Tag Archives: Dariush Derakhshani

Review: HP’s lower-cost DreamColor Z24x display

By Dariush Derakhshani

So, we all know how important a color-accurate monitor is in making professional-level graphics, right? Right?!? Even at the most basic level, when you’re stalking online for the perfect watch band for your holiday present of a smart watch, you want the orange band you see in the online ad to be what you get when it arrives a few days later. Even if your wife thinks orange doesn’t suit you, and makes you look like “you’re trying too hard.”

Especially as a content developer, you want to know what you’re looking at is an accurate representation of the image. Ever walk into a Best Buy and see multiple screens showing the same content but with wild ranging differences in color? You can’t have that discrepancy working as a pro, especially in collaboration; you need color accuracy. In my own experience, that position has been filled by HP’s 10-bit DreamColor displays for many years now, but not everyone is awash in bitcoins, and justifying a price tag of over $1,200 is sometimes hard to justify, even for a studio professional.

Enter HP’s DreamColor Z24x display at half the price, coming in around $550 online. Yes, DreamColor for half the cost. That’s pretty significant. For the record, I haven’t used a 24-inch monitor since the dark ages; when Lost was the hot TV show. I’ve been fortunate enough to be running at 27-inch and higher, so there was a little shock when I started using the Z24x HP sent me for review. But this is something I quickly got used to.

With my regular 32-inch 4K display still my primary — so I can fit loads of windows all over the place — I used this DreamColor screen as my secondary display, primarily to check output for my Adobe After Effects comps, Adobe Premiere Pro edits and to hold my render view window as I develop shaders and lighting in Autodesk Maya. I felt comfortable knowing the images I shared with my colleagues across town would be seen as I intended them, evening the playing field when working collaboratively (as long as everyone is on the same LUT and color space). Speaking of color spaces, the Z24x hits 100% of sRGB, 99% of AdobeRGB and 96% of DCI P3, which is just slightly under HP’s Z27x DreamColor. It is, however, slightly faster with a 6ms response rate.

The Z24x has a 24-inch IPS panel from LG that exhibits color in 10-bit, like its bigger 27-inch Z27x sibling. This gives you over a billion colors, which I have personally verified by counting them all —that was one, long weekend, I can tell you. Unlike the highest-end DreamColor screens though, the Z24x dithers up from 8-bit to 10-bit (called an 8-bit+FRC). This means it’s better than an 8-bit color display, for sure, but not quite up to real 10-bit, making it color accurate but not color critical. HP’s implementation of dithering is quite good, when subjectively compared to my full 10-bit main display. Frankly, a lot of screens that claim 10-bit may actually be 8-bit+FRC anyway!

While the Z27x gives you 2560×1440 as you expect of most 27inch displays, if not full on 4K, the Z24x is at a comfortable 1920×1200, just enough for a full 1080p image and a little room for a slider or info bar. Being the res snob that I am, I had wondered if that was just too low, but at 24-inches I don’t think you would want a higher resolution, even if you’re sitting only 14-inches away from it. And this is a sentiment echoed by the folks at HP who consulted with so many of their professional clients to build this display. That gives a pixel density of about 94PPI, a bit lower than the 109PPI of the Z27x. This density is about the same as a 1080p HD display at 27-inch, so it’s still crisp and clean.

Viewing angles are good at about 178 degrees, and the screen is matte, with an anti-glare coating, making it easier to stare at without blinking for 10 hours at a clip, as digital artists usually do. Compared to my primary display, this HP’s coating was more matte and still gave me a richer black in comparison, which I liked to see.

Connection options are fairly standard with two DisplayPorts, one HDMI, and one DVI dual link for anyone still living in the past. You also get four USB ports and an analog 3.5mm audio jack if you want to drive some speakers, since you can’t from your phone anymore (Apple, I’m looking at you).

Summing Up
So while 24-inches is a bit small for my tastes for a display, I am seriously impressed at the street price of the Z24x, allowing a lot more pros and semi-pros to get the DreamColor accuracy HP offers at half the price. While I wouldn’t recommend color grading a show on the Z24x, this DreamColor does a nice job of bringing a higher level of color confidence at an attractive price. As a secondary display, the z24x is a nice addition to an artist workflow with budget in mind — or who has a mean, orange-watch-band-hating spouse.

Dariush Derakhshani is a VFX supervisor and educator in Southern California. You can follow his random tweets at @koosh3d.

A look at the new AMD Radeon Pro SSG card

By Dariush Derakhshani

My first video card review was on the ATI FireGL 8800 more than 14 years ago. It was one of the first video cards that could support two monitors with only one card, which to me was a revolution. Up until then I had to jam two 3DLabs Oxygen VX1 cards in my system (one AGP and the other PCI) and wrestle them to handle OpenGL with Maya 4.0 running on two screens. It was either that or sit in envy as my friends taunted me with their two screen setups, like waving a cupcake in front of a fat kid (me).

Needless to say, two cards were not ideal, and the 128MB ATI FireGL8800 was a huge shift in how I built my own systems from then on. Fourteen years later, I’m fatter, balder and have two 27-inch HP screens sitting on my desk (one at 4K) that are always hungry for new video cards. I run mulitple applications at once, and I demand to push around a lot of geometry as fast as possible. And now, I’m even rendering a fair amount on the GPU, so my video card is ever more the centerpiece of my home-built rigs.

So when I stopped by AMD’s booth at SIGGRAPH 2016 in Anaheim recently. I was quite interested in what AMD’s John Swinimer had to say about the announcements the company was making at the show. AMD acquired ATI in 2006.

First, I’m just going to jump right into what got me the most wide-eyed, and that is the announcement of the AMD Radeon Pro SSG. This professional card mates a 1TB SSD to the frame buffer of the video card, giving you a huge boost in how much the GPU system can load into memory. Keep in mind that professional card frame buffers range from about 4GB in entry level cards up to 24-32GB in super high-end cards, so 1TB is a huge number to be sure.

One of the things that slows down GPU rendering the most is having to flush and reload textures from its frame buffer, so the idea of having a 1TB frame buffer is intriguing, to say the least (i.e. a lot of drooling). In their press release, AMD mentions that “8K raw video timeline scrubbing was accelerated from 17 frames per second to a stunning 90+ frames per second” in the first demonstration of the Radeon Pro SSG.

Details are still forthcoming, but two PCIe 3.0 m.2 slots on the SSG card can get us up to 1TB of frame buffer. But the question is, how fast will it be? In traditional SSD drives, m.2 enjoys a large bandwidth advantage over regular SATA drives as long as it can access the PICe bus directly. Things are different if the SSG card is an island in and of itself, with the storage bandwidth contained on the card itself, so it’s unclear how the m.2 bus on the SSG card will do in communicating with the GPU directly. I tend to doubt we’ll see the same performance in bandwidth between GDDR5 memory and an on-board m.2 card, but only real-world testing will be able to suss that out.

But, I believe we’ll immediately see great speed improvements in GPU rendering of huge datasets since the SSG will circumvent the offloading and reloading times between the GPU and CPU memories, as well as potentially boosting multi-frame GPU rendering of CG scenes. But in cases where the graphics sub-system doesn’t need to load more than a dozen or so GBs of data, on board GDDR5 memory will certainly still have an edge in communication speed with the GPU.

So, needless to say, but I’m going to say it anyway, I am very much looking forward to slapping one of these into my rig to see GPU render times, as well as operability using large datasets in Maya and 3ds Max. And as long as the Radeon Pro SSG can avoid hitting up the CPU and main system memory, GPU render gains should be quite large on the whole.

Wait, There’s More
On to other AMD announcements at the show: The affordable Radeon Pro WX line-up (due in the fourth quarter of 2016), refreshing the FirePro branded line. The Radeon Pro WX cards are based on AMD’s RX consumer cards (like the RX 480), but with a higher-level professional driver support and certification with professional apps. The end-goal of professional work is stability as well as performance, and AMD promises a great dedicated support system around their Radeon Pro line to give us professionals the warm and fuzzies we always need over consumer level cards.

The top-of-the line Radeon Pro WX7100 features 256-bit 8GB memory and workstation class performance, but at less than $1,000, which I believe replaces the FirePro W8100. This puts the four-simultaneous-display-capable WX7100 in line to compete with the Nvidia Quadro M4000 card in pricing at least, if not in specs as well. But it’s hard to say where the WX7100 will sit with performance. I do hope it’s somewhere in-between the Quadro M4000 and the $1,800 M5000 card. It’s difficult to answer that based on paper specs, as the number of (OpenCL) Compute Units vs. the number of CUDA cores are hard to compare.

The 8GB Radeon Pro WX5100 and 4GB WX4100 round out the new announcements from SIGGRAPH 2016, putting them in line to compete somewhere between the 8GB Quadro M4000 and 4GB M2000 and K1200 cards in performance. Seems though that AMD’s top-of-the-line will still be the $3,400+ FirePro W9100 with 16GB of memory, though a 32GB version is also available.

I have always thought AMD brought a really good price-to-performance ratio, and it seems like the Radeon Pro WX line will continue that tradition, and I look forward to benchmarking these cards in real world CG use.

Dariush Derakhshani is a professor and VFX supervisor in the Los Angeles area and author of Maya and 3ds Max books and videos. He is bald and has flat feet.

Dell Precision M3800 gets 4K UltraHD screen, other updates

By Dariush Derakhshani

Dell has announced today that their super slim mobile workstation will host a number of impressive updates. The Intel i7 CPU-based M3800 has been billed as the thinnest and lightest 15-inch mobile workstation and originally debuted in October 2013 to much excitement. I spoke with Dell about the updates to the laptop recently, and I thought the best update is to their high-end screen option: a jaw dropping 4K UltraHD resolution at 3840×2160.

Furthermore, the screen is made of Corning Gorilla glass and has 10-finger touch capability. Unless you have three hands, I doubt you’d need more touch-capability than that. On top of that, you can drive up to two external displays with the Nvidia Quadro K1100M discrete graphics card (or three displays via a USB dock!). Discrete graphics are important to workstation performance, and the Kepler-based K1100M should do a very good job even Continue reading