Tag Archives: HP

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.

A glimpse at what was new at NAB

By Lance Holte

I made the trek out to Las Vegas last week for the annual NAB show to take in the latest in post production technology, discuss new trends and products and get lost in a sea of exhibits. With over 1,700 exhibitors, it’s impossible to see everything (especially in the two days I was there), but here are a handful of notable things that caught my eye.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve Studio 14: While the “non-studio” version is still free, it’s hard to beat the $299 license for the full version of Resolve. As 4K and 3D media becomes increasingly prevalent, and with the release of their micro and mini panels, Resolve can be a very affordable solution for editors, mobile colorists and DITs.

The new editorial and audio tools are particularly appealing to someone like me, who is often more hands-on on the editorial side than the grading side of post. To that regard, the new tracking features look to provide extra ease of use for quick and simple grades. I also love that Blackmagic has gotten rid of the dongles, which removes the hassle of tracking numerous dongles in a post environment where systems and rooms are swapped regularly. Oh, and there’s bin, clip and timeline locking for collaborative workflows, which easily pushes Resolve into the competition for an end-to-end post solution.

Adobe Premiere CC 2017 with After Effects and Audition Adobe Premiere is typically my editorial application of choice, and the increased integration of AE and Audition promise to make an end-to-end Creative Cloud workflow even smoother. I’ve been hoping for a revamp of Premiere’s title tool for a while, and the Essential Graphics panel/new Title Tool appears to greatly increase and streamline Premiere’s motion graphics capabilities — especially as someone who does almost all my graphics work in After Effects and Photoshop. The more integrated the various applications can be, the better; and Adobe has been pushing that aspect for some time now.

On the audio side, Premiere’s Essential Sound Panel tools for volume matching, organization, cleanup and other effects without going directly into Audition (or exporting for ProTools, etc.) will be really helpful, especially for smaller projects and offline mixes. And as a last note, the new Camera Shake Deblur effect in After Effects is fantastic.

Dell UltraSharp 4K HDR Monitor — There were a lot of great looking HDR monitors at the show, but I liked that this one fell in the middle of the pack in terms of price point ($2K), with solid specs (1000 nits, 97.7% of P3, and 76.9% of Rec. 2020) and a reasonable size (27 inches). Seems like a good editorial or VFX display solution, though the price might be pushing budgetary constraints for smaller post houses. I wish it was DCI 4K instead of UHD and a little more affordable, but that will hopefully come with time.

On that note, I really like HP’s DreamColor Z31x Studio Display. It’s not HDR, but it’s 99% of the P3 colorspace, and it’s DCI 4K — as well as 2K, by multiplying every pixel at 2K resolution into exactly 4 pixels — so there’s no odd-numbered scaling and sharpening required. Also, I like working with large monitors, especially at high resolutions. It offers automated (and schedulable) color calibration, though I’d love to see a non-automated display in the future if it could bring the price down. I could see the HP monitor as a great alternative to using more expensive HDR displays for the majority of workstations at many post houses.

As another side note, Flanders Scientific’s OLED 55-inch HDR display was among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen, but with numerous built-in interfaces and scaling capabilities, it’s likely to come at a higher price.

Canon 4K600STZ 4K HDR laser projector — This looks to be a great projection solution for small screening rooms or large editorial bays. It offers huge 4096×2400 resolution, is fairly small and compact, and apparently has very few restraints when it comes to projection angle, which would be nice for a theatrical edit bay (or a really nice home theater). The laser light source is also attractive because it will be low maintenance. At $63K, it’s at the more affordable end of 4K projector pricing.

Mettle 360 Degree/VR Depth plug-ins: I haven’t worked with a ton of 360-degree media, but I have dealt with the challenges of doing depth-related effects in a traditional single-camera space, so the fact that Mettle is doing depth-of-field effects, dolly effects and depth volumetric effects with 360-degree/VR content is pretty incredible. Plus, their plug-ins are designed to integrate with Premiere and After Effects, which is good news for an Adobe power user. I believe they’re still going to be in beta for a while, but I’m very curious to see how their plug-ins play out.

Finally, in terms of purely interesting tech, Sony’s Bravia 4K acoustic surface TVs are pretty wild. Their displays are OLED, so they look great, and the fact that the screen vibrates to create sound instead of having separate speakers or an attached speaker bar is awfully cool. Even at very close viewing, the screen doesn’t appear to move, though it can clearly be felt vibrating when touched. A vibrating acoustic surface raises some questions about mounting, so it may not be perfect for every environment, but interesting nonetheless.


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.

Review: HP’s zBook 17 G3 mobile workstation

By Brady Betzel

Desktop workstations have long been considered the highest of the high end and the fastest of the fast. From the Windows-driven HP Z820 powerhouse to Apple’s ubiquitous Mac Pro,  multimedia pros, video editors, VFX editors, sound engineers and others are constantly looking for ways to speed up their workflow.

Whether you feel that OS X is more stable than Windows 10, or you love the ability to use Nvidia’s Quadro line of graphics cards, one thing that pros need is a reliable system that can process monster DNxHR, ProRes 4444, even DPX files, and crunch them down to YouTube-sized gems and Twitter-sized GIFs in as little time as possible.

What if you need the ability to render a 4K composition in Adobe After Effects while simultaneously editing in Adobe Premiere on an airplane or train? You have a few options: Dell makes some pretty high-end mobile workstations, and Apple makes an outdated MacBook Pro that might hold up. What other options are there? Well, how about HP’s latest line — the HP zBook Generation 3? I’m focusing on the 17-inch for this review.

One of the fringe benefits when buying a workstation targeted at post pros is they are tested with apps like Adobe’s Creative Cloud, Avid Media Composer and Autodesk’s Suite of apps — better known as ISV Certification (ISV= Independent Software Vendor). HP and selected software vendors spend tons of time making sure the apps that are most likely used by the high-end zBook users are strenuously tested. Most of the time this means increased efficiency.

For example, being able to choose a graphics solution like the Nvidia Quadro M5000M with 8GB of RAM and 1,536 CUDA Cores instead of the AMD FirePro W6150M with 4GB of RAM because you want CUDA-enabled renders is a choice you get because HP spent time testing the highest-end graphics cards to be placed in this system.

Here is a rundown of the specs in the zBook G3 I tested:
– Processor: Intel Xeon CPU E3-1535M v5 — four cores, eight threads, 2.9 GHz
– Memory: 32GB DDR4, 2133MHz
– NVMe SSD drive: NVMe Samsung MZVPV512 – 512GB
– Graphics card 1: HD graphics P530 1GB
– Graphics Card 2: Nvidia Quadro M5000M 8GB
– Screen: 17.3-inch diagonal FHD UWVA IPS anti-glare LED-backlit (1920×1080)
– Audio: Bang & Olufsen HD audio
– Built-In Battery: HP Long Life 6-cell 96 WHr Li-ion prismatic
– External Ports: four USB 3, Gigabit RJ-45, SD media, smart card reader, microphone/headphone port, two Thunderbolt 3, HDMI, VGA, power and security cable slot.
– Full-size spill resistant keyboard with numeric keypad
– Operating system: Windows 10
– Warranty: 3/3/3 – three years parts, labor and on-site (limited restrictions apply)

What Do I Really Think?
Some initial takeaways after using the zBook G3 are: it features very sturdy construction, it offers lightning quick speed and connections, and it has an amazing battery life when paired with the power the zBook G3 harnesses. Obviously, the battery life drains faster when really using the zBook G3 in conjunction with power hungry apps such as Maxon’s Cinema 4D, Adobe’s After Effects, Premiere or Media Encoder, but the now built-in battery is the longest lasting that I have experienced in a mobile workhorse.

I recently took this mobile workstation to San Francisco for the GoPro Developer Program announcement, and it lasted all day. Lasting all day is nice because the power supply is not small and it is not light. I wish I had left it at home, but I was scared I would run out of battery power. When talking with the HP crew during this review process, they stressed how they improved the battery life even though the machine’s speed and power was increased, and they were not lying. But like I said, when using apps like Adobe Media Encoder you are going to drain your battery faster. But I could get two to three hours while transcoding in Media Encoder, which is still pretty great.

Stress Test
With powerful workstations like the HP zBook G3, I like to run Cinebench (a standard in benchmarking for many reviews), a render and speed stress test made by Maxon. I had some interesting results, for OpenGL it was 5th, bested by some desktop graphics cards like the AMD Radeon HD 5770, Nvidia GTX 460, Nvidia Quadro 4000 and the mobile card the Nvidia Quadro K4000M. The Intel Xeon CPU E3-1535M v3 tested 5th, topped by three Intel i7s and one Xeon — all desktop processors. Surprisingly, when tested for CPU single core it ranked second, topped only by the Intel i7-4770K.

Practical Test
As an editor with a lot of experience in the prep and delivery of footage and final products, when I hear workstation I think an encoding and transcoding beast. A typical task in my daily work is to transcode hour-long episodic QuickTimes from codecs like ProRes or DNxHD to something like an H.264 or an MP4. My first test was to compress a two-hour DNxHD 175 QuickTime to the YouTube 1080p setting in Adobe’s Media Encoder, which is a 1920×1080, 16 Mbps, MP4 — fit for decent quality, balanced with a low file size. It took 80 minutes (about 2/3 realtime), which is pretty good considering I’m working on a mobile workstation. On a high-end desktop workstation like the Mac Pro or z840 I might get that down to about (1/4 realtime, or about 30-40 minutes).

My next test was to transcode a 44-minute DNxHD QuickTime to the YouTube 1080p setting in Adobe’s Media Encoder. This file took 33 minutes to transcode, roughly ¾ of realtime. I tried compressing a ProRes HQ 50-minute long QuickTime to the YouTube 1080p MP4 setting and it took around 40 minutes. So all in all, you are getting a little faster than realtime, and if you need it to be faster you should probably be compressing on a desktop workstation.

Other Observations
I was able to really appreciate the large IPS screen that is very bright and very clear. One thing I notice as I get older is that I need larger screens (yuck, I think I just fainted… definitely getting old). On mobile workstations it’s hard to get a large screen that is also easy to view for multiple hours, but this HP matte screen is great.

Another thing I really like is the branded speakers. Most laptops have half decent speakers at best, but the zBook comes with Bang & Olufsen speakers that offer sound way above other laptop speakers I’ve heard. I definitely plugged in headphones, but in a pinch these were more than good. I particularly liked the full-sized keyboard with numeric keypad (any editor who has to enter timecode knows how important the numeric keypad is for this).

In the End
I love HP’s line of z series workstations, from the super-high-end z840 to this zBook G3. If you are looking to transcode a 44-minute QuickTime in under 15 minutes, you are going to need a system like the HP z840 with 64GB of RAM and an SSD under the hood.

If you need similar power to the z840 but in a mobile powerhouse, the zBook G3 is for you. With peripherals like the HP Thunderbolt 3 dock you can keep your Thunderbolt 3 RAID, display ports for your UHD/4K monitors and even more USB 3 ports stationary at home without having to always hook up and unhook your peripherals every time you get home from office. The 200W dock will cost $249, and the 150W dock is $229 (for the 17-inch G3 you will need the 200W version). The power supply to charge the zBook G3 is not small, so using the dock as a charging station and peripheral connector is definitely the way to go.

One issue I had with the zBook has to do with HP ditching the Thunderbolt 1/2 connectors. It’s kind of funny to see a VGA port next to an HDMI and Thunderbolt 3 ports without a Thunderbolt 2 connection, or at the least I would have hoped HP would include an adapter with their zBook. I asked HP about this and they said other companies were already tackling the Thunderbolt 1/2-to-3 converters. While it’s not a huge issue, it’s interesting to see them ditch such a new interface like Thunderbolt 2 (which was in the zBook G2) when I know their customers have recently invested in Thunderbolt 2 devices and there is no easy way to connect them to this zBook G3, other than buying a $100 adapter, after paying for the mobile workstation. Obviously I am nitpicking, but it stood out to me.

Moving on, the zBook G3 is one of the most solid mobile workstations I have touched. It’s not light, but it’s not meant to be. HP has other options for users looking for a Windows-based PC that rivals the MacBook Air. The zBook isn’t as powerful as its stationary workstation line, but it won’t let you down if you need something to encode QuickTimes on the go or create proxies for your Blackmagic Resolve 12.5 or Avid Media Composer 8.5 projects. It will even run Cinema 4D without skipping a beat.

If you have the money, the zBook G3 is at the top of my list for a workstation that fits in a backpack, lasts upwards of five hours on battery life, and can chew up and spit out media files.

Brady Betzel is an online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff. Brady was recently nominated for an Emmy for his work on Disney’s Unforgettable Christmas Celebration.

Blog: HP’s latest laptops, displays, virtual workstations

By Cory Choy

I started my career as a sound designer and re-recording mixer, but as independent film imploded in the early 2000s and was beginning to be replaced by Internet video, I found myself adding more and more “work hats” to my collection. In order to succeed in this business I needed to adapt to the ever-changing NYC film and TV landscape, and that meant adding more disciplines to my professional offerings.

So now, in addition to post sound, I find myself also post producing — mostly color correction, but I do a bunch of other things as well.

While I have access to state-of-the art sound workstations at Silver Sound, a New York City- Continue reading

HP intros new versions of its mobile and tower workstations

By Mike McCarthy

Last week I got the opportunity to attend HP’s big workstation launch event in Fort Collins, Colorado. HP is releasing new versions of its ZBook mobile workstations and desktop Z workstation towers. I also got to tour their labs and see behind the curtain at the development and testing process.

New “G2” versions of last year’s HP ZBook 15 and ZBook 17 will be available later this month. Both models sport the newest “Haswell” architecture-based Intel CPUs, new AMD and Nvidia GPU cards and M.2 storage options. HP has branded their PCIe-based flash storage solution as the “Z-Turbo Drive,” and it is available in their new ZBooks and workstations. Removing the SATA interface bottleneck greatly improves maximum read and write speeds on the new flash Continue reading

VDS offering Scratch workstations optimized for 4K, 2K DI, and dailies

MARLBOROUGH, MA – Versatile Distribution Services (VDS), a distributor specializing in integrated solutions for the media and entertainment industry, is offering exclusive 4K and 2K turnkey workstations that feature Assimilate’s Scratch DI software running on HP Z820 workstations in North America and Latin America.

The workstations are available now.

The Scratch systems enable digital cinema and broadcast artists to generate dailies, conform, color correct, and complete the finishing of features, documentaries, videos, and episodic TV within a realtime, integrated, user-friendly workflow.

VDS (http://www.versatiledistributionservices.com/ASSIMILATE.php) has leveraged the collective experience of leaders in 4K, such as Assimilate, HP, Fusion-IO, AJA and Bluefish444, to build systems that remove much of the trial and error when configuring the appropriate CPU, RAM, graphics and storage for popular 4K projectors, displays and output.

“At Digital Arts (www.digital-arts.net), we launched New York City’s first true 4K grading theater,” said Axel Ericson, founder of Digital Arts. “We designed it with the best technologies in order to redefine new standards in film post production. The theater includes world-class brands and products, such as the Christie 4K 4220 projector and Meyer Sound 7.1 Acheron speakers.

“As leaders in the 4K landscape, we chose Assimilate Scratch and Bluefish444 for 4K DI because of its real-time 4K workflow capabilities without the cost of traditional big-iron systems. We’re really excited to learn about the new turnkeys from VDS and Assimilate, because they take a lot of the trial and error out of configuring 4K workflows. This is what the market needs in order to widen the 4K user base.”

Here are some details about the workstations:
• These HP Z820 workstations feature the latest Intel Xeon processors, massively scalable RAM, and five third-gen PCI Express slots, the Z820 is ideal for creative professionals at the top of their game.

• The Scratch Z820 turnkey systems are available in 2K/4K and HD configurations jam-packed with RAM, top-of-the-line Nvidia graphics and storage options from HP, Fusion-IO and others.

• There is 4K HD-SDI preview with AJA’s Kona 3G and full 12-bit HD-SDI preview with Bluefish444’s Epoch|4K SuperNova video card allows artists to preview images in the highest possible bit depth.

• Versatile Distribution Services’ integration experts have experience optimizing the graphics and storage in Scratch systems for a range of high-performance DI and finishing environments, including Christie and Sony 4K projectors and Eizo, Christie and Sharp 4K monitors. VDS tests each 4K and 2K turnkey system in a simulated film and broadcast environment before it ships.