|July 2011 Newsletter
Thoughts about FCPX and what is working for us today.
I have been in the Final Cut Pro world since 1999 and I can tell you that we are in a state of flux. Many of you may have remembered my old company, the DR Group as a place where you were trained on Final Cut Pro or as an integration firm that understood the Final Cut Pro world better than most. We all grew up in the post production world together with this terrific software and shared its triumphs and missteps. Today, we are at a similar place with new potentials. I wanted to take a moment to share some of the information that I have accumulated, the rumors that are playing out right now and products that have been working for my clients which solve many of the problems we are all facing today.
All of you are aware of the most recent release of FCP. Many have been disappointed with the release and are very concerned about the state of this software. The lack of 3rd party hardware, OMF, XML and the Magnetic Timeline to name of few of the main issues have many people wondering what happened to the software. Let me assure you that these items as an integrator are on the top of my list of concerns too. My advice to you right now is to sit tight and wait out this storm. We have options and solutions to this and many other solutions will be right around the corner.
If you are currently working with FCP and have the necessary computers to run for the next two years, you will be covered and work will continue as normal. You might be aware of the fact that Apple as removed the old version from the web site and you can no longer purchase the 7.03 version from the VAR channel.
This leaves clients in a no man’s land should they need to expand their facilities. We are currently helping our clients in the following manners. You can purchase the new version so that you remain legal with Apple, and then have a consultant place the old version on your systems thus allowing you to work. This will save you about $600 per machine. The alternative is to look into Avid or Premiere, both of which will cost you about the same as FCP 7.03 and will work with the capture cards that you currently own. Another reason to look at these other NLE solutions is that FCPX requires you to have a relatively new computer. If your computer is 2 years old (like mine) and the GPU is not up to the latest standards, you might just get an error when you download the software. Translated, you may have to purchase new computers faster than expected should you move to FCPX today instead of just using the 7.03 version.
After speaking with my fellow techs regarding news in the Apple world, we have come to some interesting conclusions. The rumor on the street is that Apple is going to move away from PCI based computers and start migrating to a complete Thunderbolt technology.
Many manufactures are committing to this new technology, but again, this is going to create a transition period which to the end user equates to additional costs. You are going to have to move from a PCI based system to Thunderbolt. As this happens expect momentary hick ups for first adopters. As the technology gains acceptance and maturity, it will become the de facto manner that we connect our devices. There are going to have to be some major changes to the spec in order for it to grow from a single user interface to a bridge for entire facilities. Multiple users are going to have to connect to a switch and converters from Thunderbolt to Fiber are going to have to be put into place. If this is the case, these add to the possible failure points in a system, which from an integration point of view are troubling.
Currently, we have not been shown how the Thunderbolt technology is going to affect GPU. Apple is relying upon the GPU in FCPX more than ever, and the possible future of the computers from them is without PCI slots. Will ATI and Nvidia create cards that are going to sit outside of the computer and be compatible with the Apple OS or will Apple approve only specific cards (similar to the way that they do business today) that are incorporated into the mother board?
On the positive side, I have noticed that there are a number of IO cards that are being produced to bridge the thunderbolt technology. They connect similar to Firewire devices in the past, but will they also have the latency that came with them? Again, only time will tell. If you do choose to be on the cutting edge of this new technology, remember that it took years to sort out Firewire and all of its issues. This will be very similar. If your company is reliant upon FCP in its current form, I would suggest a complete test of the compatibility prior to instituting any changes to Thunderbolt.
Currently, I am suggesting that all of my clients look at what they currently have in their facilities and then start to make proactive decisions to help protect them.
Many companies are considering delaying computer purchases today and opting for additional units later on. There are two reasons why that may not be a great idea. We definitely know that there is going to be an OS shift with Lion and then there is the possible physical change in computer design. An OS change is a major issue to all of us in the post production and broadcast world. When this happens, there is always a scramble for computers that are backward compatible. Once those are gone, you have no option but to move forward or purchase a used computer. Neither of which are great options if your business is dependent upon the current machines. If there is a physical change in the computer, there will be a strong demand for these older computers to bridge the gap that will be created. Do not be caught on the wrong side of this gap. The physical change of the Mac Pro Tower is speculation at this moment, but sources inside Apple are making noise and are signaling that Thunderbolt is going to take over where PCIE has dominated.
A web portal can be created so you can share the media with producers that are not part of the network and everything is keyword searchable.
The key to this software is that it is simple to use. It does take an expert to create the basic templates so you can start, but the cost factor for this service is far less than any other asset management software program that I have found.
Well, sort of. Yes you can upgrade your workflow to the latest version of the Apple OS, but should you really do that? Most facilities wait until there are a couple of dot releases as the manufactures have to catch up to what Apple has done. Before you upgrade, make sure that all of your plugins are going to work and that the capture cards you rely upon are able to function in the new environment. Since you are not going to take your FCP to the next version, why upgrade at this time? XSAN is not EOL, but there are signs out there that make many of us nervous. Apple has abandoned the XSERVE, which was replaced by Active Storage, but what new improvements have been made on this software for over a year? If you are considering this as your next solution, you might want to take a couple of minutes to look at other options as this may disappear or require FCPX in the future. Also, if you are considering moving from FCP to another NLE, XSAN may not be the best choice. If you are considering moving to Avid at a later date, XSAN will not work for you. Adobe Premiere will work in this environment, but do you want to limit your choices down the road because you spent a large amount of money on your SAN choice?
In place of XSAN, I have been recommending EditShare.
This is an elegant solution that has proven its worth many times over in the facilities that I have installed it in. An example of this would be at OWN, Oprah Winfrey’s company which has over 64TB of storage for their promo department and has 15 users working on it daily.
This shared storage solution works with everything!!!
Avid, FCP and Premiere users can all work on the same storage.
To say it has been solid would be an understatement. We have experienced less than 3 hours of down time in over two years of install and that was due to a scheduled maintenance day. The system is a NAS which also protects you from any move from FCP to other solutions whether it be to AVID or Premiere. In the early days, it was only GIGE, but it has grown and become a truly professional product with the support that you demand. The initial limitations have been removed by allowing IP over Fiber so editors can be located anywhere and attach to the server. PC computers can connect to the server via an GIGE Ethernet cable or a 10GB copper or fiber cables. Apple computer require a Dave license ($100.00) and connect via GIGE or 10GB the same as a PC. What makes this a great system is that there is very little to understand. It acts just like a File Level SAN, but with none of the management issues you have experienced with XSAN.
Translated to bottom line dollars; you no longer have to maintain a contract with a third party to manage your SAN or employ that very expensive tech who is solely responsible for this piece of equipment. It takes about an hour to learn the system and maintain it.
Important Note: FCPX does not work with EditShare or XSAN at this time, yet FCP 7.03, Premiere and Avid all work with this sharred storage.
With the change in FCP, many have asked how you are going to capture and play out your media. Apple’s solution in the latest version is very cumbersome to say the least. To ingest your media, you are going to use either AJA or Decklink's software to capture your media to disk. Once there, you will work in FCPX. When you finish your project you are required to take your finished product out of FCP and play it back in either the AJA or Decklink software programs.
As I walked through many of the facilities, I noticed that FCP was being used as a direct capture device. With the new version, this will no longer be available. If you have to move to the new version of FCP, you might want to consider Softron Media’s Movie Recorder. This is a great program that allows live capture of multiple synced HD streams on a single computer. Many of my clients are currently using this very effectively. Up to four streams of HD can be captured via the Decklink Quad card. Five seconds after you start recording you can start editing the material that you are capturing directly in FCP. With multiple users that need to turn a live edit around in a quick time frame, this is truly a game changer. Again, this has been installed and tested at multiple locations.
Softron has a complete ecosystem that includes a great play out server that is based upon the Apple platform, On the Air Live for new A/B roll and coming soon, a play out server for internet streaming.
Softron is a great platform for small to medium sized stations. They provide all the main features you will use in a much more expensive play out server without the over-sized cost. Since you are already using FCP, all of the media that you are going to produce will work in the Softron systems. There is no need for additional CODECs or conversions. Depending upon your needs, multiple servers can be set up for a failover system.
All of the above solutions complement each other to build either a post facility or a complete broadcast center. If you are looking for a single system, updating your current facility or building a new broadcast center, you might want to think about integration. Expensive machine rooms are becoming a thing of the past. Tapeless workflows are finally here and with it, you now have to build up your IT infrastructure. If you have not considered employing a high level IT tech, now would be the time to consider this enhancement to your facility. This person should have a video background and understand the problems associated with digital video and asset management.
I hope that this helps you in your future decisions. Should you need to discuss this in any more details, please give me a call or send an email. I look forward to your comments, suggestions and ideas as they pertain to these and other broadcast or post production issues.
LJK Consult, LLC is a technology consulting firm that specializes in post production, broadcast integration and engineering.