Cinnafilm 6.6.19

Category Archives: Workstations

Editing Roundtable

By Randi Altman

The world of the editor has changed over the years as a result of new technology, the types of projects they are being asked to cut (looking at you social media) and the various deliverables they must create. Are deadlines still getting tighter and are budgets still getting smaller? The answer is yes, but some editors are adapting to the trends, and companies that make products for editors are helping by making the tools more flexible and efficient so pros can get to where they need to be.

We posed questions to various editors working in TV, short form and indies, who do a variety of jobs, as well as to those making the tools they use on a daily basis. Enjoy.

Cut+Run Editor/Partner Pete Koob

What trends do you see in commercial editing? Good or bad?
I remember 10 years ago a “colleague,” who was an interactive producer at the time, told me rather haughtily that I’d be out of work in a few years when all advertising became interactive and lived online. Nothing could have been further from the truth, of course, and I think editors everywhere have found that the viewer migration from TV to online has yielded an even greater need for content.

The 30-second spot still exists, both online and on TV, but the opportunities for brands to tell more in-depth stories across a wide range of media platforms mean that there’s a much more diverse breadth of work for editors, both in terms of format and style.

For better or worse, we’ve also seen every human being with a phone become their own personal brand manager with a highly cultivated and highly saturated digital presence. I think this development has had a big impact on the types of stories we’re telling in advertising and how we’re telling them. The genre of “docu-style” editing is evolving in a very exciting way as more and more companies are looking to find real people whose personal journeys embody their brands. Some of the most impressive editorial work I see these days is a fusion of styles — music video, fashion, documentary — all being brought to bear on telling these real stories, but doing it in a way that elevates them above the noise of the daily social media feed.

Selecting the subjects in a way that feels authentic — and not just like a brand co-opting someone’s personal struggle — is essential, but when done well, there are some incredibly inspirational and emotional stories to be told. And as a father of a young girl, it’s been great to show my daughter all the empowering stories of women being told right now, especially when they’re done with such a fresh and exciting visual language.

What is it about commercial editing that attracted you and keeps attracting you?
Probably the thing that keeps me most engaged with commercial editing is the variety and volume of projects throughout the year. Cutting commercials means you’re on to the next one before you’ve really finished the last.

The work feels fresh when I’m constantly collaborating with different people every few weeks on a diverse range of projects. Even if I’m cutting with the same directors, agencies or clients, the cast of characters always rotates to some degree, and that keeps me on my toes. Every project has its own unique challenges, and that compels me to constantly find new ways to tell stories. It’s hard for me to get bored with my work when the work is always changing.

Conoco’s Picnic spot

Can you talk about challenges specific to short-form editing?
I think the most obvious challenge for the commercial editor is time. Being able to tell a story efficiently and poignantly in a 60-, 30-, 15- or even six-second window reveals the spot editor’s unique talent. Sometimes that time limit can be a blessing, but more often than not, the idea on the page warrants a bigger canvas than the few seconds allotted.

It’s always satisfying to feel as if I’ve found an elegant editorial solution to telling the story in a concise manner, even if that means re-imagining the concept slightly. It’s a true testament to the power of editing and one that is specific to editing commercials.

How have social media campaigns changed the way you edit, if at all?
Social media hasn’t changed the way I edit, but it has certainly changed my involvement in the campaign as a whole. At its worst, the social media component is an afterthought, where editors are asked to just slap together a quick six-second cutdown or reformat a spot to fit into a square framing for Instagram. At its best, the editor is brought into the brainstorming process and has a hand in determining how the footage can be used inventively to disperse the creative into different media slots. One of the biggest assets of an editor on any project is his or her knowledge of the material, and being able to leverage that knowledge to shape the campaign across all platforms is incredibly rewarding.

Phillips 76 “Jean and Gene”

What system do you edit on, and what else other than editing are you asked to supply?
We edit primarily on Avid Media Composer. I still believe that nothing else can compete when it comes to project sharing, and as a company it allows for the smoothest means of collaboration between offices around the world. That being said, clients continue to expect more and more polish from the offline process, and we are always pushing our capabilities in motion graphics and visual effects in After Effects and color finessing in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

What projects have you worked on recently?
I’ve been working on some bigger campaigns that consist of a larger number of spots. Two campaigns that come to mind are a seven-spot TV campaign for Phillips 76 gas stations and 13 short online films for Subaru. It’s fun to step back and look at how they all fit together, and sometimes you make different decisions about an individual spot based on how it sits in the larger group.

The “Jean and Gene” spots for 76 were particularly fun because it’s the same two characters who you follow across several stories, and it almost feels like a mini TV series exploring their life.

Earlier in the  year I worked on a Conoco campaign, featuring the spots Picnic, First Contact and River, via Carmichael Lynch.

Red Digital Cinema Post and Workflow Specialist Dan Duran

How do you see the line between production and post blurring?
Both post and on set production are evolving with each other. There has always been a fine line between them, but as tech grows and becomes more affordable, you’re seeing tools that previously would have been used only in post bleed onto set.

One of my favorite trends is seeing color-managed workflows on locations. With full color control pipelines being used with calibrated SDR and HDR monitors, a more accurate representation of what the final image will look like is given. I’ve also seen growth in virtual productions where you’re able to see realtime CGI and environments on set directly through camera while shooting.

What are the biggest trends you’ve been facing in product development?
Everyone is always looking for the highest image quality at the best price point. As sensor technology advances, we’re seeing users ask for more and more out of the camera. Higher sensitivity, faster frame rates, more dynamic range and a digital RAW that allows them to effortlessly shape the images into a very specific creative look that they’re trying to achieve for their show. 8K provides a huge canvas to work with, offering flexibility in what they are trying to capture.

Smaller cameras are able to easily adapt into a whole new myriad of support accessories to achieve shots in ways that weren’t always possible. Along with the camera/sensor revolution, Red has seen a lot of new cinema lenses emerge, each adding their own character to the image as it hits the photo sites.

What trends do you see from editors these days. What enables their success?
I’ve seen post production really take advantage of modern tech to help improve and innovate new workflows. Being able to view higher resolution, process footage faster and playback off of a laptop shows how far hardware has come.

We have been working more with partners to help give pros the post tools they need to be more efficient. As an example, Red recently teamed up with Nvidia to not only get realtime full resolution 8K playback on laptops, but also allow for accelerated renders and transcode times much faster than before. Companies collaborating to take advantage of new tech will enable creative success.

AlphaDogs Owner/Editor Terence Curren

What trends do you see in editing? Good or bad.
There is a lot of content being created across a wide range of outlets and formats, from theatrical blockbusters and high-end TV shows all the way down to one-minute videos for Instagram. That’s positive for people desiring to use their editing skills to do a lot of storytelling. The flip side is that with so much content being created, the dollars to pay editors gets stretched much thinner. Barring high-end content creation, the overall pay rates for editors have been going down.

The cost of content capture is a tiny fraction of what it was back in the film days. The good part of that is there is a greater likelihood that the shot you need was actually captured. The downside is that without the extreme expense of shooting associated with film, we’ve lost the disciplines of rehearsing scenes thoroughly, only shooting while the scene is being performed, only printing circled takes, etc. That, combined with reduced post schedules, means for the most part editors just don’t have the time to screen all the footage captured.

The commoditization of the toolsets, (some editing systems are actually free) combined with the plethora of training materials readily available on the Internet and in most schools means that video storytelling is now a skill available to everyone. This means that the next great editors won’t be faced with the barriers to entry that past generations experienced, but it also means that there’s a much larger field of editors to choose from. The rules of supply and demand tell us that increased availability and competition of a service reduces its cost. Traditionally, many editors have been able to make upper-middle-class livings in our industry, and I don’t see as much of that going forward.

To sum it up, it’s a great time to become an editor, as there’s plenty of work and therefore lots of opportunity. But along with that, the days of making a higher-end living as an editor are waning.

What is it about editing that attracted you and keeps attracting you?
I am a storyteller at heart. The position of editor is, in my opinion, matched with the director and writer for responsibility of the structural part of telling the story. The writer has to invent the actual story out of whole cloth. The director has to play traffic cop with a cornucopia of moving pieces under a very tight schedule while trying to maintain the vision of the pieces of the story necessary to deliver the final product. The editor takes all those pieces and gives the final rewrite of the story for the audience to hopefully enjoy.

Night Walk

As with writing, there are plenty of rules to guide an editor through the process. Those rules, combined with experience, make the basic job almost mechanical much of the time. But there is a magic thing that happens when the muse strikes and I am inspired to piece shots together in some way that just perfectly speaks to the audience. Being such an important part of the storytelling process is uniquely rewarding for a storyteller like me.

Can you talk about challenges specific to short-form editing versus long-form?
Long-form editing is a test of your ability to maintain a fresh perspective of your story to keep the pacing correct. If you’ve been editing a project for weeks or months at a time, you know the story and all the pieces inside out. That can make it difficult to realize you might be giving too much information or not enough to the audience. Probably the most important skill for long form is the ability to watch a cut you’ve been working on for a long time and see it as a first-time viewer. I don’t know how others handle it, but for me there is a mental process that just blanks out the past when I want to take a critical fresh viewing.

Short form brings the challenge of being ruthless. You need to eliminate every frame of unnecessary material without sacrificing the message. While the editors don’t need to keep their focus for weeks or months, they have the challenge of getting as much information into that short time as possible without overwhelming the audience. It’s a lot like sprinting versus running a marathon. It exercises a different creative muscle that also enjoys an immediate reward.

Lafayette Escadrille

I can’t say I prefer either one over the other, but I would be bored if I didn’t get to do both over time, as they bring different disciplines and rewards.

How have social media campaigns changed the way you edit, if at all? Can you talk about the variety of deliverables and how that affects things?
Well, there is the horrible vertical framing trend, but that appears to be waning, thankfully. Seriously, though, the Instagram “one minute” limit forces us all to become commercial editors. Trying to tell the story in as short a timeframe as possible, knowing it will probably be viewed on a phone in a bright and noisy environment is a new challenge for seasoned editors.

There is a big difference between having a captive audience in a theater or at home in front of the TV and having a scattered audience whose attention you are trying to hold exclusively amid all the distractions. This seems to require more overt attention-grabbing tricks, and it’s unfortunate that storytelling has come to this point.

As for deliverables, they are constantly evolving, which means each project can bring all new requirements. We really have to work backward from the deliverables now. In other words, one of our first questions now is, “Where is this going?” That way we can plan the appropriate workflows from the start.

What system do you edit on and what else other than editing are you asked to supply?
I primarily edit on Media Composer, as it’s the industry standard in my world. As an editor, I can learn any tool to use. I have cut with Premiere and FCP. It’s knowing where to make the edit that is far more important than how to make the edit.

When I started editing in the film days, we just cut picture and dialogue. There were other editors for sound beyond the basic location-recorded sound. There were labs from which you ordered something as simple as a dissolve or a fade to black. There were color timers at the film lab who handled the look of the film. There were negative cutters that conformed the final master. There were VFX houses that handled anything that wasn’t actually shot.

Now, every editor has all the tools at hand to do all those tasks themselves. While this is helpful in keeping costs down and not slowing the process, it requires editors to be a jack-of-all-trades. However, what typically follows that term is “and master of none.”

Night Walk

One of the main advantages of separate people handling different parts of the process is that they could become really good at their particular art. Experience is the best teacher, and you learn more doing the same thing every day than occasionally doing it. I’ve met a few editors over the years that truly are masters in multiple skills, but they are few and far between.

Using myself as an example, if the client wants some creatively designed show open, I am not the best person for that. Can I create something? Yes. Can I use After Effects? Yes, to a minor degree. Am I the best person for that job? No. It is not what I have trained myself to do over my career. There is a different skill set involved in deciding where to make a cut versus how to create a heavily layered, graphically designed show open. If that is what I had dedicated my career to doing, then I would probably be really good at it, but I wouldn’t be as good at knowing where to make the edit.

What projects have gone through the studio recently?
We work on a lot of projects at AlphaDogs. The bulk of our work is on modest-budget features, documentaries and unscripted TV shows. A recent example is a documentary on World War I fighter pilots called The Lafayette Escadrille and an action-thriller starring Eric Roberts and Mickey Rourke, called Night Walk.

Unfortunately for me I have become so focused on running the company that I haven’t been personally working on the creative side as much as I would like. While keeping a post house running in the current business climate is its own challenge, I don’t particularly find it as rewarding as “being in the chair.”

That feeling is offset by looking back at all the careers I have helped launch through our internship program and by offering entry-level employment. I’ve also tried hard to help editors over the years through venues like online user groups and, of course, our own Editors’ Lounge events and videos. So I guess that even running a post house can be rewarding in its own way.

Luma Touch Co-Founder/Lead Designer Terri Morgan

Have there been any talks among NLE providers about an open timeline? Being able to go between Avid, Resolve or Adobe with one file like an AAF or XML?
Because every edit system uses its own editing paradigms (think Premiere versus FCP X), creating an open exchange is challenging. However, there is an interesting effort by Pixar (https://github.com/PixarAnimationStudios/OpenTimelineIO) that includes adapters for the wide range of structural differences of some editors. There are also efforts for standards in effects and color correction. The core editing functionality in LumaFusion is built to allow easy conversion in and out to different formats, so adapting to new standards will not be challenging in most cases.

With AI becoming a popular idea and term, at what point does it stop? Is there a line where AI won’t go?
Looking at AI strictly as it relates to video editing, we can see that its power is incrementally increasing, and automatically generated movies are getting better. But while a neural network might be able to put together a coherent story, and even mimic a series of edits to match a professional style, it will still be cookie-cutter in nature, rather than being an artistic individual endeavor.

What we understand from our customers — and from our own experience — is that people get profound joy from being the storyteller or the moviemaker. And we understand that automatic editing does not provide the creative/ownership satisfaction that you get from crafting your own movie. You only have to make one automatic movie to learn this fact.

It is also clear that movie viewers feel a lack of connection or even annoyance when watching an automatically generated movie. You get the same feeling when you pay for parking at an automated machine, and the machine says, “Thank you, have a nice day.”

Here is a question from one of our readers: There are many advancements in technology coming in NLEs. Are those updates coming too fast and at an undesirable cost?
It is a constant challenge to maintain quality while improving a product. We use software practices like Agile, engage in usability tests and employ testing as robust as possible to minimize the effects of any changes in LumaFusion.

In the case of LumaFusion, we are consistently adding new features that support more powerful mobile video editing and features that support the growing and changing world around us. In fact, if we stopped developing so rapidly, the app would simply stop working with the latest operating system or wouldn’t be able to deliver solutions for the latest trends and workflows.

To put it all in perspective, I like to remind myself of the amount of effort it took to edit video 20 years ago compared to how much more efficient and fun it is to edit a video now. It gives me reason to forgive the constant changes in technology and software, and reason to embrace new workflows and methodologies.

Will we ever be at a point where an offline/online workflow will be completely gone?
Years ago, the difference in image quality provided a clear separation between offline and online. But today, online is differentiated by the ability to edit with dozens of tracks, specialized workflows, specific codecs, high-end effects and color. Even more importantly, online editing typically uses the specialized skills that a professional editor brings to a project.

Since you can now edit a complex timeline with six tracks of 4K video with audio and another six tracks of audio, basic color correction and multilayered titles straight from an iPad, for many projects you might find it unnecessary to move to an online situation. But there will always be times that you need more advanced features or the skills of a professional editor. Since not everybody wants to understand the complex world of post production, it is our challenge at Luma Touch to make more of these high-end features available without greatly limiting who can successfully use the product.

What are the trends you’re seeing in customer base from high-end post facility vs. independent editor/contractor?
High-end post facilities tend to have stationary workstations that employ skilled editor/operators. The professionals that find LumaFusion to be a valuable tool in their bag are often those who are responsible for the entire production and post production, including independent producers, journalists and high-end professionals who want the flexibility of starting to edit while on location or while traveling.

What are the biggest trends you’ve been seeing in product development?
In general, moving away from lengthy periods of development without user feedback. Moving toward getting feedback from users early and often is an Agile-based practice that really makes a difference in product development and greatly increases the joy that our team gets from developing LumaFusion. There’s nothing more satisfying than talking to real users and responding to their needs.

New development tools, languages and technologies are always welcome. At WWDC this year, Apple announced it would make it easier for third-party developers to port their iOS apps over to the desktop with Project Catalyst. This will likely be a viable option for LumaFusion.

You come from a high-end editing background, with deep experience editing at the workstation level. When you decided to branch off and do something on your own, why did you choose mobile?
Mobile offered a solution to some of the longest running wishes in professional video editing: to be liberated from the confines of an edit suite, to be able to start editing on location, to have a closer relationship to the production of the story in order to avoid the “fix it in post” mentality, and to take your editing suite with you anywhere.

It was only after starting to develop for mobile that we fully understood one of the most appealing benefits. Editing on an iPad or iPhone encourages experimentation, not only because you have your system with you when you have a good idea, but also because you experience a more direct relationship to your media when using the touch interface; it feels more natural and immersive. And experimentation equals creativity. From my own experience I know that the more you edit, the better you get at it. These are benefits that everyone can enjoy whether they are a professional or a novice.

Hecho Studios Editor Grant Lewis

What trends do you see in commercial editing? Good or bad.
Commercials are trending away from traditional, large-budget cinematic pieces to smaller, faster, budget-conscious ones. You’re starting to see it now more and more as big brands shy away from big commercial spectacles and pivot toward a more direct reflection of the culture itself.

Last year’s #CODNation work for the latest installment of the Call of Duty franchise exemplifies this by forgoing a traditional live-action cinematic trailer in favor of larger number of game-capture, meme-like films. This pivot away from more dialogue-driven narrative structures is changing what we think of as a commercial. For better or worse, I see commercial editing leaning more into the fast-paced, campy nature of meme culture.

What is it about commercial editing that attracted you and keeps attracting you?
What excites me most about commercial editing is that it runs the gamut of the editorial genre. Sometimes commercials are a music video; sometimes they are dramatic anthems; other times they are simple comedy sketches. Commercials have the flexibility to exist as a multitude of narrative genres, and that’s what keeps me attracted to commercial editing.

Can you talk about challenges specific to short form versus long form?
The most challenging thing about short-form editing is finding time for breath. In a 30-second piece, where do you find a moment of pause? There’s always so much information being packed into smaller timeframes; the real challenge is editing at a sprint, but still having it feel dynamic and articulate.

How have social media campaigns changed the way you edit, if at all? Can you talk about the variety of deliverables and how that affects things?
All campaigns will either live on social media or have specific social components now. I think the biggest thing that has changed is being tasked with telling a compelling narrative in 10 or even five or six seconds. Now, the 60-second and 90-second anthem film has to be able to work in six seconds as well. It is challenging to boil concepts down to just a few seconds and still maintain a sense of story.

#CODNation

All the deliverable aspect ratios editors are asked to make now is also a blossoming challenge. Unless a campaign is strictly shot for social, the DP probably shot for a traditional 16×9 framing. That means the editor is tasked with reframing all social content to work in all the different deliverable formats. This makes the editor act almost as the DP for social in the post process. Shorter deliverables and a multitude of aspect ratios have just become another layer to editing and demand a whole new editorial lens to view and process the project through.

What system do you edit on and what else other than editing are you asked to supply?
I currently cut in Adobe Premiere Pro. I’m often asked to supply graphics and motion graphic elements for offline cuts as well. That means being comfortable with the whole Adobe suite of tools, including Photoshop and After Effects. From type setting to motion tracking, editors are now asked to be well-versed in all tangential aspects of editorial.

What projects have you worked on recently?
I cut the launch film for Razer’s new Respawn energy drink. I also cut Toms Shoes’ most recent campaign, “Stand For Tomorrow.”

EditShare Head of Marketing Lee Griffin

What are the biggest trends you’ve been seeing in product development?
We see the need to produce more video content — and produce it faster than ever before — for social media channels. This means producing video in non-broadcast standards/formats and, more specifically, producing square video. To accommodate, editing tools need to offer user-defined options for manipulating size and aspect ratio.

What changes have you seen in terms of the way editors work and use your tools?
There are two distinct changes: One, productions are working with editors regardless of their location. Two, there is a wider level of participation in the content creation process.

In the past, the editor was physically located at the facility and was responsible for assembling, editing and finishing projects. However, with the growing demand for content production, directors and producers need options to tap into a much larger pool of talent, regardless of their location.

EditShare AirFlow and Flow Story enable editors to work remotely from any location. So today, we frequently see editors who use our Flow editorial tools working in different states and even on different continents.

With AI becoming a popular idea and term, at what point does it stop?
I think AI is quite exciting for the industry, and we do see its potential to significantly advance productions. However, AI is still in its infancy with regards to the content creation market. So from our point of view, the road to AI and its limits are yet to be defined. But we do have our own roadmap strategy for AI and will showcase some offerings integrated within our collaborative solutions at IBC 2019.

Will we ever be at a point where an offline/online workflow will be completely gone?
It depends on the production. Offline/online workflows are here to stay in the higher-end production environment. However, for fast turnaround productions, such as news, sports and programs (for example, soap operas and reality TV), there is no need for offline/online workflows.

What are the trends you’re seeing in customer base from high-end post facility vs, independent editor. How is that informing your decisions on products and pricing?
With the increase in the number of productions thanks to OTTs, high-end post facilities are tapping into independent editors more and more to manage the workload. Often the independent editor is remote, requiring the facility to have a media management foundation that can facilitate collaboration beyond the facility walls.

So we are seeing a fundamental shift in how facilities are structuring their media operations to support remote collaborations. The ability to expand and contract — with the same level of security they have within the facility — is paramount in architecting their “next-generation” infrastructure.

What do you see as untapped potential customer bases that didn’t exist 10 to 20 years ago, and how do you plan on attracting and nurturing them? What new markets are you seeing.
We are seeing major growth beyond the borders of the media and entertainment industry in many markets. From banks to real estate agencies to insurance companies, video has become one of the main ways for them to communicate to their media-savvy clientele.

While EditShare solutions were initially designed to support traditional broadcast deliverables, we have evolved them to accommodate these new customers. And today, these customers want simplicity coupled with speed. Our development methodology puts this at the forefront of our core products.

Puget Systems Senior Labs Technician Matt Bach

Have there been any talks between NLE providers about an open timeline. Essentially being able to go between Avid, Resolve, or Adobe with one file like an AAF or XML?
I have not heard anything on this topic from any developers, so keep in mind that this is pure conjecture, but the pessimistic side of me doesn’t see an “open timeline” being something that will happen anytime soon.

If you look at what many of the NLE developers are doing, they are moving more and more toward a pipeline that is completely contained within their ecosystem. Adobe has been pushing Dynamic Link in recent years in order to make it easier to move between Premiere Pro and After Effects. Blackmagic is going even a step further by integrating editing, color, VFX and audio all within DaVinci Resolve.

These examples are both great advancements that can really improve your workflow efficiency, but they are being done in order to keep the user within their specific ecosystem. As great as an open timeline would be, it seems to be counter to what Adobe, Blackmagic, and others are actively pursuing. We can still hold out hope, however!

With AI becoming a popular idea and term, at what point does it stop?
There are definitely limitations to what AI is capable of, but that line is moving year by year. For the foreseeable future, AI is going to take on a lot of the tedious tasks like tagging of footage, content-aware fill, shot matching, image enhancement and other similar tasks. These are all perfect use cases for artificial intelligence, and many (like content-aware fill) are already being implemented in the software we have available right now.

The creative side is where AI is going to take the longest time to become useful. I’m not sure if there is a point where AI will stop from a technical standpoint, but I personally believe that even if AI was perfect, there is value in the fact that an actual person made something. That may mean that the masses of videos that get published will be made by AI (or perhaps simply AI-assisted), but just like furniture, food, or even workstations, there will always be a market for high-quality items crafted by human hands.

I think the main thing to keep in mind with AI is that it is just a tool. Moving from black and white to color, or from film to digital, was something that at the time, people thought was going to destroy the industry. In reality, however, they ended up being a huge boon. Yes, AI will change how some jobs are approached — and may even eliminate some job roles entirely —but in the end, a computer is never going to be as creative and inventive as a real person.

There are many advancements in technology coming in NLEs seemingly daily, are those updates coming too fast and at an undesirable cost?
I agree that this is a problem right now, but it isn’t limited to just NLEs. We see the same thing all the time in other industries, and it even occurs on the hardware side where a new product will be launched simply because they could, not because there is an actual need for it.

The best thing you can do as an end-user is to provide feedback to the companies about what you actually want. Don’t just sit on those bugs, report them! Want a feature? Most companies have a feature request forum that you can post on.

In the end, these companies are doing what they believe will bring them the most users. If they think a flashy new feature will do it, that is what they will spend money on. But if they see a demand for less flashy, but more useful, improvements, they will make that a priority.

Will we ever be at a point where an offline/online workflow will be completely gone?
Unless we hit some point where camera technology stops advancing, I don’t think offline editing is ever going to fully go away. It is amazing what modern workstations can handle from a pure processing standpoint, but even if the systems themselves could handle online editing, you also need to have the storage infrastructure that can keep up. With the move from HD to 4K, and now to 8K, that is a lot of moving parts that need to come together in order to eliminate offline editing entirely.

With that said, I do feel like offline editing is going to be used less and less. We are starting to hit the point that people feel their footage is higher quality than they need without having to be on the bleeding edge. We can edit 4K ProRes or even Red RAW footage pretty easily with the technology that is currently available, and for most people that is more than enough for what they are going to need for the foreseeable future.

What are the trends you’re seeing in customer base from high-end post facility vs. independent editor, and how is that informing your decisions on products and pricing?
From a workstation side, there really is not too much of a difference beyond the fact that high-end post facilities tend to have larger budgets that allow them to get higher-end machines. Technology is becoming so accessible that even hobbyist YouTubers often end up getting workstations from us that are very similar to what high-end professionals use.

The biggest differences typically revolves not around the pure power or performance of the system itself, but rather how it interfaces with the other tools the editor is using. Things like whether the system has 10GB (or fiber) networking, or whether they need a video monitoring card in order to connect to a color calibrated display, are often what sets them apart.

What are the biggest trends you’ve been seeing in product development?
In general, the two big things that have come up over and over in recent years are GPU acceleration and artificial intelligence. GPU acceleration is a pretty straight-forward advancement that lets software developers get a lot more performance out of a system for tasks like color correction, noise reduction and other tasks that are very well suited for running on a GPU.

Artificial intelligence is a completely different beast. We do quite a bit of work with people that are on the forefront of AI and machine learning, and it is going to have a large impact on post production in the near future. It has been a topic at conferences like NAB for several years, but with platforms like Adobe Sensei starting to take off, it is going to become more important

However, I do feel that AI is going to be more of an enabling technology rather than one that replaces jobs. Yes, people are using AI to do crazy things like cut trailers without any human input, but I don’t think that is going to be the primary use of it anytime in the near future. It is going to be things like assisting with shot matching, tagging of footage, noise reduction, and image enhancement that is going to be where it is truly useful.

What do you see as untapped potential customer bases that didn’t exist 10-20 years ago, and how do you plan on attracting and nurturing them? What new markets are you seeing?
I don’t know if there are any customer bases that are completely untapped, but I do believe that there is going to be more overlap between industries in the next few years. One example is how much realtime raytracing has improved recently, which is spurring the use of video game engines in film. This has been done for previsualization for quite a while, but the quality is getting so good that there are some films already out that include footage straight from the game engine.

For us on the workstation side, we regularly work with customers doing post and customers who are game developers, so we already have the skills and technical knowledge to make this work. The biggest challenge is really on the communication side. Both groups have their own set of jargon and general language, so we often find ourselves having to be the “translator” when a post house is looking at integrating realtime visualization in their workflow.

This exact scenario is also likely to happen with VR/AR as well.

Lucky Post Editor Marc Stone

What trends do you see in commercial editing?
I’m seeing an increase in client awareness of the mobility of editing. It’s freeing knowing you can take the craft with you as needed, and for clients, it can save the ever-precious commodity of time. Mobility means we can be an even greater resource to our clients with a flexible approach.

I love editing at Lucky Post, but I’m happy to edit anywhere I am needed — be it on set or on location. I especially welcome it if it means you can have face-to-face interaction with the agency team or the project’s director.

What is it about commercial editing that attracted you and keeps attracting you?
The fact that I can work on many projects throughout the year, with a variety of genres, is really appealing. Cars, comedy, emotional PSAs — each has a unique creative challenge, and I welcome the opportunity to experience different styles and creative teams. I also love putting visuals together with music, and that’s a big part of what I do in 30-or 60-second… or even in a two-minute branded piece. That just wouldn’t be possible, to the same extent, in features or television.

Can you talk about challenges specific to short-form editing?
The biggest challenge is telling a story in 30 seconds. To communicate emotion and a sense of character and get people to care, all within a very short period of time. People outside of our industry are often surprised to hear that editors take hours and hours of footage and hone it down to a minute or less. The key is to make each moment count and to help make the piece something special.

Ram’s The Promise spot

How has social media campaigns changed the way you edit, if at all?
It hasn’t changed the way I edit, but it does allow some flexibility. Length isn’t constrained in the same way as broadcast, and you can conceive of things in a different way in part because of the engagement approach and goals. Social campaigns allow agencies to be more experimental with ideas, which can lead to some bold and exciting projects.

What system do you edit on, and what else other than editing are you asked to supply?
For years I worked on Avid Media Composer, and at Lucky Post I work in Adobe Premiere. As part of my editing process, I often weave sound design and music into the offline so I can feel if the edit is truly working. What I also like to do, when the opportunity presents, is to be able to meet with the agency creatives before the shoot to discuss style and mood ahead of time.

What projects have you worked on recently?
Over the last six months, I have worked on projects for Tazo, Ram and GameStop, and I am about to start a PSA for the Salvation Army. It gets back to the variety I spoke about earlier and the opportunity to work on interesting projects with great people.

Billboard Video Post Supervisor/Editor Zack Wolder

What trends do you see in editing? Good or bad.I’m noticing a lot of glitch transitions and RGB splits being used. Much flashier edits, probably for social content to quickly grab the viewers attention.

Can you talk about challenges specific to short-form editing versus long-form?
With short-form editing, the main goal is to squeeze the most amount of useful information into a short period of time while not overloading the viewer. How do you fit an hour-long conversation into a three-minute clip while hitting all the important talking points and not overloading the viewer? With long-form editing, the goal is to keep viewers’ attention over a long period of time while always surprising them with new and exciting info.

What is it about editing that attracted you and keeps attracting you?
I loved the fact that I could manipulate time. That hooked me right away. The fact that I could take a moment that lasts only a few seconds and drag it out for a few minutes was incredible.

Can you talk about the variety of deliverables for social media and how that affects things?
Social media formats have made me think differently about framing a shot or designing logos. Almost all the videos I create start in the standard 16×9 framing but will eventually be delivered as a vertical. All graphics and transitions I build need to easily work in a vertical frame. Working in a 4K space and shooting in 4K helps tremendously.

Rainn Wilson and Billie Eilish

What system do you edit on, and what else other than editing are you asked to supply?
I edit in Adobe Premiere Pro. I’m constantly asked to supply design ideas and mockups for logos and branding and then to animate those ideas.

What projects have you worked on recently?
Recently, I edited a video that featured Rainn Wilson — who played Dwight Schrute on The Office — quizzing singer Billie Eilish, who is a big-time fan of the show.

Main Image: AlphaDogs editor Herrianne Catolos


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Lenovo intros next-gen ThinkPads

Lenovo has launched the next generation of its ThinkPad P Series with the release of five new ThinkPads, including the ThinkPad P73, ThinkPad P53, ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 and ThinkPad P53s and P43s.

The ThinkPad P53 features the Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 GPU with RT and Tensor cores, offering realtime raytracing and AI acceleration. It now features Intel Xeon and 9th Gen Core class CPUs with up to eight cores (including the Core i9) up to 128GB of memory and 6TB of storage.

This mobile workstation also boasts a new OLED touch display with Dolby Vision HDR for superb color and some of the deepest black levels ever. Building on the innovation behind the ThinkPad P1 power supply, Lenovo is also maximizing the portability of this workstation with a 35 percent smaller power supply. The ThinkPad P53 is designed to handle everything from augmented reality and VR content creation to the deployment of mobile AI or ISV workflows. The ThinkPad P53 will be available in July, starting at $1,799.

At 3.74 pounds and 17.2mm thin, Lenovo’s thinnest and lightest 15-inch workstation — the ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 — includes the latest Nvidia Quadro Turing T1000 and T2000 GPUs. The ThinkPad P1 also features eight-core Intel 9th Gen Xeon and Core CPUs and an OLED touch display with Dolby Vision HDR.

The ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 will be available at the end of June starting at $1,949.

With its 17.3-inch Dolby Vision 4K UHD screen and mobility with a 35% smaller power adaptor, Lenovo’s ThinkPad P73 offers users maximum workspace and mobility. Like the ThinkPad 53, it features the Intel Xeon and Core processors and the most powerful Nvidia Quadro RTX graphics. The ThinkPad P73 will be available in August starting at $1,849.

The ThinkPad P43s features a 14-inch chassis and will be available in July starting at $1,499.

Rounding out the line is the ThinkPad P53s which combines the latest Nvidia Quadro graphics and Intel Core processors — all in a thin and light chassis. The ThinkPad P53s will be available in June, starting at $1,499.

For the first time, Lenovo is adding new X-Rite Pantone Factory Color Calibration to the ThinkPad P1 Gen 2, ThinkPad P53 and ThinkPad P73. The unique factory color calibration profile is stored in the cloud to ensure more accurate recalibration. This profile allows for dynamic switching between color spaces, including sRGB, Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 to ensure accurate ISV application performance.

The entire ThinkPad portfolio is also equipped with advanced ThinkShield security features – from ThinkShutter to privacy screens to self-healing BIOS that recover when attacked or corrupted – to help protect users from every angle and give them the freedom to innovate fearlessly.

Cinnafilm 6.6.19

New Boxx workstation features Intel Xeon W-3200 processor

Boxx Technologies, which makes computer workstations, rendering systems and servers, has introduced the Apexx W4L workstation featuring new Intel Xeon W-3200 series processors. This new single-socket processor provides performance increases over previous Intel Xeon W technology. Boxx’s Apexx W4L is purpose-built for rendering, simulation and other GPU-accelerated compute applications.

A new single-socket solution, 28-core (56 thread) Intel Xeon W-3200 processors offer up to 4.6GHz with Intel Turbo Boost Max Technology 3.0, 64 processor PCIe lanes for more I/O throughput for networking, graphics and storage, and new Intel Deep Learning Boost for accelerated AI performance.

In addition to the new Intel processor technology, Apexx W4L features up to 1TB of memory and four Nvidia or AMD professional GPUs, making the workstation ideal for GPU-intensive workloads, including media and entertainment.

Pricing starts at $7,395 and you can expect two to three weeks for delivery.

 


Apple intros long-awaited new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR

By Barry Goch

The Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC19) kicked off on Monday with a keynote from Apple CEO Tim Cook, where he announced the eagerly awaited new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR.

Tim Cook’s keynote

In recent years, many working in M&E felt as if Apple had moved away from supporting creative pros in this industry. There was the fumbled rollout of FCPX and then the “trash can” MacPro with its limited upgrade path. Well, our patience has finally paid off and our faith in Apple restored. This week Apple delivered products beyond expectation.

This post pro, for one, is very happy that Apple is back making serious hardware for creative professionals. The tight integration of hardware and software, along with Apple’s build quality, makes its products unique in the market. There is confidence and freedom using Macs that creatives love, and the tower footprint is back!

The computer itself is a more than worthy successor to the original Mac Pro tower design. It’s the complete opposite concept of the current trash-can-shaped Mac Pro, with its closed design and limited upgradeability. The new Mac Pro’s motherboard is connected to a stainless steel space frame offering 360-degree access to the internals, which include 12 memory slots with up to 1.5TB of RAM capacity and eight PCI slots, which is the most ever in a Mac — more than the venerable 9600 Power Mac. The innovative graphics architecture in the new Mac Pro is an expansion module, or MPX module, which allows the installation of two graphic cards tied together through the Infinity Fabric link. This allows for data transfers up to five times faster between the GPUs on the PCIe bus.

Also new is the Apple Afterburner hardware accelerator card, which is a field programmable gate array (FPGA) hardware card for accelerating ProRes and ProRes RAW workflows. Afterburner supports playback of up to three streams of 8K ProRes RAW or up to 12 streams of 4K ProRes RAW. The FPGA allows new instruction to be installed on the chipset, giving the MacPro Afterburner card a wealth of possibilities for future updates.

Plays Well With Others
Across the street from the San Jose Convention Center, where the keynote was held, Apple set up “The Studio” in the historic San Jose Civic. The venue was divided into areas of creative specialization: video, photography, music production, 3D and AR. It was really great to see complete workflows and to be able to interface with Apple creative pros. Oh, and Apple has announced support from third-party developers, such as Blackmagic, Avid, Adobe, Maxon’s Cinema 4D, Foundry, Red, Epic Games, Unity, Pixar and more.

Metal is Apple’s replacement for OpenCL/GL. It’s a low level language for interfacing with GPUs. Working closely with AMD, the new Mac Pro will use native Metal rendering for Resolve, OToy Octane, Maxon Cinema 4D and Red.

Blackmagic’s Grant Perry and Barry Goch at The Studio.

DaVinci Resolve is a color correction and online editing software for high-end film and television work. “It was the first professional software to adopt Metal and now, with the new Mac Pro and Afterburner, we’re seeing full-quality 8K performance in realtime with color correction and effects, something we could never dream of doing before,” explains Blackmagic CEO Grant Petty. “DaVinci Resolve running on the new Mac Pro is the fastest way to edit, grade and finish movies and TV shows.”

According to Avid’s director of product management for audio, Francois Quereuil, “Avid’s Pro Tools team is blown away by the unprecedented processing power of the new Mac Pro, and thanks to its internal expansion capabilities, up to six Pro Tools HDX cards can be installed within the system — a first for Avid’s flagship audio workstation. We’re now able to deliver never-before-seen performance and capabilities for audio production in a single system and deliver a platform that professional users in music and post have been eagerly awaiting.”

“Apple continues to innovate for video professionals,” reports Adobe’s VP of digital video and audio, Steven Warner. “With the power offered by the new Mac Pro, editors will be able to work with 8K without the need for any proxy workflows in a future release of Premiere Pro.”

And from Apple? Expect versions of FCPX and Logic to be available with release of the new MacPro and rest assured they will fully use the new hardware.

The Cost
The price for a Mac Pro with an eight-core Xeon W processor, 32GB of RAM, an AMD Radeon Pro 580X GPU and a 256GB SSD is $5999. The price for the fully loaded version with the 28-core Xeon processor, Afterburner, two MDX modules with four AMD Radeon Pro Vega II Duo graphics cards and 4TB of SSD internal storage will come in around $20,000, give or take. It will be available this fall.

Pro Display XDR
The new Pro Display XDR is amazing. I was invited into a calibrated viewing environment that also housed Dell, Eizo, Sony BVM-X300 and Sony-X310 HDR monitors. We were shown the typical extreme bright and colorful animal footage for monitor demos. Personally, I would have preferred to have seen more shots of people from a TV show or feature and not the usual extreme footage used to show off how bright the monitor could get.

For example, it would have been cool to see the Jony Ive video — which plays on the Apple site and describes the offerings of the MacPro and the monitor — talking about the design of the product on the monitor.

Anyway, the big hang-up with the monitor is the stand. The price tag of $1,000 for a monitor stand is a lot compared to the price of the monitor itself. When the price of the stand was announced during the keynote, there was a loud gasp, which unfortunately dampened the excitement and momentum of the new releases. It too will be available in the fall.

Display Specs
This Retina 6K 32-inch (diagonal) display offers 6016×3384 pixels (20.4 million pixels) at 218 pixels per inch. The sustained brightness is 1000-nits sustained (full screen) with 1600 nits peak and a contrast ratio of one million to one. It works in P3 wide color gamut with 10-bit depth for 1.073 billion colors. Available reference modes include HDR video (P3-ST 2084), Digital Cinema (P3-DCI), Digital Cinema (P3-D65) and HDTV video (BT.709-BT.1886). Supported HDR formats are HLG, HDR 10 and Dolby Vision.

Portrait mode

The Cost
The standard glass version is $4,999. The nano-texture anti-glare glass version is $5,999. As mentioned, the Pro Stand is $999 and VESA mount adapter is $199. Both are sold separately and have a Thunderbolt 3 connection only.

Pros and Cons
MacPro Pros: innovative design, expandability
Cons: Lack of Nvidia support, no Afterburner support for other formats beyond ProRes and no optical audio output.

Pro Display XDR Pros: Ability to sustain 1,000 nits, beautiful design and execution.
Cons: Lack of Rec 2020 color space and ACES profile, plus the high cost of the display stand.

Summing Up
The Pro is back for Apple and third-party apps like Avid and Resolve. I really can’t wait to get my hands on the new MacPro and Pro Display XDR and put them through their paces.


Barry Goch is a finishing artist at LA’s The Foundation as well as a UCLA Extension Instructor, Post Production. You can follow him on Twitter at @Gochya


Dell adds to Precision workstation line, targets M&E

During the Computex show, Dell showed new Precision mobile workstations featuring the latest processors, next-gen graphics, new display options and longer battery life. These systems are designed demanding data- and graphics-intensive workloads.

Dell Precision workstations are ISV-certified and come with Dell Precision Optimizer software that automatically tailors the system’s settings to get the best software performance from the workstation. The compact design of the new 5000 and 7000 series models offer a combination of extreme battery life, powerful processor configurations and large storage options. Starting at 3.9 pounds, the Dell Precision 5540 comes with Intel Xeon E or 9th Gen Intel Core eight-core processors.

With a 15.6-inch InfinityEdge display inside a 14-inch chassis, the Precision 5540 houses up to 4TB of storage and up to 64GB of memory, which helps pros to quickly access, transfer and store large 3D, video and multimedia files. Editors and designers will also benefit from contrast ratios, touch capability and picture quality with up to a UHD, 100% Adobe color gamut display or the new OLED display with 100% DCI-P3 color gamut.

The Dell Precision 7540 15-inch mobile workstation comes with a range of 15.6-inch display options, including a UHD HDR 400 display. It supports up to 8K resolution and playback of HDR content via single DisplayPort 1.4. The Precision 7540 can accelerate heavy workflows with up to 3200MHz SuperSpeed memory or up to 128GB of 2666MHz ECC memory.

For creatives whose process requires an even more immersive experience, the new Dell Precision 7740 has a 17.3-inch screen and is Dell’s most powerful and scalable mobile workstation. VR- and AI-ready, it is designed to help users bring their most data-heavy, graphic-intensive ideas to life while keeping applications running smoothly.

The Precision 7740 has been updated to feature up to the latest Intel Xeon E or 9th Gen Intel Core eight-core processors and comes with up to 128GB of ECC memory and a large PCIe SSD storage capacity (up to 8TB). Nvidia Quadro RTX graphics offer realtime raytracing with AI-based graphics acceleration. Additional options include next-generation AMD Radeon Pro GPUs. It is available with a range of display options, including a new 17.3-inch UltraSharp UHD IGZO display featuring 100% Adobe color gamut.

Along with the new Precision mobile workstation models, Dell has also updated its Precision 3000 series towers and the Precision 1U rack workstation. The 3930 1U rack workstation has been updated with Intel Xeon E or 9th Gen Intel Core processor options. The solution now offers up to 128GB of memory and up to one double-width 295W of Nvidia Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro professional graphics support.

The next-gen Dell Precision 3630 and 3431 towers improve response time with up to 128GB or 64GB of 2666MHz ECC or non-ECC memory, respectively, and both offer scalable storage options. All workstations have a range of operating system options, including Windows 10 Pro, Red Hat and Ubuntu Linux.

The Dell Precision 5540, 7540 and 7740 mobile workstations will be available on Dell.com in early July. Starting prices are $1339, $1149 and $1409, respectively. The Dell Precision 3630 tower workstation will be available on dell.com in mid-July starting at $609.

The Dell Precision 3431 Tower workstation will be available on their site in June starting at $609. The Dell Precision 3930 Rack will be available on their site in mid-July starting at $879.


Nvidia, AMD and Intel news from Computex

By Mike McCarthy

A number of new technologies and products were just announced at this year’s Computex event in Taipei, Taiwan. Let’s take a look at ones that seem relevant to media creation pros.

Nvidia released a line of mobile workstation GPUs based on its newest Turing architecture. Like the GeForce lineup, the Turing line has versions without the RTX designation. The Quadro RTX 5000, 4000 and 3000 have raytracing and Tensor cores, while the Quadro T2000 and T1000 do not, similar to the GeForce 16 products. The RTX 5000 matches the desktop version, with slightly more CUDA cores than the GeForce RTX 2080, although at lower clock speeds for reduced power consumption.

Nvidia’s new RTX 5000

The new Quadro RTX 3000 has similar core configuration to the desktop Quadro RTX 4000 and GeForce RTX 2070. This leaves the new RTX 4000 somewhere in between, with more cores than the desktop variant, aiming to provide similar overall performance at lower clock speeds and power consumption. While I can respect the attempt to offer similar performance at given tiers, doing so makes it more complicated than just leaving consistent naming for particular core configurations.

Nvidia also announced a new “RTX Studio” certification program for laptops targeted at content creators. These laptops are designed to support content creation applications with “desktop-like” performance. RTX Studio laptops will include an RTX GPU (either GeForce or Quadro), an H-Series or better Intel CPU, at least 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD, and at least a 1080p screen. Nvidia also announced a new line of studio drivers that are supposed to work with both Quadro and GeForce hardware. They are optimized for content creators and tested for stability with applications from Adobe, Autodesk, Avid, and others. Hopefully these drivers will simplify certain external GPU configurations that mix Quadro and GeForce hardware. It is unclear whether or not these new “Studio” drivers will replace the previously announced “Creator Ready” series of drivers.

Intel announced a new variant of its top end 9900K CPU. The i9-9900KS has a similar configuration, but runs at higher clock speeds on more cores, with a 4GHz base frequency and allowing 5GHz boost speeds on all eight cores. Intel also offered more details on its upcoming 10nm Ice Lake products with Gen 11 integrated graphics, which offers numerous performance improvements and VNNI support to accelerate AI processing. Intel is also integrating support for Thunderbolt 3 and Wi-Fi 6 into the new chipsets, which should lead to wider support for those interfaces. The first 10nm products to be released will be the lower-power chip for tablets and ultra portable laptops with higher power variants coming further in the future.

AMD took the opportunity to release new generations of both CPUs and GPUs. On the CPU front, AMD has a number of new third-generation 7nm Ryzen processors, with six to 12 cores in the 4GHz range and supporting 20 lanes of fourth-gen PCIe. Priced between $200 and $500, they are targeted at consumers and gamers and are slated to be available July 7th. These CPUs compete with Intel’s 9900K and similar CPUs, which have been offering top performance for Premiere and After Effects users due to their high clock speed. It will be interesting to see if AMD’s new products offer competitive performance at that price point.

AMD also finally publicly released its Navi generation GPU architecture, in the form of the new Radeon 5700. The 5000 series has an entirely new core design, which they call Radeon DNA (RDNA) to replace the GCN architecture first released seven years ago. RDNA is supposed to offer 25% more performance per clock cycle and 50% more performance per watt. This is important, because power consumption was AMD’s weak point compared to competing products from Nvidia.

AMD president and CEO Dr. Lisa Su giving her keynote.

While GPU power consumption isn’t as big of a deal for gamers using it a couple hours a day, commercial compute tasks that run 24/7 see significant increases in operating costs for electricity and cooling when power consumption is higher. AMD’s newest Radeon 5700 is advertised to compete performance-wise with the GeForce RTX 2070, meaning that Nvidia still holds the overall performance crown for the foreseeable future. But the new competition should drive down prices in the mid-range performance segment, which are the cards most video editors need.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with over 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.


Review: CyberPower PC workstation with AMD Ryzen

By Brady Betzel

With the influx of end users searching for alternatives to Mac Pros, as well as new ways to purchase workstation-level computing solutions, there is no shortage of opinions on what brands to buy and who might build it. Everyone has a cousin or neighbor that builds systems, right?

I’ve often heard people say, “I’ve never built a system or used (insert brand name here), but I know they aren’t good.” We’ve all run into people who are dubious by nature. I’m not so cynical, and when it comes to operating and computer systems, I consider myself Switzerland.

When looking for the right computer system, the main question you should ask is, “What do you need to accomplish?” Followed by, “What might you want to accomplish in the future?” I’m a video editor and colorist, so I need the system I build to work fluidly with Avid Media Composer, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve and Adobe’s Premiere and After Effects. I also want my system to work with Maxon Cinema 4D in case I want to go a little further than Video Copilot’s Element 3D and start modeling in Cinema 4D. My main focus is video editing and color correction but I also need flexibility for other tools.

Lately, I’ve been reaching out to companies in the hopes of testing as many custom-built Windows -based PCs as possible. There have been many Mac OS-to-Windows transplants over the past few years, so I know pros are eager for options. One of the latest seismic shifts have come from the guys over at Greyscalegorilla moving away from Mac to PCs. In particular, I saw that one of the main head honchos over there, Nick Campbell (@nickvegas), went for a build complete with the Ryzen Threadripper 32-core workhorse. You can see the lineup of systems here. This really made me reassess my thoughts on AMD being a workstation-level processor, and while not everyone can afford the latest Intel i9 or AMD Threadripper processors, there are lower-end processors that will do most people just fine. This is where the custom-built PC makers like CyberPower PC, who equip machines with AMD processors, come into play.

So why go with a company like CyberPowerPC? The prices for parts are usually competitive, and the entire build isn’t much more than if you purchased the parts by themselves. Also, you deal with CyberPower PC for Warranty issues and not individual companies for different parts.

My CustomBuild
In my testing of an AMD Ryzen 7 1700x-based system with a Samsung NVMe hard drive and 16GB of RAM, I was able to run all of the software I mentioned before. The best part was the price; the total was around, $1,000! Not bad for someone editing and color correcting. Typically those machines can run anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000. Although the parts in those more expensive systems are more complex and have double to triple the amount of cores, some of that is wasted. And when on a budget you will be hard-pressed to find a better deal than CyberPower PC. If you build a system yourself, you might get close but not far off.

While this particular build isn’t going to beat out the AMD Threadripper’s or Intel i9-based systems, the AMD Ryzen-based systems offer a decent bang for the buck. As I mentioned, I focus on video editing and color correcting so I tested a simple one-minute UHD (3840×2160) 23.98 H.264 export. Using Premiere along with Adobe’s Media Encoder, I used about :30 seconds of Red UHD footage as well as some UHD S-log3/s-gamut3 footage I shot on the Sony a7 III creating a one-minute long sequence.

I then exported it as an H.264 at a bitrate around 10Mb/s. With only a 1D LUT on the Sony a7iii footage, the one-minute sequence took one minute 13 seconds. With added 10% resizes and a “simple” Gaussian blur over all the clips, the sequence exported in one minute and four seconds. This is proof that the AMD GPU is working inside of Premiere and Media Encoder. Inside Premiere, I was able to playback the full-quality sequence on a second monitor without any discernible frames dropping.

So when people tell you AMD isn’t Intel, technically they are right, but overall the AMD systems are performing at a high enough level that for the money you are saving, it might be worth it. In the end, with the right expectations and dollars, an AMD-based system like this one is amazing.

Whether you like to build your own computer or just don’t want to buy a big-brand system, custom-built PCs are a definite way to go. I might be a little partial since I am comfortable opening up my system and changing parts around, but the newer cases allow for pretty easy adjustments. For instance, I installed a Blackmagic DeckLink and four SSD drives for a RAID-0 setup inside the box. Besides wishing for some more internal drive cages, I felt it was easy to find the cables and get into the wiring that CyberPowerPC had put together. And because CyberPowerPC is more in the market for gaming, there are plenty of RGB light options, including the memory!

I was kind of against the lighting since any color casts could throw off color correction, but it was actually kind of cool and made my setup look a little more modern. It actually kind of got my creativity going.

Check out the latest AMD Ryzen processors and exciting improvements to the Radeon line of graphics cards on www.cyberpowerpc.com and www.amd.com. And, hopefully, I can get my hands on a sweet AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX with 32 cores and 64 threads to really burn a hole in my render power.


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: Razer Blade 15-inch mobile workstation

By Mike McCarthy

I am always looking for the most powerful tools in the smallest packages, so I decided to check out the Razer Blade 15-inch laptop with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Max-Q graphics card. The Max-Q variants are optimized for better thermals and power usage — at the potential expense of performance — in order to allow more powerful GPUs to be used in smaller laptops. The RTX 2080 is Nvidia’s top-end mobile GPU, with 2,944 CUDA cores and 8GB of DDR6 memory, running at 384GB/s with 13.6 billion transistors on the chip.

The new Razer Blade has a six-core Intel i7-8750H processor with 16GB RAM and a 512GB SSD. It has mDP 1.4, HDMI 2.0b, Thunderbolt 3 and three USB 3.1 ports. Its 15.6-inch screen can run at 144Hz refresh rate but only supports full HD 1920×1080, which is optimized for gaming, not content creation. The past four laptops I have used have all been UHD resolution at various sizes, which gives far more screen real estate for creative applications and better resolution to review your imagery.

I also prefer to have an Ethernet port, but I am beginning to accept that a dongle might be acceptable for that, especially since it opens up the possibility of using 10 Gigabit Ethernet. We aren’t going to see 10GigE on laptops anytime soon due to the excessive power consumption, but you only need 10GigE when at certain locations that support it, so a dongle or docking station is reasonable for those use cases.

Certain functionality on the system required a free account to be registered with Razer, which is annoying, but I’ve found this requirement is becoming the norm these days. That gives access to the Razer Synapse utility for customizing the system settings, setting fan speed and even remapping keyboard functionality. Any other Razer peripherals would be controlled here as well. As part of a top-end modern gaming system, the keyboard has fully controllable color back lighting. While I find most of the default “effects” to be distracting, the option to color code your shortcut keys is interesting. And if you really want to go to the next level, you can customize it further.

For example, when you press the FN key, by default the keys that have function behaviors connected with them light up white, which impressed me. The colors and dimming are generated by blinking the LEDs, but I was able to perceive the flicker when moving my eyes, so I stuck with colors that didn’t involve dimming channels. But that still gave me six options (RGB, CYM) plus white.

This is the color config I was running in the photos, but the camera does not reflect how it actually looks. In pictures, the keys look washed out, but in person they are almost too bright and vibrant. But we are here for more than looks, so it was time to put it through its paces and see what can happen under the hood.

Testing
I ran a number of benchmarks, starting with Adobe Premiere Pro. I now have a consistent set of tests to run on workstations in order to compare each system. The tests involve Red, Sony Venice and ARRI Alexa source files, with various GPU effects applied and exported to compressed formats. It handled the 4K and 8K renders quite well — pretty comparable to full desktop systems — showcasing the power of the RTX GPU. Under the sustained load of rendering for 30 minutes, it did get quite warm, so you will want adequate ventilation … and you won’t want it sitting on your lap.

My next test was RedCine-X Pro, with its new CUDA playback acceleration of files up to 8K. But what is the point of decoding 8K if you can’t see all the pixels you are processing? So for this test, I also connected my Dell UP3218K screen to the Razer Blade’s Mini DisplayPort 1.4 output. Outputting to the monitor does affect performance a bit, but that is a reasonable expectation. It doesn’t matter if you can decode 8K in real time if you can’t display it. Nvidia provides reviewers with links to some test footage, but I have 40TB to choose from, in addition to test clips from all different settings on the various cameras from my Large Format Camera test last year.

The 4K Red files worked great at full res to the external monitor — full screen or pixel for pixel — while the system barely kept up with the 6K and 8K anamorphic files. 8K full frame required half-res playback to view smoothly on the 8K display. Full-frame 8K was barely realtime with the external monitor disabled, but that is still very impressive for a laptop (I have yet to accomplish that on my desktop). The rest of the files played back solidly to the local display. Disabling the CUDA GPU acceleration requires playing back below 1/8th res to do anything on a laptop, so this is where having a powerful GPU makes a big difference.

Blackmagic Resolve is the other major video editing program to consider, and while I do not find it intuitive to use myself, I usually recommend it to others who are looking for a high level of functionality but aren’t ready to pay for Premiere. I downloaded and rendered a test project from Nvidia, which plays Blackmagic Raw files in real time with a variety of effects and renders to H.264 in 40 seconds, but it takes 10 times longer with CUDA disabled in Resolve.

Here, as with the other tests, the real-world significance isn’t how much faster it is with a GPU than without, but how much faster is it with this RTX GPU compared to with other options. Nvidia clams this render takes 2.5 times as long on a Radeon-based MacBook Pro, and 10% longer on a previous-generation GTX 1080 laptop, which seems consistent with my previous experience and tests.

The primary differentiation of Nvidia’s RTX line of GPUs is the inclusion of RT cores to accelerate raytracing and Tensor cores to accelerate AI inferencing, so I wanted to try tasks that used those accelerations. I started by testing Adobe’s AI-based image enhancement in Lightroom Classic CC. Nvidia claims that the AI image enhancement uses the RTX’s Tensor cores, and it is four times faster with the RTX card. The visual results of the process didn’t appear to be much better than I could have achieved with manual development in Photoshop, but it was a lot faster to let the computer figure out what to do to improve the images. I also ran into an issue where certain blocks of the image got corrupted in the process, but I am not sure if Adobe or Nvidia is at fault here.

Raytracing
While I could have used this review as an excuse to go play Battlefield V to experience raytracing in video games, I stuck with the content-creation focus. In looking for a way to test raytracing, Nvidia pointed me to OctaneRender. Otoy has created a utility called OctaneBench for measuring the performance of various hardware configurations with its render engine. It reported that the RTX’s raytracing acceleration was giving me a 3x increase in render performance.

I also tested ProRender in Maxon Cinema 4D, which is not a raytracing renderer but does use GPU acceleration through OpenCL. Apparently, there is a way to use the Arnold ray-tracing engine in Cinema 4D, but I was reaching the limits of my 3D animation expertise and resources, so I didn’t pursue that path, and I didn’t test Maya for the same reason.

With ProRender, I was able to render views of various demo scenes 10 to 20 times faster than I could with a CPU only. I will probably include this as a regular test in future reviews, allowing me to gauge render performance far better than I can with Cinebench (which returned a CPU score of 836). And compiling a list of comparison render times will add more context to raw data. But, for now, I was able to render the demo “Bamboo” scene in 39 seconds and the more complex “Coffee Bean” scene in 188 seconds, beating even the Nvidia marketing team’s expected results.

VR
No test of a top-end GPU would be complete without trying out its VR performance. I connected my Windows-based Lenovo Explorer Mixed Reality headset, installed SteamVR and tested both 360 video editing in Premiere Pro and the true 3D experiences available in Steam. As would be expected, the experience was smooth, making this one of the most portable solutions for full-performance VR.

The RTX 2080 is a great GPU, and I had no issues with it. Outside of true 3D work, the upgrade from the Pascal-based GTX 1080 is minor, but for anyone upgrading from systems older than that, or doing true raytracing or AI processing, you will see a noticeable improvement in performance.

The new Razer Blade is a powerful laptop for its size, and while I did like it, that doesn’t mean I didn’t run into a few issues along the way. Some of those, like the screen resolution, are due to its focus on gaming instead of content creation, but I also had an issue with the touch pad. Touch pad issues are common when switching between devices constantly, but in this case, right-clicking instead of left-clicking and not registering movement when the mouse button was pressed were major headaches. The problems were only alleviated by connecting a mouse and sticking with that, which I frequently do anyway. The power supply has a rather large connector on a cumbersome thick and stiff cord, but it isn’t going to be falling out once you get it inserted. Battery life will vary greatly depending on how much processing power you are using.

These RTX chips are the first mobile GPUs with dedicated RT cores and with Tensor cores, since Volta-based chips never came to laptops. So for anyone with processing needs that are accelerated by those developments, the new RTX chip is obviously worth the upgrade. If you want the fastest thing out there, this is it. (Or at least it was, until Razer added options for 9th Generation Intel processors this week and a 4K OLED screen (an upgrade I would highly recommend for content creators). The model I reviewed goes for $3,000. The new 9th Gen version with a 240Hz screen is the same price, while the 4K OLED Touch version costs an extra $300.

Summing Up
If you are looking for a more balanced solution or are on a more limited budget, you should definitely compare the new Razer Blade to the new Nvidia GTX 16 line of mobile products that was just announced. Then decide which option is a better fit for your particular needs and budget.

The development of eGPUs has definitely shifted this ideal target for my usage. While this system has a Thunderbolt 3 port, it is fast enough that you won’t see significant gains from an eGPU, but that advantage comes at the expense of battery life and price. I am drawn to eGPUs because I only need maximum performance at my desk, but if you need top-end graphics performance totally untethered, RTX Max-Q chips are the solution for you.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with over 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.


Dell intros two budget-friendly Precision mobile workstations

Dell is offering two new mobile workstations for designers and graphic artists who are looking for entry-level, workstation-class devices — Dell Precision 3540 and 3541. These budget-friendly machines offer a smaller footprint with high performance. Dell’s Precision line has traditionally been used for intensive workloads, such as machine learning and artificial intelligence, and these entry-level versions are designed to allow artists with smaller budgets access to the Precision line’s capabilities.

The Precision 3540 comes with the latest 4-core Intel Core 8th generation processors, up to 32GB of DDR4 memory, AMD Radeon Pro graphics with 2GB of dedicated memory and 2TB of storage. The Precision 3541 will offer additional power, with 9th generation 8-core Intel Core and 6-core Intel Xeon processor options. It will be available with Nvidia Quadro professional graphics with 4GB of dedicated memory. It will also have extreme battery life for on-the-go productivity.

Both models come with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity and optional features to enhance security, such as fingerprint and smartcard readers, an IR camera and a camera shutter. Both models also have a narrow-edge 15.6-inch display. The 3540 model weighs in at 4.04 pounds, and the 3541 model starts at 4.34 pounds.

The Dell Precision 3540 is available now on Dell.com starting at $799, while the Precision 3541 will be available in late May.

HP shows off new HP Z6 and Z8 G4 workstations at NAB

HP was at NAB demoing their new HP Z6 and Z8 G4 workstations, which feature Intel Xeon scalable processors and Intel Optane DC persistent memory technology to eliminate the barrier between memory and storage for compute-intensive workflows, including machine learning, multimedia and VFX. The new workstations offer accelerated performance with a processor-architecture that allows users to work faster and more efficiently.

Intel Optane DC allows users to improve system performance by moving large datasets closer to the CPU so it can be assessed, processed and analyzed in realtime and in a more affordable way. This will allow for no data loss after a power cycle or application closure. Once applications are written to take advantage of this new technology, users will benefit from accelerated workflows and little or no downtime.

Targeting 8K video editing in realtime and for rendering workflows, the HP Z6 G4 workstation is equipped with two next-generation Intel Xeon processors providing up to 48 total processor cores in one system, Nvidia and AMD graphics and 384GB of memory. Users can install professional-grade storage hardware without using standard PCIe slots, offering the ability to upgrade over time.

Powered by up to 56 processing cores and up to 3TB of high-speed memory, the HP Z8 G4 workstation can run complex 3D simulations, supporting VFX workflows and handling advanced machine learning algorithms. They are certified for some of the most-used software apps, including Autodesk Flame and DaVinci Resolve.

HP’s Remote Graphics Software (RGS), included with all HP Z workstations, enables remote workstation access from any Windows, Linux or Mac device.

Avid is collaborating with HP to test RGS with Media Composer|Cloud VM.

The HP Z6 G4 workstation with new Intel Xeon processors is available now for the base price of $2,372. The HP Z8 G4 workstation starts at $2,981.

Dell updates Precision 7000 Series workstation line

Dell has updated its Precision 7920 and 7820 towers and Precision 7920 rack workstations to target the media and entertainment industry. Enhancements include processing of large data workloads, AI capabilities, hot-swappable drives, a tool-less external power supply and a flexible 2U rack form factor that boosts cooling, noise reduction and space savings.

Both the Dell Precision 7920 and 7820 towers will be available with the new 2nd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors and Nvidia Quadro RTX graphic options to deliver enhanced performance for applications with large datasets, including enhancements for artificial intelligence and machine learning workloads. All Precision workstations come equipped with the Dell Precision Optimizer. The Dell Precision Optimizer Premium is available at an additional cost. This feature uses AI-based technology to tune the workstation based on how it is being used.

In addition, the Precision workstations now feature a multichannel thermal design for advanced cooling and acoustics. An externally accessible tool-less power supply and FlexBays for lockable, hot-swappable drives are also included.

For users needing high-security, remotely accessible 1:1 workstation performance, the updated Dell Precision 7920 rack workstation delivers the same performance and scalability of the Dell Precision 7920 tower in a 2U rack form factor. This rack workstation is targeted to OEMs and users who need to locate their compute resources and valuable data in central environments. This option can save space and help reduce noise and heat, while providing secure remote access to external employees and contractors.

Configuration options will include the recently announced 2nd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors, built for advanced workstation professionals, with up to 28 cores, 56 threads and 3TB DDR4 RDIMM per socket. The workstations will also support Intel Deep Learning Boost, a new set of Intel AVX-512 instructions.

The Precision 7000 Series workstations will be available in May with high-performance storage capacity options, including up to 120TB/96TB of Enterprise SATA HDD and up to 16TB of PCIe NVMe SSDs.

Review: HP’s double-hinged ZBook Studio x360 mobile workstation

By Mike McCarthy

I recently had the opportunity to test HP’s ZBook Studio x360 mobile workstation over the course of a few weeks. HP’s ZBook mobile workstation division has really been thinking outside the box lately, with the release of the ZBook X2 tablet, the HP Z-VR backpack-mounted system and now the ZBook Studio x360.

The ZBook Studio x360 is similar in design functionality to HP’s other x360 models — the Pavilion, Spectre, Envy, ProBook and Elitebook x360 — in that the display is double-hinged. The keyboard can be folded all the way behind the screen, allowing it to be used similarly to a tablet or placed in “tent” or “presentation” mode with the keyboard partially folded behind it. But the ZBook is clearly the top-end option of the systems available in that form factor. And it inherits all of the engineering from the rest of HP’s extensive product portfolio, in regards to security, serviceability, and interface.

Performance-wise, this Studio x360 model sits somewhere in the middle of HP’s extensive ZBook mobile workstation lineup. It is above the lightweight ZBook 14U and 15U and X2 tablet with their low-voltage U-Series CPUs and the value-oriented 15v. It is similar to the more traditional clamshell ultrabook ZBook Studio, and has less graphics power and RAM than the top-end ZBook 15 and 17.

It is distinguished from the ZBook Studio by its double-hinged 360 folding chassis, and its touch and pen inking capability. It is larger than the ZBook X2 with more powerful internal hardware. This model is packed with processing power in the form of a 6-core 8th generation Xeon processor, 32GB RAM and an Nvidia Quadro P1000 GPU. The 15-inch UHD screen boosts up to 400 nits at full brightness and, of course, supports touch and pen input.

Configuration Options
The unit has a number of interesting configuration options with two M.2 slots and a 2.5-inch bay allowing up to 6TB of internal storage, but most users will forgo the 2.5-inch SATA bay for an extended 96whr battery. There is the option of choosing between a 4G WWAN card or DreamColor display, giving users a wide selection of possible capabilities.

Because of the work I do, I am mostly interested in answering the question: “How small and light can I go, and still get my work done effectively?” In order to answer that question, I am reviewing a system with most of the top-end options. I started at a 17-inch Lenovo P71 last year, then tried a large 15-inch PNY PrevailPro and now am trying out this much lighter 15-inch book. There is no compromise with the 6-core CPU, as that is the same as in a 17-inch beast. So the biggest difference is in the GPU, with the mobile Quadro P1000 only having the 512 CUDA core, one third the power of the Quadro P4000 I last tested. So VR is not going to work, but besides heavy color grading, most video editing tasks should be supported. And 32GB of RAM should be enough for most users, but I installed a second NVMe drive, giving me a total of 2TB of storage.

Display
The 15.6-inch display is available in a number of different options, all supporting touch and digital pen input. The base-level full-HD screen can be upgraded to a Sure View screen, allowing the user to selectively narrow the viewing angle at the press of a key in order to increase their privacy. Next up is the beautiful 400-nit UHD screen that my unit came with. And the top option is a 600-nit DreamColor calibrated UHD panel. All of the options fully support touch and pen input.

Connectivity
The unit has dual-Thunderbolt 3 ports, supporting DisplayPort 1.3, as well as HDMI, dual-USB3.1 Type-A ports, an SDXC card slot and an audio jack. The main feature I am missing is an RJ-45 jack for Gigabit Ethernet. I get that there are trade-offs to be made in any configuration, but that is the item I am missing from this unit. On the flip side, with the release of affordable Thunderbolt-based 10GbE adapters, that is probably what I would pair with this unit if I was going to be using it to edit assets I have stored on my network. So that is a solvable problem.

Serviceability
Unlike the heavier ZBook 15 and 17 models, it does not have a tool-less chassis, but that is an understandable a compromise to reduce size and weight, and totally reasonable. I was able to remove the bottom cover with a single torx screwdriver, giving me access to the RAM, wireless cards, and M.2 slots I was populating with a second NVMe drive to test. The battery can also be replaced that way should the need arise, but the 96whr long-life battery is fully covered by the system warranty, be that three or five years depending on your service level.

Security
There are a number of unique features that this model shares with many others in HP’s lineup. The UEFI-based HP Sure Start BIOS and pre-boot environment provide a host of options for enterprise-level IT management, and make it less likely that the boot process will get corrupted. HP Sure Click is a security mechanism that isolates each Chromium browser tab in its own virtual machine, protecting the rest of your system from any malware that it might otherwise be exposed to. Sure Run and Sure Recover are designed to prevent and recover from security failures that render the system unusable.

The HP Client Security Manager brings the controls for all of this functionality into one place and uses the system’s integrated fingerprint reader. HP Workwise is a utility for integrating the laptop with one’s cell phone, allowing automatic system lock and unlock when the cell phone leaves or enters Bluetooth range and phone notifications from the other “Sure” security applications.

Thunderbolt Dock
HP also supplied me with their new Thunderbolt dock. The single most important feature on that unit from my perspective is the Gigabit Ethernet port, since there isn’t one built into the laptop. It also adds two DisplayPorts and one VGA output and includes five more USB ports. I was able to connect my 8K display to the DisplayPort output and it ran fine at 30Hz, as is to be expected from a single Thunderbolt connection. The dock should run anything smaller than that at 60Hz, including two 4K displays.

The dock also supports an optional audio module to facilitate better conference calls, with a built-in speaker, microphone and call buttons. It is a nice idea but a bit redundant since the laptop has a “world-facing” microphone for noise cancellation or group calling and even has “Collaboration Keys” for controlling calls built into the top of the keyboard. Apparently, HP sees this functionality totally replacing office phones.

I initially struggled to get the dock to work — besides the DisplayPorts — but this was because I connected it before boot-up. Unlike docking stations from back in the day, Thunderbolt is fully hot-swappable and actually needs to be powered on the first time it is connected in order to trigger the dialog box, which gives it low-level access to your computer for security reasons. Once I did that, it has worked seamlessly.

The two-part cable integrates a dedicated power port and Thunderbolt 3 connection, magnetically connected for simple usage while maintaining flexibility for future system compatibility. The system can receive power from the Thunderbolt port, but for maximum power and performance uses a 130W dedicated power plug as well, which appears to be standardized across much of HP’s line of business products.

Touchscreens and Pens
I had never seriously considered tablets or touchscreen solutions for my own work until one of HP’s reps showed me an early prototype of the ZBook X2 a few years ago. I initially dismissed it until he explained how much processing power they had packed into it. Only then did I recognize that HP had finally fulfilled two of my very different and long-standing requests in a way that I hadn’t envisioned. I had been asking the display team for a lightweight battery-powered DreamColor display, and I had been asking the mobile workstation team for a 12- or 14-inch Nvidia-powered model — this new device was both.

I didn’t end up reviewing the X2 during its initial release last year, although I plan to soon. But once the X2 shifted my thinking about tablet and touch-based tools, I saw this ZBook Studio x360 as an even more powerful implementation of that idea, in a slightly larger form factor. While I have used pens on other people’s systems in the past, usually when doing tech support for other editors, this is my first attempt to do real work with a pen instead of a mouse and keyboard.

One of the first obstacles I encountered was getting the pen to work at all. Unlike the EMR-based pens from Wacom tablets and the ZBook X2, the x360 uses an AES-based pen, which requires power and a Bluetooth connection to communicate with the system. I am not the only user to be confused by this solution, but I have been assured by HP that the lack of documentation and USB-C charging cable have been remedied in currently shipping systems.

It took me a while (and some online research) to figure out that there was a USB-C port hidden in the pen and that it needed to be charged and paired with the system. Once I did that, it has functioned fine for me. The pen itself works great, with high precision and 4K levels of pressure sensitivity and tilt support. I am not much of a sketcher or painter, but I do a lot of work in Photoshop, either cleaning images up or creating facial expressions for my Character Animator puppets. The pen is a huge step up from the mouse for creating smooth curves and natural lines. And the various buttons worked well for me once I got used to them. But I don’t do a lot of work that benefits from having the pen support, and trying to adapt other tasks to the pen-based input was more challenging than I anticipated.

The other challenge I encountered was with the pen holder, which fits into the SD card slot. The design is good and works better than I would have expected, but removing the original SD plug that protects the slot was far more difficult than it should be. I assume the plug is necessary for the system to pass the 13 MilSpec type tests that HP runs all of its ZBooks through, but I probably won’t be wedging it back in that slot as long as I have the system.

Inking
I am not much of a tablet user as of yet since this was my first foray into that form factor, but the system is a bit large and bulky when folded back into tablet mode. I have hit the power button by accident on multiple occasions, hibernating the system while I was trying to use it. This has primarily been an issue when I am using it in tablet mode and holding it with my left hand in that area by default. But the biggest limitation I encountered in tablet mode was recognizing just how frequently I use the keyboard during the course of my work. While Windows Inking does allow for an onscreen keyboard to be brought up for text entry, functions like holding Alt for anchor-based resizing are especially challenging. I am curious to see if some of these issues are alleviated on the X2 by the buttons they built into the edge of the display. As long as I have easy access to Shift, Ctrl, Alt, C, V and a couple others, I think I would be good to go, but it is one of those things that you can’t know for sure until you try it yourself. And different people with varying habits and preferences might prefer different solutions to the same tasks. In my case, I have not found the optimal touch and inking experience yet.

Performance
I was curious to see what level of performance I would get from the Quadro P1000, as I usually use systems with far more GPU power. But I was impressed with how well it was able to handle the animating and editing of the 5K assets for my Grounds of Freedom animated series. I was even able to dynamically link between the various Adobe apps with a reasonable degree of interactive feedback. That is where you start to see a difference between this mobile system and a massive desktop workstation.

eGPU
Always looking for more power, I hooked up Sonnet’s Breakaway Box 550 with a variety of different Nvidia GPUs to accelerate the graphics performance of the system. The Quadro P6000 was the best option, as it used the same Quadro driver and Pascal architecture as the integrated P1000 GPU but greatly increased performance.

It allowed me to use my Lenovo Explorer WMR headset to edit 360 video in VR with Premiere Pro, and I was able to playback 8K DNxHR files at full resolution in Premiere to my Dell 8K LCD display. I was also able to watch 8K HEVC files in Windows movie player smoothly. Pretty impressive for a 15-inch convertible laptop, but the 6-Core Xeon processor pairs well with the desktop GPU, making this an ideal system to harness the workflow possibilities offered by eGPU solutions.

Media Export Benchmarks
I did extensive benchmark testing, measuring the export times of various media at different settings with different internal and external GPU options. The basic conclusion was that currently simple transcodes and conversions are not much different with an eGPU, but that once color correction and other effects are brought into the equation, increasing GPU power makes processing two to five times faster.

I also tested DCP exports with Quvis’ Wraptor plugin for AME and found the laptop took less than twice as long as my top-end desktop to make DCPs, which I consider to be a good thing. You can kick out a 4K movie trailer in under 10 minutes. And if you want to export a full feature film, I would recommend a desktop, but this will do it in a couple of hours.

Final Observations
The ZBook Studio x360 is a powerful machine and an optimal host for eGPU workflows. While it exceeded my performance expectations, I did not find the touch and ink solution to be optimal for my needs as I am a heavy keyboard user, even when doing artistic tasks. (To be clear, I haven’t found a better solution. This just doesn’t suitably replace my traditional mouse and keyboard approach to work.) So if buying one for myself, I would personally opt for the non-touch ZBook Studio model. But for anyone to whom inking is a critical part of their artistic workflow, who needs a powerful system on the go, this is a very capable model that doesn’t appear to have too many similar alternatives. It blends the power of the ZBook Studio with the inking experience of HP’s other x360 products.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with over 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.

Sonnet intros four-port SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps PCI adapter cards

Sonnet is offering two new four-port, dual-controller SuperSpeed USB 10Gbps PCIe adapter cards: the Allegro Pro USB 3.1 PCIe and Allegro USB-C 4-Port PCIe. The Allegro cards add four powered USB-A or USB-C ports, respectively, to Mac, Windows or Linux computers with PCI Express (PCIe) slots, and to Mac and Windows computers with Thunderbolt ports when installed in a Thunderbolt-to-PCI Express card expansion chassis.

Both Sonnet adapter cards feature dual USB 3.1 Gen 2 controllers and support the fastest SSD-based USB drives available with file transfer speeds up to 800MB/s from a single drive, and up to 1,200MB/s aggregate from four drives. Both cards support USB bus-powered SSD, SSD RAID and hard drive devices with up to 7.5 watts of power per port, without the user having to connect auxiliary power to the card or AC power adapters to the devices. Hubs and other USB-IF-compliant devices are also supported.

“Although they feature modern CPUs, so many current desktop and workstation computers are equipped only with generations-old USB interfaces or, at best, a single modern USB port,” says Sonnet’s Greg LaPorte. “For broadcasters, post and AV professionals, the ability to move files quickly from and between multiple USB drives is critical; onboard I/O is too slow. Sonnet’s latest USB adapter cards make it easy for users to add four super-fast 10Gbps USB-A or USB-C ports to their setups and benefit from significantly faster data transfers.”

Sonnet designed the Allegro cards with a focus on intelligent power management and delivery for powering attached drives through its ports. Allegro incorporates advanced technologies, including independent power regulation that isolates each port to prevent cross-coupled power glitches — such as when a hard drive spins up after connection — that may cause accidental disconnects and resettable port power fuses. Additionally, the cards are optimized for Thunderbolt, offering full performance when installed in any of Sonnet’s Thunderbolt-to-PCIe card chassis.

The Allegro Pro USB 3.1 PCIe card is now available for $149. The Allegro USB-C 4-Port PCIe card is also now available for the same price.

Review: eGPUs and the Sonnet Breakaway Box

By Mike McCarthy

As a laptop user and fan of graphics performance, I have always had to weigh the balance between performance and portability when selecting a system. And this usually bounces back and forth, as neither option is totally satisfactory. Systems are always too heavy or not powerful enough.

My first laptop when I graduated high school was the 16-inch Sony Vaio GRX570, with the largest screen available at the time, running 1600×1200 pixels. After four years carrying that around, I was eager to move to the Dell XPS M1210, the smallest laptop with a discrete GPU. That was followed by a Quadro-based Dell Precision M4400 workstation, which was on the larger side. I then bounced to the lightweight Carbon Fiber 13-inch Sony Vaio Z1 in 2010, which my wife still uses. This was followed by my current Aorus X3 Plus, which has both power (GF870M) and a small form factor (13 inch), but at the expense of everything else.

Some More History
The Vaio Z1 was one of the first hybrid graphics solutions to allow users to switch between different GPUs. Its GeForce 330M was powerful enough to run Adobe’s Mercury CUDA Playback engine in CS5, but was at the limit of its performance. It didn’t support my 30-inch display, and while the SSD storage solution had the throughput for 2K DPX playback, the GPU processing couldn’t keep up.

Other users were upgrading the GPU with an ExpressCard-based ViDock external PCIe enclosure, but a single-lane of PCIe 1.0 bandwidth (2Gb/s) wasn’t enough to make is worth the effort for video editing. (3D gaming requires less source bandwidth than video processing.) Sony’s follow-on Z2 model offered the first commercial eGPU, connected via LightPeak, the forerunner to Thunderbolt. It allowed the ultra-light Z series laptop to use an AMD Radeon 6650M GPU and Blu-ray drive in the proprietary Media Dock, presumably over a PCIe x4 1.0 (8Gb/s) connection.

Thunderbolt 3
Alienware also has a propriety eGPU solution for their laptops, but Thunderbolt is really what makes eGPUs a marketable possibility, giving direct access to the PCIe bus at x4 speed, in a standardized connection. The first generation offered a dedicated 10Gb connection, while Thunderbolt 2 increased that to a 20Gb shared connection. The biggest thing holding back eGPUs at that point was lack of PC adoption of the Apple technology licensed from Intel, and OS X limitations on eGPUs.

Thunderbolt 3 changed all of that, increasing the total connection bandwidth to 40Gb, the same as first-generation PCIe x16 cards. And far more systems support Thunderbolt 3 than the previous iterations. Integrated OS support for GPU switching in Windows 10 and OS X (built on laptop GPU power saving technology) further paved the path to eGPU adoption.

Why eGPUs Now?
Even with all of this in my favor, I didn’t take the step into eGPU solutions until very recently. I bought my personal system in 2014. This was just before Thunderbolt 3 hit the mainstream. The last two systems I reviewed had Thunderbolt 3, but didn’t need eGPUs with their mobile Quadro P4000 and P5000 internal GPUs. So I hadn’t had the opportunity to give it a go until I received an HP Zbook Studio x360 to review. Now, its integrated Quadro P1000 is nothing to scoff at, but there was significantly more room for performance gains from an external GPU.

Sonnet Breakaway Box
I have had the opportunity to review the 550W version of Sonnet’s Breakaway Box PCIe enclosure over the course of a few weeks, allowing me to test out a number of different cards, including four different GPUs, as well as my Red-Rocket-X and 10GbE cards. Sonnet has three different eGPU enclosure options, depending on the power requirements of your GPU.

They sent me the mid-level 550 model, which should support every card on the market, aside from AMD’s power-guzzling Vega 64-based GPUs. The base 350 model should support GF1080 or 2080 cards, but not overclocked Titanium or Titan versions. The 550 model includes two PCIe power cables that can be used in 6- or 8-pin connectors. This should cover any existing GPU on the market, and I have cards requiring nearly every possible combo — 6-pin, 8-pin, both, and dual 8-pin. Sonnet has a very thorough compatibility list available, for more specific details.

Installation
I installed my Quadro P6000 into the enclosure, because it used the same drivers as my internal Quadro P1000 GPU and would give me the most significant performance boost. I plugged the Thunderbolt connector into the laptop while it was booted. It immediately recognized the device, but only saw it as a “Microsoft Basic Display Adapter” until I re-installed my existing 411.63 Quadro drivers and rebooted. After that, it worked great, I was able to run my benchmarks and renders without issue, and I could see which GPU was carrying the processing load just by looking in the task manager performance tab.

Once I had finished my initial tests, safely removed the hardware in the OS and disconnected the enclosure, I swapped the installed card with my Quadro P4000 and plugged it back into the system without rebooting. It immediately detected it, and after a few seconds the new P4000 was recognized and accelerating my next set of renders. When I attempted to do the same procedure with my GeForce 2080TI, it did make me install the GeForce driver (416.16) and reboot before it would function at full capacity (subsequent transitions between Nvidia cards were seamless).

The next step was to try an AMD GPU, since I have a new RadeonPro WX8200 to test, which is a Pro version of the Vega 56 architecture. I was a bit more apprehensive about this configuration due to the integrated Nvidia card, and having experienced those drivers not co-existing well in the distant past. But I figured: “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Initially, plugging it in gave me the same Microsoft Basic Display Adapter device until I installed the RadeonPro drivers. Installing those drivers caused the system to crash and refuse to boot. Startup repair, system restore and OS revert all failed to run, let alone fix the issue. I was about to wipe the entire OS and let it reinstall from the recovery partition when I came across one more idea online. I was able to get to a command line in the pre-boot environment and run a Deployment Image Servicing and Management (DISM) command to see which drivers were installed — DISM /image:D:\ /Get-Drivers|more.

This allowed me to see that the last three drivers — oem172.inf through oem174.inf —were the only AMD-related ones on the system. I was able to remove them via the same tool — DISM /Image:D:\ /Remove-Driver /Driver:oem172.inf”) — and when I restarted, the system booted up just fine.

I then pulled the card from the eGPU box, wiped all the AMD files from the system, and vowed never to do something like that again. Lesson of the day: Don’t mix AMD and Nvidia cards and drivers. To AMDs credit, the WX8200 does not officially support eGPU installations, but extraneous drivers shouldn’t cause that much problem.

Performance Results
I tested Adobe Media Encoder export times with a variety of different sources and settings. Certain tests were not dramatically accelerated by the eGPU, while other renders definitely were. The main place we see differences between the integrated P1000 and a more-powerful external GPU is when effects are applied to high-res footage. That is when the GPU is really put to work, so those are the tests that improve with more GPU power. I had a one-minute sequence of Red clips with lots of effects (Lumetri, selective blur and mosaic: all GPU FX) that took 14 minutes to render internally, but finished in under four minutes with the eGPU attached. Exporting the same sequence with the effects disabled took four minutes internally and three minutes with the GPU. So the effects cost 10 minutes of render time internally, but under one minute of render time (35 seconds to be precise) when a powerful GPU is attached.

So if you are trying to do basic cuts-only editorial, an eGPU may not improve your performance much, but if you are doing VFX or color work, it can make a noticeable difference.

VR Headset Support
The external cards, of course, do increase performance in a measurable way, especially since I am using such powerful cards. It’s not just a matter of increasing render speeds, but about enabling functionality that was previously unavailable on the system. I connected my Lenovo Explorer WMR headset to the RTX2080TI in the Breakaway Box and gave it a shot. I was able to edit 360 video in VR in Premiere Pro, which is not supported on the included Quadro P1000 card. I did experience some interesting ghosting on occasion, where if I didn’t move my head everything looked perfect, but movement caused a double image — as if one eye was a frame behind the other — but the double image was appearing in each eye, as if there was an excessive motion blur applied to the rendered frames.

I thought this might be a delay based on extra latency in the Thunderbolt bus, but other times the picture looked crisp regardless of how quickly I moved my head. So it can work great, but there may need to be a few adjustments made to smooth things out. Lots of other users online report it working just fine, so there is probably a solution available out there.

Full-Resolution 8K Tests
I was able to connect my 8K display to the card as well, and while the x360 happens to support that display already (DP1.3 over Thunderbolt), most notebooks do not — and it increased the refresh rate from 30Hz to the full 60Hz. I was able to watch HEVC videos smoothly at 8K in Windows, and was able to playback 8K DNxHR files in Premiere at full res, as long as there were no edits or effects.

Just playing back footage at full 8K taxed the 2080TI at 80% compute utilization. But this is 8K we are talking about, playing back on a laptop, at full resolution. 4K anamorphic and 6K Venice X-OCN footage played back smoothly at half res in Premiere, and 8K Red footage played back at quarter. This is not the optimal solution for editing 8K footage, but it should have no problem doing serious work at UHD and 4K.

Other Cards and Functionality
GPUs aren’t the only PCIe cards that can be installed in the Breakaway Box, so I can add a variety of other functionality to my laptop if desired. Thunderbolt array controllers minimize the need for SATA or SAS cards in enclosures, but that is a possibility. I installed an Intel X520-DA2 10GbE card into the box and was copying files from my network at 700MB/s within a minute, without even having to install any new drivers. But unless you need to have SFP ports, most people looking for 10GbE functionality would be better served to look into Sonnet’s Solo 10G for smaller form factor, lower power use, and cheaper price. There are a variety of other options for Thunderbolt 3 to 10GbE hitting the market as well.

The Red-Rocket-X card has been a popular option for external PCIe enclosures over the last few years, primarily for on-set media transcoding. I installed mine in the Breakaway Box to give that functionality a shot as well.

I ran into two issues, both of which I was able to overcome, but are worth noting. First, the 6-pin power connector is challenging to fit into the poorly designed Rocket power port, due to the retention mechanism being offset for 8-pin compatibility. But it can fit if you work at it a bit, although I prefer to keep a 6-pin extension cable plugged into my Rocket since I move it around so much. Once I had all of the hardware hooked up, it was recognized in the OS, but installing the drivers from Red resulted in a Code-52 error that is usually associated with USB devices. The recommended solution online was to disable Windows 10 driver signing, in the pre-boot environment, and that did the trick. (My theory is that my HP’s SureStart security functionality was hesitating to give direct memory access to an external device, as that is the level of access Thunderbolt devices get to your system, and the Red Rocket-X driver wasn’t signed for that level of security.)

Anyhow, the card worked fine after that, and I verified that it accelerated my renders in Premiere Pro and AME. I am looking forward to a day when CUDA acceleration allows me to get that functionality out of my underused GPU power instead of requiring a dedicated card.

I did experience an issue with the Quadro P4000, where the fans spun up to 100% when the laptop went to shut off, hibernated, or went to sleep. None of the other cards had that issue, instead they shut off when the host system did and turned back on automatically when I booted up the system. I have no idea why the P4000 acted differently than the architecturally very similar P6000. Manually turning off the Breakaway Box or disconnecting the Thunderbolt cable solves the problem with the P4000, but then you have to remember to reconnect again when you are booting up.

In the process of troubleshooting the fan issue, I did a few other driver installs and learned a few tricks. First off, I already knew Quadro drivers can’t run GeForce cards (otherwise why pay for a Quadro), but GeForce drivers can run on Quadro cards. So it makes sense you would want to install GeForce drivers when mixing both types of GOUs. But I didn’t realize that apparently GeForce drivers take preference when they are installed. So when I had an issue with the internal Quadro card, reinstalling the Quadro drivers had no effect, since the GeForce drivers were running the hardware. Removing them (with DDU just to be thorough) solved the issue, and got everything operating seamlessly again. Sonnet’s support people were able to send me the solution to the problem on the first try. That was a bit of a hiccup, but once it was solved I could again swap between different GPUs without even rebooting. And most users will always have the same card installed when they connect their eGPU, further simplifying the issue.

Do you need an eGPU?
I really like this unit, and I think that eGPU functionality in general will totally change the high-end laptop market for the better. For people who only need high performance at their desk, there will be a class of top-end laptop with high-end CPU, RAM and storage, but no GPU to save on space and weight (CPU can’t be improved by external box, and needs to keep up with GPU).

There will be another similar class with mid-level GPUs to support basic 3D work on the road, but massive increases at home. I fall in the second category, as I can’t forego all GPU acceleration when I am traveling or even walking around the office. But I don’t need to be carrying around an 8K rendering beast all the time either. I can limit my gaming, VR work and heavy renders to my desk. That is the configuration I have been able to use with this ZBook x360.: enough power to edit un-tethered, but combining the internal 6-core CPU with a top -end external GPU gives great performance when attached to the Breakaway Box. As always, I still want to go smaller, and plan to test with an even lighter weight laptop as soon as the opportunity arises.

Summing Up
The Breakaway Box is a simple solution to a significant issue. No bells and whistles, which I initially appreciated. But the eGPU box is inherently a docking station, so there is an argument to be made for adding other functionality. In my case, once I am setup at my next project, using a 10GbE adapter in the second TB3 port on my laptop will be a better solution for top performance and bandwidth anyway.

So I am excited about the possibilities that eGPUs bring to the table, now that they are fully supported by the OS and applications I use, and I don’t imagine buying a laptop setup without one anytime in the foreseeable future. The Sonnet Breakaway Box meets my needs and has performed very well for me over the last few weeks.


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

Boxx adds new Apexx S-class workstations with 9th-gen Intel processors

Boxx Technologies is offering a new line of Apexx S-class workstations featuring the company’s flagship Apexx S3. Purpose-built for 3D design, CAD and motion media workflows requiring CPU frequencies suitable for lightly threaded apps, the compact Apexx S3 now features a 9th-generation, eight-core Intel Core i7 or i9 processor (professionally overclocked to 5.1GHz) to support more heavily threaded applications as well.

Designed to optimize Autodesk tools, Adobe Creative Cloud, Maxon Cinema 4D and other applications, the overclocked and liquid-cooled Apexx S3 sustains its 5.1GHz frequency across all cores. With increased storage and upgradability, as well as multiple Nvidia Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro graphics cards, S3 is also ideal for light GPU compute or virtual reality.

New to the S-class line is Apexx Enigma S3. Built to accelerate professional 3D applications, Enigma S3 is also configurable with 9th-generation, eight-core Intel Core i7/i9 processors overclocked to 5.1GHz and up to three professional GPUs, making it suitable for workflows that include significant GPU rendering or GPU compute work.

The compact Apexx S3 and Enigma S3 are joined by the Apexx S1. The S1 also features an overclocked, eight-core Intel Core i7 for 3D content creation, CAD design and motion media. With its ultra-compact chassis, the S1 is a good solution for limited desktop space, an open environment or workflows where a graphics card is used primarily for display.

Rounding out the S-class family is the Apexx S4, a rack-mount system designed for heavy rendering or GPU compute.

You can now export ProRes on a PC with Adobe’s video apps

By Brady Betzel

Listen up post pros! You can now natively export ProRes from a Windows 10-based PC for $20.99 with the latest release of Adobe’s Premiere, After Effects and Media Encoder.

I can’t overstate how big of a deal this is. Previously, the only way to export ProRes from a PC was to use a knock-off reverse-engineered codec that would mimic the process — creating footage that would often fail QC checks at networks — or be in possession of a high-end app like Fusion, Nuke, Nucoda or Scratch. The only other way would be to have a Cinedeck in your hands and output your files in realtime through it. But, starting today, you can export native ProRes 4444 and ProRes 422 from your Adobe Creative Cloud Suite apps like Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Media Encoder. Have you wanted to use those two or three Nvidia GTX 1080ti graphics cards that you can’t stuff into a Mac Pro? Well, now you can. No more being tied to AMD for ProRes exports.

Apple seems to be leaving their creative clients in the dust. Unless you purchase an iMac Pro or MacBook Pro, you have been stuck using a 2013 Mac Pro to export or encode your files to ProRes specifications. A lot of customers, who had given Apple the benefit of the doubt and stuck around for a year or two longer than they probably should have waiting for a new Mac Pro — allegedly being released in 2019 — began to transition over to Windows-based platforms. All the while, most would keep that older Mac just to export ProRes files while using the more powerful and updated Windows PC to do their daily tasks.

Well, that day is now over and, in my opinion, leads me to believe that Apple is less concerned with keeping their professional clients than ever before. That being said, I love that Apple has finally opened their ProRes codecs up to the Adobe Creative Cloud.

Let’s hope it can become a system-wide feature, or at least added to Blackmagic’s Resolve and Avid’s Media Composer. You can individually rent Adobe Premiere Pro or After Effects for $20.99 month, rent the entire Adobe Creative Cloud library for $52.99 a month or, if you are a student or teacher, you can take advantage of the best deal around for $19.99 a month, which gives you ALL the Creative Cloud apps.

Check out Adobe’s blog about the latest Windows ProRes export features.


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: Puget Systems Genesis I custom workstation

By Brady Betzel

With so many companies building custom Windows-based PCs these days, what really makes for a great build? What would make me want to pay someone to build me a PC versus building it myself? In this review, I will be going through a custom-built PC sent to me to review by Puget Systems. In my opinion, besides the physical components, Puget Systems is the cream of the crop of custom -built PCs. Over the next few paragraphs I will focus on how Puget Systems identified the right custom-built PC solution for me (specifically for post), how my experience was before, during and after receiving the system and, finally, specs and benchmarks of the system itself.

While quality components are definitely a high priority when building a new workstation, the big thing that sets Puget Systems’ apart from the rest of the custom-built PC pack is the personal and highly thorough support. I usually don’t get the full customer experience when reviewing custom builds. Typically, I am sent a workstation and maybe a one-sheet to accompany the system. To Puget System’s credit they went from top to tail when helping me put together the system I would test. Not only did I receive a completely newly built and tested system, but I talked to a customer service rep, Jeff Stubbers, who followed up with me along the way.

First, I spoke with Jeff over the phone. We talked about my price range and what I was looking to do with the system. I usually get told what I should buy — by the way, I am not a person that likes to be told what I want. I have a lot of experience not only working on high-end workstations but have been building and supporting them essentially my entire life. I actively research the latest and greatest technology. Jeff from Puget Systems definitely took the correct approach; he started by asking which apps I use and how I use them. When using After Effects, am I doing more 3D work or simple lower thirds and titles. Do I use and do I plan to continue using Avid Media Composer, Adobe Premiere Pro or Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve the most?

Essentially, my answers were that I use After Effects sparingly, but I do use it. I use Avid Media Composer professionally more than Premiere, but I see more and more Premiere projects coming my way. However, I think Resolve is the future, so I would love to tailor my system toward that. Oh and I dabble in Maxon Cinema 4D as well. So in theory, I need a system that does everything, which is kind of a tall order.

I told Jeff that I would love to stay below $10,000, but need the system to last a few years. Essentially, I was taking the angle of a freelance editor/colorist buying an above mid-range system. After we configured the system, Jeff continued to detail benchmarks that Puget Systems performs on a continuing basis and why two GTX 1080ti cards are going to benefit me instead of just one, as well as why an Intel i9 processor would specifically benefit my work in Resolve.

After we finished on the phone I received an email from Jeff that contained a link to webpage that continually would update me on the details and how my workstation was being built — complete with pictures of my actual system. There are also some links to very interesting articles and benchmarks on the Puget System’s website. They perform more pertinent benchmarks for post production pros than I have seen from any other company. Usually you see a few generic Premiere or Resolve benchmarks, but nothing like Puget System’s, even if you don’t buy a system from them you should read their benchmarks.

While my system went through the build and ship process, I saw pictures and comments about who did what in the process over at Puget Systems. Beth was my installer. She finished and sent the system to Kyle who ran benchmarks. Kyle then sent it to Josh for quality control. Josh discovered the second GTX 1080ti was installed in a reduced bandwidth PCIe slot and would be sent back to Beth for correction. I love seeing this transparency! It not only gives me the feeling that Puget Systems is telling me the truth, but that they have nothing to hide. This really goes a long way with me. Once my system was run through a second quality control pass, it was shipped to me in four days. From start to finish, I received my system in 12 days. Not a short amount of time, but for what Puget Systems put the system through, it was worth it.

Opening the Box
I received the Genesis I workstation in a double box. A nice large box with sturdy foam corners encasing the Fractal Design case box. There was also an accessories box. Within the accessories box were a few cables and an awesome three-ring binder filled with details of my system, the same pictures of my system, including thermal imaging pictures from the website, all of the benchmarks performed on my system (real-world benchmarks like Cinebench and even processing in Adobe Premiere) and a recovery USB 3.0 drive. Something I really appreciated was that I wasn’t given all of the third-party manuals and cables I didn’t need, only what I needed. I’ve received other custom-built PCs where the company just threw all of the manuals and cables into a Ziploc and called it a day.

I immediately hooked the system up and turned it on… it was silent. Incredibly silent. The Fractal Design Define R5 Titanium case was lined with a sound-deadening material that took whatever little sound was there and made it zero.

Here are the specs of the Puget System’s Genesis I I was sent:
– Gigabyte X299 Designare EX motherboard
– Intel Core i9 7940X 3.1GHz 14 Core 19.25MB 165W CPU
– Eight Crucial DDR4-2666 16GB RAM
– EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 TI 11GB gaming video card
– Onboard sound card
– Integrated WiFi+Bluetooth networking
– Samsung 860 Pro 512GB SATA3 2.5-inch SSD hard drive — primary drive
– Samsung 970 Pro 1TB M.2 SSD hard drive — secondary drive.
– Asus 24x DVD-RW SATA (Black) CD / DVD-ROM
– Fractal Design Define R5 titanium case
– EVGA SuperNova 1200W P2 power supply
– Noctua NH-U12DX i4 CPU cooling
– Arctic Cooling MX-2 thermal compound
– Windows 10 Pro 64-bit operating system
– Warranty: Lifetime labor and tech support, one-year parts warranty
– LibreOffice software: courtesy install
– Chrome software: courtesy install
– Adobe Creative Cloud Desktop App software: courtesy Install
– Resolve 1-3 GPU

System subtotal: $8,358.38. The price is right in my opinion, and mixed with the support and build detail it’s a bargain.

System Performance
I ran some system benchmarks and tests that I find helpful as a video editor and colorist who uses plugins and other tools on a daily basis. I am becoming a big fan of Resolve, so I knew I needed to test this system inside of Blackmagic’s Resolve 15. I used a similar sequence between Adobe Premiere and Resolve 15: a 10-minute, 23.98fps, UHD/3840×2160 sequence with mixed format footage from 4K and 8K Red, ARRI Raw UHD and ProRes4444. I added some Temporal Noise Reduction to half of the clips, including the 8K Red footage, resizes to all clips, all on top of a simple base grade.

First, I did a simple Smart User cache test by enabling the User Cache at DNxHR HQX 10-bit to the secondary Samsung 1TB drive. It took about four minutes and 34 seconds. From there I tried to playback the media un-cached, and I was able to playback everything except the 8K media in realtime. I was able to playback the 8K Red media at Quarter Res Good (Half Res would go between 18-20fps playback). The sequence played back well. I also wanted to test the export speeds. The first test was an H.264 export without cache on the same sequence. I set the H.264 output in Resolve to 23.98fps, UHD, auto-quality, no frame reordering, force highest quality debayer/resizes and encoding profile: main. The file took 11 minutes and 57 seconds. The second test was a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime with the same sequence, it took seven minutes and 44 seconds.

To compare these numbers I recently ran a similar test on an Intel i9-based MacBook Pro and with the Blackmagic eGPU with Radeon Pro 580 attached, the H.264 export took 16 minutes and 21 seconds, while a ProRes4444 took 22 minutes and 57 seconds. While not comparing apples to apples, this is still a good comparison in terms of a speed increase you can have with a desktop system and a pair of Nvidia GTX 1080ti graphics cards. With the impending release of the Nvidia GTX 2080 cards, you may want to consider getting those instead.

While in Premiere I ran similar tests with a very similar sequence. To export an H.264 (23.98fps, UHD, no cache used during export, VBR 10Mb/s target rate, no frame reordering) it took nine minutes and 15 seconds. Going a step further it took 47 minutes to export an H.265. Similarly, doing a DNxHR HQX 10-bit QuickTime export took 24 minutes.

I also ran the AJA System test on the 1TB spare drive (UHD, 16GB test file size, ProRes HQ). The read speed was 2951MB/sec and the write speed was 2569MB/sec. Those are some very respectable drive speeds, especially for a cache or project drive. If possible you would probably want to add another drive for exports or to have your RAW media stored on in order to maximize input/output speeds.

Up next was Cinebench R15: OpenGL — 153.02fps, Ref. Match 99.6%, CPU — 2905 cb, CPU (single core) — 193cb and MP Ratio 15.03x. Lastly, I ran a test that I recently stumbled upon: the Superposition Benchmark from Unigine. While it is more of a gaming benchmark, I think a lot of people use this and might glean some useful information from it. The overall score was 7653 (fps: min 45.58, avg 57.24, max 72.11, GPU degrees Celsius: min 36, max 85, GPU use: max 98%.

Summing Up
In the end, I am very skeptical of custom-build PC shops. Typically, I don’t see the value in the premium they set when you can probably build it yourself with parts you choose from PCpartpicker.com. However, Puget Systems is the exception — their support and build-quality are top notch. From the initial phone conversation to the up-to-the minute images and custom-build updates online, to the final delivery, and even follow-up conversations, Puget Systems is by far the most thorough and worthwhile custom-build PC maker I have encountered.

Check out their high-end custom build PCs and tons of benchmark testing and recommendations on 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.

AMD Radeon Vega mobile graphics coming to MacBook Pro

New AMD Radeon Vega Mobile graphics processors — including the AMD Radeon Pro Vega 20 and Radeon Pro Vega 16 graphics — will be available as configuration options on Apple’s 15-inch MacBook Pro starting in late November.

AMD Radeon Vega Mobile graphics offers performance upgrades in 3D rendering, video editing and other creative applications, as well as 1080p HD gaming at ultra settings in the most-used AAA and eSports games.

Built around AMD’s Vega architecture, the new graphics processors were engineered to excel in notebooks for cool and quiet operation. In addition, the processor’s thin design features HBM2 memory (2nd-generation high-bandwidth memory), which takes up less space in a notebook compared to traditional GDDR5-based graphics processors.

 

HP offerings from Adobe Max 2018

By Brady Betzel

HP workstations have been a staple in the post community, especially for anyone not using a Mac or the occasional DIY/custom build from companies like Puget Systems or CyberPower PCs. The difference comes with customers who need workstation-level components and support. Typically, a workstation is run through much tougher and stringent tests so the client can be assured of 24/7/365 up-time. HP continues to evolve and become, in my opinion, a leader for all non-Apple dedicated workflows.

At Adobe Max 2018, HP announced updated components to its Z by HP line of mobile workstations, including the awesome ZBook Studio x360, ZBook Studio, ZBook 15 and ZBook 17. I truly love HP’s mobile workstation offerings. The only issue I constantly come up against is can I — or any freelance worker for that matter — justify the cost of their systems?

I always want the latest and greatest, and I feel I can get that with the updated performance options in this latest update to the ZBook line. They include the increased 6-core Intel i9 processors; expanded memory of up to 32GB (or 128GB in some instances); a really interesting M.2 SSD RAID-1 configuration from the factory that allows for constant mirroring of your boot drive (if one drive fails, the other will take over right where you left off); the ZBook Studio and Studio x360 getting a GPU increase with the Nvidia Quadro P2000; and the anti-glare touchscreen on the x360. This is all in addition to HP’s DreamColor option, which allows for 100% Adobe RGB coverage and 600 nits of brightness. But again, this all comes at a high cost when you max out the workstation with enough RAM and GPU horsepower. But there is some good news for those that don’t have a corporate budget to pull from: HP has introduced the pilot program Z Club.

The Z Club is essentially a leasing program for HP’s Z series products. At the moment, HP will take 100 creators for this pilot program, which will allow you to select a bundle of Z products and accessories that fit your creative lifestyle for a monthly cost. This is exactly how you solve the problem of getting prosumer and freelance workers who can’t quite justify a $5,000 price tag for purchase, but can justify a $100 a month payment. HP has touted categories of products for editors, photographers and many others. With monthly payments that range from $100 to $250, depending on what you order, this is much more manageable for mid-range end users who need the power of a workstation but up until now couldn’t afford it.

So what will you get if you are accepted to the Z Club pilot program? You can choose the products you want and not pay for three months. And you can continue or return your products, you can switch products and you will have access to a Z Club concierge service for any questions and troubleshooting.

On the call I had with HP, they mentioned that a potential bundle for a video editor could be an HP Z series mobile workstation or desktop, along with a DreamColor display, and an external RAID storage system to top it off.

In the end, I think HP (much like Blackmagic’s Resolve in the NLE/color world) is at the front of the pack. They are listening to what creatives are saying about Apple — how this giant company is not listening to their customers in an efficient and price-conscious way. Creating essentially a leasing program for mid- to high-range products with support is the future. It’s essentially Apple’s own iPhone program but with computers!

Hopefully this program takes off, and if you are lucky enough to be accepted into the pilot program, I would be curious to hear your experience, so please reach out. But with HP making strides in the workstation security initiatives like Sure Start, a privacy mode for mobile systems, and military-grade testing known as MIL-spec, HP is going from being a standard in the media and entertainment post industry. For those leaving Apple for a Windows-based PC, you should apply for the Z Club pilot program. Go to www.hp.com to find out more or follow along on Twitter @AdobeMax, @HP or using #AdobeMax.


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: Blackmagic’s eGPU and Intel i9 MacBook Pro 2018

By Brady Betzel

Blackmagic’s eGPU is worth the $699 price tag. You can buy it from Apple’s website, where it is being sold exclusively for the time being. Wait? What? You wanted some actual evidence as to why you should buy the BMD eGPU?

Ok, here you go…

MacBook Pro With Intel i9
First, I want to go over the latest Apple MacBook Pro, which was released (or really just updated) this past July. With some controversial fanfare, the 2018 MacBook Pro can now be purchased with the blazingly fast Intel i9, 2.6GHz (Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz) six-core processor. In addition, you can add up to 32GB of 2400MHz DDR4 onboard memory. The Radeon Pro 560x GPU with 4GB of GDDR5 memory and even a 4TB SSD storage drive. It has four Thunderbolt 3 ports and, for some reason, a headphone jack. Apple is also touting its improved butterfly keyboard switches as well as its True Tone display technology. If you want to read more about that glossy info head over to Apple’s site.

The 2018 MacBook Pro is a beast. I am a big advocate for the ability to upgrade and repair computers, so Apple’s venture to create what is essentially a leased computer ecosystem that needs to be upgraded every year or two usually puts a bad taste in my mouth.

However, the latest MacBook Pros are really amazing… and really expensive. The top-of-the-line MacBook Pro I was provided with for this review would cost $6,699! Yikes! If I was serious, I would purchase everything but the $2,000 upgrade from the 2TB SSD drive to the 4TB, and it would still cost $4,699. But I suppose that’s not a terrible price for such an intense processor (albeit not technically workstation-class).

Overall, the MacBook Pro is a workhorse that I put through its video editing and color correcting paces using three of the top four professional nonlinear editors: Adobe Premiere, Apple FCP X and Blackmagic’s Resolve 15 (the official release). More on those results in a bit, but for now, I’ll just say a few things: I love how light and thin it is. I don’t like how hot it can get. I love how fast it charges. I don’t like how fast it loses charge when doing things like transcoding or exporting clips. A 15-minute export can drain the battery over 40% while playing Spotify for eight hours will hardly drain the battery at all (maybe 20%).

Blackmagic’s eGPU with Radeon Pro 580 GPU
One of the more surprising releases from Blackmagic has been this eGPU offering. I would never have guessed they would have gone into this area, and certainly would never have guessed they would have gone with a Radeon card, but here we are.

Once you step back from the initial, “Why in the hell wouldn’t they let it be user-replaceable and also not brand dependent” shock, it actually makes sense. If you are Mac OS user, you probably can do a lot in terms of external GPU power already. When you buy a new iMac, iMac Pro or MacBook Pro, you are expecting it to work, full stop.

However, if you are a DIT or colorist that is more mobile than that sweet million-dollar color bay you dream of, you need more. This is where the BMD eGPU falls nicely into place. You plug it in and instantly see it populate in the menu bar. In addition, the eGPU acts as a dock with four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 ports and an HDMI port. The MacBook Pro will charge off of the eGPU as well, which eliminates the need for your charger at your docking point.

On the go, the most decked out MacBook Pro can handle its own. So it’s no surprise that FCP X runs remarkably fast… faster than everything else. However, you have to be invested in an FCP X workflow and paradigm — and while I’m not there yet, maybe the future will prove me wrong. Recently, I saw someone on Twitter who developed an online collaboration workflow, so people are excited about it.

Anyway, many of the nonlinear editors I work with can also play on the MacBook Pro, even with 4K Red, ARRI and, especially, ProRes footage. Keep in mind though, with the 2K, 4K, or whatever K footage, you will need to set the debayer to around “half good” if you want a fluid timeline. Even with the 4GB Radeon 560x I couldn’t quite play realtime 4K footage without some sort of compromise in quality.

But with the Blackmagic eGPU, I significantly improved my playback capabilities — and not just in Resolve 15. I did try and plug the eGPU into a PC with Windows 10 I was reviewing at the same time and it was recognized, but I couldn’t get all the drivers sorted out. So it’s possible it will work in Windows, but I couldn’t get it there.

Before I get to the Resolve testing, I did some benchmarking. First I ran Cinebench R15 without the eGPU attached and got the following scores: OpenGL – 99.21fps, reference match 99.5%, CPU – 947cb, CPU (single core) 190cb and MP ratio of 5.00x. With the GPU attached: Open GL — 60.26fps, reference match 99.5%, CPU — 1057 cb, CPU (single core) 186cb and MP ratio of 5.69x. Then I ran Unigine’s Valley Benchmark 1.0 without the eGPU, which got 21.3fps and a score of 890 (minimum 12.4fps/maximum 36.2fps). With the eGPU it got 25.6fps and a score of 1073 (minimum 19.2 fps/max 37.1fps)

Resolve 15 Test
I based all of my tests on a similar (although not exact for the different editing applications) 10-minute timeline, 23.98fps, 3840×2160, 4K and 8K RAW Red footage (R3D files) and Alexa (.ari and ProRes444XQ) UHD footage, all with edit page resizes, simple color correction and intermittent sharpening and temporal noise reduction (three frames, better, medium, 10, 10 and 5).

Playback: Without the eGPU I couldn’t play 23.98fps, 4K Red R3D without being set to half-res. With the eGPU I could playback at full-res in realtime (this is what I was talking about in sentence one of this review). The ARRI footage would play at full res, but would go between 1fps and 7fps at full res. The 8K Red footage would play in realtime when set to quarter-res.

One of the most re-assuring things I noticed when watching my Activity Monitor’s GPU history readout was that Resolve uses both GPUs at once. Not all of the apps did.

Resolve 15 Export Tests
In the following tests, I disabled all cache or optimized media options, including Performance Mode.

Test 1: H.264 at 23.98fps, UHD, auto-quality, no frame reordering, force highest-quality debayer/resizes and encoding profile Main)
a. Without eGPU (Radeon Pro 560x): 22 minutes, 16 seconds
b. With BMD eGPU (Radeon Pro 580): 16 minutes and 21 seconds

Test 2: H.265 10-bit, 23.98/UHD, auto quality, no frame reordering, force highest-quality debayer/resizes)
a. Without eGPU: stopped rendering after 10 frames
b. With BMD eGPU: same result

Test 3:
ProRes4444 at 23.98/UHD
a. Without eGPU: 27 min and 29 seconds
b. With BMD eGPU: 22 minutes and 57 seconds

Test 4:
– Edit page cache – enabled Smart User Cache at ProResHQ
a. Without eGPU: 17 minutes and 28 seconds
b. With BMD eGPU: 12 minutes and 22 seconds

Adobe Premiere Pro v.12.1.2
I performed similar testing in Adobe Premiere Pro using a 10-minute timeline at 23.98fps, 3840×2160, 4K and 8K RAW Red footage (R3D files) and Alexa (DNxHR SQ 8-bit) UHD footage, all with Effect Control tab resizes and simple Lumetri color correction, including sharpening and intermittent denoise (16) under the HSL Secondary tab in Lumetri applied to shadows only.

In order to ensure your eGPU will be used inside of Adobe Premiere, you must use Metal as your encoder. To enable it go to File > Project Settings > General and change the renderer to Mercury Playback Engine GPU acceleration Metal — (OpenCL will only use the internal GPU for processing.)

Premiere did not handle the high-resolution media as aptly as Resolve had, but it did help a little. However, I really wanted to test the export power with the added eGPU horsepower. I almost always send my Premiere sequences to Adobe Media Encoder to do the processing, so that is where my exports were processed.

Adobe Media Encoder
Test 1: H.264 (No render used during exports: 23.98/UHD, 80Mb/s, software encoding doesn’t allow for profile setup)
a. Open CL with no eGPU: about 140 minutes (sorry had to chase the kids around and couldn’t watch this snail crawl)
b. Metal no eGPU: about 137 minutes (chased the kids around again, and couldn’t watch this snail crawl, either)
c. Open CL with eGPU: wont work, Metal only
d. Metal with eGPU: one hour

Test 2: H.265
a. Without eGPU: failed (interesting result)
b. With eGPU: 40 minutes

Test 3: ProRes4444
a. Without eGPU: three hours
b. With eGPU: one hour and 14 minutes

FCP X
FCP X is an interesting editing app, and it is blazing fast at handling ProRes media. As I mentioned earlier, it hasn’t been in my world too much, but that isn’t because I don’t like it. It’s because professionally I haven’t run into it. I love the idea of roles, and would really love to see that playout in other NLEs. However, my results speak for themselves.

One caveat to using the eGPU in FCP X is that you must force it to work inside of the NLE. At first, I couldn’t get it to work. The Activity Monitor would show no activity on the eGPU. However, thanks to a Twitter post, James Wells (@9voltDC) sent me to this, which allows you to force FCP X to use the eGPU. It took a few tries but I did get it to work, and funny enough I saw times when all three GPUs were being used inside of FCP X, which was pretty good to see. This is one of those use-at-your-own risk things, but it worked for me and is pretty slick… if you are ok with using Terminal commands. This also allows you to force the eGPU onto other apps like Cinebench.

Anyways here are my results with the BMD eGPU exporting from FCP X:

Test 1: H.264
a. Without eGPU: eight minutes
b. With eGPU: eight minutes and 30 seconds

Test 2: H.265: Not an option

Test 3: ProRes4444
a. Without eGPU: nine minutes
b. With eGPU: six minutes and 30 seconds

Summing Up
In the end, the Blackmagic eGPU with Radeon Pro 580 GPU is a must buy if you use your MacBook Pro with Resolve 15. There are other options out there though, like the Razer Core v2 or the Akitio Node Pro.

From this review I can tell you that the Blackmagic eGPU is silent even when processing 8K Red RAW footage (even when the MacBook Pro fans are going at full speed), and it just works. Plug it in and you are running, no settings, no drivers, no cards to install… it just runs. And sometimes when I have three little boys running around my house, I just want that peace of mind and I want things to just work like the Blackmagic eGPU.


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 z38c ultra-wide curved display

By Dariush Derakhshani

Dude, seriously, who needs a 38-inch display? The obvious answer is me. HP’s z38c is a 38-inch ultra-wide curved professional monitor sporting good color accuracy and an effortless display. But ultra-wide? Isn’t that better for gaming? At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of this new form factor on my desk. I’m used to two screens, a large 32-inch 4K and a color-accurate 27-inch at 1440p, side by side. That’s a lot of screen space to be sure, so changing it up for me to a single ultra-wide was a little odd at first.

You might be asking yourself, “Didn’t that display premiere months and months ago?” Well, it did. Yes. Instead of rushing a review, I decided to live with this monitor for a while to get an even better feel for how it would fit in with my graphics work.

I knew this display was quite different to how I have worked for many years now, so I felt it was really important to be comfortable with this new idea: a single, ultra-wide curved display. Ultra-wide was a little odd at first.

The first thing I noticed is the fact that my desktop is practically as wide as my dual-screen setup, but there is no gap, no air, in between. Seamless and unbroken, I can easily stretch a single window out and not worry that it kinks in the middle where the bezels rub up against each other on my desk. This is supremely satisfying!

With an aspect ratio of 21:9, as opposed to the 16:9 we are used to with HD displays, the ultra-wide real estate gives me a comfortable workspace to stack apps side by side. With a 4K resolution horizontally (3840×1600), you could get 4k (UHD) content on the screen, though it would crop about 500 pixels off the top and bottom (full UHD is 3840×2160). So, for editing 4K content, you’d be looking at your footage scaled down, unless you cast it to another screen entirely.

One of my professional responsibilities is to read and cross-compare several technical documents to assess accurate content and suggest improvements, as well as write new content to increase educational reach. I used to just hang a couple windows on my main screen and a third window on my side monitor, and I never thought twice about looking back and forth between the screens.

But something psychologically makes this workflow easier when I have all three docs on the same screen; it is less fatiguing to read and go back and forth writing, highlighting and editing. This is the first workflow improvement I noticed, and quite likely what HP means when they proudly declare that their goal is to immerse the user.

When I fire up Autodesk Maya for some CG work, it’s nice having a little more horizontal elbow room in my view panels. My shelves display more tool icons, and I can fatten up the Attribute Editor on the side of the UI to see more information in one sitting. This becomes even more helpful when I jump in After Effects for compositing work. This is where the z38c’s aspect ratio really shines for me: my timeline/comp view makes it much easier to see what’s going on.

As a matter of fact, hopping into Adobe Premiere to cut some sequences together, which I do for educational videos on CG, is a joy! Seriously, this is an instant winner. I always tore off panels in Premiere to my side screen to work my edits, but with this ultra-wide view the timeline feels free and unfettered in 21:9. That is for sure my number one workflow improvement, and undoubtedly will be for anyone needing to edit or composite using timelines.

I have to admit, I had to fight back the urge to install Rainbow Six Siege on my workstation and play it with this wide aspect ratio. It was practically begging me to, and who am I to ignore my basest instincts? So I did! Playing a first-person shooter in this aspect ratio is pretty awesome, though I still suck at the game, and my 11-year-old easily trounces me every round.

Having said that, this is a professional-minded screen. It’s response time of 5ms is actually not too bad, but hard-core gamers want faster and the ability to sync, which is fine as I’m not a gamer per se. Only when I’m rendering and have nothing better to do. As a graphics professional, what interests me is in color accuracy first and foremost.

To that end, the z38c sports 10-bit color using frame rate control (FRC), which is basically a dithered 10-bit color — not quite as hardcore as a non-dithered, full 10-bit DreamColor, but pretty excellent for color-accurate work, though perhaps not color-critical work. Either way, it displays color much better than typical 8-bit displays to be sure, giving you far more than the typical 16.7 million colors in 8-bit. This makes color banding a thing of the past, allowing you to push your colors more comfortably.

Tuned to sRGB by default, the IPS screen is really beautiful to look at, and represents imagery extremely well without being overly saturated or too bright. The screen is eminently comfortable to look at, and I feel comfortable that I am looking at accurate colors, even when comparing it side by side to my full 10-bit screen. Though I admit it does have ever-so-slightly better contrast than the z38c.

The unit has a DisplayPort, HDMI and USB-C connectivity, as well as a headphone audio jack and three regular USB ports and one USB-C port for peripherals. The bezel is pleasingly thin around the top and sides, and a bit thicker along the bottom, giving it an elegant overall look. Don’t forget, this is 38-inch diagonal: this is a large screen. But the thin bezels keep it all about the images on the screen, so the unit doesn’t feel heavy on my desk, despite the 30 pounds weight and its solid build-quality. Adjustments to angle and height are easy with the sturdy base that is over 10 pounds, and I’m sure I could eventually mount this to a monitor arm without much trouble.

Summing Up
I really enjoy the minimalist look; not having to stare at a slew of buttons and LED lights and dials. For control, the on-screen menus are easy to operate with nested menus, and get you to switch between sRGB and Rec709 presets easily enough, as well as switching inputs between multiple sources. You’ll also be able to calibrate the screen as you need, making it all the more valuable to professional users.

Now, did I mention the screen is curved? Yup, there is a nice curve to the screen that is meant to immerse the user in their work, which I can certainly appreciate. I was skeptical of the curve at first, prejudging that it would distort the image, which would be very unsightly in wireframe views of CG models. But I am pleasantly surprised to say that is not the case. It does limit undistorted viewing angles a little bit when off-axis, but it’s really meant for someone burying their head into their work. As it is now, my dual-screen setup is in a V shape, angled around my head anyway, trying to make an immersive curve of sorts to make viewing back and forth easier.

The curve of the z38c makes that side-to-side viewing and working, honestly, effortless. Working in Maya in wireframe feels a bit odd to be blunt; I need more time to get used to working with a curve with CG. But with stretched-out timelines and multiple side-by-side windows for my writing and editing duties, I have to hand it to the z38c. The curved ultra-wide screen doesn’t necessarily revolutionize the way I work at my desk, but it does make it effortless and seamless to have a lot on my screen, and that is something I got used to pretty quick.


 

MSI’s new Intel Core i9 ultra-thin WS65 mobile workstation, curved monitors

MSI has introduced its new WS65 mobile workstation and announced the availability of its PS42 professional laptop and Optix MAG241C and MAG271C gaming monitors.

The WS65 mobile workstation features a chassis similar to that of the GS65 Stealth Thin, with attractive styling and 15.6-inch, ultra-thin bezel display. With up to Intel’s 8th Generation Core i9 processor and up to Nvidia Quadro P4200 graphics, the WS65 is up to 40 percent faster than the previous-generation model. Although it is designed for portability, the WS65 also incorporates an 82Whr battery for up to eight hours of battery life.

The WS65 features a 15.6-inch Full HD IPS display with 72 percent coverage of the NTSC color gamut. For storage, the workstation offers one PCI-e SSD / SATA combo and one PCI-e SSD. Ports include three USB 3.1 Type-A, one USB 3.1 Type-C, one HDMI 2.0, one mDP 1.4, one mic-in and a headphone out. The WS65 will be available this September, and it will bear the new elegant and minimalistic MSI workstation logo tailored to the business environment.

The PS42 notebook is the newest member of the MSI Prestige series. Measuring 0.63 inches thick, weighing 2.6 pounds and featuring a nearly bezel-free screen, the notebook offers high performance. The PS42 is powered by an Intel 8th Generation Core i7 processor and an Nvidia MX150 GPU and provides 10 hours of battery life, plus a Windows Hello Certified fingerprint sensor. It is now available at major e-tailers, starting at $899.

The Optix MAG271C and MAG241C feature a 144Hz curved VA LED display and fast -ms response time. The series also uses MSI’s Gaming On-Screen Display software to allow users to control monitor settings, including contrast ratio and brightness, from their Windows desktops. The software also supports hotkey options, so users can switch profiles while in-game or use the MSI remote display app on their Android phones. The MAG271C and MAG241C are now available on Amazon for $299.99 and $229.99, respectively.

Dell EMC’s ‘Ready Solutions for AI’ now available

Dell EMC has made available its new Ready Solutions for AI, with specialized designs for Machine Learning with Hadoop and Deep Learning with Nvidia.

Dell EMC Ready Solutions for AI eliminate the need for organizations to individually source and piece together their own solutions. They offer a Dell EMC-designed and validated set of best-of-breed technologies for software — including AI frameworks and libraries — with compute, networking and storage. Dell EMC’s portfolio of services include consulting, deployment, support and education.

Dell EMC’s Data Science Provisioning Portal offers an intuitive GUI that provides self-service access to hardware resources and a comprehensive set of AI libraries and frameworks, such as Caffe and TensorFlow. This reduces the steps it takes to configure a data scientist’s workspace to five clicks. Ready Solutions for AI’s distributed, scalable architecture offers the capacity and throughput of Dell EMC Isilon’s All-Flash scale-out design, which can improve model accuracy with fast access to larger data sets.

Dell EMC Ready Solutions for AI: Deep Learning with Nvidia solutions are built around Dell EMC PowerEdge servers with Nvidia Tesla V100 Tensor Core GPUs. Key features include Dell EMC PowerEdge R740xd and C4140 servers with four Nvidia Tesla V100 SXM2 Tensor Core GPUs; Dell EMC Isilon F800 All-Flash Scale-out NAS storage; and Bright Cluster Manager for Data Science in combination with the Dell EMC Data Science Provisioning Portal.

Dell EMC Ready Solutions for AI: Machine Learning with Hadoop includes an optimized solution stack, along with data science and framework optimization to get up and running quickly, and it allows expansion of existing Hadoop environments for machine learning.

Key features include Dell EMC PowerEdge R640 and R740xd servers; Cloudera Data Science Workbench for self-service data science for the enterprise; the Apache Spark open source unified data analytics engine; and the Dell EMC Data Science Provisioning Engine, which provides preconfigured containers that give data scientists access to the Intel BigDL distributed deep learning library on the Spark framework.

New Dell EMC Consulting services are available to help customers implement and operationalize the Ready Solution technologies and AI libraries, and scale their data engineering and data science capabilities. Dell EMC Education Services offers courses and certifications on data science and advanced analytics and workshops on machine learning in collaboration with Nvidia.

Review: Using an eGPU with an Apple MacBook Pro (Thunderbolt 2)

By Twain Richardson

When I’m on set, I use my MacBook Pro to backup data and do quick edits, but it’s a laptop and lacks the power needed to handle RAW files in that environment. With Mac OS High Sierra, Apple introduced connecting eGPUs to Macs via Thunderbolt 3, but my big question was: “Will this work with a Thunderbolt 2 Mac?” Doing a bit of Google research, I couldn’t find any concrete evidence that told me it could work. So the best way to find out was to test it, but I knew I was jumping head-on into a situation that might not work.

For my test, I wanted to go with a fairly inexpensive graphics card and eGPU unit. Through my research, I found it very helpful that OWC offers a very complete list of GPU cards they have tested. That saved a lot of early guesswork, research and missteps. I ended up going with the OWC Mercury Helios FX and the AMD Radeon Pro WX7100.

My first impression of the Helios FX is that it is very light, which I did not expect. When I saw the heft of the fan included in the Helios FX, I was a little concerned that it would be noisy, but it really is whisper-quiet. The package comes with a Thunderbolt 3 cable, so you don’t have to go out and get one. Lastly, I needed a Thunderbolt-3-to-Thunderbolt-2 adapter. To play it safe, I went with the official Apple offering.

Installing the card was easy. I just removed the screws from the back of the unit. One thing I must commend OWC on is that you don’t need a screwdriver to remove the screws; you simply screw them out with your hands and remove the outer casing by sliding it backwards and up. The next step is to insert the card and fasten it in place, connecting the cable from the unit to the card. Replace the outer casing and you’re done.

Connecting the unit to my computer was simple as well. A message popped up that it detected an external GPU, and that I needed to log out to start using it. When logging back in I found a little icon that looked like a CPU in my menu bar, showing that I had the card connected.

Set-up and installation took almost no time, and once the case was closed the eGPU was really plug-and-play. It’s like having a desktop system you can take with you and use anywhere. It’s interesting to note that my MacBook Pro specs are a 2013 13-inch with 16GB RAM, Core i5 running Mac OS 10.13.3.

Now for the fun part: testing it in the real world. The two applications I use the most are Adobe Premiere Pro and Blackmagic Resolve, so that’s what I ran the test with.

Premiere Pro
Premiere doesn’t allow you to select the card, but using Metal as the renderer with a one-minute Sony A7sii UHD clip, exporting to 1080, the results are:
No GPU = 1920×1080/H.264 = 7 minutes, 17 seconds
With GPU = 1920×1080/H.264 = 3 minutes, 19 seconds

That’s fast. I was able to also open an old UHD timeline of a TV show I’ve edited with all effects unrendered, and it played back like butter.

Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve
Resolve gives you the option to select the card in your preferences.

Using the same one-minute Sony A7sii UHD Clip, exporting to 1080, the results are:
No GPU = 1920×1080/H.264 = 5 minutes, 25 seconds
With GPU = 1920×1080/H.264 = 35 seconds

Now that’s fast, wow.

Summing Up
With Apple opening up the OS to support external GPUs, they have acknowledged that the laptop is the go-to solution for most filmmakers and producers who want to begin working on their content on set as opposed to waiting until they get back to their workstation.

The external GPU gives you a fast, easy and surprisingly economic way of upgrading the performance of MacBook Pros like mine. While it does add another item you have to bring with you to begin work immediately, it is very light and probably as compact as it can be given it is supporting a power-hungry GPU that puts off considerable heat and needs the space and whisper-quiet, temperature-controlled fan to perform the fast data crunching.

Today’s laptops — both Mac and PC — have powerful enough CPUs to do most of the work quickly and easily, but when it comes to the data-intensive workflows you really need a GPU.

By adding OWC’s Helios FX with a GPU card, you really can boost the performance and capabilities of your system. It really does let you take your post workflow with you. It also saves a lot of time and frustration, and we all know that in this industry, time is money.


Twain Richardson is co-founder of Jamaica-based post house Frame of Reference. At FoR, he assumes the roles of chief executive officer, director of video editing, colorist and many others. Follow him on Twitter @forpostprod and Instagram @twainrichardson

HP intros new entry-level HP Z lineup

HP is offering new entry-level workstations with their HP Z lineup, which is designed to help accelerate performance and secure pros’ workflows.

The HP Z2 Mini, HP Z2 Small Form Factor and HP Z2 Tower, as well as the HP EliteDesk 800 Workstation Edition, feature built-in end-to-end HP security services, providing protection from evolving malware threats with self-healing BIOS and an HP endpoint security controller. Users get protection from hardware-enforced security solutions, including HP Sure Start Gen4 and HP Sure Run, which help keep critical processes running, even if malware tries to stop them. Additionally, HP’s Manageability Kit Gen 2 manages multiple devices.

All HP Z2 workstations can now connect with Thunderbolt for fast device connections and offer an array of certifications for the apps pros are using in their day-to-day work lives. HP Performance Advisor is available to optimize software and drivers, and users can deploy Intel Xeon processors and ECC memory for added reliability. The customization, expandability, performance upgradeability and I/O options help future-proof HP Z workstation purchases.

Here are some details about the fourth-generation entry HP Z workstation family:

The HP Z2 Mini G4 workstation features what HP calls “next-level performance” in a small form factor (2.7 liters in total volume). Compared to the previous generation HP Z2 Mini, it offers two times more graphics power. Users can choose either the Nvidia Quadro P600 or Nvidia Quadro P1000 GPU. In addition, there is the option for AMD Radeon Pro WX4150 graphics.

Thanks to its size, users can mount it under a desk, behind a display or in a rack — up to 56 HP Z2 Mini workstations will fit in a standard 42U rack with the custom rackmount bracket accessory. With its flexible I/O, users can configure the system for connectivity of legacy serial ports, as well as support for up to six displays for peripheral and display connectivity needs. The HP Z2 G4 Mini comes with six core Intel Xeon Processors.

The HP Z2 Small Form Factor (SFF) G4 workstation offers 50 percent more processing power than the previous generation in the exact same compact size. The six-core CPU provides significant performance boosts. The HP Z2 SFF takes customization to the next level with flexible I/O options that free up valuable PCIe slots, while providing customization for legacy or specialized equipment, and for changing display needs.

The HP Z2 G4 SFF ships with four PCIe slots and dual M.2 storage slots. Its flexible I/O option enables users to customize networking, I/O or display needs without taking up PCIe slots or adding external adapters.

The HP Z2 Tower G4 workstation is designed for complex workloads like rendering with up to Ultra 3D graphics and the latest Intel Core or Intel Xeon processors. The HP Z2 tower can handle demanding 3D projects with over 60 percent more graphics power than the previous generation. With high clock speeds, users can get full, unthrottled performance, even with heavy workloads.

The HP EliteDesk 800 workstation Edition targets users who want to upgrade to a workstation-class desktop with integrated ISV certified applications experience.

Designed for 2D/3D design, it is also out-of-the box optimized for leading VR engines and features the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080.

The HP Z2 Mini is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $799; the HP Z2 Small Form Factor is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of
$749; the HP Z2 Tower is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $769; and the HP EliteDesk 800 is expected to be available later this month for a starting price of $642, including Nvidia Quadro P400 graphics.

New Dell Precision workstations offer smaller footprint

Dell’s new Precision 3930 rack is a 1RU workstation that delivers better rack density through its short depth. Extended operating temperatures and features such as dust filters and legacy ports allow it to integrate seamlessly into complex medical imaging and industrial automation solutions.

With the debut of Intel Xeon E processors, and recently introduced 8th generation Intel Core processors, the rack provides up to 64GB of 2666MHz DDR4 memory. In addition, the Intel Xeon E processor supports Error Correcting Code (ECC) for increased reliability.

The Precision 3930 rack provides the flexibility of up to 250W of double-wide Nvidia Quadro or AMD Radeon Pro graphics, and scalability with up to 24TB of storage. It offers three PCIe slots, and an optional PCI slot. It also features secure and fast remote 1:1 user access, with optional Teradici PcoIP technology and support for up to quad-display zero clients.

Dell has purpose-built these new entry-level workstations to focus on data- and graphics-intensive work. The Dell Precision 3630 tower is 23 percent smaller than the previous generation with more expandability. It features a range of easy-to-reach ports that make it possible to connect to external data sources, storage devices and more. It is VR-ready. 8th Generation Intel Core i and new professional-grade Xeon E processors provide faster memory speeds up to 2666MHz 64GB and up to 225W of Nvidia Quadro and AMD Radeon Pro graphics support.

Dell Precision 3630

The Dell Precision 3630 tower offers scalable storage featuring SATA and PCIe NVMe SSDs, which can be configured for up to 14TB with RAID support. The new Precision 3430 small form factor tower offers the same benefits as the Precision 3630, but in an even smaller footprint, and up to 55W of graphics support. It’s also expandable with up to 6TB of storage with RAID support.

Dell now supports Intel Core X-series processors, in addition to the Intel Xeon W processor options already available on the Dell Precision 5820 Tower. On all Dell Precision 3000 series workstations, adding Intel Optane memory will keep responsiveness high.

Dell continues to partner with application providers for ISV certifications. Dell workstations provide professional features such as Dell’s Reliable Memory Technology Pro (with ECC memory), to protect from potential crashes by mapping out bad memory locations, and Dell Precision Optimizer AI software, which optimizes the system automatically to run applications faster.

The Dell Precision 3430 small form factor tower, which starts at $649, and the Dell Precision 3630 tower, which starts at $749 are both available now. The Dell Precision 3930 rack starts at $899 and will be available worldwide on July 26. The Dell Precision 5820 tower workstation starts at $1,1190 and is also available now.

Review: HP DreamColor Z31x studio display for cinema 4K

By Mike McCarthy

Not long ago, HP sent me their newest high-end monitor to review, and I was eager to dig in. The DreamColor Z31x studio display is a 31-inch true 4K color-critical reference monitor. It has many new features that set it apart from its predecessors, which I have examined and will present here in as much depth as I can.

It is challenging to communicate the nuances of color quality through writing or any other form on the Internet, as some things can only be truly appreciated firsthand. But I will attempt to communicate the experience of using the new DreamColor as best I can.

First, we will start with a little context…

Some DreamColor History
HP revolutionized the world of color-critical displays with the release of the first DreamColor in June 2008. The LP2480zx was a 24-inch 1920×1200 display that had built-in color processing with profiles for standard color spaces and the ability to calibrate it to refine those profiles as the monitor aged. It was not the first display with any of these capabilities, but the first one that was affordable, by at least an order of magnitude.

It became very popular in the film industry, both sitting on desks in post facilities — as it was designed — and out in the field as a live camera monitor, which it was not designed for. It had a true 10-bit IPS pane and the ability to reproduce incredible detail in the darks. It could only display 10-bit sources from the brand-new DisplayPort input or the HDMI port, and the color gamut remapping only worked for non-interlaced RGB sources.

So many people using the DreamColor as a “video monitor” instead of a “computer monitor” weren’t even using the color engine — they were just taking advantage of the high-quality panel. It wasn’t just the color engine but the whole package, including the price, that led to its overwhelming success. This was helped by the lack of better options, even at much higher price points, since this was the period after CRT production ended but before OLED panels had reached the market. This was similar to (and in the same timeframe as) Canon’s 5D MarkII revolutionizing the world of independent filmmaking with its HDSLRs. The combination gave content creators amazing tools for moving into HD production at affordable price points.

It took six years for HP to release an update to the original model DreamColor in the form of the Z27x and Z24x. These had the same color engine but different panel technology. They never had the same impact on the industry as the original, because the panels didn’t “wow” people, and the competition was starting to catch up. Dell has PremierColor and Samsung and BenQ have models featuring color accuracy as well. The Z27x could display 4K sources by scaling them to its native 2560×1440 resolution, while the Z24x’s resolution was decreased to 1920×1080 with a panel that was even less impressive.

Fast forward a few more years, and the Z24x was updated to Gen2, and the Z32x was released with UHD resolution. This was four times the resolution of the original DreamColor and at half the price. But with lots of competition in the market, I don’t think it has had the reach of the original DreamColor, and the industry has matured to the point where people aren’t hooking them to 4K cameras because there are other options better suited to that environment, specifically battery powered OLED units.

DreamColor at 4K
Fast forward a bit and HP has released the Z31x DreamColor studio display. The big feature that this unit brings to the table is true cinema 4K resolution. The label 4K gets thrown around a lot these days, but most “4K” products are actually UHD resolution, at 3840×2160, instead of the full 4096×2160. This means that true 4K content is scaled to fit the UHD screen, or in the case of Sony TVs, cropped off the sides. When doing color critical work, you need to be able to see every pixel, with no scaling, which could hide issues. So the Z31x’s 4096×2160 native resolution will be an important feature for anyone working on modern feature films, from editing and VFX to grading and QC.

The 10-bit 4K Panel
The true 10-bit IPS panel is the cornerstone of what makes a DreamColor such a good monitor. IPS monitor prices have fallen dramatically since they were first introduced over a decade ago, and some of that is the natural progression of technology, but some of that has come at the expense of quality. Most displays offering 10-bit color are accomplishing that by flickering the pixels of an 8-bit panel in an attempt to fill in the remaining gradations with a technique called frame rate control (FRC). And cheaper panels are as low as 6-bit color with FRC to make them close to 8-bit. There are a variety of other ways to reduce cost with cheaper materials, and lower-quality backlights.

HP claims that the underlying architecture of this panel returns to the quality of the original IPS panel designs, but then adds the technological advances developed since then, without cutting any corners in the process. In order to fully take advantage of the 10-bit panel, you need to feed it 10-bit source content, which is easier than it used to be but not a forgone conclusion. Make sure you select 10-bit output color in your GPU settings.

In addition to a true 10-bit color display, it also natively refreshes at the rate of the source image, from 48Hz-60Hz, because displaying every frame at the right time is as important as displaying it in the right color. They say that the darker blacks are achieved by better crystal alignment in the LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) blocking out the backlight more fully. This also gives a wider viewing angle, since washing out the blacks is usually the main issue with off-axis viewing. I can move about 45 degrees off center, vertically or horizontally, without seeing any shift in the picture brightness or color. Past that I start to see the mid levels getting darker.

Speaking of brighter and darker, the backlight gives the display a native brightness of 250 nits. That is over twice the brightness needed to display SDR content, but this not an HDR display. It can be adjusted anywhere from 48 to 250 nits, depending on the usage requirements and environment. It is not designed to be the brightest display available, it is aiming to be the most accurate.

Much effort was put into the front surface, to get the proper balance of reducing glare and reflections as much as possible. I can’t independently verify some of their other claims without a microscope and more knowledge than I currently have, but I can easily see that the matte surface of the display is much better than other monitors in regards to fewer reflections and less glare for the surrounding environment, allowing you to better see the image on the screen. That is one of the most apparent strengths of the monitor, obviously visible at first glance.

Color Calibration
The other new headline feature is an integrated colorimeter for display calibration and verification, located in the top of the bezel. It can swing down and measure the color parameters of the true 10-bit IPS panel, to adjust the color space profiles, allowing the monitor to more accurately reproduce colors. This is a fully automatic feature, independent of any software or configuration on the host computer system. It can be controlled from the display’s menu interface, and the settings will persist between multiple systems. This can be used to create new color profiles, or optimize the included ones for DCI P3, BT.709, BT.2020, sRGB and Adobe RGB. It also includes some low-blue-light modes for use as an interface monitor, but this negates its color accurate functionality. It can also input and output color profiles and all other configuration settings through USB and its network connection.

The integrated color processor also supports using external colorimeters and spectroradiometers to calibrate the display, and even allows the integrated XYZ colorimeter itself to be calibrated by those external devices. And this is all accomplished internally in the display, independent of using any software on the workstation side. The supported external devices currently include:
– Klein Instruments: K10, K10-A (colorimeters)
– Photo Research: PR-655, PR-670, PR-680, PR-730, PR-740, PR-788 (spectroradiometers)
– Konica Minolta: CA-310 (colorimeter)
– X-Rite: i1Pro 2 (spectrophotometer), i1Display (colorimeter)
– Colorimetry Research: CR-250 (spectroradiometer)

Inputs and Ports
There are five main display inputs on the monitor: two DisplayPort 1.2, two HDMI 2.0 and one DisplayPort over USB-C. All support HDCP and full 4K resolution at up to 60 frames per second. It also has an 1/8-inch sound jack and a variety of USB options. There are four USB 3.0 ports that are shared via KVM switching technology between the USB-C host connection and a separate USB-B port to a host system. These are controlled by another dedicated USB keyboard port, giving the monitor direct access to the keystrokes. There are two more USB ports that connect to the integrated DreamColor hardware engine, for connecting external calibration instruments, and for loading settings from USB devices.

My only complaint is that while the many USB ports are well labeled, the video ports are not. I can tell which ones are HDMI without the existing labels, but what I really need is to know which one the display views as HDMI1 and which is HDMI2. The Video Input Menu doesn’t tell you which inputs are active, which is another oversight, given all of the other features they added to ease the process of sharing the display between multiple inputs. So I recommend labeling them yourself.

Full-Screen Monitoring Features
I expect the Z31x will most frequently be used as a dedicated full-resolution playback monitor, and HP has developed a bunch of new features that are very useful and applicable for that use case. The Z31x can overlay mattes (with variable opacity) for Flat and Scope cinema aspect ratios (1.85 and 2.39). It also can display onscreen markers for those sizes, as well as 16×9 or 3×4, including action and title safe, including further options for center and thirds markers with various colors available. The markers can be further customized with HP’s StudioCal.XML files. I created a preset that gives you 2.76:1 aspect ratio markers that you are welcome to download and use or modify. These customized XMLs are easy to create and are loaded automatically when you insert a USB stick containing them into the color engine port.

The display also gives users full control over the picture scaling, and has a unique 2:1 pixel scaling for reviewing 2K and HD images at pixel-for-pixel accuracy. It also offers compensation for video levels and overscan and controls for de-interlacing, cadence detection, panel overdrive and blue-channel-only output. You can even control the function of each bezel button, and their color and brightness. These image control features will definitely be significant to professional users in the film and video space. Combined with the accurate reproduction of color, resolution and frame rate, this makes for an ideal display for monitoring nearly any film or video content at the highest level of precision.

Interface Display Features
Most people won’t be using this as an interface monitor, due to the price and because the existing Z32x should suffice when not dealing with film content at full resolution. Even more than the original DreamColor, I expect it will primarily be used as a dedicated full-screen playback monitor and users will have other displays for their user interface and controls. That said, HP has included some amazing interface and sharing functionality in the monitor, integrating a KVM switch for controlling two systems on any of the five available inputs. They also have picture-in-picture and split screen modes that are both usable and useful. HD or 2K input can be displayed at full resolution over any corner of the 4K master shot.

The split view supports two full-resolution 2048×2160 inputs side by side and from separate sources. That resolution has been added as a default preset for the OS to use in that mode, but it is probably only worth configuring for extended use. (You won’t be flipping between full screen and split very easily in that mode.) The integrated KVM is even more useful in these configurations. It can also scale any other input sizes in either mode but at a decrease in visual fidelity.

HP has included every option that I could imagine needing for sharing a display between two systems. The only problem is that I need that functionality on my “other” monitor for the application UI, not on my color critical review monitor. When sharing a monitor like this, I would just want to be able to switch between inputs easily to always view them at full screen and full resolution. On a related note, I would recommend using DisplayPort over HDMI anytime you have a choice between the two, as HDMI 2.0 is pickier about 18Gb cables, occasionally preventing you from sending RGB input and other potential issues.

Other Functionality
The monitor has an RJ-45 port allowing it to be configured over the network. Normally, I would consider this to be overkill but with so many features to control and so many sub-menus to navigate through, this is actually more useful than it would be on any other display. I found myself wishing it came with a remote control as I was doing my various tests, until I realized the network configuration options would offer even better functionality than a remote control would have. I should have configured that feature first, as it would have made the rest of the tests much easier to execute. It offers simple HTTP access to the controls, with a variety of security options.

I also had some issues when using the monitor on a switched power outlet on my SmartUPS battery backup system, so I would recommend using an un-switched outlet whenever possible. The display will go to sleep automatically when the source feed is shut off, so power saving should be less of an issue that other peripherals.

Pricing and Options
The DreamColor Z31x is expected to retail for $4,000 in the US market. If that is a bit out of your price range, the other option is the new Z27x G2 for half of that price. While I have not tested it myself, I have been assured that the newly updated 27-inch model has all of the same processing functionality, just in a smaller form-factor, with a lower-resolution panel. The 2560×1440 panel is still 10-bit, with all of the same color and frame rate options, just at a lower resolution. They even plan to support scaling 4K inputs in the next firmware update, similar to the original Z27x.

The new DreamColor studio displays are top-quality monitors, and probably the most accurate SDR monitors in their price range. It is worth noting that with a native brightness of 250 nits, this is not an HDR display. While HDR is an important consideration when selecting a forward-looking display solution, there is still a need for accurate monitoring in SDR, regardless of whether your content is HDR compatible. And the Z31x would be my first choice for monitoring full 4K images in SDR, regardless of the color space you are working in.


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.

Lenovo intros 15-inch VR-ready ThinkPad P52

Lenovo’s new ThinkPad P52 is a 15-inch, VR-ready and ISV-certified mobile workstation featuring an Nvidia Quadro P3200 GPU. The all-new hexa-core Intel Xeon CPU doubles the memory capacity to 128GB and increases PCIe storage. Lenovo says the ThinkPad excels in animation and visual effects project storage, the creation of large models and datasets, and realtime playback.

“More and more, M&E artists have the need to create on-the-go,” reports Lenovo senior worldwide industry manager for M&E Rob Hoffmann. “Having desktop-like capabilities in a 15-inch mobile workstation, allows artists to remain creative anytime, anywhere.”

The workstation targets traditional ISV workflows, as well as AR and VR content creation or deployment of mobile AI. Lenovo points to Virtalis, a VR and advanced visualization company, as an example of who might take advantage of the workstation.

“Our virtual reality solutions help clients better understand data and interact with it. Being able to take these solutions mobile with the ThinkPad P52 gives us expanded flexibility to bring the technology to life for clients in their unique environments,” says Steve Carpenter, head of solutions development for Virtalis. “The ThinkPad P52 powering our Virtalis Visionary Render software is perfect for engineering and design professionals looking for a portable solution to take their first steps into the endless possibilities of VR.”

The P52 also will feature a 4K UHD display with 400nits, 100% Adobe color gamut and 10-bit color depth. There are dual USB-C Thunderbolt ports supporting the display of 8K video, allowing users to take advantage of the ThinkPad Thunderbolt Workstation Dock.

The ThinkPad P52 will be available later this month.

Boxx’s Apexx SE capable of 5.0GHz clock speed

Boxx Technologies has introduced the Apexx Special Edition (SE), a workstation featuring a professionally overclocked Intel Core i7-8086K limited edition processor capable of reaching 5.0GHz across all six of its cores.

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Intel 8086 (the processor that launched x86 architecture), Intel provided Boxx with a limited number of the high-performance CPUs ideal for 3D modeling, animation and CAD workflows.

Available only while supplies last and custom-configured to accelerate Autodesk’s 3ds Max and Maya, Adobe CC, Maxon Cinema 4D and other pro apps, Apexx SE features a six-core, 8th generation Intel core i7-8086K limited edition processor professionally overclocked to 5.0GHz. Unlike PC gaming systems, the liquid-cooled Apexx SE sustains that frequency across all cores — even in the most demanding situations.

Featuring a compact and metallic blue chassis, the Apexx S3 supports up to three Nvidia or AMD Radeon pro graphics cards, features solid state drives and 2600MHz DDR4 memory. Boxx is offering a three-year warranty on the systems.

“As longtime Intel partners, Boxx is honored to be chosen to offer this state-of-the-art technology. Lightly threaded 3D content creation tools are limited by the frequency of the processor, so a faster clock speed means more creating and less waiting,” explains Boxx VP, marketing and business development Shoaib Mohammad.

Review: The PNY PrevailPro mobile workstation

By Mike McCarthy

PNY, a company best known in the media and entertainment industry as the manufacturer of Nvidia’s Quadro line of professional graphics cards, is now offering a powerful mobile workstation. While PNY makes a variety of other products, mostly centered around memory and graphics cards, the PrevailPro is their first move into offering complete systems.

Let’s take a look at what’s inside. The PrevailPro is based on Intel’s 7th generation Core i7 7700HQ Quad-Core Hyperthreaded CPU, running at 2.8-3.8GHz. It has an HM175 chipset and 32GB of dual-channel DDR4 RAM. At less than ¾-inch thick and 4.8 pounds, it also has an SD card slot, fingerprint reader, five USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, Intel 8265 WiFi, and audio I/O. It might not be the lightest 15-inch laptop, but it is one of the most powerful. At 107 cubic inches, it has half the volume of my 17-inch Lenovo P71.

The model I am reviewing is their top option, with a 512GB NVMe SSD, as well as a 2TB HDD for storage. The display is a 15.6-inch UHD panel, driven by the headline feature, a Quadro P4000 GPU in Max-Q configuration. With 1792 CUDA cores, and 8GB of GDDR memory, the GPU retains 80% of the power of the desktop version of the P4000, at 4.4 TFlops. Someone I showed the system to joked that it was a PNY Quadro graphics card with a screen, which isn’t necessarily inaccurate. The Nvidia Pascal-based Quadro P4000 Max-Q GPU is the key unique feature of the product, being the only system I am aware of in its class — 15-inch workstations — with that much graphics horsepower.

Display Connectivity
This top-end PrevailPro system is ProVR certified by Nvidia and comes with a full complement of ports, offering more display options than any other system its size. It can drive three external 4K displays plus its attached UHD panel, an 8K monitor at 60Hz or anything in between. I originally requested to review this unit when it was announced last fall because I was working on a number of Barco Escape three-screen cinema projects. The system’s set of display outputs would allow me to natively drive the three TVs or projectors required for live editing and playback at a theater, without having to lug my full-sized workstation to the site. This is less of an issue now that the Escape format has been discontinued, but there are many other applications that involve multi-screen content creation, usually related to advertising as opposed to cinema.

I had also been looking for a more portable device to drive my 8K monitor — I wanted to do some on-set tests, reviewing footage from 8K cameras, without dragging my 50-pound workstation around with me — even my 17-inch P71 didn’t support it. Its DisplayPort connection is limited to Version 1.2, due to being attached to the Intel side of the hybrid graphics system. Dell’s Precision mobile workstations can drive their 8K display at 30Hz, but none of the other major manufacturers have implemented DisplayPort 1.3, favoring the power savings of using Intel’s 1.2 port in the chipset. The PrevailPro by comparison has dual mini-DisplayPort 01.3 ports, connected directly to the Nvidia GPU, which can be used together to drive an 8K monitor at 60Hz for the ultimate high-res viewing experience. It also has an HDMI 2.0 port supporting 4Kp60 with HDCP to connect your 4K TV.

It can connect three external displays, or a fourth with MST if you turn off the integrated panel. The one feature that is missing is Thunderbolt, which may be related to the DisplayPort issue. (Thunderbolt 3 was officially limited to DisplayPort 1.2) This doesn’t affect me personally, and USB 3.1 has much of the same functionality, but it will be an issue for many users in the M&E space — it limits its flexibility.

User Experience
The integrated display is a UHD LCD panel with a matte finish. It seems middle of the line. There is nothing wrong with it, and it appears to be accurate, but it doesn’t really pop the way some nicer displays do, possibly due to the blacks not being as dark as they could be.

The audio performance is not too impressive either. The speaker located at the top of the keyboard aren’t very loud, even at maximum volume, and they occasionally crackle a bit. This is probably the system’s most serious deficiency, although a decent pair of headphones can improve that experience significantly. The keyboard is well laid out, and felt natural to use, and the trackpad worked great for me. Switching between laptops frequently, I sometimes have difficulty adjusting to changes in the function and arrow key positioning, but everything was where my fingers expected them to be.

Performance wise, I am not comparing it to other 15-inch laptops, because I don’t have any to test it against, and that is not the point of this article. The users who need this kind of performance have previously been limited to 17-inch systems, and this one might allow them to lighten their load — more portable without sacrificing much performance. I will be comparing it to my 17-inch and 13-inch laptops, for context, as well as my 20-core Dell workstation.

Storage Performance
First off, with synthetic benchmarks, the SSD reports 1400MB/s write and 2000MB/s read performance, but the write is throttled to half of that over sustained periods. This is slower than some new SSDs, but probably sufficient because without Thunderbolt there is no way to feed the system data any faster than that. (USB 3.1 tops out around 800MB/s in the real world.)

The read speed allowed me to playback 6K DPX files in Adobe Premiere, and that is nothing to scoff at. The HDD tops out at 125MB/s as should be expected for a 2.5-inch SATA drive, so it will perform just like any other system. The spinning disk seems out of place in a device like this, where a second M.2 slot would have allowed the same capacity, at higher speeds, with size and power savings.

Here are its Cinebench scores, compared to my other systems:
System OpenGL CPU
PNY PrevailPro (P4000) 109.94 738
Lenovo P71 (P5000) 153.34 859
Dell 7910 Desktop (P6000) 179.98 3060Aorus X3 Plus (GF870) 47.00 520

The P4000 is a VR-certified solution, so I hooked up my Lenovo Explorer HMD and tried editing some 360 video in Premiere Pro 12.1. Everything works as expected, and I was able to get my GoPro Fusion footage to play back 3Kp60 at full resolution, and 5Kp30 at half resolution. Playing back exported clips in WMR worked in full resolution, even at 5K.

8K Playback
One of the unique features of this system is its support for an 8K display. Now, that makes for an awfully nice UI monitor, but most people buying it to drive an 8K display will probably want to view 8K content on it. To that end, 8K playback was one of the first things I tested. Within Premiere, DNxHR-LB files were the only ones I could get to play without dropping frames at full resolution, and even then only when they were scope aspect ratio. The fewer pixels to process due to the letterboxing works in its favor. All of the other options wouldn’t playback at full resolution, which defeats the purpose of an 8K display. The Windows 10 media player did playback 8K HEVC files at full resolution without issue, due to the hardware decoder on the Quadro GPU, which explicitly supports 8K playback. So that is probably the best way to experience 8K media on a system like this.

Now obviously 8K is pushing our luck with a laptop in the first place. My 6K Red files play back at quarter res, and most of my other 4K and 6K test assets play smoothly. I rendered a complex 5K comp in Adobe After Effects, and at 28 minutes, it was four minutes slower than my larger 17-inch system, and twice as fast as my 13-inch gaming notebook. Encoding a 10-minute file in DCP-O-Matic took 47 minutes in 2K, and 189 minutes in 4K, which is 15% slower than my 17-inch laptop.

Conclusion
The new 15-inch PrevailPro is not as fast as my huge 17-inch P71, as to be expected, but it is close in most tests, and many users would never notice the difference. It supports 8K monitors and takes up half the space in my bag. It blows my 13-inch gaming notebook out of the water and does many media tasks just as fast as my desktop workstation. It seems like an ideal choice for a power user who needs strong graphics performance but doesn’t want to lug around a 17-inch monster of a system.

The steps to improve it would be the addition of Thunderbolt support, better speakers, and an upgrade to Intel’s new 8th Gen CPUs. If I was still working on multi-screen theatrical projects, this would be the perfect system for taking my projects with me — same if I was working in VR more. I believe the configuration I tested has an MSRP of $4,500, but I find it online for around $4100. So it is clearly not the cheap option, but it is one of the most powerful 15-inch laptops available, especially if your processing needs are GPU intense. It is a well-balanced solution, for demanding users who need performance, but want to limit size and weight.

Update-September 27, 2018
I have had the opportunity to use the PrevailPro as my primary workstation while on the road for the last three months, and I have been very happy with the performance. The Wi-Fi range and battery life are significantly better than my previous system, although I wouldn’t bank on more than two hours of serious media editing work before needing to plug in.

I was able to process 7K R3D test shoot files for my next project in Adobe Media Encoder, and it converts them in full quality at around a quarter of realtime, so four minutes to convert one minute of footage, which is fast enough for my mobile needs. (So it could theoretically export six hours of dailies per day, but I wouldn’t usually recommend using a laptop for that kind of processing.) It renders my edited 5K project assets to H.264 faster than realtime, and the UHD screen has been great for all of my Photoshop work.


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.

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.

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.

 

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.

 

Workstations and Accessories Virtual Roundtable

By Randi Altman

This industry relies on computer workstations day in and day out. So when pros embark on the journey to buy a new one, it’s not something they take lightly. Whether they work in films, TV, spots or VR, or are editors, colorists or visual effects artists, their journey to the right tool is the same. Making sure their workstation enhances their creativity rather than stalls it is paramount. Surrounding themselves with accessories that help speed up their process or just keep their hands from aching is important as well.

We reached out to a number of pros to talk about the journey to their workstation of choice —what do they look for, what questions do they ask, what’s important. Here you go…

AlphaDogs – Owner/Colorist Terry Curren
I currently go mostly with HP as they build for our industry, and have great support. Apple has been out of the workstation business since 2012, so that is a non-starter. Apple did come out and say they are working on a new workstation for pros that should come out next year. The biggest take-away from this is that Apple, a company famous for never talking about what they are working on, spilled the beans publicly. They must be worried about the shift away from their products in our market.

A workstation is a major investment. Most of it is infrastructure that doesn’t need to be replaced that often, like the motherboard and peripheral connections. The easy upgradeability of the CPU along with the flexibility of PCI slots is very important. I have many long-in-the-tooth workstations with newer GPUs, CPUs and I/O cards that work just fine for modern demanding workflows.

Many facilities are built around various PCI cards like fiber channel for storage, SDI and HDMI I/O for external monitoring of video and audio, etc. For example, over the life of AlphaDogs, I have been through 1Gb, 2Gb, 4Gb and am currently on 8Gb fiber. All I had to replace was the relatively inexpensive PCI cards to handle the increasing throughput demands, not the entire computer. With Thunderbolt, you need a new computer with each new iteration.

Heavier processing demand with applications like Blackmagic Resolve, which likes lots of additional GPUs, requires flexibility. To get that, you need PCI slots with their higher number of “lanes” of throughput. It is easy to add more GPUs to a workstation or even a breakout box if even more PCI slots are desired.

The bottom line is Apple is primarily a consumer product company. If you can get by with an iMac then go for it, but be aware you may be replacing it in a few years. If you need more options, and want to maximize your long-term investment, you have to bump up to a workstation.

The Foundation — Director of Engineering John Stevens
When choosing a workstation, I first look at the specifications of the application the system is being purchased for. Is it CPU-intensive? Is it GPU-intensive? Does the software vendor have any recommended configurations? Which CPU or GPU configurations have been tested by the software vendor? Where will the machine be used? On set? If so, then system noise becomes an important consideration. Can the system be rackmounted or will it be in tower configuration? If the system needs to be rackmounted are rackmount kits available?

Then I determine how much “horsepower” is needed to meet the expected performance level. Items that affect a decision are where is the sweet spot on CPU vs. price performance. I always like to purchase the fastest CPUs that I can afford.

Next, how much RAM is needed for the application, what is the optimum RAM configuration for the hardware? What type and number of GPUs does the application support? Can the power supplies support the number of GPUs? How many slots does the system have and what bandwidth are they? What type of support is available? What does the system cost?

I then think about the lifetime of the system. What is the possibility that the system will be re-tasked? Will the configuration I am looking at work in its second life? Then I purchase!

Writer/Producer/Director/VFX Supervisor —Hasraf Dulull
When getting a workstation, I want something that is easy to move around (like the iMac) and must have a lot of RAM and high-end graphics card for GPU. I use G-Tech G-Drives 8TB hooked up via Thunderbolt to access the footage, and if my SSD drive in the iMac is big enough then I use that for caching as its faster. I am currently using Mac because of the ProRes codec workflow. I’m also not too fussed about the graphics card brand as long as it’s a good spec.

HBO — Workflow Specialist John “Pliny” Eremic
The GPU matters more and more. Today, even Web browsers like Chrome offload compute to your graphics card in order to render their pages.

I almost always work remotely, so my laptop is my workstation. And while portability and battery life are important, with a “desktop replacement” it’s still all about horsepower. No, I don’t want to lug around a 19lb gaming laptop, but I will gladly accept larger form factors in exchange for better performance.

What we’re seeing is that laptops today can essentially have the same GPU power as their desktop counterparts. For example, the latest Nvidia 10 Series desktop GPUs only have a 10-15% benchmark advantage over their mobile counterparts. That’s huge. In the last generation, that delta was between 50% and 100%. So getting mobile GPUs on par with the desktop models is a game changer.

But it’s the best and the worst of times. Just when I want to upgrade my MacBook Pro, Apple has doubled down on emphasizing “lighter, thinner” over raw power in their “Pro” models. The latest MacBook Pro — including the new rev announced recently — can’t do VR and is underpowered for tasks like 3D or gaming. It’s hard to justify the sticker price for a machine that is partially obsolete right out of the box.

I see virtual content creation as integral to the future of filmmaking, including, and especially, Indie filmmaking. So this puts me in a tough bind: switch to Windows? I might have to.

 

Wairua Studios|Labs — Director/Cinematographer/Co-Founder Jim Geduldick


Because I work on a variety of technical and creative projects, my needs are pretty demanding. I look for workstations that allow me to customize and upgrade CPU and GPU and have robust I/O.

We are mostly an Nvidia-based studio, so all of our systems run the most recent Pascal cards. For our CPUs, its Intel Xeon and Kaby Lake processors. We look for vendors we have trusted over the years for I/O. The diverse projects and technology we use and develop at times use different technology per project — including that from AJA, Blackmagic, Atto, G-Technologies, Apple, HP and Dell.

Accessories vary, but typically it’s Wacom tablets and grading panels from Tangent and Blackmagic. Peripherals are also key to a workstation. We use Flanders Scientific for color-accurate work and a mix of NEC and Dell for HDR and 8K work. All the workstations in the studio are hooked up to a central SAN system.

The Molecule — CEO / CTO / VFX Supervisor Chris Healer
“We usually buy our systems from ICC because they deliver very quickly, usually in less than two weeks, and built to our specs for a good price. Ideally, the selection process wouldn’t be based on speed, but historically we never have enough future-outlook to know when we will need new machines, and end up buying them in batches of five or 10 at a time to satisfy new work that’s coming in.”

The Vanity — VFX Artist Naveen Srivastava
I don’t have a specific spec in mind; I’m almost always just looking for the fastest thing I can find. Our schedules get tighter and tighter every day, so if better hardware can buy me even a couple of minutes by rendering faster, it’s worth it. We’re constantly putting more and more weight on the shoulders of our workstations, so we’re looking for strength, speed and reliability. I use the Lenovo P910 and we also have some HP z840s.

As far as accessories go, we run an internal SSD RAID to get very fast access to our footage. We typically buy the fastest pro video card we can. We work with Eizo monitors exclusively for all of our Flame work.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dell partners with Sony on Spider-Man film, showcases VR experience

By Jay Choi

Sony Pictures Imageworks used Dell technology during the creation of the Spider-Man: Homecoming. To celebrate, Dell and Sony held a press junket in New York City that included tech demos and details on the film, as well as the Spider-Man: Homecoming Virtual Reality Experience. While I’m a huge Spider-Man fan, I am not biased in saying it was spectacular.

To begin the VR demo, users are given the same suit Tony Stark designs for Peter Parker in Captain America: Civil War and Spider-Man: Homecoming. The first action you perform is grabbing the mask and putting on the costume. You then jump into a tutorial that teaches you how to use your web-shooter mechanics (which implement intuitively with your VR controllers).

Users are then tasked with thwarting the villainous Vulture from attacking you and the city of New York. Admittedly, I didn’t get too far into the demo. I was a bit confused as to where to progress, but also absolutely stunned by the mechanics and details. Along with pulling triggers to fire webs, each button accessed a different type of web cartridge in your web shooter. So, like Spidey, I had to be both strategic and adaptive to each changing scenario. I actually felt like I was shooting webs and pulling large crates around… I honestly spent most of my time seeing how far the webs could go and what they could stick to — it was amazing!

The Tech
With the power of thousands of workstations, servers and over a petabyte of storage from Dell, Sony Pictures Imageworks and other studios, such as MPC and Method, were able to create the visual effects for the Spider-Man: Homecoming film. The Virtual Reality Experience actually pulled the same models, assets and details used in the film, giving users a truly awesome and immersive experience.

When I asked what this particular VR experience would cost your typical consumer, I was told that when developing the game, Dell researched major VR consoles and workstations and set a benchmark to strive for so most consumers should be able to experience the game without too much of a difference.

Along with the VR game, Dell also showcased its new gaming laptop: the Inspiron 15 7000. With a quad-core H-Class 7th-Gen Intel Core and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050/1050 Ti, the laptop is marketed for hardcore gaming. It has a tough-yet-sleek design that’s appealing to the eye. However, I was more impressed with its power and potential. The junket had one of these new Inspiron laptops running the recently rebooted Killer Instinct fighting game (which ironically was my very first video game on the Super Nintendo… I guess violent video games did an okay job raising me). As a fighting game fanatic and occasional competitor, I have to say the game ran very smoothly. I couldn’t spot latency between inputs from the USB-connected X-Box One controllers or any frame skipping. It does what it says it can do!

The Inspiron 15 7000 was also featured in the Spider-Man: Homecoming film and was used by Jacob Batalon’s character, Ned, to help aid Peter Parker in his web-tastic mission.

I was also lucky enough to try out Sony Future Lab Program’s projector-based interactive Find Spider-Man game, where the game’s “screen” is projected on a table from a depth-perceiving projector lamp. A blank board was used as a scroll to maneuver a map of New York City, while piles of movable blocks were used to recognize buildings and individual floors. Sometimes Spidey was found sitting on the roof, while other times he was hiding inside on one of the floors.

All in all, Dell and Sony Pictures Imageworks’ partnership provided some sensational insight to what being Spider-Man is like with their technology and innovation, and I hope to see it evolve even further along side more Spider-Man: Homecoming films.

The Spider-Man: Homecoming Virtual Reality Experience arrives on June 30th for all major VR platforms. Marvel’s Spider-Man: Homecoming releases in theaters on July 7th.


Jay Choi is a Korean-American screenwriter, who has an odd fascination with Lego minifigures, a big heart for his cat Sula, and an obsession with all things Spider-Man. He is currently developing an animated television pitch he sold to Nickelodeon and resides in Brooklyn.