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Aurora IgniterX: Uncompressed? I'm Impressed

$1999 card gives your Mac uncompressed editing capabilities By Charlie White
Aurora IgniterAurora's IgniterX is a specialized Mac-based tool that allows you to input S-Video and composite sources into your computer, and once there, lets you edit and add effects to that video in all its uncompressed glory. It does all this in 8-bit or even 10-bit color space. It's a versatile card that lets you work with video using Apple's Final Cut Pro 4 on Mac OS X, with some important features actually functioning in real time. We found it to be powerful, but its uncompressed capabilities are not for everybody, so be sure not to spring for it unless you're sure it can help you. Here's our review.

Are you happy with the results you're getting from your DV camcorder? Do you bring DV footage into your computer via FireWire, edit in Final Cut Pro or another NLE and then either play back to tape or export to DV? Are you happy with your results? If so, then the IgniterX isn't for you. It's won't do you any good unless you also need to capture footage from an S-video or composite source. Or with a $999 option you can plug in any SDI (like DigiBeta) source. Keep in mind that IgniterX's strength is its ability to move 8-bit or 10-bit uncompressed video around your computer. The files it captures are much larger than your DV files, and the quality of your DV footage won't be any better unless you take advantage of IgniterXs hardware-based compressor thus minimizing the amount of hard disk space used.

aurora IgniterX CardBut if you do need to deal with uncompressed analog, component or SDI video, IgniterX ($1999, pictured at left) is designed to help you solve your I/O problems now while giving you a clear upgrade path to the future. If you add component decks like Betacam SP to your playback ensemble, you're able to add a daughter card (Pro Option $1499) that inputs that into your system, while letting you edit in real time at a compression ratio of only 1.5:1. If you're looking for SDI input/output, you'll need the SDI Option ($1499), while both SDI and component I/O together, along with 24p editing for filmmakers are offered in a package Aurora calls IgniterX Studio ($3999). And, if you want just a dongle so you can plug in SDI, with no breakout box included, that's $999 in addition to the cost of the IgniterX.

Aurora sent us a turnkey system including IgniterX, which is a PCI card with an I/O dongle installed in a Dual Mac G4 1.25GHz computer. For video editing, Final Cut Pro 4 was installed on the system drive, and there was also a SCSI RAID-0 striped array in the case, necessary for the 20MBps (megabytes/second) throughput required for uncompressed capture, editing and playback. The dongle looks like a video plug with eight plugs sprouting out of it -- all are in and out jacks (one of each) including S-Video, composite video, and unbalanced audio left and right. Installed on the system were IgniterX codecs which showed up in the Final Cut Pro 4 System Settings screen (pictured at right) , where you're able to choose from both 8-bit and 10-bit video, and can also capture from DV tape as well.

My first impression of IgniterX is that it's quite easy to use and gets smooth results, even when the files underneath are 10-bit uncompressed. It was a joy to see fluid, full-resolution previews on the Mac monitor all the time, a feat that, according to Aurora CTO Tim McMahon is much improved over the OS 9 version.

But what about the real time effects with IgniterX? With the introduction of Final Cut Pro 4, what can and can't be done in real time is rather confusing, and this is compounded by the fact that the IgniterX hardware can and can't do certain effects in real time as well. Yes, there are many different ways to skin the real time cat these days, especially when you have a system like this. But the bad news is, none of these methods is good enough to be called truly real time, all the time. On one hand, you can take advantage of RT Extreme that is a part of the new Final Cut Pro 4. If you go that route, the amount of real time functionality you get is dependent on your system's performance. That's cold comfort when dealing with uncompressed video, though, where even the fastest dual 1.4GHz system runs out of gas quickly -- if you're lucky, you may get a cross dissolve and you may not in uncompressed, according to Aurora. With our dual 1.25GHz test system, there were no real time dissolves to be had while working in uncompressed mode. However, the rendering of these dissolves was so fast that it only took about three seconds to crunch through a one-second dissolve. Of course, all this should improve significantly as soon as the new 64-bit G5 machines are available and drivers are written for them. Keep in mind, though, this dearth of real time uncompressed performance on the Mac platform isn't unusual. Take a look the other high-end cards that handle uncompressed video on the Mac, and you'll discover that except for the more-expensive Pinnacle CineWave card, with a dual 1.4GHz box, you're not going to get a lot of real time performance if you're working with uncompressed 10-bit video, no matter which card you have revving under the MacHood.

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Related Keywords:Aurora IgniterX, Mac-based tool, S-Video, composite sources, computer, edit, add effects, uncompressed, 8-bit, 10-bit color space, versatile card, Apple, Final Cut Pro 4, Mac OS X, powerful, review, Charlie White


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