We had the pleasure of spending a day at Timelime TV with Pierre Chevalier from Softron. The idea? To test out new workflows on shared storage for fast turnaround TV production. We also post one amazing video that's not to be missed!
Most of the reviews of the Mac Pro you will see posted have the machine working in isolation. Now, that's fine if you are a one man edit shop, but not a great help if you are part of a team that collaborate on productions.
First problem, how to connect the Mac Pro to Xsan! Using an Ethernet share is out of the question, it's just not fast enough to feed the Mac, a lot of data is required when building those thumbnails and waveforms. Thinking ahead, Timeline had already put a 4GB Fibre Channel PCIe card into a Thunderbolt enclosure that could be directly attached to the Mac Pro. The metadata was controlled from one of the GigE Ethernet ports.
Libraries were stored on the Xsan with all media being stored externally to the Events.
One big piece of knowledge here! When consolidating a Library (turning it into a managed library) that has external EVS streams loaded, Final Cut Pro X will only take the reference file and not the actual media. Nice black clips in the browser! FCPX will show the consolidate has finished, but you won't have the data.
Which brings us on to the main reason for the technology day, hands on experience with Softron's Movie Recorder.
We have traditionally used EVS as a way of ingesting growing ProRes streams, but as we have stated before, there are still problems importing these into FCPX. It seems the AVFoundation side of the files hasn't been written which includes QuickLook and the show stopper for us, the lack of Timecode.
Somebody once said that editing without timecode was 'Like cutting butter with a cricket bat' The absence of timecode (although the EVS stream has an elapsed time) would be like trying to find the butter in the first place!
So the search was on to find a replacement, we didn't have to look far as we had already seen MovieRecorder demoed at NAB last year and it seemed to work well.
Pierre Chevalier from Softron arrived with a box of i/o devices that we immediately got plugged up. A Blackmagic Decklink Quad was installed into a Sonnet Thunderbolt expansion chassis. This would allow the recording of 4 HD 1080 sources on one box.
We hooked up four sources, set the record destination to Xsan and then put them all into record.
(Click for larger images)
The four instances of MovieRecorder are spread out along the top of the screen. Once in record they were rock solid. What would happen if the Decklink lost an input? In the past we have seen similar applications from other vendors dropping frames and losing lip sync. This might be fine for an event with just background fx, but it's a real problem if you have a presenter sending links. We are happy to report that MovieRecorder kept on recording with no dropped frames when the signal was physically removed from the input.
The panel you can see at the bottom of the screen is a remote control for the channels that can be ganged together. This can be displayed on a remote machine so you don't have to physically go to the machine that records the feeds. To be super cool, there is an iPhone or iPad app that does the same!
We just tested four channels of recording on the Mac Pro. A rough rule of thumb from Softron is to allow an extra 30% of free CPU capacity to avoid dropping frames. As we were averaging about 35% usage, it should be possible to attach another Blackmagic Quad via a Thunderbolt expansion chassis to bring the number of channels recording up to 8. As a benchmark, a fairly beefy previous model Mac Pro with the same card installed just about managed 4 channels of recording.
At Timeline, they have a number of suites as clients on the Xsan and on a previous generation Mac Pro (with the Quad card removed!) we fired up FCPX, imported the clips and watched as the 'blank' media filled up. Remember, the recordings are still in record!
The clips were then made into a 4 channel multicam clip. This was then used as a source clip in an FCPX edit with no problems. One nice touch here is that if you shuttle over the current recording point, you don't get an error.
One thing we have noticed is when importing long closed streams from any device, expect a few minutes of the machine thinking about things when it needs to write the waveforms. With open MovieRecorder files, the waveform gets drawn as the media fills up in the blank clip.
So after proving the MovieRecorder files were timecode accurate, robust and perfect for multicam work in FCPX, we got a bit adventurous. here's the video!
Pretty impressive! One interesting thought here, if it will work as a 'four in - one out' configuration for editing, then it should have no problem being a great location setup for fast turnaround news and sports working 'one in - one out' and maybe even 'one in - one editing -one out!'
Things get more interesting when you think that the combination could be recording 4K and playing back 4K (not a configuration we tried) - Bingo, one very cheap 4K replay system! If you could put a T bar on an output channel from Softron and get the app to write to an SSD buffer, this would replicate the basic functions of an EVS. It would also be about a tenth of the price!
So what are our overall conclusions from the day? For editing highlights for fast turnaround, Softron's MovieRecorder works very well in recording and making clips available for editing with minimal delay.
MediaRecorder on the Mac Pro is a robust application and the number of record instances on the Mac Pro is likely to be governed by Thunderbolt connectivity running out, not CPU power. Remember one bus will be dominated by the connection to Xsan.
The files that MovieRecorder produce don't show the same faults as EVS streams. They get the correct timecode, they don't lock up FCPX when making the waveform on import and they will be copied in a Library consolidate.
For those reasons, we can see ourselves using MovieRecorder with Final Cut Pro X a lot in the future.
We also had a sneak peak at Movierecorder 3 which looks very promising as Apple's AVFoundation gives more performance, the ability to record more channels and the reliable recording of 4K. There's also a cool new feature that we have been sworn to secrecy about, expect an announcement at NAB.