Sunday, May 28, 2006

PC Adrenaline Plays Well With OS X Meridiens on a Pilot and Series

by David Augsburger

Equipment Description and Project Specs:

Avid Media Composer 12.0.9, OSX 10.2.6
Apple PowerPC G4 (single), 933 MHz, RAM = 1 Gig
(3-5 Machines)

Media Composer Adrenaline HD 2.1.6, Windows XP Pro
HP Workstation xw8000, Xeon CPU 3.06 GHz, RAM = 3 Gigs
(1 Machine)

Work Specs: 23.976 14:1 Video, Serial Digital video, Digital Audio AES/EBU

Storage: Avid Unity

Support equipment: Sony Scan Converter 4:3 or 16:9 viewing and output

Camera Original: 35mm 3 perf and HD transferred to DV Cam

Our equipment supplier was Runway and we were especially happy to have their support team.

The reason for the lone Adrenaline: originally the producers' plan was to create a unique main title sequence for every episode by stitching together HD stills. This idea was dropped before it got off the ground. Another early setup choice was to go 23.976. (Editor: the normal setup would be 24 or 30 fps. HD runs at 23.976). This presumably was a factor in choosing OS X Avids as it is not a choice with OS9 Avids. It was thought that in a pinch we could output our dialogue tracks on OMFs and bring them directly to the mix stage. Of course no editor was in favor of this nor the production sound mixer and it too dropped away before we began finishing.

The Adrenaline was not used by the editors; the only editor who attempted to use it was befuddled the moment a contextual menu popped up when he placed the cursor on the timeline; this was more the result of a 2 button mouse, though. Incidentally, the right button contextual menus are helpful for choosing sort ascending, import, changing group angle and a variety of other commands.

Since the Windows Adrenaline and the OS X Meridiens can create and use the same media (at least all OS X Choices) there was no reason to force Windows Adrenalines on editors who would prefer -- if not insist on -- using the familiar user-friendly Mac Meridiens. It shouldn't be a surprise that the Windows Adrenaline worked fine with the OS X Meridiens, because Apple Meridiens work seamlessly with Windows Unity.

The only frequent Adrenaline-related nuisance for the editors was the tendency for sequence bins in text mode to appear maximized on the edit monitor (although they had previously been a smaller size when last closed on the bin monitor); this even happened on the Adrenaline.

For quite a while the Adrenaline was the only assistant machine while 3 editors were actively cutting. To ease this jam the pilot assistant brought in his laptop PC and was able to do quite a lot with Avid Express. The post producers discussed the idea of adding another assistant machine running Avid Express on a desktop PC, however that idea was thankfully dropped in favor of adding two more Meridiens.

The assistant hired to finish the pilot was able to maximize some other benefits of the Adrenaline. Adept at using the Adrenaline he was able to preview different color timing choices for the producers. He also did many complex digital exports and did these in the background while another assistant digitized. An example of this was after quickly creating a QuickTime Reference he was able to start a background operation that used QuickTime Pro to seek out the media and build an export file simply from the pointers of the QuickTime Reference file.

The Adrenaline was able to digitize at the same time because it includes external hardware with processors. We also could digitize while importing music in iTunes or using a Web browser, etc. (With our particular machine there was an odd screen draw problem which resulted if the machine was digitizing in the background: the digitize tool appeared to lose some of its buttons and functionality upon return to the project. It was necessary to quit the program and re-open the project to get the digitize tool back.) To a limited extent the OS X machines could also run apps in the background, like a web browser.

The Adrenaline can play up to 16 audio tracks (the OS X Meridien limit is 8 tracks); this made laying up tracks for a discrete 4 channel output a cinch and eliminated the need to do audio mixdowns. If there were a single reason why the Adrenaline wasn't exchanged for an OS X Meridien, this was it.

Visual effects were ordinarily done on the OS X Meridiens first and then played back on the Adrenaline. It's a good practice to make sure the effects play the same; sometimes they require tweaking, e.g. picture-in-picture and title effects. Title media could be played back on a different machine platform, but editing the title in the timeline caused problems or was not possible. The Adrenaline has many effects that the Meridiens lack; using any of these would be a problem. Better to start on the Meridien.

Using PC hardware had some shortcomings: the limited number of media workspaces (virtual partitions). 20, I believe. At first this doesn't seem like a problem, but early on the size of media workspaces was assigned mindful of a file limit, as in OS 9. Importantly, we later learned OS X does not have this limitation. Later when new assistants were hired they created a single workspace for their episodes and still later a workspace for the episodes' consolidation. Before long we couldn't mount all of the workspaces on the Adrenaline, even though we could with the OS X Meridiens.

There also was a user interface problem with the PC platform. The system as delivered had an unusually high screen resolution making all type and icons very small; attempts to set a more practical resolution ended in a compromise that wasn't entirely accepted by the platform. Unlike the Mac, you can't adjust 2 monitors separately, you must treat them as one. With the chosen compromise it was necessary to reposition the composer windows every time a project was opened.

The PC hardware also had some advantages. It's possible that CD-ROM and DVD-ROM burning was faster as well as iTunes importing. OS X Meridiens have very slow screen draw; how the editors put up with it is a mystery. OS X Meridiens mounted floppy discs at a ridiculously slow rate.

Although it wasn't a problem with the Adrenaline being used with OS X Meridiens, we at first attributed a problem where sound effects and music disappeared as due to its use. What was really wrong was that you can't safely import files from a flash drive or the internet directly; it is safer to download the file first to the desktop and then import the desktop file (I believe that after this is done you can delete the desktop file). If ever this problem occurs because you haven't copied your file to the desktop, you can restore by copying the file(s) to the desktop afterwards. You might need to do a batch import, but we didn't find that necessary.

In conclusion, the Adrenaline worked well with the Mac OS X Meridiens and also an PC Avid Express.


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