Friday, 20 November, 2009

Smoke on Mac OSX

Earlier this month (Nov 2009) word filtered out at various sites on the 'net of an upcoming Autodesk Smoke for Mac OSX. I first heard it in a podcast. Then came out with it as a news item.

My sources in Autodesk, initially were hesitant to confirm it (NDAs and all that), but as it became public, they did acknowledge it. A few days ago it was out in the open with Autodesk sources here in Mumbai telling us about how it will be in India. More on that, a bit later.

Now, substantial details are available, and has actually posted a video on that even has interviews with Autodesk representatives, even a developer who described the port to Mac OSX.

A link to the video is here
Watch FXguide TV Epi 072

From that, and other sources, here's a picture of the new Autodesk Smoke on MacOSX.

First off, Smoke on Mac will look and feel pretty much like Smoke on Linux or even Irix. The same interface, buttons, timelines and windows. No Mac Integration as such and you probably won't see Mac menus. So its not a new application, just a 'port' or a transfer to a new platform.

Second, Smoke on Mac OSX will be sold as a software for US$ 15,000 (Rs 7 lakhs)
And annual subscriptions will be US$ 2000 (Rs 94,000 to be paid every year)

It will need a system like this to run on…
MacPro 2007 or later
8 core Xeon
8 GB RAM, 12 Gb preferred
Aja Kona 3 card
Quadro FX 4800 or FX 5600 display card
Single display 1920x1200 resolution (multiple displays won't be supported)
A seriously fast Fibre Channel SATA RAID or SAS RAID that can deliver 500 MBytes/sec

The Nvidia Quadro FX 5600 card costs US$ 2700 (Rs 1.27 lakhs) and the SDI version costs US$ 6000 (Rs 2.8 lakhs)
The Nvidia Quadro FX 4800 card costs US$ 1600 (Rs 75,000) and looks like there's no SDI version

So, if you want to get a new Smoke on a Mac with MacPro, Kona and Nvidia as per Autodesk's recommendations, you're looking at about
Rs 5,00,000 for the MacPro
Rs 1,70,000 for the Kona
Rs 90,000 for the Nvidia FX 4800
Rs 7,00,000 for Smoke software
Rs 8,00,000 for the ultra-fast storage

So. for under Rs 23 lakhs, you'll have a Smoke system. (If my maths is holding up)

I don't know what exactly the current Linux Smoke costs, but its much more than this. Probably in the Rs 60-70 lakhs zone.

What will the Smoke on Mac not have that the Linux Smoke does? Or, if I'm looking to buy a Smoke now, should I buy a Mac Smoke or a Linux Smoke.

From indications available now, the Mac Smoke will not have…
1. Linux
2. Batch, which if you use heavily, you'll miss badly
3. Real time deliverables
4. Sparks and probably other plug-ins won't work too.

What you will have is greater integration with Quicktime. You can now soft-import Quicktime, even ProRes and DNxHD. Sort of like how FCP handles media without actually importing it into a proprietary format.

Since the Mac Smoke does not support a card like the Quadro FX 5800 SDI that the Linux Smoke supports, you won't have live HD-SDI output which is what real-time deliverables means. So some rendering may be needed. But the MacPro is as fast as the Linux Smoke's HP z800 Workstation, so there won't be much difference there.

From what I've heard, Autodesk in India will not sell Smoke as software only. They will sell a turnkey system just like they do now (with Linux Smoke). Probably in partnership with an Apple reseller. As these systems become available, it remains to be seen if the market actually favors a turnkey system, or they'll just go out and buy the software and make it work on a system they've put together.

Also, what remains to be seen if the policy of annual subscriptions is compulsory or can users get that also online. People who aren't used to the 'Discreet tax' aren't accustomed to owning a system and yet not owning it which is how a Smoke traditionally felt like.

As the first few Mac Smokes get installed here in Mumbai, will there be a differentiation in rental costs between Mac Smoke and Linux Smoke? Like will you be able to rent Mac Smoke for, say Rs 2500 per hour vs. Rs 3000 per hour that Linux Smoke now commands? Or, will people not make the distinction and crash all rentals to Rs 2000 per hour or less for a Smoke.

Let's wait and see how this Smoke on a Mac (or Smac) thing turns out in Mumbai.

Thursday, 5 November, 2009

The new Red Epic-X camera

Red, the company that gave the world the Red one camera some years ago, has announced plans for their next model - the Epic-X. Although the Epic-X was announced nearly a year ago, we now have some real specifications.

The Epic-X will be a modular camera so one can customize it for different roles and occasions. it will be able to shoot at up to 5k resolution and at speeds of up to 250 fps at 2k. It will also do a decent HD resolution

There is also a new Red code at higher data rates, a new FLUT Colour science and other features. But all of these are only announced specs and we will see more or less features as they are out.

You can't go out and buy an Epic-X yet. It will be rolled out in 4 'stages'.

In Stage 1, a select group of Red owners will be able to buy an Epic-X for $ 28,000 along with some standard accessories. This will be a 'beta' camera with features that may need working around.
In Stage 2, a more finished camera will be available. This will be based on feedback received from stage 1 owners. So this one will be a 'working model'. 
Stage 3 Epic-X cameras will be made available to Red owners for $ 19,500 and they get to keep their existing Red camera. They can also upgrade their existing Red camera sensor to a new Mysterium sensor for $ 4500 presumably to make it 'sort of' equivalent to a Epic-X.
Stage 3 is when Red owners can return their existing Red one camera and get a Epic-X for $ 10,500.
And Stage 4 is for those who don't have a Red camera, so they simply buy a new Epic-X camera for $ 28,000.

I wonder what happens to Indian Red camera owners. They have bought their Red camera after paying Customs duties of anything between 25 and 40% of the cost. They are never going to get that back. So for Indian Red camera owners it think it has to be Stage 2.

These are all announcements. Things can change till beginning 2010 when these begin to be shipped. As usual with Red "Everything is subject to change. Count on it".

Sunday, 1 November, 2009

Video DSLRs - how good are they really

The original intent of the Canon 5d MkII was not to be a video camera, nor challenge any existing video cameras. It was made to fulfill a specific need of reporters from Reuters who could shoot pro quality stills with the occasional video.

The video format of the Canon 5D MkII was made as 30 fps not 29.97 fps with that specific intention.  Reuters reporters were expected to create video for the web with this device. Web can work with 30fps every bit as well as 29.97 fps.

The form factor of the camera is friendly for still photographers so they could concentrate on shooting stills rather than learn a whole new alien interface as well as method of using a camera. Still photographers simply wouldn't have been able to easily adjust to a shoulder mount camera. On the other hand, holding a camera at arm's length and looking at an LCD screen is not very new to them.

What Canon did not estimate is how well the video fraternity took this camera up. They have sold nearly 50,000 5dMkII models and maybe about half as many 7Ds. And now there's the 1D MkIV. Together, through 2010 Canon could easily move probably a 100,000 pieces.

There is probably no video camera, and definitely no pro HD or higher resolution camera that can ever hope to sell these numbers. Even the Red, arguably the post popular pro digital movie camera so far, has sold not too many over 5000.

One of the benefits of making a still camera that shoots video, rather than a video camera that shoots stills, is that still shooters who use the SLR form factor are generally good photographers. They have a strong sense of composition and pictorial language.

They often also make a living out of taking pictures. Hence, by and large, videos from these vDSLRs seem to be pretty decent looking compared to the shaky, zoomy, swimmy videos most amateurs dish out of handycam type video cameras.

Vimeo, Flickr, smugmug, Exposure Room are full of some really great video from vDSLRs. Perya, Dublin's People, Nocturne, are just some examples.

Granted, they may be unsuitable for broadcast, but there is a huge, not-recession-ridden market of wedding video, corporate video, and internet video that can benefit from vDSLRs.