Wednesday 18 January 2006

PCIe cards for the PCIe G5 Macs

Its been a few weeks since the launch of the new G5s. The PCIe ones with the Dual Core CPUs. In case you don't know about it yet, these new Macs have expansion card slots called PCIe which is different from the slots that earlier macs used - called PCI and PCI-X. And different means that if you have a Mac with PCI cards line Blackmagic, Kona, or even plain Firewire or some other card, you can't put them into a new Mac G5.

So what are the cards available so far with the new Mac G5. PCIe cards that is?

1. Firewire cards - Aaxeon
2. Video capture cards - Kona 3 from AJA
nothing from BlackMagic or Aurora yet (18 Jan 06)
3. SATA cards - RocketRAID 2320 PCI Express SATA II adapter
4. SCSI cards - none
5. Fibre Channel cards - Apple
6. Ethernet Cards - none (why, the new G5 has 2 GigE ports)

So really, not a very wide choice, but not really a show-stopper. So go ahead and get that G5 Dual Cure. Maybe this is the last Mac G5 ever.

And I just checked. The new MacBook Pro (Intel laptop from Apple) does not have a PCMCIA or PC-Card or CardBus slot. It does have an ExpressCard slot. This is not compatible with your PC-cards. So if you have some of those, time to look for an ExpressCard version.

On the flip side this ExpressCard will be a faster serial bus -PCIe. So expect some innovative new cards like memory, video I/O, hard disks, flash readers etc.

And fianally even if, at first sight, many experts opined that these new Intel Macs won't run Windows because there's no BIOS or something, on second thoughts, opinions are emerging that it might just be possible to run Windows on a Mac. Why would you want to do that? To have the best of both worlds, I guess. Let's wait and see.

Tuesday 17 January 2006

What's your resolution?

No, this isn't about your new year's resolution but something a bit more technical.

It's like this. I went to see a movie in a theatre some days back. Before the main movie there were, as usual, commercials. All, absolutely all the commercials that were played were commercials I'd seen on TV. On closer inspection, I noticed they were identical to their TV counterparts.

Now, I know for a fact that ad agencies that make commercials for TV release them in theatres as well because theatre releases cost vastly less that TV releases. But wait, there's more. The commercials that play in theatres play out as 35 mm movie film in a projector, just like movies do. But they are converted from video to film. They call it 'reverse telecine'.

So here's how it works.

Ad films are shot on 35 mm film. After processing they run the negative in a telecine. Here they grade the shots to give the commercials a definitive look and mood. Often times, a graded commercial looks very different from what was actually filmed.

Anyway, after grading it is edited, then mastered to a Digital Betacam tape for submission to channels. So, what started out as 35 mm film with a resolution of at least 2k - meaning a frame size of at least 2048x1556 pixels - goes through the entire post cycle with a frame size of 720x576. Good enough for Television but coarse for film.

The actual process of telecine converts 2048x1556 pixels to 720x576 pixels. So a full three fourths of the picture resolution is thrown away. Then, for the film version, the very same 720x576 frame from a video cassette, is 'blown-up' to 2048x1556 pixels. This is called 'reverse telecine'.

No wonder ads in theatres look a bit fuzzy like the focus was out of whack or something. But strangely enough, I asked the people who went with me to the movie if they noticed something wrong with the commercials. Even after pointing out obvious lack of sharpness and strange artifacts, they simply couldn't see it.

The next time you go to the movies take a good hard look at the commercials. See if you can see what I'm saying.

What's your resolution?

Friday 13 January 2006

Final Cut Pro 6 (rumoured)

and the future of Digital high-end post.

OK that sounds like a really pompous title for something that is not even official ... yet!. Just up at rumour sites and being debated in forums. "Avid should be worried...", "Discreet should be worried ..." etc etc. Well, past history has shown that no such thing really happens. To Avid, Discreet etc, that is.

In brief, the rumour says ... (it's just a rumour, folks)
1. FCP 6 software will have a Final Cut Extreme version that will be US$ 10,000. About Rs. 4.5 lakhs in India - just the software. System, monitor, storage extra.
2. FCExtreme will enable 2k and 4k editing. Meaning it will handle film res scans like it does quicktime now.
3. Will work with a new, as-yet-unreleased nVidia card.
4. Will use a new super-huge monitor. 42" or 52" which will be able to show full 4k. At the moment Apple's 30" display can show full 2k at 1:1 resolution. I work with three. They're staggering.
5. 10Gig ethernet interfaces might be added to Mac Quads. This will enable transfer of 2k material over the network at near real time speeds or faster.
6. Storage will be new XRAID Extreme using dual infiniband. This is all frontier technology stuff. The as-yet-unreleased version of Lustre will use infiniband. At the moment it takes two XRAIDs RAIDed together to ensure 2k playback.
7. Some more features like 1080/24p DVCProHD, 5.1 audio native etc.
8. And I hope they fix the capture tool and media management.

So, at a very rough guesstimate, we're talking about Rs 35-40 lakhs for a system that can edit and online anything DV, SD, HD right up to 2k/4k. A poor man's DI system. Yes, I said poor man. Because rich-man's DI is done on a Lustre that runs Rs 1.7 crores, or Baselight for a little less Rs 1.2 crores, or Nucoda about the same, or even Quantel iQ for Rs 2.5 crores.

These figures are just top-of-the-mind Dollar/Pound plus Customs duty calculations. I seriously invite anyone who knows exact figures to comment.

Anyway, getting back to FCP 6 (rumored), this will have a definite impact. May take some time, especially in India, but it will happen. We are a film country still, for mass entertainment. meaning we still shoot film, post in film and show film in tens of thousands of theatres. And only a handful are finished digitally. So the market is open for systems at the mid and low end. FCP 6 (rumoured) can change that.

Feature film DI or digital intermediate, that costs (er... I cannot say it publicly) a certain amount per film, can now be done for a third or so. Yes sure it can.

But don't go running believing anyone and everyone with 35-40 lakhs and an FCP 6 system will be able to do it. Now way sir. The system setup is tricky at best. Performance of disk systems has to be tuned. Conform has to be skillfully handled. And grading. The actual grading is not something most editors are equipped to handle. You need a "real" colourist for that.

But it's doable. And one can start off with trailers, promos, teasers and such like. Small 60 sec to 2 min jobs. No big DI house really wants to touch those and will gladly farm them out to a small house. And gradually take up a small-time feature that doesn't really have the budget for DI.

So there is some scope here in the near term at least. And if film is outmoded as a distribution format, and DCinema is used at all theatres... no problem. FCP and Compressor can do compression to MPEG-2, MPEG4, H.264 even now.

I'd love to get my hands dirty and make this work. Anyone with deep pockets, a sense of adventure working with frontier technology, and a desire to make money do let me know.

Wednesday 11 January 2006

What can you do with the new Intel Macs

... right now.

Should you rush out and buy one of the new Intel Macs? Can you edit a movie on the new Intel Macs? Right now?

I did a bit of reading up on this and it turns out that Safari, Mail, and most other apps will run just fine on the Intel Macs. Like a lot of the shareware or freeware you own. Even amongst these though, some will work some may not. These systems use Rosetta, which is an underlying technology built into the new Intel Macs, which translates all the code to the Intel processors so they do their stuff. And the user doesn't have to bother with any settings or anything.

But if you plan on running Final Cut Pro, DVD Studio Pro, Motion, Compressor, Soundtrack, LiveType, Aperture, Logic Pro, Logic Express, Final Cut Express and any other Pro application from Apple ... THEY WILL SIMPLY NOT RUN ON AN INTEL MAC !!! the new iMac or the new MacBook Pro.

To run these, you will need a 'Universal Binary' version of these. And they will be available only after March 31st 2006. In India, that means mid-April if you're lucky.

Here's what Apple says ...

quote --------

If you already own Final Cut Studio 1.0, Aperture, or Logic Pro 7.1, these applications are not supported to run on Intel-based Macs with Rosetta, but a Universal version will be available for $49. Logic Express will be $29.

If you own a Final Cut Studio application that used to be available individually, you can upgrade to Final Cut Studio for these prices.

If you own... Get Final Cut Studio for...
Final Cut Pro 5 $99
DVD Studio Pro 4,
Motion 2,
or Soundtrack Pro $199
Final Cut Pro 4/4.5
or Production Suite $199
Final Cut Pro 1/2/3 $699

To get these deals, come back to Apple.com after February 1, 2006. Apple expects Universal application availability by March 31, 2006.

------ unquote

In other words you just cannot do any editing, titling, DVD authoring, professional sound on the new imac or MacBook Pro till the 1st week April. And further, after that date, there will be no such thing as plain Final Cut Pro, or just DVD Studio Pro or any app separately. You just have to buy the full Final Cut Studio.

Hmmmm. Looks like one needs to wait and see. Or, if one just has to start off now, then buy the existing PowerBook G4 or iMac G5, both of which are available and will be totally outclassed in performance by April 2006.

As far as desktop desktop G5s are concerned, there's a gotcha there too. The new G5s all use PCI-E slots, so your existing capture cards, SCSI cards, and other PCI or PCI-X cards won't work in the new Mac G5. And these desktop systems will also be replaced by Intel-based desktop Macs anytime in he second half of 2006. So if you buy one of these now, they'll become totally outclassed within maybe half a year or less.

And if you're setting up a system from scratch, then too, very few card manufacturers have PCI-E versions of their cards available now. HD and SD capture cards, SCSI cards, Fibre-channel cards (except Apple), sound cards for ProTools, none available for a video professional wanting to set up an editing setup right now.

Neil

New Intel Macs

Yesterday at an expo called MacWorld held at San Fransisco every year, Apple's head Steve Jobs announced new Apples. An iMac and a MacBook Pro. These are the first Intel based Macs.

Does this mean Macs will now run Windows XP ? Well .. not quite. These Macs just have an Intel CPU inside. They will still run the good old MacOSX Tiger. And all your existing Mac software. But to deliver their full potential, they will need applications that are 'Intel native'. Means written specially for this CPU.

All your current apps will run, but they'll be operating through a 'converter' or what they call emulator. In plain English, it means you won't get the same speed that your PowerPC Mac or the existing Mac can give you. How slow will the non-Intel apps run? And how much faster will new apps run? According to Jobs, the iMac will be 2-3 times faster than the existing imacG5 and the MacBook will be 4-5 times faster than an existing PowerBook.

I checked with a dealer and he said we'll see the first iMacs in India, later this month, while the new MacBooks will be on our laps in March. Much before that, other sites will be posting results, which I'll read, digest, and post here.

Neil

My Blog

Digital Post production, digital video, digital audio, digital intermediates, digital anything. My "vishesh tippani"

This blog will be mostly about what I've read, experienced first hand, or know someone who's experienced first hand - but confined strictly to a range of subjects in film and video post, digital photography, digital sound... anything digital. I generally stay away from the "I've heard ..." variety of comments as that spread disinformation.

Actually I've got into this blog thing after a bit of prodding from Dev Benegal (yes Dev "English, August" Benegal). And from other friends like Chhandita Mukherjee who believes that I write well. And Bimal Unnikrishnan who had set up misenscene.net where he allowed me to write a bit. And, of course former associates, superiors and colleagues at Nehru Centre who had to bear the brunt of my writing.

So let's see where this goes. Keep coming back.

Neil