Our short and sweet blog post yesterday about switching to Avid MC6 for our broadcast work touched off a flurry of requests for yet more information on our decision. Folks want to know “what specific features did it have that the others didn’t.” “Can you break it down feature by feature, why you made the switch?” ”You seemed so gung-ho about Adobe early on in your switch.”
Honestly I can’t break it down like that. For almost 6 months now we’ve had one edit suite running MC6 and one running Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 pretty much full time in each room. FCP 7 has been used in both rooms as necessary and I’ve also been cutting with Adobe CS 5.5 primarily on smaller projects. So this has been a real solid test. Three rooms cutting real projects with real clients in the room.
In a situation like this, you don’t compare “feature by feature.” You compare, “how does this work with the client looking over my shoulder?” Is the system efficient, can I do everything from FCP, what is the client experience, does the system service all of my needs?
Real world, client over the shoulder experience, Avid’s strength is the performance of the software in our FCP based infrastructure.
What that means is my entire facility was designed to support Final Cut Pro. Mac Pros, AJA Kona video I/O boards, Small Tree Ethernet based shared storage system and a slew of third party hardware and applications. When we dropped Avid Media Composer 6 into that infrastructure with the appropriate AJA Kona drivers, the system didn’t miss a beat. We were truly stunned that Avid’s support of our hardware was that good. Tape capture and mastering are more efficient and more accurate than what we ever had with FCP. Overall performance of the Avid MC6 software on the same exact machine as FCP7 is much faster.
In comparison, Adobe Premiere Pro causes all sorts of playback and audio issues on output to our external monitors. This led to less than desirable client experiences in the edit suite. As long as the client wasn’t in the room, we would leave the external monitor turned off, but even there audio playback issues still plagued the system. See when I first started testing and posting about Adobe Premiere Pro, it was all from my 27″ iMac at home, so there was no external monitoring. At first the output seemed to work pretty well, but then things kept getting wonky and we could not get output to ever work consistently across multiple workstation.
And all of us were disappointed, to say the least, that tape capture / tape mastering is abysmal in Premiere Pro CS 5.5 with tape still being a very large part of our day to day workflow. Yes, the world is going digital, but we have a lot of shooters who still shoot tape and we have thousands of hours of tape on our shelves that get used for documentary and news projects. Lack of audio controls in the Source, track assignments and a lot of other small things created stumbling blocks and inefficiency in the workflow. Our overall feeling is that Adobe has got a lot of advanced features that nobody else has, but the basic core editing experience leaves a lot to be desired and at the end of the day, we’re storytellers and need a solid core editing tool. Yes we are aware that Adobe is most likely going to introduce CS6 soon and with any luck some of these issues will begin to be addressed. Premiere Pro will still play a part in our facility on smaller projects and potentially an independent documentary.
But right now, after so many months of using both systems in our core FCP infrastructure, Avid MC6 just performs so much better.
It’s actually a more limited toolset when you consider that we purchase the Adobe Production Premium suite that comes with all the other applications, it seems like a waste to spend that money on just one tool. But it makes you appreciate the tool for what it is. One hell of a very fast storytelling machine. Yes there is frustration because we have to “un-learn” a lot of our FCP mindset and re-think our workflow more with Avid than a transition to Adobe Premiere Pro. But that’s just learning which buttons to press.
So there you go, that’s more of our reasoning on taking Avid MC6 to all of our broadcast work, in a nutshell there’s more of a comfort factor bringing the product onboard for broadcast. This was probably the biggest decision I’ve had to make in my career after almost 12 years of keeping Avid OUT of my facility. But Avid truly did listen to what we told them and opened up the software to a world of possibilities by letting me simply drop it into an existing infrastructure.
After lots of testing and comparing, we've made the decision to move two original series to Avid Media Composer 6. PBS series "This American Land" is starting up Season Two next week and in about a month or so we'll be kicking off a new original reality series.
Over the past for months or so, I've had one of my editors working primarily in Adobe CS 5.5 with another working in Avid Media Composer 6 to really see how they operated in all sorts of situations. Short stories, longer form, news features, etc... My editors and I struggled to come up with a definitive answer as to which we should use for "This American Land" as that's the first broadcast series to fire up for us again since we dropped Final Cut Pro.
What it really came down to is just how well Avid Media Composer works with our existing Final Cut Pro infrastructure. Mac Pros with AJA Kona boards connected to a Small Tree Communications 48TB shared storage system. It's interesting because as many of you know, Avid required their own hardware until just this past November. As I reported previously in my CreativeCow.net article, Avid's software works incredibly well with all our third party hardware. Even the shared storage works brilliantly without any sort of Avid / Unity based control.
Despite what people report and the industry wants us to believe, Tape is far from dead in our workflow. We have shooters who still have beautiful cameras that shoot tape and of course we have to master everything to HDCAM for delivery. Tape controls are just so rock solid with Avid, even better and more precise than we ever had with FCP.
So ultimately both myself and my editors felt most comfortable moving our broadcast workflow for these two shows over to Media Composer 6. We'll certainly keep y'all updated on how things roll as we move forward.
Me setting up Avid in our shop, never thought THAT would happen!
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!
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.
Two boxes showed up today and one of my employees says, “That doesn’t look like a Mac.”
Nope, that’s a long way from a Mac. That’s a brand new Dell Precision workstation featuring an nVidia Quadro card. I’ll post the full details on the workstation once I get it out of the box and set up which will happen later this weekend.
If you’ve been following along in my blogs you know we’re transitioning over to an Adobe / Avid workflow from 11 years of running Final Cut Pro and cross platform compatibility is one of the reasons for the change.
If we go with Final Cut Pro X we have no choice but to run Apple hardware and all indications from Apple are showing the end of the “big iron” desktop is coming to a close. Whereas with Windows and Linux, there are still plenty of workstations to choose from with lots and lots of horsepower for the work we’re doing. So it makes sense to go with software that allows us to work on both Mac and Windows so we’re never limited by what just one company will provide us for hardware.
So of course, I’m a Mac guy and when I made the decision to go for cross platform workstations, my first step was to contact colleagues that have been running Windows for some time. I have literally NEVER used a Windows machine for work.
Since 1993 I have been editing with NLE’s solely on the Apple platform. I have had PCs in the past for personal use and my wife still has a PC laptop, but I literally have a MacBook Pro, iMac, iPhone and iPad all within arm’s reach as I write this and my company owns about 20 or 30 Mac computers of one sort or another. It was imperative that I reach out to my colleagues for first hand advice on how to spec out a Windows machine.
I also reached out to all my third party vendors to ensure that our hardware would be compatible with the Windows box. All of my colleagues overwhelmingly recommended HP and in particular the Z800 model. Super fast workstation and from all accounts, can put the Mac Pro to shame when running Adobe software in particular. So how did I end up with a Dell workstation?
Especially when not a single colleague even mentioned the brand?
Rather simple really. They asked.
Someone at Dell has been following along with my transition from Final Cut Pro to the Adobe / Avid workflow and saw that I was talking with my VAR to get a demo PC workstation to test in our facility. Dell reached out and that led to some conversations back and forth which led to them offering to let me test out one of their Precision workstations along with a copy of Adobe Production Premium CS 5.5 for Windows. Well that was a no-brainer for me and it makes things a little easier for my VAR. He didn’t have to assemble a workstation just for me to test and Dell gets feedback from us in a real-world Post situation during a 12 week test.
Then things changed a little further and requires me to make a full disclosure so everything is out in the open.
The Precision workstation is no longer a demo machine, the workstation is now ours to keep, whether we like it or not. This was wholly unexpected and something I never would have asked for because it would be unreasonable to ask a computer company to simply give away one of their top of the line products just to have it tested out. But as the folks at Dell told me, they are serious about the creative industry and want to get their products into the hands of Post professionals in real world situations and get honest feedback. They want it here for much longer than 12 weeks.
Rule Number One: There are NO RULES.
Yep, that’s the agreement. I am free to blog and write about this machine exactly as I see it.
I would not have it any other way. If there were strings attached to this offer, the machine would not be here.
If there’s one thing I’m most proud of, is the fact that my product reviews are my honest opinion. If I don’t like something, you’re sure as heck going to know about it. I made that very clear with Dell when we spoke.
So what you’re going to read and hear from me in the coming weeks will be my own words, my own opinions.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. So pull down on the lap bar and keep your hands inside the car at all times. This is bound to be an interesting ride…….