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AJA's Nick Rashby on Io HD

Company finally ships ProRes-based HD/SD solution By John Virata

AJA today released its Io HD, the highly anticipated, portable, ProRes-based Final Cut HD/SD solution that the company showcased at NAB 2007. AJA's Nick Rashby details some of the workflow features, a bit of history, and markets that he expects it to serve in this interview.

DMN: How many months in the making was Io HD?
Nick Rashby: Io HD was started in 2006, and we are now delivering it in September 2007. It is a very complex product, easily the biggest engineering project in AJA history. We are very, very proud of the engineering behind it, and I think it will be seen as truly unique by the people using it.

DMN: How will the Io HD impact workflows for Final Cut Pro editors? Where do you think customers will realize the greatest benefits to an Io HD workflow?
NR: The beauty of Io HD is that it takes the best of many worlds and rolls it into one package. So an editor has the conversion power of our KONA line, which lets them seamlessly mix and match any format of SD and HD video in real-time, at the highest possible 10-bit quality. Additionally, Io HD has Apple's ProRes codec built into its hardware, so the compression and decompression of this 10-bit full-res codec is done by the Io HD itself. This allows systems to fully utilize the ProRes codec, like the MacBook Pro, which would not normally have the processing power to deal with it. And the Io HD is a FireWire device (like our original Io), which means it's portable when used with a MacBook Pro, so now the editor can have a fully-tricked out no-compromises 10-bit full-resolution HD/SD online system wherever they need to work...on set, on location, at home. So, all told, a huge new way of working between the codec itself, the connectivity of the box, the conversions, and the portability.

DMN: Who is the target market for the Io HD? Will this be heavily used in the studios or independents or both?
NR: We think it will be used anywhere editors edit. Certainly for editors who want a portable system that they could not get before, but also with studio editors who want the connectivity and ease of setup with MacPro system. The codec itself is so clean, that it is now being used at the highest levels of production where uncompressed doesn't work because of bandwidth issues. FCS2 is such a mature package, and the Io HD is so heavily integrated with it on so many levels, that the combo really represents an unmatched solution for any type of post-work.

DMN: What are customers most excited about when it comes to the Io HD?
NR: Luckily for us, it's a bunch of things! Basically, the biggest thing is the ProRes codec integration that represents another joint development between Apple and AJA, like our original Io. That combined with the hardware power and quality AJA is known for, really has people interested in what it can do for them.

DMN: The Io HD looks different from some of AJA`s previous products; can you talk a bit about the product`s design? It has a built in handle. Was it designed to be a portable unit from the outset?
NR: Yeah, it's the first time AJA has designed something that doesn't look like it popped out of a tractor factory! Seriously, the Io HD was intended to be a portable unit from the outset as the thought behind it was to bring the ProRes codec to the field, to the set, to multiple edit suites. So, we put a handle on it, and made sure that there is not a single proprietary cable on it, thinking of how a mobile editor really works.
I'm really proud of the industrial design of the unit, as it is not just tough as nails, but completely designed from the perspective of the people who will use it.

DMN: Do you expect to see Io HD used heavily in more portable environments as opposed to fixed studio type environments?
NR: I think it will be a healthy mix of truly portable systems of MacBook Pro's and studio-based MacPro's.

Our KONA line supports the ingest and output of the ProRes codec, so MacPro-based studio systems that already have them installed are ready to go. But, we think people will use Io HD on MacPro systems too, because it can be easily moved between multiple edit systems, and has remarkable connectivity. There are tangible benefits for portable environments, and for studio environments.

DMN: How did AJA come to be the first technology vendor to natively support Apple`s ProRes 422 codec in hardware?NR: AJA has a long and solid relationship with Apple dating back to our first KONA cards that were the only cards that could be relied upon for the then new OSX. Since then, we have co-developed two products, the Io and now the Io HD, and many features on our KONA lineup. AJA is known for quality, and engineering excellence. So, Apple knew that between the deep history and our technical abilities, we could be relied upon to integrate ProRes into a new Io. We feel we delivered not only a breakthrough product technically, but also that the ProRes hardware implementation is one that everyone at Apple knows does justice to their hard work and vision behind the codec itself.

DMN: What`s the difference in format support between your desktop KONA 3 solution and the Io HD?
NR: The KONA's are uncompressed I/O devices, so any codec work, be it DVCPRO-HD or ProRes or whatever, is done by the CPU. But, the KONA 3 and KONA LHe assist the CPU with DVCPRO-HD and HDV by doing the scaling work on the card itself, freeing the Mac up to do other stuff, like more RT. This is another unique feature not found on other solutions. So, the KONA's support most anything FCP can, be it uncompressed, ProRes, DVCPRO-HD, HDV playback, DV50, and more.

The Io HD's heart is ProRes, designed to bring the codec to more places. Io HD is all ProRes, all the time. But, if the system it is hooked up to is configured properly, the Io HD can output an uncompressed timeline, a DVCPRO-HD timeline, and even ingest to DVCPRO-HD on MacBook Pro or MacPro. But, for how we feel people will use it, the Io HD is all ProRes, all the time.

DMN: What do you think is significant about the ProRes 422 codec when compared with other compressed formats for video applications?
NR: ProRes is 10-bit and full-resolution, and is really visually indistinguishable from uncompressed. Other codecs may have some visual loss, or are 8-bit, or scaled. ProRes is really a no-compromises codec that allows productions to go to air at uncompressed quality, with out the infrastructure costs. Everyone at AJA, even our long-time seen-it-all engineers, are impressed by its quality and performance.

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John Virata is senior editor of Digital Media Online. You can email him at [email protected]
Related Keywords:Final Cut pro workflow, AJA Io HD, HD editing, SD editing,

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