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Forget the Future, Plan for Now

I made a comment at this past week’s Atlanta Cutters meeting that surprised many of those in attendance. It was something along the lines of “I’m anticipating our Avid’s will be a one year solution to our editing workflow and then we’ll see where we are next year.” In other words, Avid meets our broadcast needs today so that’s the horse we’re going to ride right now for our broadcast work. For some of our non-broadcast work, we’ll go with Premiere Pro CS6. When Smoke 2013 is available, we’ll see how that fits into our workflow.

Software has gotten to the point where pretty much any NLE tool on the market is now accessible and the Return On Investment can be had in a single job. So while I wouldn’t call the software “disposable” I would certainly call it affordable and wise to load up the toolbox while the gettin’ is good.

We’re fortunate to be in a position where we’ve been able to test both Adobe and Avid products for a while now. Adobe has made tremendous strides forward with CS6 but there are still areas that we would like to see addressed, particularly under the hood and some core edit functions, so I’m looking ahead to 2013 for a potential more widespread rollout of Premiere Pro in our workflow. Of course, we had no idea Autodesk was going to drop this new, more edit friendly, version of Smoke on us and I’m already giving them feedback on where I’d like that product to go in the next 12 months. Depending on where they go, I can also see a more widespread rollout of Smoke in our workflow in 2013.

But this is 2012 and I’m not going to stand still on Final Cut Pro 7 and just wait to see where both products are next year. That’s just another year of using an old, increasingly slower edit workflow and right now, Final Cut Pro X doesn’t work for us. Right now, today, Avid works for our broadcast editorial needs and so right now, that’s the tool I invested in and our editors are quite happy with the Symphony packages that have been installed across the facility this week. At $999 each they will pay for themselves in one episode of our current series. They were supposed to be Media Composers, but I saved $2500 across the 5 licenses buying Symphonies instead with that incredible cross-grade offer. When we need more licenses of the product this year, they will be Media Composers moving forward because they won’t be cross-grades any longer.

So stop agonizing and trying to pick “that perfect NLE” that will serve you today and for the next three years because quite honestly things are changing quite rapidly. In fact you shouldn’t even have just one NLE on your system. At the very least every single editor should have Premiere Pro and Avid on your systems so you can work with anyone out there. You’re also going to find that each tool is better suited for some tasks. Premiere Pro’s core strength is the “any format native editing” and the interchange with its entire suite. Avid’s core strength is the tremendous media management for large products and fast keyboard based editing. Your skill set will translate quite nicely between Avid and Premiere Pro so you should be able to move pretty easily between the two apps. Smoke 2013 was designed to be used by Avid and Premiere Pro editors so that should be fairly easy as well.

Heck keep in mind you might not even be on the same hardware platform next year. So many traditional Apple hardware users are discovering that PC workstations are as good as and oftentimes better than their Mac counterparts.

So look at your needs today, right now. What tool(s) do you need, or want, to get your work done for the next 12 months? Plan for that. Next year if something else comes along and meets your needs better, don’t gripe that your current tool isn’t as good, hasn’t kept up, blah blah blah. Just get the new tool added to your toolbox and keep on keepin’ on.

In the long run, a suite of tools and expanding your toolset knowledge is going to benefit you better than just hanging onto something familiar because it’s something you’ve used for a year. Or longer. My two cents.

Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 28, 2012 at 10:27:49 amComments (2) NLE, Post Production

NAB 2012 Notes and Musings from Day One

Some quick notes from a very VERY long day, need to get some rest so I can repeat this all again tomorrow. Some of this is third hand as I spent the day working with the fine folks from the Small Tree Communications booth so I have not had a chance to walk the show floor and see many products personally yet ....

Opening Bell Winner

In South Hall it appears that BlackMagic Design kicked off the day in high frenzy thanks to the announcement of their Digital Cinema Camera, a 2.5k camera that retails for $2995 and includes Davinci Resolve and the UltraScope. As one person as the Media Motion Ball commented tonight, “Why would you buy Resolve? Just buy the camera for a little more and get Resolve included.” Honestly not a bad idea.

Speaking of Resolve, that rolled out with a new 9.0 interface that got rave reviews from all those I talked to. Around 1pm I got the opportunity to have my annual chat with BMD’s founder Grant Petty. Our annual chat is actually one of the high points for me each year at NAB and I’m really thankful we had the opportunity today with all the madness around that camera.

Of course I had to ask, “why in the world would you want to enter the camera market when it’s so saturated?” As a Post Production artist, I’m honestly getting sick and tired of 20 new cameras with 15 new formats each year and then we have to figure out how to make those codecs work in Post. That’s precisely what Grant was thinking too when he made this thing. See he was thinking backwards designing a low cost, high quality image camera that would be friendly on the Post side. Literally by thinking of the codecs first (ProRes / DNxHD) that are ready to edit, then working on a happy medium between high quality image and price point. He settled on 2.5k image size because that scales down to standard HD beautifully. The idea is really to push the camera manufacturers off the idea that a high quality image always has to cost high dollar and always has to include some sort of codec that easier for the camera manufacturers than the Post process. I have to say, that’s a very clever idea. The camera itself also has a cool retro feel to it, reminding me of an classic Polaroid camera from the outside. I liked it.

On Resolve he’s quite proud of his design team for really re-working the interface to make it more accessible. On Teranex, I can see he’s been quite hands on with making design changes to their products to make them more elegant and user friendly. He’s been quite impressed with the entire engineering team on how quickly they are progressing on the changes. The Teranex product line was a complete stroke of genius on his part to roll into the company. Thunderbolt is definitely huge with a whole line of UltraStudio variations

It’s incredible to see where he’s taken the company from its humble beginnings with capture cards into a company that has inroads into almost all areas of production and post. We actually had to laugh because all these years later, he’s still doing the same thing with the UltraStudios and such. Still figuring out better ways to let the end user have a good I/O experience. Definitely swing by and check out this booth as there are just too many products to mention.

Small Tree Communications

Finally got the chance to see the long awaited “Titanium” all in one shared storage solution from Small Tree as I worked in that booth all day. This is a single box that includes the computer, the storage and ethernet ports for shared storage. In other words, it does away with the Computer and Ethernet Switch and brings it all into a single box. It’s available in 16 and 8 drive configurations and easily expandable. It’s kick ass to say the least.

In addition, they were showing some nice Shared Ethernet over Thunderbolt with two thunderbolt expansion chassis. Small Tree 10gig Ethernet cards inside expansion chassis connected to either an iMac or a MacBook Pro allowing for higher speed editing such as uncompressed HD. Very cool. I’ll be there again most of the day Tuesday, so come on by and say hello!


At the Media Motion Ball AJA showed off the product I actually asked for two weeks ago and was greeted with a “we’ll consider that.” The T-Tap thunderbolt to video output for just $249. SDI and HDMI output via thunderbolt. Very simply output only device for any situation where you don’t need ingest, just output. In my case as I develop my new infrastructure around iMacs, I honestly don’t need I/O on every system all the time. So for 5 edit suites, I’ll purchase two Io XT’s and three T-Taps. If someone needs to ingest, just move the IoXT into that room and put the T-Tap into the other room. So everyone is always outputting to the monitors, and I can save some money by not installing ingest products where they are not needed all the time.

Also some nice additions to the Ki Pro lineup with the Ki Pro Rack with dual record hard drives and the Ki Pro Quad which can record 4k in the field. Definitely a booth worth seeking out.

Editing Platforms

From all accounts the Adobe, Autodesk and Avid booths were jammin’ all day. Scores of folks came down to the Small Tree booth after watching demos of Autodesk Smoke truly blown away by what they saw. “It lives up to the hype” “You were right” were the two comments I heard the most all day. Biggest questions raised were whether Autodesk will port Smoke 2013 to Windows and when will they start supporting the rest of the installed 3rd party infrastructure like BlackMagic and Matrox. Definitely hoping that’s forthcoming as that will open the product up to the entire FCP installed ecosystem. Will be making an appearance on the Autodesk stage Tuesday at 2:30pm with Evan Schechtman. You can watch it stream here, it should be most amusing.

Adobe CS6 was met with a lot of very positive response by many who came by. Some had the same questions we raised during the CS6 testing, but overall, it’s a major step forward from the Adobe team. I got a lot of folks asking if should have waited until we saw CS6 before making the decision to switch to Avid, but as we had been testing CS6 for months, our decision was based on CS6 vs. Avid MC6. I’ll discuss in more detail next week.

Avid Symphony is my pick for “Deal of the Show.” How can you not benefit from purchasing this for your facility at just a $999 cross-grade special? And this is VERY limited so don’t wait too long. I firmly believe that any editor today should have both Avid and the Adobe suite on their editing system.

The elephant in the room that in Final Cut Pro X is having mostly a negative reaction among those I spoke to both on the show floor and tonight at the Media Motion Ball. Quite honestly most professional editors I spoke to are just “done with Apple.” Apple released exactly the product they wanted to a year ago, with a workflow that suited them with just enough features that suited them. One year later, the announcements today were greeted with, “that’s not a major release, just Apple trying to put back enough features to appease professional editors.” The general sense is folks are just tired of Apple’s games. There’s also a large segment that is tired of the “fanboys” who have the ulterior motive of needing a healthy Final Cut Pro X user base to make money for their own product lines. Particularly from those who don’t actually edit for a living.

Now I said the response I'm hearing has been “mostly negative.” One set of folks said they were willing to give Apple a second chance based on what they are seeing and hearing from Apple. I definitely plan to stay in touch with them to see how they move forward as they are a rather large installation and it’ll be interesting to see if they make it work. And of course in our Atlanta Cutters group, we’re trying to get the folks from TNT’s “Leverage” to come in and show us their X workflow for that original series.

It’s been so interesting to watch how a product that was so dominant is now hardly mentioned while Avid, Autodesk and Adobe reap the windfall of thousands up thousands of seats switching not only over to their products, but folks like me now considering PC machines to replace existing Mac Pros.

Flanders Scientific

Folks continue to thank me for introducing them to the name Flanders Scientific and their lineup of incredible monitors. If you have not seen the 2461W model yet, definitely check them out in the back of South Hall Lower.

Media Motion Ball

As usual an excellent event where I got to say hello to so many folks I know and meet so many for the first time. Had some audio issues where the sound system was very quiet and the audience was quite loud. Made for difficulty hearing the presenters, particularly in the early part of the event. But as usual, the food was excellent, the company at our table was excellent and new Red Giant Films short was hilarious.

This is definitely a “family reunion” type of event for me getting to see Scott Simmons, Shane Ross, Alexis Van Hurkman, Robbie Carmen, Dan Berube, Kevin Monahan and so many others. Then meeting fellow “Cows” like Walter Soyka and Patrick Inhofer to put the faces with the names.

Had a great time chatting with the folks from BlackMagic Design and Flanders Scientific along with the Avid folks. Since this is a smaller event, you can really get one on one time with these folks and ask a lot of questions, or get in a good joke.

This remains my favorite event at NAB and you really should sign up early next year as it will sell out since it’s a much smaller event than the big SuperMeet.

Adobe Event

A very nice event, another “reunion of sorts” seeing folks I haven’t seen in a year and met up with some great folks from A Frame. Cloud based workflow for television and film that’s already been used for some major projects. I definitely intend to check them out in the North Hall to see how all of this works as this may be a great workflow for some original series and documentary projects we have coming up. They have a very editorial driven product.

And with that, I’m going to wrap it up. It’s almost 1am local time and I have to be up early again tomorrow to hit work the booth. Hopefully this wasn’t too rambling.....

Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 17, 2012 at 1:04:24 am Post Production, Autodesk Smoke

"Smoke is Changing" is NOT a Marketing Slogan

Just got a sneak peek at the new Autodesk Smoke. WOW is all I'm allowed to say so let me say it again. WOW!

Avid and Adobe might have gotten the party started but the discussion about Post Production will really begin on Sunday. For once, the actual product is going to live up to the hype. Smoke IS changing and this is one company that really REALLY listened. I to sign up for the event.

If you won't be there on Sunday and are coming to NAB, put the Autodesk booth to the top of your list.

One more time. WOW!

Posted by: walter biscardi on Apr 12, 2012 at 2:34:05 pmComments (21) Post Production

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

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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