FCPX upgraded to 10.1

Logo-FCPXOkay, I admit it. On the stroke of midnight, I was pressing the refresh button in the App Store. New FCPX! New Toys!

So – FCPX 10.1 is out. Do I need to upgrade? Yes – there’s enough changes in the system that address current issues. But it requires a major jump in operating system – when your computer is your major money-earning tool and it’s stable and reliable, you don’t touch it unless you have to. I have to switch from Lion 10.7.5 to Mavericks 10.9, and that’s a big leap.

TLDR?

  • Build a new bootable drive with FCPX 10.1 to experiment on – you may not want to update yet
  • Clone your drive to a bootable image (to return to in weeks and months to come) with SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner and make a fresh Time Machine backup – make sure they all work before you proceed!
  • Copy older projects to work with, don’t use originals - Philip Hodgetts has made EventManager X free! Use it to manage your project updates.
  • Prepare for some ‘spilled milk’ with Mavericks (for me, Exchange email is broken)

At first, I thought it odd that Apple released FCPX 10.1 so close to a major worldwide holiday, but on reflection – it’s perfect. Rule 1 of upgrades: never upgrade during a job. Things can go wrong, things like backups and archives invariably take more time than you thought, and what if it’s all horrible and you need to back track? Smaller jumps, a minor ‘point-oh-one’ upgrades can be welcome relief, but this is a ‘point-one’ and it needs an OS upgrade to boot (pun not intended).

The safest option for me is (having backed up your main machine of course) to unwrap a brand new hard drive, format it and install the latest OS on it, then boot from THAT. Install the new software on the fresh OS, and play with COPIES of older projects that you copied across. New versions of software often change the file format and rarely is it back-compatible. You want to play in a protected ‘sand-box’ (I preferred ‘sandpit’ but hey…) so you don’t accidentally convert your current projects to the new system and find yourself committed to the switch.

Really, that is the safest way – but its frustrating as the performance of a system booted on an external drive isn’t quite what you’re used to, and it’s a bit clunky. Plus, it will take time to do the official switch – you’ll have to rebuild your apps, delete old versions that don’t work, sort out new workflows, new versions, reinstall, find license agreements, it all takes time (and it’s not billable for freelancers). But until you’re sure that the new OS won’t kill your current must-use apps, you can simply shut down, unplug, and return to your current safe system.

Then of course there’s the impatient teenager in all of us who, after backing up, installs the new OS on top of the old OS, downloads the new app, finds what’s broken in the rest of the system and fixes it, finds out that a few tools don’t work, plug-ins need shuffling, projects don’t render as they used to, fonts have gone missing… All this takes longer, funnily enough. And then there’s the creeping rot of a brand new operating system ‘installed in place’ over the old one. I did this ages ago, and the problems didn’t show until 12 months on and we’d gone through some minor version changes and bug fixes. Serious, serious problems that impacted work (and backups, and archives). If you’re jumping from 10.X to 10.Y (especially to 10.Z) it’s worth the time it takes to do a proper clean install.

And of course once it’s done, you still may need to be able to go back to the ‘old’ system – so you’ll need to clone – not back up or archive but CLONE – your old system before you start, if only for the comfort factor of running back to it when the new system refuses to do something.

So, I’m spending the first day having to NOT download the update, but format drives, archive disks, install software whilst reading and watching the sudden deluge of 10.1 info. (Note to self – Matt: don’t touch that button! Don’t do it!)

Alex4D has a bunch of links to get you started, training from Ripple and Larry Jordan (hopefully IzzyVideo will have some new stuff soon too), FCP.co discussion forums already alight with debate… and a week or two of holiday season to enjoy it all in.

(And Apple’s official take)

Thunderbolt Stikes Back

UPDATE: Writing >2GB files on SSDs >240GB with the Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adaptor can cause the drive to unexpectedly dismount from your computer with an error (-50). Read the full story and the solution by Wolfgang Bauer.

Following on from my USB3 testing, I’ve finally received an interesting box – the Seagate GoFlex Thunderbolt Adaptor, now in stock for about £100.

The cool trick is that you can connect any ‘bare’ Solid State Drive (SSD) to it, and the price of SSDs is coming down quickly. A 256GB SSD can be had for under £140. Of course then you have to add your £40 cable, but assuming we can use one adaptor and cable for all your SSDs, finally we have a solution for Thunderbolt SSD for editing (and archiving/Backing up to USB3).

The downside is that you’ll probably want to keep the bare drive in the adaptor with some elastic bands or something – very high tech.

So, why would you want to do this?

Because it’s freaking fast. That’s why. Editing with Final Cut Pro 10 on this drive is the sort of experience we assumed it would be. No spinny beachballs of death, no stuttering, just ‘slick demo’ performance.

Drive Write (MB/s) Read (MB/s)
Slow, cheap USB2 drive 21.6 26.2
Western Digital Passport SE (USB2) 30.1 32.8
LaCie Quadra 7200rpm 2TB on FW800 46.6 44.5
Crucial 256GB SSD on FW800 75 81.6
Western Digital Passport SE (USB3) 96.3 108.4
Internal 512 GB SSD in MacBook Pro 17” 88.8 167.0
ThunderBolt with SSD 266.3 381.3

We’re talking 5x the speed of FW800 write, 8x the speed of FW800 read. And then there’s file access times.

With the same cable and adaptor, you can purchase additional SSDs for £140, and pretty soon we’ll see half a terabyte for under £200.

For my little industry niche, that means one SSD per edit for the duration of that edit, then archived off to hard drives so the SSD can be recycled, but happy to have maybe even a dozen of them – which I couldn’t afford with the current clutch of Thunderbolt/SSD combinations.

As I edit on site a lot, this can mean little gotchas like power suddenly dipping or going off entirely. Not talking third world style, just leaving a render in your hotel room and Housekeeping thoughtfully remove your room key that you taped into the slot to keep the power on. Or that moment after a big event where you’re backing up, and the 3-phase power you’ve been living on gets pulled for the de-rig. Which is why I’m so passionate about bus-powered drives that can work with a laptop editing computer.

And then there’s the scary ‘let’s edit this in the car’ or ‘let’s log rushes on the plane’ – with spinning disks? No. Ah – how about SSD? Fine. I’ll be archiving ‘media managed’ videos to thumb drives next.

It makes hard disks feel as old fashioned as tape.

USB3 for Macs – Thunderbolt killer or simple step up?

I’m a dyed in wool Mac User, so for me USB3 hardly came into view. I do remember watching a USB3 demo on a Mac where it displayed sub- FW800 performance – and decided to leave it at that. However, the continuing need to pass on my video work to PC users for archive, and the achingly slow performance of USB2, forced me to at least check it out for myself. At least it would give me something to do whilst waiting for sensibly priced Thunderbolt storage and cables.

After all, the Mac world is still full of USB2 devices: cheap, slow hard drives and computationally undemanding stuff like mice and keyboards. Little USB sticks for storage to perpetuate ‘sneakernet’ file sharing. There is of course, that funny USB3 sticker on most PC drives that claims high performance and that may be good enough for our PC using brethren, but we’re Mac users – why not sidestep the USB3 ‘upgrade’ for the super fast world of Thunderbolt?

That’s the mindset that Apple appears to want us to hold.

But the new set of Ivy Bridge equipped Macs will get, courtesy of their new chip set, USB3 functionality. Will Apple connect this functionality into the OS? Or will they find a way to block it? Should we care?

The world of PCs has been using USB3 for quite a while, scratching their heads over the Mac user’s obsession with FireWire and the ‘Unicorn poop’ status of Thunderbolt. Why are Mac users so precious about FireWire? USB3 blows it out of the water! They want Thunderbolt speeds – for what? And connect them with $50 cables? If the devices are blessed with pass-thru ports – which so many aren’t? (see sidebar below) USB3 has hubs!

I purchased the CalDigit USB3 card which fits into the ExpressCard slot of my MacBook Pro 17” – the choice of CalDigit is significant, as it’s the only one that’s touted to work with pretty much any USB3 drive – other manufacturers of USB3 cards tend to only work with their own drives and thus missing the meaning of the U in USB.

I’m used to working on FW800 drives, and so intended to use cheaper USB3 bus powered disks for backup and for handing over to clients, who could use them on their PCs. However, when used as the main working drive with a disk intensive application like Final Cut Pro, it was obvious that the USB3 drive was a lot faster. FCPX was running far better on USB3 than on FW800.

Enthused by this, I did a quick series of tests of drive performance with the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test app, available for free from the App Store. And so, in reverse order, here are the results:

Drive Write (MB/s) Read (MB/s)
Slow, cheap USB2 drive 21.6 26.2
Western Digital Passport SE (USB2) 30.1 32.8
LaCie Quadra 7200rpm 2TB on FW800 46.6 44.5
Crucial 256GB SSD on FW800 75 81.6
Western Digital Passport SE (USB3) 96.3 108.4
Internal 512 GB SSD in MacBook Pro 17” 88.8 167.0

Of course, what’s missing from this test is the ultimate: SSD in Thunderbolt drive, but these are still eyewateringly expensive.

The £75 Western Digital drives represent the kind of value we’ve been used to with spinning disks, and I can affirm that they work very well with Final Cut Pro 10 – the WDs on USB3 have been my drive of choice for onsite editing, with the added advantage that they’re cheap and compatable and can be passed over to the client without too many caveats (having archived to other drives).

Is USB3 better than Thunderbolt? No – it’s a different beastie. Should we give up on Thunderbolt for USB3? Of course not.

Should Apple now accept USB3 as a non-competitve alternative for non-specialist media use? Of course.

In the days of Steve Jobs, I’d fear that USB3 would be disabled in the new Macs in a fit of pique. The adoption of USB3 in the new Macs would demonstrate a more universal approach from Tim Cook et al.

At least CalDigit offer the option to MacBook Pro 17” users – and for everyone else, there is, of course, the Thunderbolt adaptor for Express Cards. Oh the irony.

Side bar: Thunderbolt devices can be powered via the cable from the host, but only one device per port. So, Thunderbolt powered devices do not have a passthrough port. Powered devices can have passthrough ports, but these are a rarity as most manufacturers seem to feel a single Thunderbolt port is enough.

However, when you’re paying top dollar for a new technology, the idea that a device will only work as the single device on the chain is frankly anathema. Video ingest device with no pass through to a storage device? Storage device with no pass through to a display device? No wonder Thunderbolt is taking its time to get accepted when device manufacturers assume their product will exist in its own lonesome prefecture.

FCPX – partying with your Flaky Friend

Tart

UPDATE: Compound Clips, specifically splitting Compound Clips, and worst of all, splitting a compounded clip that’s been compounded, increases project complexity exponentially. Thus, your FCPX project quickly becomes a nasty, sticky, crumbly mess.

Which is a shame, because Compound Clips are the way we glue audio and video together, how we manage complexity with a magnetic timeline, and butt disparate sections together to use transitions. Kind of vital, really.

Watch these excellent demonstration videos from T. Payton who hangs out at fcp.co:

These refer to version 10.0.1, and at time of writing, were at 10.0.3, but I can assure you that we STILL have this problem (I don’t think it’s a bug, I think it’s the way FCPX does Compound Clips). We return you to your original programming…

Okay, report from the trenches: Final Cut Pro 10? Love it – with a long rider in the contract.

I’m a short-form editor – most of my gigs are 90 seconds to 10 minutes (record is 10 seconds and I’m proud of it). Turn up ‘Somewhere in Europe’, shoot interviews, General Views, B-Roll, get something good together either that night, or very soon afterwards, publish to the web, or to the big screen, or push out to mobiles and ipads…

This is where FCPX excels. As an editorial ‘current affairs’ segment editor, it’s truly a delight. I bet you slightly overshot? Got a 45 minute take on an interview that needs to be 45 seconds? Range based favourites are awesome, and skimming lets you find needles in a haystack. Need to edit with the content specialist at your side? The magnetic timeline is an absolute joy, and don’t get me started about auditioning.

It’s true: in cutting down interviews, in throwing together segments, and especially when arguing the toss over telling a given story, I’m at least twice as fast and so much more comfortable throwing ideas around inside FCPX.

But my new Editing Friend is a ‘Flaky Friend’.

She really should be the life and soul of the party, but somehow there’s a passive aggressive diva streak in her.

There are three things she doesn’t do, and it’s infuriating:

  • She doesn’t recognise through-edits – they can’t be removed, they are, to her, like cesarian scars, tribal tattoos (or so she claims), cuts of honour. We tell her we’re cutting soup at this stage, but no. ‘Cuts are forever’ she says, like the perfect NLE she thinks she is.
  • She doesn’t paste attributes selectively – it’s only all or nothing. ‘We must be egalitarian’ she croons. What is good for one is good for all, apparently. You can’t copy a perfect clip and only apply colour correction to the pasted clip – you must paste EVERYTHING, destroying your sound mix, needing extensive rework to your audio mix, and heaven help you if you change your mind.
  • She flatly refuses to accept that there is already a way we all do common things, and wants to do it her own kooky way. Making J and L cuts into a Tea Ceremony, blind assumption that a visual transition needs an audio transition, even if we’ve already done the groundwork on the audio… girl, the people who think you’re being cute by insisting this are rapidly diminishing to the point you can count them on your thumbs, and we do include you in that list.

So okay, she’s a good gal at heart. Meaning the best for you. But she needs to bail out and quit every so often, especially if you’re used to tabbing between email, browser, Photoshop, Motion et al. She’ll get all claustrophobic, and you’ll be waiting 20-40 seconds with the spinning beachball of death between application switches. It’s all a bit too much like hard work. ‘I can’t cope’, she sighs – and spins a beachball like she smokes a cigarette. We stand around, shuffling our feet as she determinedly smokes her tab down to the butt. ‘Right!’ she shouts at last. ‘Let’s get going!’

And yes, it’s great when things are going right.

But put her under pressure, with a couple of dozen projects at hand, some background rendering to do, it all gets very ‘I’m going to bed with a bottle of bolly’. I’m getting this an awful lot now, and I really resent being kept hanging around whilst she changes a 5 word caption in a compound clip that takes 5 FRICKIN’ MINUTES to change, I resent every minute of waiting for projects to open and close, and whilst it’s lovely to see her skip daintily through all that fun new footage, when it comes down to the hard work, she’s so not up to it…

I am twice as fast at editing in FCPX, but I am a quarter of the speed when doing the ‘maid of all work’ cleaning up and changes. It means that, actually, I am working twice as hard in X as I was in 7, just mopping up after this flakey friend who has a habit of throwing up in your bathtub and doing that shit-eating grin as they raid your fridge of RAM and CPU cycles.

Well, FCPX dear, my flaky friend, you’re… FIRED.

Thunderbolt or USB3? Daddy or Chips?

A lot of hard disks daisy chained via FireWire 800

Thunderbolt (nee LightPeak) is being hailed as a ‘Paragim Shift’ and if it does what FireWIre did fifteen years ago, the moniker is well deserved.

FireWire was a technology that was at the centre of the low cost Digital Video revolution: it enabled simple connection between cameras, disk drives and computers. Suddenly an Apple PowerBook could suck in ‘broadcast quality’ DV and edit it on easily attachable external hard disks. Video before FireWire was an exotic curiosity. After FireWire, it was a commodity.

Rather than rant on, check this short video out:

And enjoy this informative article.

700 Mbps on old kit. Duplicating a 4.5 Gb file in seconds. Playing 5 streams of 1080 footage off a hard disk. All from a not-new MacBook Pro.It’s good to know that, whilst we’re still getting to grips with the extra data and throughput of HD, the wonderful world of 3D (or ‘Stereo’) HD – which would effectively double your storage needs and halve your throughput – now has some headroom to grow. This iteration is only the first round, and 10x higher speeds are promised.

More to the point, it’s going to help the little things. Make the chore of backing up work a little easier. Cloning a 1 Terabyte drive, even with eSata, can take a long time. When you’re under pressure to get things done, taking time out to clone work drives, back up and archive projects gets shunted down the priority list.

Thinking back to iterations, USB3 is out there too – but definitely NOT on the MacBook Pro. Sure, if you get the 17” you can fit a PCI-Express card, but us SxS based editors consider this slot ‘taken’. Current real-world tests haven’t been particularly stellar either, with only around 10-15% more performance than FW800.

Maybe that’s the reason Apple decided to pass on USB3 – which would be very lame. Yes, USB3 is backward-compatible, so a USB3 thumb drive from your favourite PC-based client will work at USB2 speeds on your shiny new Mac, but to deny Mac users USB3 ‘when they have Thunderbolt’ misses the point about compatibility, interoperability and the fact your clients aren’t going to have a LightPeak thumbdrive any time soon.

Also, Thunderbolt is a daisy chain solution, and if my experience with SCSI is anything to go by, there will come a time when you need to briefly add a device, and you already have two that demand to be at the end of a chain. Or that awful moment when you realise you need to swap out one of the drives…

So it appears that the choice between Thunderbolt and USB3 is pretty irrelevant. You can have USB3. If you want to. If someone bothers to make a USB3 interface for Thunderbolt (which must happen). Thinking selfishly, I’m hoping for a Thunderbolt SxS adaptor, so ‘we get Chips!’ – the PCI-e slot is a lovely little thing, but it’s only on the 17″.

I’d like to use the slot for SxS, and for something to drive a broadcast monitor – like the AJA IO Express, for example – and of course the inevitable USB3 adaptor, and the eSata – but these are all in Thunderbolt territory and conceivably there’s a solution for all these uses at the same time. I just hope that third party video kit manufacturers adopt Thunderbolt rather than stick to a USB3 strategy.

I’m very excited about Thunderbolt, but just waiting on the niceties: just how hot is the hot swap? When will we see anything like a hub? How much of a premium will this add to storage devices? And where’s my new MacBook Pro – of course.

Driving FCP

A forum topic popped up recently: “is it better to use a tablet, or a mouse and keyboard to edit?” – and the obvious answer is ‘whatever suits you best.’ But it got me thinking.

Over 15 years of mucking around with video on Macs, I’ve tried tablets, mice, trackballs, touchpads, external ‘surfaces’, huge knobs, voice control…

I now exclusively edit on a MacBook Pro, using its built in trackpad, with a combination of keyboard shortcuts and mousing. Much to the horror of my fellow editors, who cannot believe I don’t carry an external keyboard and mouse with me. To be honest, after a while, once you learn the interface, it disappears.

In that contemplative stage of editing, doing your selects, trying out ideas, it’s ctl-V to slice up the long sausage, and mousing to ‘lift’ (literally bump the track up a layer) your good bits, and lift again on your selects.

In that honing mode, I think (I have to watch myself) I’m doing more dragging of cut points.

Last year, a fellow editor was watching me edit and was shocked – almost upset – that I was dragging stuff around. Why didn’t I use the keyboard? Because it’s quicker, I replied. He wasn’t having it and saw mousing as a sign of unprofessionalism – yet he didn’t quite see the multitude of keyboard shortcuts for slipping and rolling that I moved between.

Honestly, it really is what suits you best, and having worked with laptops since the first PowerBooks, it’s genuinely faster for me to do what I do. I love the visualness of dragging stuff around, but I’ll still do a TTTT to select everything to the right and move it over before doing an RR to get the ripple tool out, then a ctrl-V to trim all the tracks together.

The only thing I still miss are the big heavy jog/shuttle wheels on the BVE3000 and BVE5000 – great feedback, hardly any latency, and although the way audio is scrubbed and trimmed nowadays is probably better, I still miss the ‘wibbly wobbly’ sound of jogged audio.

Seriously, though, a mouse (or touchpad!) can be more accurate than a tablet because of its scaled movement and ‘gearing’ (fast movements are big, slow movements are small) and take up little space. Tablets are good for ‘muscle memory’, tapping virtual buttons like the paintbox days. But even then, the keyboard was never far away. A tablet-only interface is hard work.

That’s why, I guess, our two tablets became mouse mats. Sigh.

Besides, I find Harry-style circular scrubbing a bit too much like children’s nursery rhymes and even a little more hard work than dabbing at J K L.

But I stil miss that knob!

Sweating the Petty Stuff

I’m putting the finishing touches on a simple set of ‘talking head’ videos destined for a corporate intranet to introduce a new section of content. Nothing particularly earth shaking or ground breaking. It certainly won’t win any awards, but it’s the kind of bread and butter work that pays bills.

However, there is a wrinkle. The client’s intranet is actually hosted and run by a separate company – a service provider. This service provider has set various limits to prevent silly things from happening, and these limits are hard-wired. If you have a special requirement, ‘the computer says no’.

One particular limit, which I will rant and rave about being particularly idiotic, pathetic and narrow minded, is that all video clips that users can upload to the system are limited to (get this) 12 Megabytes. That’s it. Any video, regardless of duration, cannot be any larger than 12 Megabytes. Period.

Another mark of bad programming in this system is that videos should measure a certain dimension, no bigger, no smaller. That may be fair if correctly implemented, but no. The fixed size is a stupid hobbled size and worse still, is not exactly 4:3 and not exactly 16:9, and not exactly anything really. So everything looks crap, though some look crapper than others.

Finally, the real evidence that the developers don’t actually understand video and don’t care about it either, the dimensions are not divisible by 8, therefore chucking the whole Macroblock thing in the khazi – digital video compression tends to divide things up in to blocks of 8 pixels and work out within those blocks what to do about dividing it up further. If your video dimensions are not divisible by 8, you get more issues with quality, performance and the like. It’s like designing car parks using the width of an Austin Healy Sprite, not caring about the fact that people who park can’t actually open their doors without bumping into other cars.

But the nurse says I must rest now. Rant over.

So, I’ve got to make all my talking head videos 12 Megabytes or less. How do you ensure this?

Well, method 1 is to monkey around with various settings in your compression software until you find something that sort of works.

Method 2 requires a pocket calculator, but saves a lot of time. You need to work out the ‘bitrate’ of your final video, how many bits are going to be used per second of video – if 500k bits per second are used, and the video is 10 seconds long, then 500k times 10 seconds is 5,000k or 5 Mbits.

Aha! But these are bits, the units of the internot. Not BYTES, and there are 8 bits in a Byte – believe me, I’ve counted them. We’ll leave aside another nerdy thing that there’s actually 1024 bits in a Kilobit, not 1000 (ditto KiloBytes to MegaBytes) – enough already.

So basically, 5 Megabits are divided by 8 to get the actual MegaBytes that the file will occupy on the hard disk: 0.625 in this case, or 625 Kilobytes.

So lets say I have a 6 minute video, which has to be shoehorned into 12 Mbytes. What bitrate do I need to set in Compressor/Episode/MPEGstreamclip/Whatever?

6 minutes = 360 seconds. Our answer, in the language of spreadsheets, is

((Target_size_in_Bytes x 8) x 1024) divided by Duration of video in seconds

So

=((12*8)*1024)/360

which equals 266 kilobits per second, which is not a lot, because that has to be divvied up between the video AND the audio, so give the audio at least 32 kilobits of that, and you’re down to 230 for the video.

But if you have a 60 second commercial,

=((12*8)*1024)/60

which is 1.6 Megabits, which is far studlier – 640×360, 128k soundtrack, room to spare!

So the 12 megabit limit is fine for commercials – but nothing of substance. The quality drops off a cliff after 2 minutes final duration.

But at least we have an equation which means you can measure twice and compress once, and not face another grinding of pips for 3 hours trying to get your magnum opus below 12.78 MBytes.

The Delights of Electric String

The thing about shooting and editing video, there’s just so much data created. Heaps of the stuff.

As I write, I’m sitting on a pot of about 48 Terabytes of data, and this is growing at about 1-2 Terabytes per month. Every project sits on a disk, each disk is mirrored, and when full, ‘retired’ and put off-site. Certain jobs are archived off to BluRay data disks, other jobs get copied to USB drives and handed over to the client.

So I have a Mac that spends most of its time copying. Just sucking bits off one drive and blowing them onto another.

But a little experience got me shaken out of my little rut recently. I was doing a ‘crash edit’ job, taking rushes of a conference and editing them down into a summary – fast turnaround stuff. The conference was being recorded to DVCAM tape, and ‘in the olden days’ somebody would take note of the time when something interesting came up, the DVCAM decks would record ‘Time Of Day Code’, and therefore I could suck in ‘just the good bits’.

Many shows now get recorded to Grass Valley Turbo – a beast of a Hard Disk recorder, records in a MPEG2 variant. That means its half or even quarter of the size of DV, but cannot be edited natively. So you have to transcode it (takes longer than real-time – so why bother, stick to tape). Rick and I looked at the KiPro recently, which was great…

But…

Imagine this: a Mac’s recording DVCpro50 (near-as-dammit DigiBeta) to hard disk. At the end of each 90 minute session, it leaves a 40 Gigabyte QT movie, edit ready, on its internal hard drive. The file gets copied to the edit computer’s hard disk in about 15-20 minutes (as a backup – could even edit off the original drive over the network), editing starts immediately. Output is rendered from Final Cut Pro to hard disk ready for immediate playout.

All this is done over Gigabit ethernet. It’s just the usual Cat-5e network cable, can be run long distances, patched through to a well-designed facilities built in network, and get this: IT IS FASTER THAN FIREWIRE 800. Leaves USB for dead.

Trouble is, you need a good network engineer to configure the gigabit switches and ensure a private network (so you don’t slow down the rest of the building, or have them share your precious bandwidth). But it was truly a delight to work with, and will be trying to get this on all similar jobs.

So, back home, backing up yet another Terabyte drive, noting with newfound disatisfaction that it will take the usual 7 hours; I reminisced about the speed of Gigabit ethernet, and the fact that one can edit from a networked drive, and wondered if and how I could implement it for myself.

Going Gigabit would require a bit of investment.

However, lets start with a simple test: 1 Terabyte of mixed data (big and small files) on a standard LaCie hard drive. How long to dump that lot onto another hard drive?

USB2 – 16 hours.
FireWire 800 – 7 hours.
Gigabit ethernet – 4.5 hours (extrapolated from 40 GB files)
eSata PCIexpress – 3 hours
LTO-5 tape backup – 2 hours (assuming uncompressed) via iSCSI

So I bought a LaCie eSata card for the MacBook Pro to better than halve the time it takes to back up a drive.

Though the Gigabit ethernet is a wonderful technology when on-site or where ingest and edit are split apart by more than a few meters.

So why not USB-3? Well, all my main drives have eSATA sockets on them, so USB-3 – whilst being a great technology – isn’t quite prime time for me yet. When the next round of Mac laptops come out, they should have USB-3 compliant ports, so that will encourage more drives to be released in this format, and so the ecology will generally drift that way. The LaCie Rugged USB3 is a good start.

Why not LTO-5? Well, the base drive is £3k, and the tapes cost more than bare hard drives. I can get a Samsung Terabyte bare drive for £50, and an LTO-5 tape for £70. They’re easier to store, but they don’t ‘unarchive’ easily, and if I want higher capacity, I have to pension off the expensive drive.

So, right now, I have 30 drives with eSATA as well as FW800 ports, and for the minuscule investment of £40 for a dual channel SATA card for my MacBook Pro, I get to halve my duplication time. If a hard drive goes south, I can pop the backup in the ‘toaster’ and continue until my replacement drive arrives, then copy across.

But of course, I have to pull out the eSATA card if I want to use my SxS or SDHC cards… (Drums fingers) and if I didn’t have a17 MacBook Pro, all this would be theoretical. (Drums fingers again) Come on, Apple, get with the USB-3 equipped MacBook Pro…

PS: You do need a dual channel card if you’re using SATA to back up – unlike FireWire, you can’t daisy-chain, and whilst there are ‘SATA Backplanes’ that work a little like USB hubs, it is not really the same thing.

Gone in a flash

So Steve Jobs doesn’t like Flash.

Flash has always had a chorus of catcalls and boos from off-stage, way before Mr Jobs started his campaign. It dates back fifteen years ago, in fact: http://www.useit.com/alertbox/9512.html and http://www.useit.com/alertbox/20001029.html

Nevertheless, the reason why Flash became so popular in the Corporate video world was that Mac based video generators found WMV a hard format to publish in, and WMV wasn’t the nicest progressive download format around. QuickTime was a bit of a no-no at the time, with a 40 MB download and cumbersome install (from the viewpoint of conservative IT departments). Flash played nice on both Mac and PC, and was ‘as standard’ on corporate PCs.

Now… imagine a world where Microsoft adopted QuickTime (that’s never going to happen, but just imagine), would we be messing around with Flash? Sure, Flash works, but the playback is prone to stuttering and feels gritty in all but perfect playback environments. And even then, a dropped frame would never occur in the same place.

I used to use QuickTime for web based work. It was easy to integrate, provided smooth playback, looked great and worked well on the PC – so long as you installed QuickTime, which went from 7 MB to 42 MB (mandatory iTunes install) in the days before ubiquitous broadband. So QuickTime was out for client-facing stuff.

I adopted Flash, learned to like and to use flash, because the alternative was so unappealing (convincing Corporates, NGOs and the like to adopt QuickTime.

Well, hell’s closed for skiing and formation pig-flying:

http://blogs.msdn.com/ie/archive/2010/04/29/html5-video.aspx

We think H.264 is an excellent format. In its HTML5 support, IE9 will support playback of H.264” — Microsoft.

Flash gave lots of us video guys a solid foundation on getting video on the web as a reliable, easy standard that any website could benefit from.

Then Mr Jobs comes along, starts a war, and it’s out with Flash, in with HTML5 if you want to play in his little iGarden.

Don’t get me wrong – Flash is going to be around for some time yet. Many corporates do not use HTML5 compatible browsers, but give it a couple of years and Flash for video publishers will fade to black.

So it’s time to get good at H.264. For those of us publishing corporate video, we’ve got to get to know new settings, new wrinkles, new ‘chops’ that get even better results. New gamma, new keyframes. Maybe new software, or new plug-ins. New workflows.

And more importantly, new hardware. H.264 is not a quick codec to encode to. Whether it’s raw horsepower with an Octocore Mac, a mid-end solution like the Matrox MXO2 or an Elgato Turbo264 HD, we’ll need hardware help for a while yet. It’s not like encoding to the On2 codec!

And there’s a transition period. Remember, H.264 works in Flash now, and that’s pretty much the bleeding edge as corporate web video goes. The safe route has been On2’s Flash 8 codec, but I for one will be moving on to become H.264 based.

Until, of course, the next great codec comes along.

Level Up!

As we’re all aware that you can build a business from videography, there will be times when you invest in equipment. There will be times when you divest from equipment. The hope being that you divest your equipment when prices are high, and invest in equipment when prices are low. At all times, you bear in mind that equipment must pay back its original capital (what you paid for it) over time, but some kit can’t be a ‘line item’ (something you explicitly charge for).

So, you may buy a camera, and allocate a portion of your daily rate to pay for that camera. In a year or eight, it will have generated enough income to cover your ownership (the capital cost, the interest on any loans, the maintenance cost of keeping it working and the insurance cost of, well, insuring it), and whatever the accountant says to ‘write it off’.

But do you do that to your tripod?

Another way of looking at this is to get an idea of how much it costs to hire the kit you use on a daily basis. Well, maybe not all of it, but a full camera bag (including batteries, stock, a few accessories), a couple of microphones, and some sticks to put it all on, and some cans to hear it all on. That hire cost can be saved by owning your own kit, but the cost of owning your own kit must be recouped by charging for your own kit as if you had to hire it.

Now, having established that any purchases you make MUST be a revenue generator in a direct or indirect sense, what happens when you sell some kit that’s been written off, been a revenue generator and has since become a dust generator? Whoopee, free money.

It’s a bit like one of the many ‘FaceBook Farming Games’ you will have heard about. You’ve ‘levelled up’ and have been awarded a sack full of coins to invest in your farm/kingdom/videography business. Watchoo gonna doobout dat?

It would be lovely to go out and splurge on something you’ve always desired – that Steadicam system you always dreamed about, a full-on DSLR system with ALL the glass, or whatever. But really – the adult in all of us has to say: ‘what will generate enough cash, or enough ‘experience points’ (client goodwill/stickability/attractability) or enough ‘skill points’ (your own awesomeness/speed/capability) to pay for this quickly and earn enough to buy yet more toys?

Just like lottery winners, you need to know that a pot of cash needs to be invested in such a way that it returns enough profit to pay for its generation cost, AND keep its value over time (so it beats inflation) AND then generate an income for you on top of that. The inflation proof income generation of a million quid may be quite modest. You can tell I married an accountant. It makes great pillow talk.

And so here I am, having levelled up because I sold my Z1s and all their accessories, not willing to put the coins into the bigger pot, but to dedicate it to getting more experience/skill points. Okay, that’s a really nice position to be in, and I really hope you find yourself in that position too. But, then how does one ‘not screw it up’?

Okay, so ignoring all the toys… (I wanted Canon L series glass), what will your AUDIENCE see?

- Upgrading SD cards to SxS: speeds up your acquisition in time critical situations. I doubt this situation affects many, but it would get me from end of shoot to warm bed quicker on every job. Very expensive though, and nobody will see the difference.

- Upgrading to daylight running Fluorescent lamps. Sigh, how often are you asked to do an interview in mixed tungsten and daylight, trying to get the outside without burning it out, having dimmed your puny little tungsten lamps you bought so you don’t fry your subject? Clients will see (and feel) this difference, sort of, but they probably won’t pay for it over standard tungsten.

- Getting into DSLR – now, there’s an investment for the modern videographer. Trouble is, you’re going to expose yourself to a whole new world of want. Clients will see the difference, but you’re going to have to do a whole lot more work for it, AND you are going to need really silly expensive stuff: LCD viewfinder (£250), shoulder stock (£350), batteries (£100), lenses (at least £1500), new bag, software, training – it will end up the same price as a brand new pro camera. But the pictures are worth it. Honest. Buy a 550D and a Tokina 11-16 and find out.

- Invest in a few high end plug-ins. I’ve already managed to get a job to pay for Magic Bullet, and I’ve been with Colorista for a long time. DVmatte Pro has made chromakey a joy, and FX factory has done great things for me. They will for you, so long as you buy them for a job based on how many hours it saves you. Clients don’t pay for plugins – not directly, anyway. But they’ll like the expensive look you can make (‘expensive’ is subtle – use the Magic Bullet waveform monitors to stop things oversaturating or blowing out, and explore the curves to add richness).

- Buy a Steadicam – get the shots you can only dream about as the camera floats around your scene. However, the learning curve is steep and requires arms like Popeye unless you get an arm and vest. You’re not going to get usable results in the first three months. You’re not going to get good enough until there’s a year of it under your belt. You’ll get lucky now and again, with shots that make the show, but you’re never going to be a full-time Steadicam operator (OTOH we may not want to be).

- Get a bunch of crash cams, including the GoPro Hero HD and a little DSLR. With this setup, you’re going to get shots that you will never ever get any other way. Put a GoPro on the end of a broom handle or three, and pretend it’s a PoleCam. Put a DSLR in the corner of the room and shoot timelapse like there’s no tomorrow. Clients love these shots, but you’re signing up to a whole lot more kit in your kit box.

Or just calm down and mix and match.

Microphones, tripods and lamps don’t go out of date, and will last a long time. I think I’ll level up a lamp or two (a Kino and a dedo spot), add a 50mm f1.4 lens and get a slider from the Z1 cash. Each one of those will be seen by clients. Will I earn any more on a daily rate? No. Will I get repeat bookings? Will I get fans? Will I be proud of the new work? Yes. That will generate the extra income, be it ever so small. But over time it adds up.

Oh, yes, and I need a GoPro Hero. And a 24-80mm f2.8. And a Steadicam. I really want a Steadicam. And a MacPro. And Adobe CS5. And Boris Continuum. And most of the Foundry plugins.

Oh dear…