In February 2009, the United Sates will flip the switch and make the full transition into the era of digital television transmission. Although this doesn’t mandate high definition, for many, Digital TV equals HDTV and are upgrading accordingly, even in the face of challenged capital budgets.
I’ve developed six spreadsheets designed to quickly budget your next HD edit suite expansion. These are broken down into A, B and C groups comparing three different budget ranges for the two leading professional edit system applications: Avid Media Composer and Apple Final Cut Pro. Don’t take this as a pricing “shoot out”. Avid Media Composer is cross-platform, so it’s simply easier to use this type of metric as a comparison. In fact, you can substitute a Windows workstation running Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 with Matrox Axio and the numbers wouldn’t change very much.
Plus there’s a homework assignment. To get the most out of these comparisons, download my Excel spreadsheets and support information HERE. The products selected are my own personal preference based on working solutions I use every day at numerous facilities. Feel free to play with the numbers in different ways that fit your likes and dislikes, so if you’d rather plug in Blackmagic Design’s products in place of those from AJA, then by all means go ahead. The spreadsheets are mainly a framework to get you started and make sure that nothing essential is left out.
Looking at the Numbers
Even my lowest priced category might still look high to some, but these solutions are designed as cost-effective, realistic answers for the broadcaster, boutique post house or other type of pro user – not the video amateur working out of his bedroom. This is what it takes to equip a professional editing suite, taking into consideration such underestimated supporting items as racks, monitoring, furniture and acoustic treatment. These are mid-2008 figures from retail (Apple, Avid) and street price (B&H Photo, Sweetwater, Markertek, etc.) sources. Generally, shipping and sales taxes are not included, so adjust accordingly and as they say, your mileage may vary.
There are no videotape recorders in these spreadsheets. That need is dependent on your market and business model. Individual VTRs can range from a few thousand to over $100K, depending on whether you work in HDV or HDCAM-SR. If you shoot tapeless (Panasonic P2, Sony EX1, XDCAM-HD, RED, etc.) and deliver in some file-based fashion, then you won’t need any VTRs at all. But if you occasionally rent a high-end deck to lay off a master, I’ve designed the rack configurations to accommodate easy connection.
The Heart of the Suite
The engine of our packages is either Apple Final Cut Studio 2 or Avid Media Composer 3.0. Apple offers a suite of software, but Media Composer also includes advanced effects (Avid FX and BCC plug-ins), encoding (Sorenson Squeeze) and Avid DVD authoring. Avid’s new DX hardware or AJA and Matrox on the FCP side cover the high-quality analog and digital I/O that professionals require. Only Mojo SDI doesn’t support HD capture and output, but it’s the only Avid product that fits into this lower budget category. It will display HD content as preview-quality, downconverted SD video, so it is possible to use Mojo SDI in an HD environment, when your acquisition is file or FireWire-based. Both Mojo DX and Mojo SDI are light on their professional analog connections, so these packages include additional AJA mini-converters to cover that front.
The Mac Pro configurations start with an 8-core fire-breather straight from the Apple Store and work down to something a bit more reasonable for the average user. No software package is complete without some Adobe products. Photoshop is a “must” in my book, so in our A groups you’ll find Adobe CS3 Production Premium for Photoshop, After Effects, Encore DVD and Flash Professional. Each budget has an added amount for miscellaneous software to cover your favorite filter packages and other necessities.
Storage is the Achilles heel of any edit suite. All these solutions offer RAID5 or 6 level protection, with Fibre Channel in the top group and eSATA in the middle and low-range budgets. Shop around for the best storage options, but solutions like 1st Design, CalDigit and G-Technology are battle-tested and proven performers in demanding HD post environment.
HD today means working with and trusting plasma or LCD monitors. None of these budgets will support the top-of-the-line HD CRTs (which are being phased out anyway), so I’ve plugged in the most reasonable LCD choices. I like Panasonic at the top end, because of the built-in waveform monitor and 1:1 pixel display option, however, JVC also makes a highly regarded LCD in a similar price range. The big difference is that JVC displays darker, richer black levels and looks closer to a CRT image than many other LCD panels. If you want to go for something better, then you can move up to TV Logic, CineTal or eCinema Systems.
Edit suites don’t build themselves. Any prudent budget needs to factor the installation cost – typically estimated as a percentage of the total equipment cost. Large system integrators usually figure this at 15%. For our purposes, I’ve rated these at 10% (A), 12.5% (B) and 15% (C). Any value-added engineering design (such as acoustical studio design, HVAC or electrical engineering) would naturally be an added expense.
Top 10 HD Suite Design Tips
1. Chair – Possibly the most important purchase in the suite. Your back will thank you after a 12-hour session if you’ve sprung for the Herman Miller Aeron. If you have a smaller budget, check the local office supply store or decor vendors like Ikea. Don’t approach this like my friend, who laughed and said, “Chair! Doesn’t the equipment come in cardboard boxes?”
2. Console – A video console surface is like a typing surface, so don’t make it too tall. The top of the table should be between 26” and 29” high off the floor. No taller. Make sure the console is large enough for monitors, keyboard, mixer and an audio control surface, not to mention scripts and a cup of coffee!
3. Eyeline – I hate consoles with bridges and losing them will save you money. Proper ergonomics means that you should be looking slightly down at the computer displays. When sitting up straight with your head level, your eyes should be looking directly at the top bezel of your computer displays. A bridge makes you look slightly up at the monitors and by the end of the day you’ll notice significant neck and shoulder tenseness.
4. Audio – Edit bay mixing today is done “in the box” and not through the mixer on the desk. They provide monitor routing and easy control of speaker volume. Low cost Behringer gear is more than up to the task. I plugged Mackie equipment into my higher budgets as a preference, but remember that you’ll be a lot less distraught is you spill a soda into a $330 Behringer XENYX than a $1400 Mackie Onyx!
5. Video Monitors – Modern LCD production monitors nearly rival CRTs in reproducing SD images, however I still feel the need to have at least one CRT around. This is your best way to check interlace issues. LCD panels are at their optimum with progressive, HD content and production grade monitors in an affordable range are going to be under 30”. If you need to “wow” clients with a big screen, you’ll have to find a decent looking consumer display in the 32” or larger size at your local retailer. That’s in addition to – not instead of – the better production monitors.
6. Client – Don’t forget the client! This means having at least a small client seating or working area. If you have space for a small desk, even better. Essentials are phone and Internet. Many places offer a secure, wireless Internet connection for their clients. Some even supply basic client computers, like a Mac Mini or a low cost generic PC.
7. Space – A smaller edit suite will work for you if your clients typically aren’t present during the entire session. A 12’ x 15’ suite is an acceptable size when racks and VTRs are in another room. I wouldn’t want it any smaller, but certainly larger is nice. Up to 15’ x 20’ still feels comfortable without being intimidating.
8. Acoustic design – Modest acoustic treatment kits are included in my estimates, but that’s simply to make a typical, office-style room less “live” by dampening acoustic reflections. If you really need a recording studio-class environment, then bring in a professional designer, like John Storyk, Russ Berger or Lawrence P. Swist. If you’re reading this article in earnest, you’re probably more in the “DIY” frame of mind. In that case, the Web comes to your rescue. Acoustic product vendors, like Auralex, offer many tips and white papers on basic studio design and even provide free room analysis online. Some design firms include simplified floor plans of their showcase installations, which are a great place to gain ideas about wall angles, room dimensions and console placement.
9. Equipment racks – I’ve included racks with patching, monitoring and uninterruptible power supplies. The assumption is that you will add your own choice of rented or permanent VTRs. Even if you only rent occasionally, you need a place to hook them up and view the content separate from the suite itself. If you decide to place the computer in the racks, rather than in the suite, you may need to extend the DVI and keyboard USB cables. I haven’t included fancy Gefen extenders, but these aren’t necessary if your room layout permits the racks to be on the other side of a wall from the edit console. Simply cut a pass-through hole for cables and you’ll be fine with longer cables.
10. Local resources – Before you commit to that super-cheap online purchase, check with your local reseller or system integrator for a quote. They are competing for your dollar against the online choices and even the local retail Apple Stores offer slight discounts to their small business customers. Many markets have at least one or two qualified freelance engineers that specialize in system integration, facility wiring and general support. Find the best local resources for you and support them, because when you really need them, they’ll still be in business!
Written by Oliver Peters for Videography magazine (NewBay Media, LLC)