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Old February 2nd, 2006, 10:31 AM   #1
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No P2? No Cineporter? Here's an Alternative...

I finally have my HVX, but no 8gb P2 cards to go with it; the cards are in short supply (for now) and there are none to have.

Since I can't wait around to see when they become available and the Cineporter being the only true P2 device as an alternative is also not available until probably NAB, I needed a "shoot now" alternative. I just happen to notice that (1) 8gb card is the same price as a new 17" Powerbook, and since the camera doesn't require any cards to send an HD signal out Firewire, that spawned my perfect alternate solution: Capture direct to FCP in the Powerbook.

After days of researching the best hardware options I decided to share my knowledge - here's my setup:

- 17" inch Powerbook w/2gb RAM (don't buy RAM from Apple - see my note about RAM later in this post)
- OWC Mercury Elite Pro Aluminum 500gb FW800 16MB cache external (2 drives in a RAID enclosure)
- (1) 15ft 4 to 6 pin FW400 cable w/Ferrite Cores (see note on Cores later in this post)
- (1) FW400 Repeater
- (1) 15ft 6 to 6 pin FW400 cable w/Ferrite Cores
- LaCie FW800 PCMCIA card
- Xantrex Micro Inverter 400 (for unlimited power for the Powerbook, external drive and camera on location)

Here' the logic for this setup:

- RAM. I put the maximum RAM in the PB so FCP could run as smoothly as possible in dealing with DVCPRO-HD 720p30. However, Apple has always asked a premium for the RAM they supply. The RAM module supplied with the PB was a Micron 512mb module; this module is not monolithic and actually has uneccesary latency in it's throughput. I dumped that slow performing Micron and ordered (2) 1gb Samsung monolithic modules from Motherboards & Upgrades (upgradeit.com) 480-813-6926 - ask for Mike Komar. This RAM actually runs 1.6x times faster than the Micron module did without the latency and the PB and FCP runs much smoother now. NOTE: These monolithic modules cannot be bought off the shelf; the timing is specific to the Apple PB specs so they were matched to the system - and they cost over $150 less than what Apple wanted for the same amount of RAM!!

- External drive: I wanted a decently sized drive to allow all-day shooting or even for the entire project, and migrate between the capture system and the edit system. I also wanted the fastest throughput to avoid any dropouts on the HD content which is why I chose a FW800 drive. At this point I haven't decided if I'll simply actually use the same drive between the two FCP systems or, copy-paste the captured files from one drive to the other. (my edit system has 4 more OWC drives dedicated to FCP). I'll be testing that in the coming days so I'll report back which is a better workflow.

- FW cables & Repeater: My project has very specific requirements and there will be times when the PB will be quite far from the camera - at least 20 feet at times. Initially I was going to use one 30ft cable to connect camera to PB however, my experience with any FW cable regardless of manufacturer is that beyond 10ft there is significant signal degradation (enough to possibly cause dropouts on capture) and a cable that long can also act an an antenna and pick up tons of RF interference, especially in the studio where monitors, power supplies, etc. will be creating a soup of radio emissions. So I opted for (2) 15ft footers with a FW400 repeater between them to keep signal strength up and Ferrite Cores on the ends of both cables to help reduce/choke any RF nasties.

- PCMCIA FW800 Card: What's extremely important to note about the PB (and actually the same applies to a G5 as well) is that both the FW400 & 800 ports live on the same physical bus on the motherboard. Because of the nature of the FW bus, the bus speed is only as fast as the SLOWEST device. The specs on the HVX data record rate is 100mbps, which means that when connected to a FW port it will choke the entire bus down to FW100 speed! The only way to avoid this is to create a separate physical bus, which the LaCie FW800 card does. So the camera gets connected to the built-in FW400 port on the PB, and the external drive goes into the FW800 port on the PCMCIA card - voila! Two distinct FW busses.

- Ferrite Cores: Many of you probably noticed that most DV cameras come with FW cables and a few Ferrite Cores to put on those cables. The JVC HD100 for example, comes with a selection of cores to put around the power supply cable, FW cables and even the XLR cable for the on-camera mic. The reason is simple: All this connectivity is a potential direct path for electronic emissions in the form of radio-frequency interference (RF is the term) to either get in or come out of the camera which could degrade the signal coming out of the camera and into an external capture device, regardless if it's tape or digital media. Ferrite Cores "choke" or in some cases eliminate the RF that travels along the outside of these cables and prevents RF interference from continuing into the camera or your capture device. In point of fact, I've taken this idea and applied it to every cable that is on or around my main G5 edit system for the very same reason - keeping the electronic pathways between devices as "quiet" as possible.

So that takes care of the hardware selection and setup, but there's more that needs to be done in software so the PB can run as efficiently as possible during capture to prevent dropouts. Here's what else do to:

Go into System Preferences and:

- Turn off BlueTooth.
- Turn off the Airport.
- Turn off Screen Saver.
- In Energy Saver: A) NEVER put the system to sleep; B) UN-CHECK "put hard-disks to sleep when possible"; C) UN-CHECK "wake when modem detects ring"; D) UN-CHECK both items for "reduce brightness of display...".
- In Monitors: UN-CHECK "automatically adjust brightness".
- Bluetooth services: UN-CHECK all sharing.
- In Software Update: UN-CHECK "check for updates...".
- Download a the free app, "Tinker Tool" and use the "Disable Dashboard" feature (there are widgets that will try to call out to a network connection to update themselves in the background. They are small apps, but I don't want them breathing even a whiff of the RAM for FCP).
- Under Sharing: Don't share anything and turn off the Firewall (if it's on)
- Under Security: Turn off "File Vault" (if you're using it). Using this can potentially cause project corruption in FCP.
- Under Print & Fax: UN-CHECK "receive faxes...". Turn off any printer sharing.
- Under Quicktime: UN-CHECK "check for updates..."

That's the cleanest, most optimized setup you can get for a Powerbook.

Here's the cost comparison:

(2) 8gb P2 cards = $4500 (if you pay tax it's more like $4700) and they can only be used for the HVX.

(UPDATE: Just a few hours after I posted this, I learned Panasonic dropped the price of the 8gb P2 card to $1400! The Powerbook option is no longer more cost effective, but it's still more versatile than just P2 alone.)

My setup was just over $3k, here's the vendors used:

- Powerbook: Frys Electronics, $2199
- External Drive: OWC Computing, $399
- RAM: Motherboards and Upgrades (see above notes), $320
- LaCie FW800 PCMCIA card: OWC Computing, $80
- FireWire cables/repeater: www.fwdepot.com $150 appx
- Power Inverter: Frys Electronics, $50
- Extra TDK Z-CAT Ferrite Cores: Digikey, $25 appx.

You can obviously spend hundreds less by:

- Using a 15" inch Powerbook
- Using less RAM
- Using a smaller external HD
- Not using long cables/repeater
- Not using an inverter (not everybody is going to do location work).

Regardless what your hardware setup is, be absolutely sure you follow the software setup listed above so that you don't have things running in the background that can potentially compete for resources during the capture process.

This setup is NOT a run-and-gun setup obviously, nor is it a replacement option for a Cineporter, but it does give a wealth of possibilites and versatility that you just can't get with only P2 cards.
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Last edited by Robert Lane; February 2nd, 2006 at 03:00 PM.
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Old February 2nd, 2006, 03:05 PM   #2
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Robert .
Thanks for this post - this is what I had planned to do all along (as I already own most of the equipment)
Thanks for the details & settings.
One last note - I was even thinking of strapping my 17"PB in a shoulder bag so I could be mobile - steadicam,
Don't know about this, I actually wonder about the fan noise.

how do you like the HVX?
Noise, artefacts etc...?
What is your exp. with other cams?
Thanks,
John
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Old February 2nd, 2006, 03:33 PM   #3
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You can't shoot 24PN with this, can you?

What settings for device control and scratch disc and sequence settings do you set in FCP?

Also camera settings?
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Old February 2nd, 2006, 05:19 PM   #4
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John,

I've shot with the XL2-s, DVX100A, Z1 & FX1, HD100 and am in the testing phase of the HVX. I'm not concerned with noise artifacts because I never do anything low light; mostly studio and location day work. If I were to do something that required a lot of low-light I'd probably opt for film rather than any digi-cam.

The two things you'd have to be cautious of by putting the PB itself in a backpack is lack of venting which might cause the PB to overheat and, too much motion while the HD's are spinning. The PB has a motion detector which when it senses enough motion will immediately park the heads off the HD platter while it "braces" itself for a sudden impact. You might inadvertently activate this sensor by making the PB part of your physical camera motion on a Steadi-cam. In that scenario you'd be better off shooting to P2 since you'd be free to move about without worry.

David,

The "native" part of the HVX recording capabilities is only for recording to P2, not sending out externally via FW, and is not a setting available in the FCP DVCPRO setups, so it's 720/24, 30 or 60p that I'd be using. With regard to exact camera setup/settings it's too early to say; I'm just now checking all the camera functions and FW output to make sure it's all good. Besides, in-camera settings become more about personal taste and project requirements than anything else.
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Old February 2nd, 2006, 05:52 PM   #5
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Still trying to wrap my head around this

Obviously if you have the PB in a backpack you would need some sort of extended keyboard to control FCP right? If we were to do this mobile like, how would one click the capture now button? I know the esc would disable it, but I don't know if a keyboard shortcut can be assigned to capture. Let's also assume that a slow fluid motion avoids the problems with the HD head coming off, and that some sort of ventilated backpack could be modified, then this seems like a terrific alternative to P2 as we would also have, well, a Powerbook! There are also battery powered firewire drives, although it sounds like they have stamina issues with thier batteries.
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Old February 2nd, 2006, 08:50 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David Saraceno
You can't shoot 24PN with this, can you?
I haven't tried this, but I believe Evin Grant did, and what he said was (IINM) that the Mac automatically strips out pulldown upon capture. So if you shoot 720/24P "Over 60", it comes in as 60fps but the Mac strips it down and saves it as a 24fps file. So effectively it's exactly the same thing as 24pN.

But I'll have to try it, or have Robert try it, to know for sure.
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Old February 3rd, 2006, 02:28 AM   #7
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capture now keyboard shortcut

Hey Gene-
We met at that Walter Murch wing-ding about a month ago.

-Go to tools/keyboard layout/customize
-Unlock the keyboard
-click on the capture pulldown then right click on capture now/clear key(s)
-then whatever you type next will become your new shortcut

One could get an external USB numkey pad and wear it like a watch.


Say hi to Jeff...

Last edited by Martin Hesse; February 3rd, 2006 at 03:01 AM.
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Old February 3rd, 2006, 10:56 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gene Brockhoff
Obviously if you have the PB in a backpack you would need some sort of extended keyboard to control FCP right? If we were to do this mobile like, how would one click the capture now button? I know the esc would disable it, but I don't know if a keyboard shortcut can be assigned to capture. Let's also assume that a slow fluid motion avoids the problems with the HD head coming off, and that some sort of ventilated backpack could be modified, then this seems like a terrific alternative to P2 as we would also have, well, a Powerbook! There are also battery powered firewire drives, although it sounds like they have stamina issues with thier batteries.
or have it in a shoulder sack, so you could spin it around and flip it open.
I have an older PB - so there is no motion sensor, but I am sure yoou could disable it anyway,
as far a steadicam - I was even thinking of strapping the PB to my chest plate and using it for a monitor,
(which I'll need esp with a 35mm adaptor)
This is all theoretical - I have no idea how it will actually work
heers,
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Old February 3rd, 2006, 09:04 PM   #9
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We're going to be shooting all day long in the snowy wilderness in a few weeks, taking at least 30 minutes of footage a day. I have a Glidecam Steadi-shooter which I'd like to use maybe 5% of the time. What work-flow would you guys recommend?

Thanks, Bets
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Old February 3rd, 2006, 10:03 PM   #10
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Betsy,

My instinctive reaction to anything that involves movement is not to use a Powerbook or any other device that has a spinning hard-drive - unless it's been properly dampened specifically for that kind of work. To date, the only device I know of that will handle that kind of work and be *almost* immune to minor shock/sudden movement is the Cineporter, which isn't available yet.

You can be very careful in your movements, even when using a Steadi-cam have you considered what might happen if you trip and fall or worse, drop the camera? Although the newer PB's have the motion-protection sensor built-in (which cannot be disabled without major surgery to the hardware) you'd still risk losing all your data if the drive took a serious enough hit to damage the parked heads or worse, the platter itself. P2 is solid state, there's nothing inside but compact flash-RAM stuffed into a PCMCIA card, so not only is it immune to motion, it's also *near-immune* to being dropped hard.

Being in the field especially in harsh conditions trying to make the PB work would be challenging at best and be unneccesarily cumbersome. Not to mention the inability to directly control the PB when it's in some sort of enclosure which it most certainly would need to be while outside.

Previously my on-location use of PB's was while shooting DSLR's tethered to the PB so the client could see what each shot was from frame to frame. But, the PB was mounted on it's own support and didn't move around, plus it was covered with a over-sized hood to protect the screen from sunlight and the keyboard, side ports and front-loading disc slot from the elements.

If you have P2 cards, use them. Take an external drive, a small power inverter designed to plug into the lighter socket to power the drive in your vehicle and transfer footage off as the cards fill up. You can also use the inverter to charge a second battery for the camera while you're out in the field shooting.

Is this the help you wanted or did I miss the mark?
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Old February 3rd, 2006, 11:24 PM   #11
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Do not get a Powerbook!

Wait for the 15.4 inch MacBook Pro that is out in about 1 to 2 weeks. Final Cut Pro should run at least twice as fast on this laptop. I am also planning on getting it.

Sorry I hijacked this tread but I had to warn you.
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Old February 3rd, 2006, 11:36 PM   #12
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Robert,
I think you make some great points - thank you.
I have been thinking of this as a portable solution with the Andromeda set up (which needs a computer)
along other options with an HVX:
How does the Firestore deal with movement ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Robert Lane
Betsy,

My instinctive reaction to anything that involves movement is not to use a Powerbook or any other device that has a spinning hard-drive - unless it's been properly dampened specifically for that kind of work. To date, the only device I know of that will handle that kind of work and be *almost* immune to minor shock/sudden movement is the Cineporter, which isn't available yet.

You can be very careful in your movements, even when using a Steadi-cam have you considered what might happen if you trip and fall or worse, drop the camera? Although the newer PB's have the motion-protection sensor built-in (which cannot be disabled without major surgery to the hardware) you'd still risk losing all your data if the drive took a serious enough hit to damage the parked heads or worse, the platter itself. P2 is solid state, there's nothing inside but compact flash-RAM stuffed into a PCMCIA card, so not only is it immune to motion, it's also *near-immune* to being dropped hard.

Being in the field especially in harsh conditions trying to make the PB work would be challenging at best and be unneccesarily cumbersome. Not to mention the inability to directly control the PB when it's in some sort of enclosure which it most certainly would need to be while outside.

Previously my on-location use of PB's was while shooting DSLR's tethered to the PB so the client could see what each shot was from frame to frame. But, the PB was mounted on it's own support and didn't move around, plus it was covered with a over-sized hood to protect the screen from sunlight and the keyboard, side ports and front-loading disc slot from the elements.

If you have P2 cards, use them. Take an external drive, a small power inverter designed to plug into the lighter socket to power the drive in your vehicle and transfer footage off as the cards fill up. You can also use the inverter to charge a second battery for the camera while you're out in the field shooting.

Is this the help you wanted or did I miss the mark?
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Old February 4th, 2006, 09:35 AM   #13
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Paulo,

There are some very good reaons NOT to get a Macbook Pro - yet.

- No S-video.
- No FW800 port.
- No Dual-layer DVD burner, single layer only!
- No PCMCIA slot, and to date there aren't any Express Card/34 slot hardware adapters to get the missing connections.
- Screen resolution is less than Powerbook - less real estate.
- It may be months before Apple has the "Universal" version of the Pro software that will run on either the Rosetta Intel Chips and the current PowerPC chips.

The only nice thing about the Macbook "Pro" is it's speed - it's very fast and yes, faster than the current Powerbooks. However, it's lacking very important hardware compatibility the *real* pros need to do work.

My advice to anyone who wants or needs a Powerbook is to get one before they go away. Frys Electronics for example, is already listing them as a "discontinued item" and it's unclear how much longer they will get more Powerbook shipments.

John,

The Firestore is still a spinning hard-disk. I've never tested one while doing any camera movement other than crane/jib and neither the instruction manual or website mention anything about camera motion dampening - except to say to avoid sharp movements/hits!. AFAIK the Firestore does not have any internal "brace before impact" sensors or functionality, so if it's dropped or hit you're most likely going to damage the drive heads or platter and lose your data.

The Firestore and Cineporter are distinctly different in three ways:

1) The Firestore is a Firewire interface only; the Cineporter is an actual P2 device since it connects using a PCMCIA adapted connector and plugs into the P2 slot in the camera. That means the camera will "see" the Cineporter as a very large P2 card; the Firestore is supposed to be controlled by the camera with regard to REC/PAUSE functionality via FW, but it's not a P2 device.

2) The Firestore has a menu of available recording formats and supposedly a "native" format for the DVCPRO-HD codec. However, my experience with the FS-4 Pro HD showed that the files created from it required translating the HDV clips before FCP could use them. The Cineporter being a P2 device is ONLY designed for use with the HVX (or it's big brother) and records the exact P2 format so the workflow is identical to P2 cards.

3) The Cineporter can be mounted under the camera itself (unless you're using a matte-box system); the Firestore requires either using the camera-mounted cradle or some other external place for it to live while talking to the camera.

One important thing to note about any versions of the Firestore: Focus makes a long run-time battery for the FS-4 which is larger than the standard battery. The bigger battery is NOT compatible with the camera-mount cradle - it's too big to fit. Focus is aware of this flub and say they will have a newer cradle out later in the year. Call them for details.
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Old February 4th, 2006, 09:50 AM   #14
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The last major project I did, we used a XL1-s and recorded straight to a hard drive using to 17" PB. Primarily, we were shooting interviews, but it worked like a charm and definately made capture/logging simplier.

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Old February 4th, 2006, 10:30 AM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bryon Akerman
The last major project I did, we used a XL1-s and recorded straight to a hard drive using to 17" PB. <
Mine sharing your cam and FCP settings for this one?

I would appreciate it.
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