I had a job last week to build a new machine for Pro-Active, near Bath. Their Curious Maps system hard drive had crashed. It was around ten years old, so good value for the old PVR graphics card in it. Would probably still work but we’d had to chip off the dust inside. They asked me to put together a new system, so I held off a week until the i7s came out. It had to produce a full digital video and key signal, live to the mixer so we looked at the AJA cards. I did think about Blackmagic, and some people swear by them, but I didn’t want to risk it. In the end we put in a card we knew had the power, the AJA Xena 2K card which would give us all resolutions up to 2k. It will be great for the Curious Maps system they have, at normal D1 resolution, but will cope with HD when they get the higher end jobs.
The specification was an Intel Core i7 920 3.33GHz Nehalem Quad System in an Antec 900 case with 6Gb DDR3 memory. I chose a 300Gb Velociraptor as a system drive to get the speed and then RAID0’d a couple of Seagate Barracuda 500Gb drives to get some good storage. We didn’t need exceptional graphics, but went for the GTX 260 card which should be good enough even if they run 3D. With a bit of trepidation, I chose Vista 64 as the operating system. I crossed my fingers that all the software would run correctly. It did, although I had to cycle a few emails with vizRT to get the licence sorted out for Curious. The new machines don’t come with a parallel port any more, so they gave us a temporary licence until the usb dongle comes through. I put version 8.0 on to the machine but had some problems reading the licence. After moving to the latest 8.2.3, those problems seemed to disappear. We shall see how it works with some real jobs going through.
I then put on the Adobe Production Studio software. It is only CS2 version, so we probably need to update to CS4. It didn’t have all the correct AJA codecs in there, so I had trouble rendering to give matte and fill. A few emails to AJA told me to select the Quicktime RGBA codec, but I couldn’t find the right one. In the end I installed the CS3 version of After Effects and then re-installed the AJA drivers. This gave me a whole load more variations in the codecs. I found the right one, a Quicktime RGBA WinA version then produced the correct file type, then selecting a Video output on one channel in the AJA Machina utility, and Key on the second channel, I was able to play out live to the mixer desk. Success and relief after thinking it might be a Vista problem.
I loaded up a demo of 3dsMax to check the render speed. It looks great to see the eight processes in Task Manager, all lifting to 100% rendering. With this simple reflecting, refracting spheres test being ray traced, the speed was twice as fast as my ‘old’ Quad processor in the corner. Wow. A huge improvement. I might be forced to upgrade myself.
Luckily, I persuaded Al to get the breakout box for the card as well. It was useful as it has a component video output and phono audio connectors which just connected into the older equipment that was there. No need for expensive monitor upgrades or any rewiring.
All in all, a really neat machine. No more external SCSI drives any more. The internal drives are well fast enough. With the dollar exchange, the price has now gone up, so we may have just caught it right. A happy Christmas indeed.