In the world of remote working, cloud storage and instant news, the ability to edit on location at a shoot has become a pre-requisite. Only a few years ago, field editing used to be merely about the quick rough cut, the assembly of proxy files or simply the ingest of media in an edit-friendly format. These days, however, energy efficient, high performance processors allow for the complete post production process on a laptop. Now, programme turnaround times can be slashed with editorial decisions made on the spot.
Power in your hands
The potency of today's top-end laptops almost exceed the horsepower of yesterday's workstations. Armed with 16GB or more of 1600MHZ RAM, twin fast hard drives spinning at 7200 RPM, multi-core processors and, crucially, professional graphics chipsets, a system such as HP's 8770w 17” mobile workstation easily merits the description of 'portable workstation'. Like the beautiful MacBook Pro, it is actually a super-computer in clever disguise, capable of editing several streams of uncompressed 1080p HD video, right from the internal storage.
Faced with tight deadlines, impatient clients or demanding directors, editors can now harness computing power on location to achieve high quality, results – fast.
However, as ever, it’s not as simple as installing an app and starting to edit.
Most new laptops are armed with card reader slots for transferring media into the NLE. But, in the heat of a production, importing cards into post one at a time is painfully slow. Sonnet’s Qio external card reader connects via eSATA for the very fast simultaneous import of data from different professional cards, including SxS, P2, SDXC and CF. The manufacturer also sells SxS and CF-specific readers with multiple slots, great for shoots that use a single type of camera. These devices are the simple answer to the data ingest bottleneck in tapeless workflows that has plagued broadcasters for years.
Filling the kit bag
Even when the data is loaded into the NLE, the dream of one-box field editing is still not quite realised. Full 1080 laptop screens and Retina displays make great work-surfaces, but are they all that video editors need? While they can show media assets, the timeline and the editing interface, even the best quality computer display will give inconsistent and erroneous results with video. Typically this is because of the inaccurate conversion between colour spaces and between interlaced clips and progressive playback.
The answer for field editors is outputting via an external device: Grass Valley's Storm Mobile, Matrox's MX02 Mini, AJA's Io Express and Blackmagic Design's UltraStudio Pro to name a few. These devices are rich in functionality – ingest, capture, scaling, conversion – but in the file-based world, it's the accurate HD monitoring that's critical.
In and Out
The Blackmagic Design UltraStudio SDI is not much bigger than a smartphone and packs massive broadcast power with HD video recording and external monitoring via HDMI and SDI. As a capture device, it records video from any SDI device including VTRs, with full RS-422 deck control. Video is ingested via USB 3.0 as 10-bit HD uncompressed or compressed in ProRes and other formats.
As well as supporting high data rates, UltraStudio SDI is compatible with NLE software such as Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro and Sony Vegas. For compositing and grading, it works with After Effects, DaVinci Resolve, Nuke, Fusion and Photoshop, as well as Pro Tools and Steinberg Nuendo audio programs. It can output full video to an external video monitor at full frame rate, in full quality.
It offers a lot of features and incredible value, so what’s the downside? Certainly there’s a lack of analogue and audio inputs, but the UltraStudio Pro, still at little more than £500 certainly solves the issue. Secondly the extreme performance of the device means it needs the right platform to run from, so it’s best to buy from an established and knowledgeable reseller who can give the best advice.
Grass Valley’s mobile editing solution – Storm Mobile – offers similar levels of performance and enjoys rock solid stability by being limited to a Windows environment and to a single editing programme, Edius. Like the UltraStudio Pro, it features a full range of inputs and outputs and 10-bit capture but has the advantage that it can play out an HD picture via HDMI and an SD picture through the analogue connections, all at the same time. Arguably its ExpressCard/34 card also delivers a more robust connection to the laptop than a USB cable.
Monitoring the action
In the studio, many use an LCD panel or professional plasma for monitoring. For field editing work, a 15” display is a minimum requirement and a grade 2 reference monitor is preferred to give a very accurate representation of colours.
Panasonic’s 17” BT-LH1760 fits the bill with its SDI input. It’s tough, made with an aluminium die-cast frame and optional protective panel. It has low power consumption (half that of its predecessor) and handily takes AC/DC power. And the all-important performance? Its three-dimensional LUT is said to offer virtually the same colour reproduction as CRTs: it’s reassuringly accurate. The Panasonic device has a huge range of features to ensure that fast action is rendered without blur, and that the colours are accurate enough for cinematic monitoring or for grading professionals.
At a lower price point, Datavideo’s new TLM-170P is an all-purpose 1080p native panel that can be employed as a continuous use production monitor and as a post production display. The all-round performance that this type of screen offers flexible inputs, manual calibration, switchable aspect ratios and a versatile stand suited to rack or desktop use. For HD editors who want to monitor their work for colour accuracy and encoding errors, it’s a good choice compared with a domestic model that may be designed to correct certain video signal faults and picture inaccuracies.
There's a maxim we’ve all heard: “if you haven't got it twice you haven't got it”. Files imported onto a hard drive in the field are simply not safe. Data replication onto a secondary storage system is essential. It's a safeguard that must not be overlooked.
Sonnet’s F2 and F3 drives both offer RAID protection so that single disk failure (caused by over-heating or being dropped) does not necessarily mean lost data. Both appliances are encased in a rugged metal shell and deliver high data rates that can sustain multi-stream HD editing. Capacities range from 1TB to 6TB enabling hours of content to be safely stored. Despite their storage space, both are light and portable, the F2 also benefiting from support for battery power.
With the above in place, field editing can now very nearly match studio post production for speed, creativity, accuracy and reliability. Until recently, however, there was one gap: collaborative editing was only for workgroups based in office facilities.
Not now. GB Labs’ RAID 6 Mini Space is no heavier than a computer workstation and is designed to accompany HD editors into the field. Its 4.8TB capacity can be shared by multiple laptop users, each connecting to the system by a simple Ethernet cable. Supporting up-to 400MB/s, it can serve multiple simultaneous 1080 streams, enabling faster and more creative post production. It’s the final piece of the jigsaw that makes location editing truly come of age.