Tag Archives: post production

Western Digital adds NVMe to its WD Blue solid state drive

Western Digital has added an NVMe model to its WD Blue solid state drive (SSD) portfolio. The WD Blue SN500 NVMe SSD offers three times the performance of its SATA counterpart and is optimized for multitasking and resource-heavy applications, providing near-instant access to files and programs.

Using the scalable in-house SSD architecture of the WD Black SN750 NVMe SSD, the new WD Blue SN500 NVMe SSD is also built on Western Digital’s 3D NAND technology, firmware and controller, and delivers sequential read and write speeds up to 1,700MB/s and 1,450MB/s respectively (for 500GB model) with efficient power consumption as low as 2.7W.

Targeting evolving workflows, the WD Blue SN500 NVMe SSD features high sustained write performance over SATA, as well as other emerging technologies on the market today, to give that performance edge.

“Content transitioning from 4K and 8K means it’s a perfect time for video and photo editors, content creators, heavy data users and PC enthusiasts to transition from SATA to NVMe,” says Eyal Bek, VP, data center and client computing, Western Digital. “The WD Blue SN500 NVMe SSD will enable customers to build high-performance laptops and PCs with fast speeds and enough capacity in a reliable, rugged and slim form factor.”

The WD Blue SN500 NVMe SSD will be available in 250GB and 500GB capacities in a single-sided M.2 2280 PCIe Gen3 x2 form factor. Pricing is $54.99 USD for 250GB (model WDS250G1B0C) and $77.99 USD for 500GB (model WDS500G1B0C).

Vickie Sornsilp joins 1606 Studio as head of production

San Francisco-based 1606 Studio, formerly Made-SF, has hired veteran post producer Vickie Sornsilp to head of production. Sornsilp, whose background includes senior positions with One Union Recording and Beast Editorial, will oversee editorial and post finishing projects for the studio, which was launched last month by executive producer Jon Ettinger, editor/director Doug Walker and editors Brian Lagerhausen and Connor McDonald.

“Vickie represents what 1606 Studio is all about…family,” says Ettinger. “She trained under me at the beginning of her career and is now ready to take on the mantle of head of production. Our clients trust her to take care of business. I couldn’t be prouder to welcome her to our team.”

A graduate of San Francisco’s Academy of Art University, Sornsilp began her career as a copywriter with agency DDB. She got her start in post production in 2014 with Beast Editorial, where she produced work for such brands as Amazon, Clorox, Doritos, HP, Round Table Pizza, Mini Cooper, Toyota, Visa, Walmart and Yahoo! She joined One Union Recording as executive producer in 2018.

Sornsilp is excited to reunite with 1606 Studio’s founders. “It feels like coming home,” she says. “Jon, Doug, Brian and Connor are legends in the business and I look forward to doing more great work with them.”

Launched under the interim name Made-SF, the company is rebranding as 1606 Studio in anticipation of moving into permanent facilities in April at 1606 Stockton Street in San Francisco’s historic North Beach neighborhood. Currently undergoing a build-out, that site will feature five Adobe Premiere editorial suites, two motion graphics suites, and two Flame post finishing suites with room for further expansion.

“We want to underscore that we are a San Francisco-centric company,” explains Walker. “Service companies from outside the area have been moving into the city to take advantage of the boom in advertising and media production. We want to make it clear that we’re already here and grounded in the community.”

Signiant intros Jet SaaS solution for large, automated, fast file transfers
 

Signiant will be at NAB next month showing Jet, its new SaaS solution that makes it easy to automate and accelerate the transfer of large files between geographically dispersed locations. Targeted at simple “lights-out” use cases, Signiant Jet meets the growing need to replace scripted FTP with a faster, more reliable and more secure alternative.

Jet uses Signiant’s innovative SaaS platform, which also underpins the company’s Media Shuttle solution. Jet’s feature set and price point allow small- and mid-sized companies to easily automate system-to-system workflows, as well as recurring data exchange with partners.

Like all Signiant products, Jet uses a proprietary transport protocol that optimizes network performance for fast, reliable movement of large files under all network conditions. Coupled with enterprise-grade security and features tuned for media professionals, Signiant products are designed to enable the global flow of content, within and between companies, in a hybrid cloud world. The Signiant portfolio is now comprised of the following offerings:

• Manager+Agents – advanced enterprise software for complex networks and workflows
• Jet – SaaS solution for simple system-to-system automated file transfer
• Media Shuttle – SaaS solution that enables the sending and sharing of large files
• Flight – SaaS solution for transfers to and from AWS and/or Azure public cloud services

Media companies can deploy a single Signiant product to solve a specific problem or combine them for managing access to content that is located in various storage types worldwide. Signiant products interoperate with each other, as well as with third-party products in the media technology ecosystem.

Digital services company Mission hires Mirek Sochor

UK-based Mission, which provides DIT and digital lab/dailies services, has hired Mirek Sochor as manager for Central Europe. Sochor joins Mission from Universal Production Partners (UPP) in Prague where he was the associate producer and supervisor of the film and TV services department. UPP is one of the biggest post facilities in mainland Europe.

Sochor’s recent credits include Crazy Rich Asians, Carnival Row and Genius. Additionally, in 2013 he was named by the Czech Republic’s Minister of Culture as an advising expert in economical and technological aspects in the field of technical development and innovation in cinematography, and in the field of preserving the national film heritage and making it accessible to the public.

At Mission, he will head business and production in Central Europe, spearheading the company’s expansion into Prague and beyond. For the last few months Mission’s DIT Nick Everett has been supporting cinematographers David Moxness, ASC, and Sid Sidell, ASC, on the ABC TV series Whiskey Cavalier. ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier stars Scott Foley and Lauren Cohan.

Mark Purvis, Mission’s managing director, saw the opportunities in Prague and other locations in Central Europe, explaining, “We are strongly committed to providing the same high level of support to productions as we have in the United Kingdom, with a focus on streamlining workflows, adding the best staff in key locations and continually training our technicians to better service our clients.”

Mission continues to grow, with offices in London and Wales and an ever-expanding roster of world-class DITs and digital dailies lab operators. They have recently worked on feature films Yesterday, Mary Queen of Scots and Downton Abbey, TV shows A Discovery of Witches, His Dark Materials and Whiskey Cavalier plus many more. They are a key partner to many cinematographers, working with them from pre-production onwards, safeguarding their color decisions as a project moves from production into post.

Netflix hires Leon Silverman to enhance global post operation

By Adrian Pennington

Veteran postproduction executive Leon Silverman was pondering the future when Netflix came calling. The former president of Laser Pacific has spent the last decade building up Disney’s in-house digital post production wing as general manager, but will be taking on what is arguably one of the biggest jobs in the industry — director, post operations and creative services at Netflix.

“To tell you the truth, I wasn’t looking for a new job. I was looking to explore the next chapter of my life,” said Silverman, announcing the news at the HPA Tech Retreat last month.

“The fact is, if there is any organization or group of people anywhere that can bring content creators together with creative technology innovation in service of global storytelling, it is Netflix. This is a real opportunity to work closely with the creative community and with partners to create a future industry worthy of its past.”

That final point is telling. Indeed, Silverman’s move from one of the titans of Hollywood to the powerhouse of digital is symbolic of an industry passing the baton of innovation.

“In some ways, moving to Netflix is a culmination of everything I have been trying to achieve throughout my career,” says Silverman. “It’s about the intersection of technology and creativity, that nexus where art and science meet in order to innovate new forms of storytelling. Netflix has the resources, the vision and the talent to align these goals.”

L-R: Leon Silverman and Sean Cooney

Silverman will report to Sean Cooney, Netflix, director worldwide post production. During his keynote at the HPA Tech Retreat, Cooney introduced Silverman and his new role. He noted that the former president of the HPA (2008-2016) had built and run some of the most cutting-edge facilities on the planet.

“We know that there is work to be done on our part to better serve our talent,” says Cooney. “We were looking for someone with a deep understanding of the industry’s long and storied history of entertainment creation. Someone who knows the importance of working closely with creatives and has a vision for where things are going in the future.”

Netflix global post operation is centered in LA where it employs the majority of its 250 staff and will oversee delivery of 1,000 original pieces of programming this year. But with regional content increasingly important to the growth of the organization, Cooney and Silverman’s tricky task is to streamline core functions like localization, QC, asset management and archive while increasing output from Asia, Latin America and Europe.

“One of the challenges is making sure that the talent we work with feel they are creatively supported even while we operate on a such a large scale,” explains Cooney. “We want to continue to provide a boutique experience even as we expand.”

There’s recognition of the importance to Netflix of its relationship with dozens of third-party post houses, freelance artists and tech vendors.

“Netflix has spent a lot of time cultivating deep relationships in the post community, but as we get more and more involved in upstream production we want to focus on reducing the friction between the creative side of production and the delivery side,” says Silverman. “We need to redesign our internal workflows to really try to take as much as friction out of the process as possible.”

Netflix: Black Mirror – Bandersnatch

While this makes sense from a business point of view, there’s a creative intent too. Bandersnatch, the breakthrough interactive drama from the Black Mirror team, could not have been realized without close collaboration from editorial all the way to user interface design.

“We developed special technology to enable audience interaction but that had to work in concert with our engineering and product teams and with editorial and post teams,” says Cooney.

Silverman likens this collapse of the traditional role of post into the act of production itself as “Post Post.” It’s an industry-wide trend that will enable companies like Netflix to innovate new formats spanning film, TV and immersive media.

“We are at a time and a place where the very notion of a serial progression from content inception to production to editorial then finish to distribution is anachronistic,” says Silverman. “It’s not that post is dead, it’s just that ‘post’ is not ‘after’ anything as much as it has become the underlying fabric of content creation, production and distribution. There are some real opportunities to create a more expansive, elegant and global ability to enable storytellers of all kinds to make stories of all kinds — wherever they are.”


UK-based Adrian Pennington is a professional journalist and editor specializing in the production, the technology and the business of moving image media.

Posting director Darren Lynn Bousman’s horror film, St. Agatha

Atlanta’s Moonshine Post helped create a total post production pipeline — from dailies to finishing — for the film St. Agatha, directed by Darren Lynn Bousman (Saw II, Saw III, Saw IV, Repo the Genetic Opera). 

The project, from producers Seth and Sara Michaels, was co-edited by Moonshine’s Gerhardt Slawitschka and Patrick Perry and colored by Moonshine’s John Peterson.

St. Agatha is a horror film that shot in the town of Madison, Georgia. “The house we needed for the convent was perfect, as the area was one of the few places that had not burned down during the Civil War,” explains Seth Michaels. “It was our first time shooting in Atlanta, and the number one reason was because of the tax incentive. But we also knew Georgia had an infrastructure that could handle our production.”

What the producers didn’t know during production was that Moonshine Post could handle all aspects of post, and were initially brought in only for dailies. With the opportunity to do a producer’s cut, they returned to Moonshine Post.

Time and budget dictated everything, and Moonshine Post was able to offer two editors working in tandem to edit a final cut. “Why not cut in collaboration?” suggested Drew Sawyer, founder of Moonshine Post and executive producer. “It will cut the time in half, and you can explore different ideas faster.”

“We quite literally split the movie in half,” reports Perry, who, along with Slawitschka, cut on Adobe Premiere “It’s a 90-minute film, and there was a clear break. It’s a little unusual, I will admit, but almost always when we are working on something, we don’t have a lot of time, so splitting it in half works.”

Patrick Perry

Gerhardt Slawitschka

“Since it was a producer’s cut, when it came to us it was in Premiere, and it didn’t make sense to switch over to Avid,” adds Slawitschka. “Patrick and I can use both interchangeably, but prefer Premiere; it offers a lot of flexibility.”

“The editors, Patrick and Gerhardt, were great,” says Sara Michaels. “They watched every single second of footage we had, so when we recut the movie, they knew exactly what we had and how to use it.”

“We have the same sensibilities,” explains Gerhardt. “On long-form projects we take a feature in tandem, maybe split it in half or in reels. Or, on a TV series, each of us take a few episodes, compare notes, and arrive at a ‘group mind,’ which is our language of how a project is working. On St. Agatha, Patrick and I took a bit of a risk and generated a four-page document of proposed thoughts and changes. Some very macro, some very micro.”

Colorist John Peterson, a partner at Moonshine Post, worked closely with the director on final color using Blackmagic’s Resolve. “From day one, the first looks we got from camera raw were beautiful.” Typically, projects shot in Atlanta ship back to a post house in a bigger city, “and maybe you see it and maybe you don’t. This one became a local win, we processed dailies, and it came back to us for a chance to finish it here,” he says.

Peterson liked working directly with the director on this film. “I enjoyed having him in session because he’s an artist. He knew what he was looking for. On the flashbacks, we played with a variety of looks to define which one we liked. We added a certain amount of film grain and stylistically for some scenes, we used heavy vignetting, and heavy keys with isolation windows. Darren is a director, but he also knows the terminology, which gave me the opportunity to take his words and put them on the screen for him. At the end of the week, we had a successful film.”

John Peterson

The recent expansion of Moonshine Post, which included a partnership with the audio company Bare Knuckles Creative and a visual effects company Crafty Apes, “was necessary, so we could take on the kind of movies and series we wanted to work with,” explains Sawyer. “But we were very careful about what we took and how we expanded.”

They recently secured two AMC series, along with projects from Netflix. “We are not trying to do all the post in town, but we want to foster and grow the post production scene here so that we can continue to win people’s trust and solidify the Atlanta market,” he says.

Uncork’d Entertainment’s St. Agatha was in theaters and became available on-demand starting February 8. Look for it on iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Vudu, Fandango Now, Xbox, Dish Network and local cable providers.

Warner Bros. Studio Facilities ups Kim Waugh, hires Duke Lim

Warner Bros. Studio Facilities in Burbank has promoted long-time post exec Kim Waugh to executive VP, worldwide post production services. They have also hired Duke Lim to serve as VP, post production sound at the studio.

In his new role, Waugh will be reporting to Jon Gilbert, president, worldwide studio facilities, Warner Bros. and will continue to lead the post creative services senior management team, overseeing all marketing, sales, talent management, facilities and technical operations across all locations. Waugh has been instrumental in expanding the business beyond the studio’s Burbank-based headquarters, first to Soho, London in 2012 with the acquisition of Warner Bros. De Lane Lea and then to New York in the 2015 acquisition of WB Sound in Manhattan.

The group supports all creative post production elements, ranging from sound mixing, editing and ADR to color correction and restoration, for Warner Bros.’ clients worldwide. Waugh’s creative services group features a vast array of award-winning artists, including the Oscar-nominated sound mixing team behind Warner Bros. Pictures’ A Star is Born.

Reporting to Waugh, Lim is responsible for overseeing the post sound creative services supporting Warner Bros.’ film and television clients on a day-to-day basis across the studio’s three facilities.

Duke Lim

Says Gilbert, “At all three of our locations, Kim has attracted award-winning creative talent who are sought out for Warner Bros. and third-party projects alike. Bringing in seasoned post executive Duke Lim will create an even stronger senior management team under Kim.”

Waugh most recently served as SVP, worldwide post production services, Warner Bros. Studio Facilities, a post he had held since 2007. In this position, he managed the post services senior management team, overseeing all talent, sales, facilities and operations on a day-to-day basis, with a primary focus on servicing all Warner Bros. Studios’ post sound clients. Prior to joining Warner Bros. as VP, post production services in 2004, Waugh worked at Ascent Media Creative Sound Services, where he served as SVP of sales and marketing, managing sales and marketing for the company’s worldwide divisional facilities. Prior to that, he spent more than 10 years at Soundelux, holding posts as president of Soundelux Vine Street Studios and Signet Soundelux Studios.

Lim has worked in the post production industry for more than 25 years, most recently posted at the Sony Sound Department, which he joined in 2014 to help expand the creative team and total number of mix stages. He began his career at Skywalker Sound South serving in various positions until their acquisition by Todd-AO in 1995, when Lim was given the opportunity to move into operations and began managing the mixing facilities for both its Hollywood location and the Todd-AO West studio in Santa Monica.

HPA Tech Retreat 2019: An engineer’s perspective

By John Ferder

Each year, I look forward to attending the Hollywood Professional Association’s Tech Retreat, better known as the HPA Tech Retreat. Apart from escaping the New York winter, it gives me new perspectives, a chance to exchange ideas with friends and colleagues and explore the latest technical and creative information. As a broadcast engineer, I get a renewed sense of excitement and purpose.

Also, as secretary/treasurer of SMPTE, the Board of Governors meetings as well as the Strategy Day held each year before the Tech Retreat energize me. This year, we invited a group of younger professionals to tell us what SMPTE could do to attract them to SMPTE and HPA, and what they needed from us as experienced professionals.

Their enthusiasm and honesty were refreshing and encouraging. We learned that while we have been trying to reach out to them, they have been looking for us to invite them into the Society. They have been looking for mentors and industry leaders to engage them one-on-one and introduce them to SMPTE and how it can be of value to them.

Presentations and Hot Topics
While it is true that the Hollywood motion picture community is behind producing this Tech Retreat, it is by no means limited to the film industry. There was plenty of content and information for those of us on the broadcast side to learn and incorporate into our workflows and future planning, including a presentation on the successor to SMPTE timecode. Peter Symes, formerly director of standards for SMPTE and a SMPTE Fellow, presented an update on the TLX Project and the development of what is to be SMPTE Standard ST2120, the Extensible Time Label.

This suite of standards will be built on the work already done in ST2059, which describes the use of the IEEE1588 Precision Time Protocol to synchronize video equipment over an IP network. This Extensible Time Label will succeed, not replace ST12, which is the analog timecode that we have used with great success for 50 years. As production moves increasingly toward using IP networks, this work will produce a digital time labeling system that will be as universal as ST12 timecode has been. Symes invited audience members to join the 32NF80 Technology Committee, which is developing and drafting the standard.

Phil Squyres

What were the hot topics this year? HDR, Wide Color Gamut, AI/machine learning, IMF and next-generation workflows had a large number of presentations. While this may seem to be the “same old, same old,” the amount of both technical and practical information presented this year was a real eye-opener to many of us.

Phil Squyres gave a talk on next generation versus broadcast production workflows that revealed that the amount of time and storage needed to complete a program episode for OTT distribution versus broadcast is 2.2X or greater. This echoed the observations of an earlier panel of colorists and post specialists for Netflix feature films, one of whom stated that instead of planning to complete post production two weeks prior to release, plan on completing five to six weeks prior in order to allow for the extra work needed for the extra QC of both HDR and SDR releases.

Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning
Perhaps the most surprising presentation for me was given by Rival Theory, a company that generates AI personas based on real people’s memories, behaviors and mannerisms. They detailed the process by which they are creating a persona of Tony Robbins, famous motivational speaker and investor in Rival Theory. Robbins intends to have a life-like persona created to help people with life coaching and continue his mission to end suffering throughout the world, even after he dies. In addition to the demonstration of the multi-camera storing and rendering of his face while talking and displaying many emotions, they showed how Robbins’ speech was saved and synthesized for the persona. A rendering of the completed persona was presented and was very impressive.

Many presentations focused on applications of AI and machine learning in existing production and post workflows. I appreciated that a number of the presenters stressed that their solutions were meant not to replace the human element in these workflows, but to instead apply AI/ML to the redundant and tedious tasks, not the creative ones. Jason Brahms of Video Gorillas brought that point home in his presentation on “AI Film Restoration at 12 Million Frames per Second,” as did Tim Converse of Adobe in “Leveraging AI in Post Production.”

Broadcasters panel

Panels and Roundtables
Matthew Goldman of MediaKind chaired the annual Broadcasters Panel, which included Del Parks (Sinclair), Dave Siegler (Cox Media Group), Skip Pizzi (NAB) and Richard Friedel (Fox). They discussed the further development and implementation of the ATSC 3.0 broadcast standard, including the Pearl Consortium initiative in Phoenix and other locations, the outlook for ATSC 3.0 tuner chips in future television receivers and the applications of the standard beyond over-the-air broadcasting, with an emphasis on data-casting services.

All of the members of the panel are strong proponents of the implementation of the ATSC 3.0 standard, and more broadcasters are joining the evolution toward implementing it. I would have appreciated including on the panel someone of similar stature who is not quite so gung-ho on the standard to discuss some of the challenges and difficulties not addressed so that we could get a balanced presentation. For example, there is no government mandate nor sponsorship for the move to ATSC 3.0 as there was for the move to ATSC 1.0, so what really motivates broadcasters to make this move? Have the effects of the broadcast spectrum re-packing on available bandwidth negatively affected the ability of broadcasters in all markets to accommodate both ATSC 3.0 and ATSC 1.0 channels?

I really enjoyed “Adapting to a COTS Hardware World,” moderated by Stan Moote of the IABM. Paul Stechly, president of Applied Electronics, noted that more and more end users are building their own in-house solutions, assisted by manufacturers moving away from proprietary applications to open APIs. Another insight panelists shared was that COTS no longer applies to data hubs and switches only. Today, that term can be extended to desktop computers and consumer televisions and video displays as well. More and more, production and post suites are incorporating these into their workflows and environments to test their finished productions on the equipment on which their audience would be viewing them.

Breakfast roundtables

Breakfast Roundtables, which were held on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday mornings, are among my conference “must attends.” Over breakfast, manufacturers and industry experts are given a table to present a topic for discussion by all the participants. The exchange of ideas and approaches benefits everyone at the tables and is a great wake-up exercise leading into the presentations. My favorite, and one of the most popular of the Tech Retreat, is on Friday when S. Merrill Weiss of the Merrill Weiss Group, as he has for many years, presents us with a list of about 12 topics to discuss. This year, his co-host was Karl Paulsen, CTO of Diversified Systems, and the conversations were lively indeed. Some of the topics we discussed were the costs of building a facility based on ST2110, the future of coaxial cable in the broadcast plant, security in modern IP networks and PTP, and the many issues in the evolution from ATSC 1.0 to ATSC 3.0.

As usual, a few people were trying to fit in at or around the table, as it is always full. We didn’t address every topic, and we had to cut the discussions short or risk missing the first presentation of the day.

Final Thoughts
The HPA Tech Retreat’s presentations, panels and discussion forums are a continuing tool in my professional development. Attending this year reaffirmed and amplified my belief that this event is one that should be on each broadcasters’ and content creators’ calendar. The presentations showed that the line between the motion picture and television communities is further blurring and that the techniques embraced by the one community are also of benefit to the other.

The HPA Tech Retreat is still small enough for engaging conversations with speakers and industry professionals, sharing their industry, technical, and creative insights, issues and findings.


John Ferder is the principal engineer at John Ferder Engineer, currently Secretary/Treasurer of SMPTE, an SMPTE Fellow, and a member of IEEE. Contact him at john@johnferderengineer.com.

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.

Lowepost offering Scratch training for DITs, post pros

Oslo, Norway-based Lowepost, which offers an online learning platform for post production, has launched an Assimilate Scratch Training Channel targeting DITs and post pros. This training includes an extensive series of tutorials that help guide a post pro or DIT through the features of an entire Scratch workflow. Scratch products offer dailies to conform, color grading, visual effects, compositing, finishing, VR and live streaming.

“We’re offering in-depth training of Scratch via comprehensive tutorials developed by Lowepost and Assimilate,” says Stig Olsen, manager of Lowepost. “Our primary goal is to make Scratch training easily accessible to all users and post artists for building their skills in high-end tools that will advance their expertise and careers. It’s also ideal for DaVinci Resolve colorists who want to add another excellent conform, finishing and VR tool to their tool kit.”

Lowepost is offering three-month free access to the Scratch training. The first tutorial, Scratch Essential Training, is also available now. A free 30-day trial offer of Scratch is available via their website.

Lowepost’s Scratch Training Channel is available for an annual fee of $59 (US).