edit suite. OWC offers a Mini-DisplayPort or HDMI-equipped version in the colors that match your MacBook Pro, if you have one.

In addition, you get five USB 3.1-compatible ports — including two of those being a high-powered charging port and a USB type C port — a Gig-E port, front facing SD card reader, combo audio in/out port and Mini-DisplayPort or HDMI port. These retail for under $150.


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.