Production Sound & Video

Summer 2018

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31 of each drive simultaneously. In live broadcast environments, it is common to use RAID configurations that are making use of anywhere from four to sixteen hard drives at once in order to ingest multiple cameras' worth of media simultaneously. However, while those speeds are impressive and more up to the challenge of high-resolution production, they do come with serious drawbacks. Every hard drive introduced into the configuration represents a potential point of failure in the RAID array. In a simple RAID configuration, the loss of a single hard drive could mean the loss of all footage contained within the array. More complex configurations take this into account and create redundancies but these require additional hard drives, returning us to the issue of real estate. Newer solid state hard drives—media devices that have no moving parts and therefore, don't rely on disk speed—may represent a possible solution to the RAID issue in time. Though they are currently significantly more expensive (a single terabyte 7200rpm hard disk drive can be bought for as little as $44, whereas a solid state drive of the same size and brand will run you $230), they are significantly faster at performing the same tasks. This theoretically means that fewer drives could go into a single RAID configuration, reducing the points of failure in the array. Moreover, with no mechanical parts to jam or degrade over time, they may be less prone to failure in the first place. Unfortunately, we will need to wait for production costs to bring retail prices on solid state media down before this becomes a viable alternative. This is all assuming that a hard drive is not limited in any way by its connection speed to the computer with which it is communicating. The physical port that a hard drive uses to interface with a computer may have a speed limitation completely unrelated to the drive's. The most common type of port, USB 3.0, has a theoretical limit of five gigabits per second, with one gigabit equaling approximately one-eighth of the more commonly measured gigabyte. A single spinning disk drive does not read or write faster than that and so there is no problem. However, an array of drives working together can easily exceed that limit, at which point, data is going through a choke point when passing through the wire connecting a computer to a hard drive. At the time of writing this article, the fastest connection port on the market is tied between Thunderbolt 3 and 40g Ethernet. These two port types both have theoretical maximums of 40gbps, though neither has seen widespread adoption within the industry at this time. All of that being said, engineers don't just need to be able to move data around faster if we are to keep up with the demands of higher resolution. It is of equal importance that we process it more quickly too. Since working with ultra-high definition and larger formats requires a prohibitive amount of computer processing power, our editor friends in Local 700 rarely do it. Instead, they make use of a process known as "Offline to Online Editing," where they use lower resolution proxy file copies of the camera media when assembling their projects and then swap out those proxies for the original high-resolution camera media when preparing to color grade and deliver. Where do those proxy files come from? Us. Local 695 data engineers can be tasked with creating these proxies on set, which necessitates being able to work with the raw, high-quality footage captured by the camera. This means more powerful and efficient computers are becoming necessary. There are several factors that determine how powerful a computer is for our purposes. Processor speed, memory, graphics memory, hard drive speed, and connection speed all need to be taken into account. For these reasons, and a few others, the majority of the industry has become reliant on Apple computers. Unfortunately, Apple's professional line of computers tend to stagnate for long periods of time. The Mac Pro, Apple's line of professional grade editing machines, has remained unchanged since 2013. The company has announced a replacement, tentatively to be released in 2019 and a stopgap solution was introduced in 2017 when the company unveiled the iMac Pro but these computers are not cheap. An introductory iMac Pro costs $4999 while a fully upgraded machine can be bought for as much as $13,200. And this assumes the use of only one machine at a time. While the world of major motion pictures has largely embraced the move from lower viewing resolutions to higher ones, with digital cinema cameras recording in 6K and 8K resolutions already, television has yet to catch up with the current Ultra-High Definition standards. In the United States, many series still record in high definition. It's understandable when the sheer volume of footage is taken into consideration. While feature films record enough footage to assemble a presentation lasting between ninety minutes and three hours, television series spanning multiple seasons can last hundreds of episodes. The need to process and preserve all of that footage requires a staggering amount of resources. Doing all of that in 4K or 8K makes it an even more monumental challenge. But as the cost of 4K televisions, computer monitors, and even cellphone screens continue to plummet and as 8K displays are introduced into the market, our audience is going to demand that this challenge be met. These concerns are not new. The jump from standard definition to high definition presented the same obstacles in the late 1990s. The new factor at play here is time. While we, as an industry, could no doubt rise to the growing needs of 4K production with time, the advent of the 8K world is already within eyesight. How far behind that is the realm of 16K? Another ten years? Or maybe just another five? It will be interesting to see at what point the innovation of one avenue of technology collides with the reality of another.

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