SCSI is dead. The Small Computer Serial Interface,
which has probably had its longest and staunchest adherents in
the video community, can now finally be put to rest. Okay, so
perhaps that's a bit of hyperbole. It seems though that EIDE
drives, as we knew would eventually happen, have won the day.
The last stronghold of SCSI, the high data rate to uncompressed
video editing system, can now be run on EIDE drives. Medéa has for some time been making
their VideoRAID boxes using multiple EIDE drives. These have
been very efficient, if a bit pricey. For smaller companies,
like project studios such as ours, a new solution is available
for those with more modest means. The Sonnet Tempo ATA100 card allows you to connect
and stripe internal EIDE drives as an array. A company called
FirmTek, the first producers of SCSI to EIDE conversion software,
wrote Sonnet's firmware. Their firmware on the Sonnet card is
at the core of this remarkable technology.
Some systems of course will still need
SCSI for a while, but even that probably won't last long. We
tested ATA100 drives, but ATA133 are coming on line and even
faster drives are in the pipeline.
We tested the Sonnet controller
card using a pair of identical IBM 60G DeskStar EIDE drives.
The drives were striped using SoftRAID, which is an extremely efficient
and simple to use striping software. No geek speak need be spoken
to accomplish this.
1 - SoftRAID Interface
To try out the set-up we used the IgniterRT
board from Aurora
Video Systems. The Igniter and IgniterRT come in a number
of module added configurations starting at a base price of $1,149,
going up to $5,499 for the full uncompressed, film support with
realtime capabilities. Starting with the base composite and S-video
input/output card, a daughter card can be added which provides
component in and out up to 1.5:1 compression. Many would agree
that for years the standard in image quality for digital video
was achieved by Media100.
It's hardware had the ability to create outstanding quality images
with a considerable amount of compression. Using compression
of 6:1, about 4.5MB per second, the hardware was able to achieve
excellent results. At its highest date rate, 9MB per second,
about 3:1 compression, Media100's results were the benchmark
for video compression products. It passed almost every test without
artifacting except occasionally some blockiness could be detected
in the quivering aspen leaves test. After carefully looking at
the Igniter's comparable compression settings, I found the Aurora
board to be at least as good, and if I went to higher data rates,
to 1.5:1 compression, the IgniterRT passed even the quivering
aspen leaves test.
The Igniter's extensibility allows you
to take the board a whole step further. Another daughter card
allows you to add on a fully uncompressed option together with
SDI in and out. Now the video is amazing and when you add graphical
elements you get outstanding clarity and definition, no aliasing
whatsoever, no matter how fine the font.
Of course this looks stunning on a component
monitor, but the reality is that most people who view videos
or television are not watching uncompressed video on a component
monitor. More than likely they're watching on a heavily compressed
MPEG2 digital transmission, or perhaps even on a VHS tape. That
said, it's my experience that the higher the quality you start
out with, and the longer you can maintain that quality the better
the end product will be.
So here we are now, running pristine,
uncompressed video with our IgniterRT, did I mention what was
driving this video? That's right. It's still playing off those
two EIDE drives striped with SoftRAID, controlled by the Sonnet
Tempo ATA100 card. We captured video flawlessly, batch capturing
in Final Cut, without a dropped frame. We filled the drives to
within 20% of capacity and still never got a dropped frame. We
built a sequence that was over an hour in length and laid out
sections with eight tracks of audio (four stereo pairs), and
played back the sequence in looped mode without dropping a frame.
If I let it keep playing it would probably still be running that
For the techheads who understand these
kinds of things you can find the numbers at BareFeats.
Remember the whine of SCSI drives, that
sound of a helicopter getting ready to lift off. It's gone. Never,
as they ran through the sequence, searching for material, did
I hear a sound; the drives remained completely silent.
The board itself is a beautifully made
piece of engineering. It's clearly designed by people who love
their product. It comes very well packed with a great, rack-mountable
breakout box and face-place. The
BOB includes composite, S-video, component and SDI ins and outs
as well as balanced and unbalanced audio in and out, all connected
by a massive, black cable to the PCI card. In addition to being
genlockable Igniter provides a few features rarely if ever seen
on breakout boxes, such as a luma key and chroma key output to
feed a downstream keyer. It also has the ability to output timecode.
This is a huge benefit to anyone who wants to send the timecode
off their Final Cut Pro timeline directedly to a deck for recording.
The CD of Igniter software includes a
pdf version of the manual (no printed manual unfortuanately),
which gives very detailed connection set-ups.
The software includes the Igniter extensions,
FCP presets (Figure 2) as well as Premiere presets, a control
panel device called Ignition, and a separate application called
Aurora Media Grab.
2 - FCP Presets
Media Grab is a simple capture window
and seems to work with any DV or digitizing card (Figure 3).
3 - Aurora Media Grab
It allowed me to access an RTMac card
as well as the Media100 card. With the right extension set loaded
you could capture video and audio from any device without going
into an editing application. This could be very handy for working
with applications like After Effects, where you might only need
a digitize a few, short shots or some screen grabs to bring into
the compositing application.
The Ignition software shows the thoroughness
with which the board and its capabilities were worked out. Just
looking through the Ignition panels and the controls they offer
will show you how much this board has to offer. Notice in the
Capture panel (Figure 4) that Igniter has film capabilities with
24/23.976fps support. This is another optional extra that Aurora
offers above the base board, allowing it to be configured in
a variety of ways based on user requirements.
4 - Ignition Capture Panel
The Playback Panel allows you to control
the preview size and other key preferences (Figure 5). Notice
that output can be switched between 7.5IRE NTSC and zero black,
giving the user much needed flexibility.
5 - Ignition Playback Panel
The General Panel (Figure 6) includes
a very useful feature, the Video Previewer, which allows you
to output your computer screen through the Igniter card onto
your NTSC monitor, an essential tool when working with a compositing
application such as After Effects or Commotion.
6 - Ignition General Panel
The Genlock/Key panel and Timecode panels
give you far more control over your output, downstream keying,
timecode write, TC location, user bits, etc, than in other systems
The IgniterRT card offers single stream
real-time playback for a limited number of color correction effects,
Brightness, Contrast, Desaturate and SL Balance. More are on
their way, including Proc Amp as well as Mask Shape, which will
be a big leg up. The IgniterRT is a great package and when coupled
with the Sonnet card, video of the highest quality can be achieved,
on the desktop using an Apple G4.
There is one serious flaw in the Igniter
card that is worth mentioning. The card is limited to working
in specific resolutions, 720x486 or 360X243 in NTSC for instance.
You cannot import an oversized Photoshop file, say 2000x1000
for pan and scan, nor can you create an oversized staging sequence,
2000x486 for instance, allowing you to create complex animation
effects. The resolution limitation constraints the capabilities
of the application, and is something I feel really needs to be
addressed by Aurora.
copyright © Tom Wolsky 2001
Tom Wolsky is the author of Final Cut
Pro 2 Editing Workshop.
Tom graduated with honors
from the London School of Film Technique, spent several years
as a screenwriter; then worked at ABC News' London Bureau and
in New York as a producer and operations manager for nearly 20
years at World News Tonight, World News Now, and Good Morning
America. He's been teaching Television and Video in Northern
California since 1992 and added Final Cut Pro to his editing
repertoire last year.
He has his own production company, South Coast Productions, which
is based on the Media 100, and is currently working on a short
documentary for the Mendocino Land Trust.
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