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Working With Compressed HD In The Comfort Of Your Own Home

With the inception of Pro Res and DNX, you don't need to spend excessively to use a facility to edit HD content By Kevin McAuliffe

Much like vinyl, VHS and paper (movie, plane, concert, etc.) tickets, large post production houses are the way of the past. With the inception of Pro Res (Apple) and DNX (Avid), I (or my clients for that matter) don't need to spend excessive amounts of money to use a facility to edit HD content. I can do it in the comfort of my own home. In this article I'm going to break down the three main things you need to edit compressed HD from the comfort of your own home.

Assuming you are just starting out, and don't have any equipment yet, here's a simple and straight forward configuration I would suggest:

  • Mac Pro with two 2.8GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeons
  • 4GB RAM (4x1GB)
  • 500GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s (main launch drive)
  • 3x1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s (expanded capture drives)
  • ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT 256MB
  • One 16x SuperDrive
  • Apple Cinema Display (20" flat panel)
  • Apple Mighty Mouse
  • Apple Keyboard + User's Guide

For the computer itself, you are looking at about $5300 with an additional $1300 for Final Cut Studio 2. There are other bells and whistles you can add like fibre channel and RAID cards, but remember, we're talking about compressed HD, so you don't need to break the bank.


Remember, I'm assuming that you have a budget to purchase these items. For those of you working on a shoestring budget, I am currently working on 30 episodes of a training video in Pro Res and DVCPro HD 1080i on a 20" iMac (2.4G Core 2 Duo, 4GB RAM and 2x2TB external FW800 drives), and I love it, and probably would never switch. The thing to also keep in mind is that I have been editing for a long time, and have tried many different setups and having the luxury of trial and error led me to my decision on the iMac. You probably cannot afford the same luxury, so make sure you research your final decision thoroughly. I will explain why I included three one terabyte (TB) drives in just a moment.

Capture Device
There may be cheaper alternatives out on the market, but I would not choose anything other than AJA's IoHD. I have been a huge (and I mean huge) fan of AJA's Kona 3, and the IoHD is like an external version of that capture card. You can capture full raster 10 bit 4:2:2 video (and audio) in realtime in 1080i, 1080 24p, 720p with various codecs including Apple's Pro Res (and HQ). You also have up/down/cross conversion capabilities to handle any format thrown your way!

The IoHD gives you every input you could possibly need to capture in both HD and SD. Here's a rundown of the I/O's:

  • 2x SDI I/O's (SD or HD) (with 8-channel embedded audio I/O)
  • 1x Component I/O in both SD and HD
  • 1x HDMI video w/8-channel audio I/O
  • 1x Composite I/O
  • 1x S-video I/O
  • AES/EBU 8-channel unbalanced audio I/O
  • Analog 4-channel balanced audio I/O (XLR)
  • Analog 2-channel unbalanced audio output (RCA)
  • Genlock with loopthrough
  • RS-422 machine control
  • LTC Timecode I/O

These I/O's, coupled with AJA's Control Panel, is probably the best capture tool I have ever used, making this unit my HD capture I/O of choice.

Something to keep in mind is that on AJA's webpage, they say that the IoHD is only supported on a Mac Pro or MacBook Pro, but I have used it on my 20 inch iMac with no problems. Remember, when they don't list a piece of hardware as being able to run the unit, it doesn't mean it won't work, it just means they won't help you if you run into a problem. Also remember that the IoHD is specifically designed to run with Final Cut Studio 2. If you are using a different version of Final Cut Pro, or even a program like Premiere CS4, you do have alternatives like the the V4HD from MOTU that supports both Final Cut Pro and Premiere Pro in both SD and HD.

In the end, the IoHD will run you about $3500 US (MSRP), and this will give you a complete input/output solution for getting your footage in and out of your system.

If you decide to go with the configuration I suggested in the CPU section, storage will not be an issue, as your computer will have 3TB of storage space for you to fill with all the footage you could possibly need. If you decide to go your own way, you do have a couple of options. The option that I like the best is the Pro Avio EB4UF desktop storage array. This compact unit is sleek, fast and quiet with FW800/FW400 and USB 2.0 connections, which is more than enough for you to edit compressed video.

If you read my review of the EB4UF, you will know that I also really liked the sister unit, the S4UF, which comes in both a rackmountable or desktop configuration.

Both these units are excellent and will have you editing in no time. Another alternative is Lacie. Lacie has FireWire storage solutions up to 2TB (I use two of them chained together), and one thing that I really like about Lacie is its customer service. I was working at a company where an engineer had accidentally dropped a drive on the floor, and needless to say the drive wouldn't spin up. The drive was past the warranty date, and when I called Lacie (in Toronto, Canada), I was told to ship the unit to them, and they would take a look. Four days later I got the drive back in perfect working order at no charge. Now that's customer service!

That's it! You are almost ready to edit in HD. Now, I know what you are thinking. What does he mean almost? Well, you can't I/O without a VTR, and there is a good reason why I left it out of my list, and that is you "rent as needed!". There is absolutely no reason to purchase any kind of HD VTR, when you can work the rental cost into the budget of any production you are working on. If you are trying to get started, and don't have the money for all three of the components I suggested, then you can just worry about the CPU (with editing application) and an external drive. Find a post facility with HD capability in your area, and digitize all your footage onto your external drive to take with you. In most cases, they will charge you a lot less to use their suites for digitizing, than for editing. This cost can also be worked into your budget, and then when your project is done, and you have the capital, you can take the plunge to purchase an I/O device.

In this day and age, with the economy being what it is, you need to make yourself competitive against the big post houses that are slowly becoming extinct. Purchasing the above components won't break the bank, but it will give you an excellent starting ground to getting your own clients that will be blown away that they hadn't gone "small" sooner.

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Kevin P McAuliffe is currently a Senior Video Editor working in HD post production in Toronto, Canada. He has been in the television industry for 12 years, and spends his days onlining on a Final Cut Pro HD. Kevin's high definition onlining credit list includes concerts for Coldplay, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, Snow Patrol, Sum41, Paul Anka, Il Divo and Pussycat Dolls, to name a few. Also, Kevin is an instructor of Advanced Final Cut Studio 2 at the Toronto Film College. If you have any questions or comments, you can drop him a line at kevinpmcauliffe@gmail.com

Related Keywords:compressed HD, video editing, NLE, HD editing, HD video, digital video editing


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