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Continuing Tales of an FCP Switcher

A continuation on my “Cautionary Tales of an FCP Switcher.”

UPDATED: 6/25 - VTR Success & Workstation Update. At the bottom.

Getting Caught Up on our Series

As mentioned at the end of the original article, we moved our PBS series over the Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 with the reasoning that if we had to flatten a file at the end of the editing process, we’d might as well use the NLE that offers the most native format support. So far, that has absolutely proven to be true and I’m proud to say that my editing team has caught up on our production schedule. Primarily because the software is just so doggone fast our guys are able to jump right into the edit.

Now the emphasis is on our editors to manage all the data, the software really doesn’t do any sort of media management. We stringently follow the guidelines set in “An Editor’s Guide to Adobe Premiere Pro” for managing the data. Essentially we put all the media in place on our SAN before it’s imported to the project. Once a project is completed, we literally have one folder to archive that contains everything needed to bring the project back.

So as far as the editing is concerned, the team is very happy with how Premiere Pro is performing, even our main Avid editor is loving the new CS6 interface and trim tools. We’re also finding significant improvements in render time of CS6 compared to CS5.5.

Spotty EDLs

As noted in the original article, Premiere Pro does not have any way to perform a Consolidate / Transcode function taking all of the native material and conforming all the footage to a single codec. The workflow of sending a flattened Quicktime File to Resolve along with an EDL has resulted in spotty performance from Premiere Pro CS6. Sometimes the EDL imports as expected and the file Pre-Conforms in Resolve and other times Resolve crashes when we try to access the EDL. Conferring with BlackMagic Design, they have discovered errors in the EDLs that are causing the crashes. I’ve sent the troubled EDLs to Adobe for review and we’ll see what they find.

Fortunately, Resolve has an amazing Scene Detect Tool so even without the EDL I can prepare a 30 minute episode for color grade in about 15 minutes or so. And just to remind you, EDLs are the only tool we can use with a flattened QT file into Resolve 8.2, XMLs and AAFs are for timelines.

VTR Frustrations

The one area that’s frustrated us the most is the incredibly poor VTR controls of Premiere Pro. Yes, tape is a large part of our workflow today and for the foreseeable future, particularly as we do a lot of Post on documentaries and long form projects which have a lot of archive materials. We’ve digitized 3/4”, DVCPro HD, HDCAM, BetaSP, BetaSX, DigiBeta, DV, DVCAM, HDV and even VHS in the past year alone. Over the next two months we’ll be digitizing over 400 tapes for three projects. With CS 5.5 VTR control was completely useless for us. We had hoped CS 6 would offer improvements with VTR performance, but so far, it’s been very inconsistent.

This past Friday we spent the entire day with AJA and Adobe trying to layback a show to a Panasonic AJ-HD1400 VTR. One of our edit systems could actually control the deck and start the recording frame accurately, but it was dropping frames for unknown reasons so we couldn’t use it for mastering. We narrowed the problem to something on the Mac HD but could not fully determine what it was.

A second edit suite with a faster computer was able to play without dropping frames, but the audio was 5 - 8 seconds ahead of video during mastering. After a full day of testing, we were no closer to laying back to tape than when we started.

So the workflow for now is to export a self contained quicktime movie and lay back to tape using either Avid Symphony or FCP 7. We'll use FCP 7 for all digitizing since Premiere Pro cannot read Avid MXF files. The good news is both AJA and Adobe are committed to making VTR control work so we’ll be ready to test again when they are. But I am frustrated that Adobe has a professional NLE that can’t control a professional VTR reliably today.

Enter Smoke 2013

The public beta of Autodesk Smoke 2013 is upon us and I’ll be honest that I’ve not had a whole lot of time to even get started with the application. Production deadlines and getting our Post workflow back on track after our initial problems has taken up a lot of our time. My staff has not touched the application at all yet as they are concentrating solely on picking up speed on Premiere Pro.

Where my initial testing will be is color grading actually. Smoke 2013 can handle all of the native formats we’re working with on our current series and it can read an AAF from Premiere Pro. So when the time becomes available in the next few weeks, our first tests will be send episodes of our PBS series to Smoke to how the timelines get into the application and then how the Color Warper will suit our grading needs. If we can avoid the flattening necessary to get the shows from Premiere Pro to Resolve, that will save us a few hours per episode.

Of course, I’ll be doing the testing with practice episodes after they are delivered, we’re not going to put Smoke into actual production until the workflow has been tested, tested and tested again. It also won’t go into actual production until after the actual public release and all of the features have been finalized.


As I’ve noted in previous blogs, I have a plan to replace our 5 primary edit workstations with 27” iMacs and lean on a few “big iron” workstations to handle all the rendering and output. A big reason for sticking with the iMacs is Smoke 2013 and the idea that we might run it as a primary editing tool in our edit suites at some point after the the public release. I just took delivery of our first 27” iMac and added the 32GB RAM kit from OWC and it will go right into documentary production this coming week as a test before we move forward with 5 of them.

While I originally wasn’t a fan of thunderbolt external boxes, now I’m really starting to see the advantages, particularly with software like Resolve allowing us to simply switch output devices with ease rather than having to pull cards out of a machine. I’ve been an AJA fan for a long time, but of course, AJA products don’t work with Resolve, probably never will. But now we can have AJA IoXTs, T-Taps for editing and a BMD thunderbolt I/O device for using Resolve. When it’s time for color grading, just disconnect one device and connect the other. I’m liking that concept and depending on how the iMac tests out, we might go ahed and add the other iMacs and ship out the Mac Pros.

But..... I have to say, I’m seriously rethinking the iMac plan after seeing just how flippin’ fast PC workstations are with both Adobe and Avid software. I just might put lower cost PCs in the edit suites and just have a couple of 12 core Mac Pros for Smoke. I’ve used Macs professionally since 1996 but it’s clear that if I want maximum performance with our current software packages, Windows is the way to go. We can put together a pretty cheap PC with a lot of RAM and a nice nVidia card to get awesome performance from our software. I can also re-purpose all of our AJA Kona boards since they work cross platform.

As I’ve reported recently we’re successfully using a Dell Precision PC workstation with Adobe software and I just completed a review of the ProMAX ONE Hero machine which is easily the fastest workstation I’ve ever tested. Needless to say, I have a lot to consider in terms of workstations right now.

Avid update

My conversations with Avid are continuing and so far they do seem committed to looking at our concerns and those of other FCP editors in opening the back-end workflow if possible. We’re going to have some folks coming in to visit the shop to better understand our workflow and where the breakdowns are happening trying to get the projects out to third party software.

I’ve also been told they’re working directly with BlackMagic Design to improve the workflow between Avid and Resolve. Good to see Avid taking the initiative to work directly with BMD to make the workflow better for all of us.

The Tales continue.....

Our testing continues and I’ll report back soon as our Tales roll on.....

UPDATE 6/25 - VTR Success!

A few folks commented to me that BlackMagic Design cards were working good with Premiere Pro CS6 so this morning I loaded up the CS6 Trial on our Resolve workstation. 12 Core Mac Pro, BMD Decklink Extreme 3D card and voila, we had full tape control. It wasn't perfect by any means, it locked up a few times, audio was out of sync one time, but we were able to successfully lay back an episode of our series to tape. It was frame accurate 8 out of 10 tries so that's progress.

The only annoyance is that the BMD VTR controls don't respect the Timeline In Point. In our case we always set up the timelines to start at 00:58:00:02 with Bars at 00:59:00:02 and show start at 01:00:00:00. Generally we set our In Point on the timeline to either 00:58:40:00 or 00:59:00:02 depending on how much black we've laid down on our master tape.

With the BlackMagic VTR control, it always starts the timeline at the head. So I just had to chop off everything at the head making the start of the timeline 00:59:00:02 and made the edit on the VTR at the same point. Worked perfectly 8 out of the 10 times.

I've reported our results back to AJA and Adobe so maybe they can figure out where the problems lie with the Kona boards. We're still awaiting our IoXT to do the same test on the iMac.

Workstation Update!

The new 27" iMac was in production all day today and the editor reported it was outstanding all day. VERY fast compared to the Quad Core she had been editing with for a week, no crashes, no hiccups, no anything. Just a very fast workstation. First day on the job was a good one!

Posted by: walter biscardi on Jun 24, 2012 at 3:51:34 pmComments (1) Adobe Premiere Pro, Davinci Resolve

Using the iMac to replace "Big Iron" desktop workstations. A consideration

If you’ve been following along the past few months, you know we’re testing a very nice Dell Workstation as we plan the immediate future of our company and what computers might replace all the Mac Pros we currently run. Since we’re an Adobe / Avid centric shop now, the Dell shows us how we might work in a cross platform world.

But as I have been using an almost 2 year old 27″ iMac in both my Adobe and Avid testing for the past 6 months, the thought dawned on me, why not consider replacing some of the Mac Pros with iMacs? Particularly now that Thunderbolt add ons are becoming more prevalent and giving us the same capabilities as all those internal cards we’ve used through the years. In particular the AJA IoXT which is essentially a Kona 3 in a small box.

I purposely have been testing on the iMacs with an eye towards setting up a cluster of them for our Assistant Editors on upcoming series. But this older one is performing so well, it got me to thinking of even replacing many of our primary edit systems with iMacs too.

While Adobe keeps touting the added advantages of the nVidia CUDA based graphics cards, I have to say their software runs very well on the ATI based iMacs. In fact our entire shop, except the new Dell and the Resolve workstation all run on ATI cards and the entire Adobe Suite runs brilliantly on all of them. We honestly don’t miss the CUDA “extra realtime features” because we’ve never had them.

Avid doesn’t have any sort of CUDA requirements at this time (not sure if they ever will) so I see the same snappy interface operation across the board no matter which machine its running on. Avid is definitely the most efficient software we’ve edited with to date, it runs faster on the iMacs that FCP ever did, even on the Mac Pros.

Now before we move forward, keep in mind my situation with my facility. We have 5 edit suites currently running along with our ProTools / Resolve Theater. We’re set up for 9 total edit suites at the moment and can expand to 18 or more at any time, so we need a bunch of machines whenever we upgrade. So from a business standpoint, I have to look at the most effective way to spend our dollars.

If you are a one man band, a 1 or 2 machine shop, then you really want to buy THE fastest and most powerful system you can afford because you’re asking that machine to do everything for you. Edit, Graphics, Render, Output, etc…. I always recommend to anyone that’s a single or two machine shop to have a powerful desktop system unless you absolutely must have the portability of a laptop for your work. Desktop machines, while much more expensive when configured for video editing, will always give you the fastest performance. So keep in mind that my thoughts here are more about me replacing a series of machines vs. a smaller shop that might only need to replace one or two systems.

So what do I give up by dropping a bunch of Big Iron machines in favor of the iMac? Render speed primarily. Big iron will always render faster than an all-in-one ever will because there’s a lot more room for processors and large power supplies to drive those processors. Not to mention a ton more RAM for the same reasons. But for the type of work we’re doing day in, day out, we don’t need super fast rendering all the time on every single workstation.

For the most part we’re doing documentaries and very soon, reality programming. Projects that are storyteller driven, not fx or even transition heavy. So for my situation and with the amount of machines I need to upgrade, do I really need to have all powerful systems in every single edit suite? Based on the performance of my 2 year old iMac, that answer appears to be”no.” I’m thinking a new strategy will be to outfit every single edit suite with a 27″ iMac and then have one or two “big iron” systems, maybe running Avid Symphony, Autodesk Smoke and the Adobe Creative Suite, which will be the “finishing systems” if you will. We’ll still keep the ProTools system and the Resolve system as stand alone Big Iron as well, so I’ll have four Big Iron systems and a whole cluster of iMacs to do most of the work.

All of the machines will connect directly to our 48TB (soon to be larger) SAN because it’s all ethernet based. Unlike some earlier iMacs that crippled the Ethernet port, Apple finally replaced the ethernet port with a unit that again supports Jumbo frames so we don’t lose that connectivity.

Let’s take a look at how the iMacs compare to several Big Iron systems in terms of cost. I’ve tried to make all of the Big Iron systems similarly spec’d so it’s somewhat of an even comparison. They’re all Dual Processor, 12 Core machines except where noted because when I buy a Big Iron machine, I buy one of the fastest I can afford. Note that the Dell Precision T5500 is the unit we’re testing here in the shop and the HP Z800 was chosen because it’s the machine most recommended to me by my Windows based colleagues to compare to the Mac Pro.

27″ iMac priced on 4/8/2012: $3218.00

3.4GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i7; 16GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 4x4GB; 2TB Serial ATA Drive; AMD Radeon HD 6970M 2GB GDDR5; AppleCare 3 year warranty

Mac Pro priced on 4/8/2012 – $9958.00*

Two 2.93GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon “Westmere” (12 cores): 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s hard drive: ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB (standard Card): AppleCare 3 year plan. *nVidia Quadro 4000 purchased separately – $810

Dell Precision T5500 Workstation priced on 4/8/2012 – $8,268.00*

3.46GHz 6-Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X569: nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives; Firewire PCIe card: 3 year On Site ProService: *included “instant savings” of $620 according to the website, no BluRay Writer option, single processor, all USB Ports are 2.0 standard.

Dell Precision T7500 Workstation priced on 4/8/2012 – $11,348.00

Two – 3.46GHz 6-Core Intel® Xeon® Processor X569 (12 Core) : nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives; 16X DVD Writer: Firewire PCIe card: 3 year On Site ProService: *included “instant savings” of $615 according to the website, no BluRay Writer option, All USB ports are 2.0 standard.

HP Z800 FF825AV Workstation priced on 4/8/2012 – $13,667.00

Two 3.46 6-core Intel Xeon X5690 processors (12 cores): nVidia Quadro 4000 graphics card: 48GB (6x8GB) RAM: Two 1TB Internal SATA drives: BluRay Writer; Broadcom 5761 Gigabit PCIe card: Firewire PCIe card: 24×7 On Site response – 3 years. ($239) Note: All USB ports are 2.0 standard. It’s an upgrade to USB 3.0

And because I know someone will ask about the HP All In One workstation, ala iMac, here’s their 27″ configuration….

HP Omni 27 Quad series priced on 4/8/2012- $2049

Intel(R) Core(R) i7-2600S processor [2.8Ghz, 8MB Shared Cache, DMI 5GT/s]: 8GB RAM: 2TB 7200 rpm SATA hard drive: 2GB NVIDIA GeForce GT 540M: Slim Slot Blu-Ray writer: HP Total Care 3 Years: Note: No Thunderbolt or Firewire 800 option.

I just don’t see this in the same class as the iMac for a video workstation. The specs look very underwhelming vs. the 27″ iMac I spec’d out first.

So let’s do the math based on replacing all 5 of my current edit suites. Just what we’ve spec’d here. No software, no add-ons, nothing, just the boxes as I spec’d them above.

5 iMacs: $3218 x 5 = $16,090

5 Mac Pros: $9958 x 5 = $49,490

5 Dell Precision T5500: $8,268 x 5 = $41,340 (note this is a single processor machine)

5 Dell Precision T7500: $11,348 x 5 = $56,740

5 HP Z800: $13,667 x 5 = $68,335

Base cost for the 5 iMacs alone is over $33,000 less than the nearest Tower and over $24,000 less than the nearest Dual Processor machine, though honestly, the odds of me purchasing that particular 12 Core Mac Pro are slim to none. So in reality, I’m over $40,000 cheaper than the lowest cost 12 Core Dual Processor machines I would consider buying.

Now I need to add 5 AJA Io XT boxes to those systems for Video I/O because we still use a ton of tape in our work and they will also feed our Flanders Scientific reference monitors.

5 AJA IoXT: $1,495 x 5 = $7,475

Grand Total now $16,405 + $7,475 = $23,880

I’m still sitting over $32,000 below the 5 Dell T7500s. Or in other words, I can get 5 brand new iMacs with the IoXTs, and get 1 Dell T7500s for our “Big Iron” finishing station and still be about $12,000 ahead. Switch that to the HP and I’m still about $21,000 ahead. But with 6 workstations instead of 5. Heck I can even buy two of the Dell Big Iron systems and still come out ahead.

I already own a slew of 24″ monitors so each iMac can run in dual screen configuration without the need to purchase any new monitors at this time. And as I add more iMacs to the mix, not every single one of them will require the IoXT if they are doing primarily offline work. So that will save me some more money moving forward.

One other expense I would have to explore is re-engineering our shop so the primary controls for everything are in the edit suite and not in the Machine Room as they are now. All of the machines are side by side with video I/O, machine control and everything tied together via patch panels. Now the primary patch panels / machine control will stay in the machine room, but the video I/O devices will be in each suite. So that will require some re-wiring, but not a whole lot.

With numbers like these, and the high quality performance of the iMacs, you can see why I’m strongly considering making the iMacs our primary workstations throughout the facility. And while they might cost a bit more, I think our “Big Iron” systems will be Wintel moving forward. Just too many good options out there vs the limited choices from Apple. And who knows, we just might be running OS X on a PC soon.

So yep, even more for us to consider as we move forward, “Post FCP” in our facility. The options are almost endless and there’s no need to rush into a decision we’ll regret later. Now instead of just putting the fastest most powerful workstation in every single situation, I have more options to put machines more tailored to the task and spend the extra money where I actually need to.

More food for thought……

Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 9, 2012 at 5:55:52 amComments (7) Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid

It's Not a Mac - Our Windows Testing Part 2A

This is just a quick update than full blown testing, hence the "Part 2A" title instead of Part 3.

I left the Dell running all Monday night and it finally downloaded the Adobe Production Premium CS 5.5 package. Installation went fine, then installation of the AJA Kona LHi drivers and the AJA Adobe CS 5.5 plug-in went perfectly fine.

After all installations everything appeared to work just fine, we had image from the system to our Flanders Scientific monitor via the Kona LHi. And that was about the extent of it for today. A new television pilot is occupying my days right now so as soon as I get that done, I'll get busy with the Dell.

However, there IS a new wrinkle to our testing. I was approached by another company to test out a fully customized Windows system. We're working out the details over the next couple of weeks and once everything is finalized, I'll update with the details. Will be nice to have two Windows systems to compare and contrast.

That's it for now, short update! More testing soon!

Posted by: walter biscardi on Mar 14, 2012 at 5:29:36 amComments (6) Dell, Adobe Premiere Pro

It's Not a Mac - Our Windows Testing Part 2

UPDATED 3/12 with pricing information.

Well today, I cracked open the boxes on our new Dell Workstation. If you missed Part 1 with the backstory and disclosure, you can catch up here. As noted yesterday, the machine and monitor provided by Dell are ours to keep, however, there are no rules on what I report in our testing.

Sunday was simply setup the computer day, nothing to report on Adobe Premiere Pro today as it was not possible, we couldn't get it, more on that later.

Now I do have to clarify one thing I said in the first entry. I HAVE actually used a Windows machine professionally, but only sparingly. A few years ago we purchased an HP workstation with a BluRay burner specifically to run NetBlender's DoStudio BluRay authoring program. I forgot about it because we don't use it all that much. But that was a pretty basic system, all it needed was the BluRay burner so I went with a basic $1500 HP workstation that came standard with wireless internet connection.

For this system, I basically relied on Dell. They approached me with the idea that they are serious about the creative industry. I figured I would let them assemble what they felt was a top of the line video production workstation. They did ask me for ideas and I sent them the specs from the last 12 core Mac Pro I purchased. I generally buy the fastest Mac Pro out there with at least 24GB of RAM though usually more with a very beefy graphics card. Most everything else is stock on the machine. I expect the machine to be able to perform for at least 3 years when I purchase a desktop.

The system I received is as follows:

Dell Precision Mini Tower T5500

Dual Quad Core Intel Xeon 2.4Ghz Processors (Eight Core)


nVidia Quadro 4000 Graphics card with single DVI and Dual display ports

2 - 1TB SATA drives, 7200 RPM

1 - 256GB Solid State Internal Boot Drive

16X Optical DVD Bur

Internal Media Card Reader (standard camera media cards)

Windows 7 Professional

Belkin 3 port FW 800 PCI Card

Roxio Creator Starter Kit.

Adobe Production Premium CS 5.5 (via download)

U2410 UltraSharp monitor

The pricing for this is quoted as $6400 from Dell, but that was with the original Quadro 2000 card. I'm not sure how much the 4000 adds to the total.

Completely missing was any sort of a User's Manual either on CD or printed. The HTML version I found online was not very inspring or useful. A PDF would have been much more helpful.

The RAM was increased per my request and the nVidia card was changed per my request. The original card was the nVidia 2000 which is not very useful for video production. The Quadro 4000 is the least you want for video production on the PC. The cards just go up from there. Ok, let's take a look around.

It looks plastic, but the chassis is actually sheet steel all the way around, and it feels pretty solid from the outside. Up front, we have Mic input, headset output, 2 USB ports (USB 2.0) along with the Media card slots and the DVD burner.

On the back are a slew connections from 4 USB Ports (USB 2.0), Ethernet, classic PC Mouse and Keyboard ports, classic Printer port and an eSATA port along with 6 PCI slots. You can see the single DVI and dual Display Ports on the nVidia Quadro 4000 card.

One thing that surprised me is the lack of USB 3.0 ports. I thought that would be standard on a workstation for media production and is one of the things that really sets the Windows workstations apart from the Mac Pro. But it isn't and I didn't notice that when the original specs were sent to me. The other thing I missed is the lack of Wireless internet connectivity standard, that has to be added. It was standard with our HP machine and it's always in our Macs so I never even noticed that it wasn't included on this machine. The wireless use really only comes into play in the initial setup anyway, but it would have been nice as a convenience. The single Ethernet port is an issue in our configuration at the office because we use one port to hardware to our office internet and a second port to connect to our SAN. I'll be adding a Small Tree Ethernet card to the machine soon.

Keyboard and mouse are very UNimpressive. Honestly feels like the most cheap, plastic keyboard and mouse one could buy. The mouse isn't all that big a deal because we use the Wacom Intuos Tablets throughout our shop and it won't be used, but I can tell I'm going to replace the keyboard with something better. It feels like it'll break within a few months of daily use and the clicking noise will drive me crazy.

The Mac keyboards have transitioned to metal keyboard with very quiet keys that feel better to the touch and are quiet in daily creative sessions. The acrylic top of the Apple mouse is very smooth to the touch with the metal bottom, it feels more substantial.

Access to the inside of the chassis is very easy, too easy in fact. I accidentally popped open the side twice when I picked it up. You slide back a tab on the top of the machine (pictured below) and the right side of the machine swings down and off. When picking up the machine, twice my hand pushed that tab back and the side fell off. Now that I know, I'm more careful.

When you compare the inside of the Precision T5500 (pictured below) with the inside of a Mac Pro, it's definitely much more convoluted and it was here that I really came to appreciate the design of the Mac Pro interior, which is almost as elegant in appearance as the outside. This definitely looks like it was designed by an engineer who would never have to open the box up. The Mac Pro is designed to be very easy to access with most everything tucked out of sight.

It's kind of ugly, but definitely functional. All those blue plastic elements you see represent sections that can be moved or removed to access various areas inside the machine as you'll see in the next photo.

PCI cover on the right swings out of the way to get to the PCI slots (it actually swings out even further than this.) The hard drive on the bottom left drops down out of the way to get to the RAM. Even the Dual Processor riser comes completely out of the machine to make for easier access to the RAM and PCI slots.

One more surprise is how flimsy the system feels when the side cover is off. Working with the inside of the machine generally requires laying the machine on its side and back up again. When I laid it down, I could feel the machine torque a little, that is it twisted a bit. The steel frame is not rigid because the metal is pretty thin. For those who have never used a Mac Pro, it's made from a very rigid metal frame that has no give at all, with or without the side cover on. Grabbing at two corners of this machine, I could easily twist it around a bit when the cover was off. I'm sure it's nothing to be really concerned about, it just surprised me because it felt so rigid with the cover on.

Speaking of the inside, I absolutely positively hate the design of the PCI card area. I kind of understand what they were going for, but this design creates quite the annoying workflow for the end user. As I said in the description, Dell included a Belkin 3 Port FW800 card, but it came separately so I had to install it.

This involved.... go around to the back of the machine to unscrew the PCI slot cover. Yes, this is on the outside back of the machine. I've never seen the screws on the outside.

Lay the machine its side and remove the PCI Cover to access the PCI slots. Again, it swings back even further than this, I just didn't get a picture of it. Install the card, close up the cover.

Then stand the machine up and go back around to the back of the machine and screw in the card.

I get what they're doing, no screws to fall around inside the computer. But coming from a Mac Pro perspective, it's annoying to have start outside the machine, go inside to set the card, then go back outside to secure the card. The no tools PCI locking system Apple has works so nicely that it kind of spoils me. Again, I get what Dell has done here and I guess this way is much better than screws falling inside the machine. Something to get used to.

And unfortunately, that's pretty much where Part 2 of this journey is going to end. I had hoped to start testing out Premiere Pro CS 5.5 today, but during a 6 hour period, the software would not download from Adobe's site. The Adobe Installation Assistant kept hanging at about 3/4 completed on the download even after repeated restarts with the computer. It's not an internet issue because I downloaded the Mac version again on my iMac today and that worked in about 20 minutes. On the PC, it just would not work so all I could do was poke around with the machine and from what I could tell, the solid state boot drive made it quite snappy. Power On / Off were extremely fast. I did add the Stardock app to create a Mac OS styled dock to replace the Windows task bar. But that's pretty much it.

From an appearance perspective, the Dell is not much to look at, but then there isn't a single PC I've ever seen that is nice to look at like the Mac Pro. Of course the machine is destined to sit in our machine room, so who cares what it looks like on the outside so long as the performance is there to meet our needs. The next steps will be to try to get Adobe Premiere Pro downloaded and then install an AJA Kona LHi into the machine and see what happens when it gets into production. I'll update with Part 3 as soon as we're able to get this thing running with the software so we can start properly evaluating this thing.

Posted by: walter biscardi on Mar 13, 2012 at 2:38:45 amComments (3) Dell, Adobe Premiere Pro

Wes Plate joining Adobe a very big move.

By now you’ve heard that Wes Plate has joined the Adobe Product Marketing Team. For those who might not know exactly who this guy is, he’s been “the guy” in the industry for years who has made various production tools talk to each other. And not just a simple, “move parts of my projects into something else,” but help the apps talk to each other in a way that brought about very meaningful creative collaborations between artists no matter how what they used.

For instance, when I doing all the HD Post for the Food Network’s “Good Eats,” the shows were first cut in Alton Brown’s facility on his Avid system and then we used the Automatic Duck converter to bring the edits into my Final Cut Pro system. This was an almost seamless transfer between the two competing NLEs that allowed Alton’s editor to continue using her NLE of choice and for me to use my NLE of choice, but to work together. The only things I really had to re-create were the graphics and the transitions and of course I re-did the entire color grading for HD.

So now Adobe snags Wes to join their team right after they snagged IRIDAS and their SpeedGrade color grading tool. I personally thing grabbing Wes is an even bigger grab for the company.

If you have used the Adobe CS 5 suite (or 5.5) you know how incredible the dynamic link option is between Premiere Pro and After Effects. Someone like Wes can bring dynamic link to a whole new level. Imagine that dynamic link type of performance between all of the apps essentially make Premiere Pro the render engine for the entire suite. So you would create your base edit in Premiere Pro and then dynamic link your material out to all the other elements of the suite but do your final renders back in Premiere Pro.

In particular, I’m hoping Wes joining the team could mean that we’ll see a dynamic link workflow for SpeedGrade. The Send To feature in Final Cut Pro was sweet for color grading, but to keep going back and forth without committing to a final render until everything is approved could be very sweet.

Also, I would expect very nice tight integration with external apps like ProTools. And as Adobe has already done on their own with the FCP XML reader, Wes will most likely create easier paths for external apps to work with Adobe’s suite.

In other words, you see Adobe not only purchasing incredible apps to make their incredible Creative Suite even better, the addition of Wes Plate also signals the company’s willingness to create bridges around their suite rather than walls. Just another of the great moves Adobe has been making these past few months.

Posted by: walter biscardi on Sep 27, 2011 at 7:33:20 pmComments (2) Adobe Premiere Pro, video editing

Final Cut Pro to Adobe Premiere Pro "Gotchas" 1

At the urging of a friend, I got back to work on these Transitioning videos as he is now jumping into the Adobe Premiere Pro application.

As I’ve noted in my blogs, for the Final Cut Pro editor migrating over to Adobe Premiere Pro CS 5.5, the transition really could not be much easier. I often refer to PPro as “Final Cut Pro 8″ because it feels like the natural progression from FCP 7.

But there are a few quirks within the application that will drive you absolutely bonkers. So before you pull your hair out and start swearing up a blue streak, here’s a few of the “gotchas” that got me and how to avoid them.

One great thing about Adobe is that they ARE listening to feedback. So if you would like to offer input as Adobe prepares CS6, be sure to go to the website listed at the end of the video.

And if you really want to learn about Adobe Premiere Pro, be sure to pick up the book, "An Editor's Guide to Adobe Premiere Pro" by my buddies Richard, Robbie and Jeff!

<iframe src="//" width="640" height="360" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Posted by: walter biscardi on Sep 11, 2011 at 1:13:59 pmComments (6) Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro

Small Tree Improves upon Ethernet SAN* foundation

As I reported a few weeks ago, Small Tree replaced our original ethernet SAN we've been running since December 2008 with a new system including an all new 48TB Granite Stor RAID II. I also reported that we discovered some things about the Macs that Steve and Chris wanted to go back and test even further.

During the original install, the new Edge Core Switch turned out to have an issue which caused one of the 10Gig ports to fail. But we all expected that the system would work well for us while a solution was found to that issue. Unfortunately, though we tested the system for a full day with all the systems running and doing some editing, after the first full week, we knew we had to improve the performance of the system in a hurry. There just seemed to be a fine tolerance to what could be happening at any given time to ensure that all the systems worked properly, particularly the ability to master shows without the edit to tape aborting for dropped frames. It really came to a head one afternoon when we were trying to get two network shows out at the same time and of course, dropped frames turned everything into a race against the clock to make overnight shipping. We made it, but it was way too close for comfort.

We remained in almost daily contact with Steve, Chris and the rest of the Small Tree engineering team and they repeatedly would log into our various computer systems, make some tweaks, take some notes and keep working at it. Then last week Steve, Chris and Corky Seeber made a return visit to our facility, but this time they brought a brand new Small Tree 10gig switch along with a quad port 10 Gb card (installed in the server to take the best advantage of the new Small Tree 10 GB switch), and 4 Single port Ethernet cards. Small Tree had noticed during testing in their offices that they were able to get better performance from the Small Tree 1 GbE cards than the internal Ethernet ports of the Apple systems when using the Small Tree 10 Gb Switch.

Basically what Small Tree has been able to do in the past is make high speed, off-the-shelf network switches work for high speed video editing. But from what I understand we've hit the breaking point where if ethernet shared storage is going to continue to evolve and move forward, we need switches designed more for that task than for regular network traffic. Enter the new Small Tree 24 Port 10Gigabit Ethernet switch.

This thing was built with complete 10GigE infrastructure within to ensure that the maximum data throughput is achieved at all times. Designed from the ground up by Small Tree, this unit is something that should be able to withstand the constant beating that a shop like ours throws at it. So that was step one, install the new switch to give the entire system a speed boost right off the bat.

The next step was to go through each individual computer in our facility and individually tune them further. The first time they were here they did the first round, but since discovered some more "secret sauce" to make things work more smoothly. They go into the Terminal of each machine and make some internal tweaks to the setup of each system. There's no "one setting fits all" as I found out. Each systems has to be configured based on all the particulars of how the machine is set up including the software it runs and the third party hardware installed. In the end, I believe Small Tree only installed one of the new 10GigE cards into the machines because quite frankly, the others didn't need them once they were tuned correctly.

In short order we had the SAN up and running and every edit suite playing down video timelines along with all of our iMacs. So that's 5 Mac Pro workstations and 7 iMacs all playing 720p or 1080i ProRes video. The Mac Pros were were all playing FCP 7 timelines in a loop and the iMacs were all playing 20 to 30 minute clips in a loop. The iMacs don't have editing software on them, they're used by Producers to review footage as necessary.

Once again, the system in Edit 1 was the most vexing because it's one of the fastest systems in the entire facility and the one we use to cut the feature documentaries, yet it would drop frames playing the same timeline that the slowest system in the shop could play with no problems. Normally you would say "Add more Ram!" "Add a faster GigE Card!" and those might fix the problem temporarily. But there was something fundamental with the way this machine was configured that needed to be addressed. This was a super fast 8 core machine being outperformed by a much slower four core machine. I would guess the pair of them spent about 6 hours just on that one Mac Pro but they finally hit on a combination of settings that made a major change in the behavior of the machine. We did not touch the RAM, we did not change the Ethernet Card (A Small Tree Peg1 card that's been in there all along), Steve and Chris simply kept going into the Terminal and making adjustments to the way the Mac Pro operates. I honestly don't know all the particulars but by the end of the day, the Edit 1 system was behaving better than it has in a long time.

So when we started this whole process of moving from the older SAN configuration to the new SAN configuration we could lay off a half hour show to tape, but we would have to carefully manage what all the clients on the SAN were doing. Even then, we could get those aborts due to dropped frames.

Now, we can literally lay off two shows simultaneously and not pay any attention to what any of the other clients are doing. We've never been able to do that. In fact we did it 4 times in a row as a test. Two Mac Pros laying off 30 minute 720p HD shows being converted to 1080i via the AJA Kona 3, Three other Mac Pros playing 5 to 30 minute timelines in a loop or editing / scrubbing video (I was jumping from edit suite to edit suite to take over) and the 7 iMacs all playing long video clips in a loop. In fact I even laid off 3 shows simultaneously in one test. We've never been able to do any of this in the past. Oh we could edit in all the suites at the same time no problem, but mastering two shows at the same time to tape, that's never happened, but we always knew that and planned for it.

Then on Monday the editors came in and without any prompting, one of them said, "Everything is snappier today." All three of my editors noticed immediate improved performance from the system. More realtime playback, dropped frames non-existant and absolutely no concern for mastering off shows anymore, even two at a time. After a full week of hammering on the system, I'm glad to say that the system is proving itself on a day to day basis.

And it's not just that we have some faster products now with the new 48TB RAID and the 10GigE switch from Small Tree. It's the technical experience by Steve, Chris and all the engineers at Small Tree to completely understand the inner workings of all the machines that are connected to the system. Not accepting that we can "just throw more RAM or another card" at the problem and try to make it go away. It's getting to the heart of the problem, understanding it and then taking the correct course of action to solve it. Sometimes that means adding more hardware / RAM and other times it simply means tweaking the inner workings of the system.

It's very exciting to see what started out really as a cheaper alternative to a fibre channel SAN now evolving into a much more robust and fast system. Oh and don't think this is a Mac based solution, this concept can run on Windows as well, these guys have expertise in both platforms and of course Linux too. That's VERY important to me right now as we ponder the future course of our company and the NLE solution(s) we go with. We have to be prepared for the possibility that a Windows workstations (or two, or three) could start appearing in our shop. Thankfully, the guys at Small Tree will be ready to take our SAN in whatever direction we need to go.

Ok, about that * in the title - Technically what we are using is a NAS, not a SAN. But when Bob Zelin and I first started talking about it publicly we both referred to this configuration as a SAN because that's what we call shared storage in video production. Steve Modica got tired of correcting us and just went along with our (incorrect) terminology. So if you're fussy about the correct terminology, what we are using to edit video is a NAS. Happy now? Good!

Posted by: walter biscardi on Jul 17, 2011 at 7:01:32 pmComments (1) Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro

Atlanta's Post Production User Group, Atlanta Cutters is formed

Hi All!

Very proud to kick off the new Post Production User Group for Atlanta and of course all of the surrounding areas. Too many times these User Groups are application centric and that seems to leave too many folks out. After all in today’s world, an Editor is not just an Editor. Heck a Graphic Artist, a Sound Designer, a Web Designer is just that any longer. Because the tools have gotten so much more accessible all of us are multi-tasking to do whatever it takes to get the job done for the client. So now it’s a rarity to find any Post Production artist who just wears one hat.

In that spirit, we present Atlanta Cutters. Sure we’re gonna spend a lot of time talking about the tools we all use, but moreso, we want to discuss the craft of what we do and how we all interact. So of course you’re going to see a lot of product demonstrations because that’s one way you get to see what’s new and out there. But we will cover a huge range of topics from acquisition to post to storage to archive to sound to graphics to animation and more. But you’re also going to hear from folks on the hows and whys of what they do to hopefully both inspire and motivate all of us to do what we do better. We hope the group will inspire more collaboration by introducing new tools, workflows and even artists to each other.

Most of all, we hope this group is something you look forward to once a month as a fun place to go. Twitter, Facebook and web forums are great for all of us to connect and help each other, but let’s put the voice and face together with the avatar.

So to one and all in the Post Production Community, we say welcome to Atlanta Cutters!

Walter, Kris, Clay and Dan

First meeting: July 27th, 6-10pm, Turner Studios

Posted by: walter biscardi on Jul 11, 2011 at 4:35:47 pm Adobe Premiere Pro, Avid

Apple "X" FAQs, confirmation our move away is the right one

In the wake of the scathing criticism surrounding the release of Apple Final Cut Pro X, Apple has released a FAQ that attempts to answer some of the questions. There are a few in particular that caught my eye.

"Can I import projects from Final Cut Pro 7 into Final Cut Pro X?

Final Cut Pro X includes an all-new project architecture structured around a trackless timeline and connected clips. Because of these changes, there is no way to “translate” or bring in old projects without changing or losing data. But if you’re already working with Final Cut Pro 7, you can continue to do so...."

More than anything else, that is the complete deal breaker for us and confirms what some very smart people have been telling me all along. In our production workflow we refer back to projects 4 to 6 years old with a need to revise, pull elements from or sometimes complete re-cut using the original elements. While FCP X can access the media, it cannot access the original sequences and project organization.

As we have discovered, Adobe Premiere Pro opens up legacy FCP Projects very nicely and we know that we can share projects with Avid as well.


"Can I edit my tape-based workflow with Final Cut Pro X?

Yes, in a limited manner. Final Cut Pro X is designed for modern file-based workflows and does not include all the tape capture and output features that were built into Final Cut Pro 7....In addition, companies like AJA and Blackmagic offer free deck control software that allows you to capture from tape and output to tape."

Many of the documentary videographers we work with still shoot tape, predominately Panasonic DVCPro HD Tape. The ingesting of tape is not that big of a deal using the AJA capture software, but when it comes time to output, the way this works actually is actually much more inefficient than the ability to lay out to tape directly from the timeline. If Apple can convince every single network and station that HDCAM tape is no longer necessary, then they'd have their modern workflow, but for now, tape ingest and tape output is still here for the broadcast and much of the professional market.

Adobe and Avid support tape workflows natively.


"Does Final Cut Pro X support external monitors?

Yes. If you have a second computer monitor connected to your Mac, Final Cut Pro X gives you options to display the interface across multiple monitors. For example, you can place a single window — such as the Viewer or the Event Browser — on the second monitor, while leaving the other windows on your primary monitor."

Honestly can't believe Apple considers this "supporting external monitors." This is laughable at best. What Apple is actually doing is using my $1500 AJA Kona board and my $5,000 FSI Reference Monitor as a second computer monitor. The video output quality is marginal at best, AJA calls it "preview quality" in their documentation.

This is NOT supporting an external monitor that I require for accurate color grading of a project. Supporting an external monitor means allowing me to use two computers monitors via the graphics card while also sending a true video signal via my AJA Video Card (or BMD, Matrox if that's what you have). This FAQ in particular tells me Apple truly doesn't "get" the professional market.

Adobe and Avid support external video displays properly.


"Can Final Cut Pro X export XML?

Not yet, but we know how important XML export is to our developers and our users, and we expect to add this functionality to Final Cut Pro X. We will release a set of APIs in the next few weeks so that third-party developers can access the next-generation XML in Final Cut Pro X."

Translation: We know it's important to our users so we removed it from Final Cut Pro X and you'll now have to purchase it from a third party developer. Apparently it was so important the APIs weren't even ready at launch.

Adobe and Avid can export XMLs natively.

UPDATE: It was pointed out to me by an Avid editor that Avid canNOT export an XML. Thanks for the correction!


"Does Final Cut Pro X support OMF, AAF, and EDLs?

Not yet. When the APIs for XML export are available, third-party developers will be able to create tools to support OMF, AAF, EDL, and other exchange formats."

Translation: We know it's important to our users so we removed it from Final Cut Pro X and you'll now have to purchase it from a third party developer. Apparently it was so important the APIs weren't even ready at launch. (Is there an echo in the room?)


"Can I send my project to a sound editing application such as Pro Tools?

Yes; you can export your project in OMF or AAF format using Automatic Duck Pro Export FCP 5.0. More information is available on the Automatic Duck website:"

Wes Plate has been developing incredible plug-ins for pro users so make applications talk to each other for years when the manufacturers wouldn't. So what I'm about to say is not a knock against him, he is a business man and I applaud him for creating this and everything else he does for us.

This plug-in costs $495. So my $299 investment in Final Cut Pro now increases to $794 for a single application and plug-in.

Adobe and Avid export OMFs for ProTools natively.


"Does Final Cut Pro X allow you to assign audio tracks for export?

Not yet. An update this summer will allow you to use metadata tags to categorize your audio clips by type and export them directly from Final Cut Pro X."

In Final Cut Pro 7 we simply line up the audio by dragging or assigning them to particular tracks, particularly since we send our broadcast work to ProTools. But what if they don't fall neatly into a particular type? And what if I need to put this sound on Track 5 / 6 for full nat sound at this point in the show, but then I have to put it into Tracks 9 / 10 later in the show because I'm just using it underneath? How do I "Tag" the metadata correctly.

Apple assumes that everything we do falls into neat, compartmentalized categories. This is rare. Particularly with documentaries when I'm dealing with 250 hours of material. I can use the exact same clip as an Interview, Natural Sound, B-Roll and SOT.

Also note that this assignment will happen when you EXPORT the project from Final Cut Pro X. No way for you to simply visually look at the timeline to ensure everything is correct. What's easier than simply looking at the timeline visually? Apparently assigning metatags and then asking the ProTools engineer, did everything line up? I would really like to know how many of the professional editors that made up the Beta team really thought this was a good efficient idea?

Adobe and Avid allow you to assign tracks as you're editing within the application.


So the FAQs definitely cleared up a lot of things for me. Now I know that if I were to stay with Final Cut Pro X that I could potentially be looking at an investment of $794 to $1,000 (depending on what the cost of the third party XML plug-ins are going to cost) for a single application per machine. With Final Cut Studio 3 I had a suite of fully functional applications that worked together (for the most part). Now I will get a "$299" application that rolls in some of what the old suite did, tossed out a bunch of other features & apps and I'll have to add on OMF and XML support at the very least which will drive the price up at least $500 and possibly another $500 after that. Of course the price can continue to rise as more features that we use today are added back in by third party developers at a cost. This will be for each and every machine. I'm gonna use $1,100 per machine as a nice round number on the amount of money I'd need to spend for this $300 machine that will actually make our production workflow more inefficient with the lack of tape ingest / output natively.

Let's not forget this "modern new application" will also lock out all of my old FCP projects for good. I have around 1,000 of them over the past 10 years.

Let's not forget Apple discontinued sales of Final Cut Pro 7 the same day as the FCPX roll-out so I would not be able to purchase anymore at this time anyway. Yes a limited number may still be available from VARs but why stick to an application that was "modern" two years ago and is very inefficient in digital formats.


I can spend about $400 per machine and upgrade my Adobe CS 5 to CS 5.5 which gives me pretty much every single feature that Final Cut Pro 7 had and includes Adobe Premiere Pro, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe After Effects, Adobe Audition, Adobe Flash Catalyst, Adobe Flash, Adobe Encore (for DVD and BluRay). Other bundles include Illustrator. In other words, a suite of products, each specialized to a set of tasks extremely well, working together. Here's how Steve Forde describes Adobe's approach to ripping apart CS4, which was not well received in terms of Adobe Premiere Pro, and created a brand new 64 bit CS5.

"In CS5 Adobe had done a complete rewrite of the guts in Premiere to 64 bit on both MAC and PC, and listened to users about how the application should change – dozens of changes throughout the application to make it ‘just work’."

They ripped apart the "guts" creating a modern 64 bit, very efficient product, but listened to the users and kept the workflow for the post production community completely intact. Avid managed to do the same. Only Apple decided that moving to 64 bit would require a "revolutionary approach to editing."

Thanks to the Final Cut Pro X FAQs, I'm convinced we have made the correct decision for my company to move away from the Final Cut Pro platform. It's clear that Apple will stick to their path with no looking back while I just need a more efficient tool that fits into our workflow. Moving to Adobe and Avid will allow us to continue our jobs without an upheaval in the way we tell stories.

Quite honestly we're all excited about the possibilities moving forward!

Posted by: walter biscardi on Jun 29, 2011 at 4:59:07 amComments (139) Adobe Premiere Pro, AJA Kona

Transitioning Part 3: AJA Kona boards with Adobe Premiere Pro

As we transition from Final Cut Pro to another NLE, I'm running a series of tests to determine which NLE will best suit our needs.

We have been using the AJA Kona boards for years with FCP so it's really important to me that the board work with whatever new software we go with. Happily I can now run my AJA Kona boards smoothly with CS 5.5 thanks to the new 9.0.1 Plug-In release.

In this walkthrough I show you how to properly set up the AJA Kona board so you can do some testing yourself. It's a little different than what I'm used to from Final Cut Pro, but this brings us one step closer to transitioning away from FCP.

<iframe src="//" width="800" height="500" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Posted by: walter biscardi on Jun 29, 2011 at 4:53:59 amComments (1) Adobe Premiere Pro, AJA Kona

Transitioning Part 1: Moving an FCP Project to Adobe Premiere Pro

As we transition from Final Cut Pro to another NLE, I'm running a series of tests to determine which NLE will best suit our needs.

Of paramount concern is to ensure that we can still access the 1,000+ Final Cut Pro projects we have on file dating back 10 years of production. We often have to do revisions and updates, particularly for news stories.

<iframe src="//" width="800" height="450" frameborder="0"></iframe>

Posted by: walter biscardi on Jun 27, 2011 at 5:58:06 amComments (3) Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro

Professional Video Editor, Producer, Creative Director, Director since 1990.

Credits include multiple Emmys, Tellys, Aurora and CableAce Awards.

Creative Director for Georgia-Pacific and GP Studios, Atlanta. Former Owner / Operator of Biscardi Creative Media. The show you knew us best for was "Good Eats" on the Food Network. I developed the HD Post workflow and we also created all the animations for the series.

Favorite pastime is cooking with pizza on the grill one of my specialties. Each Christmas Eve we serve the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a traditional Italian seafood meal with approx. 30 items on the menu.

If I wasn't in video production I would either own a restaurant or a movie theater.



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