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Non-Linear Editing on the PC
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Old November 26th, 2004, 04:50 PM   #1
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A new PC

I will be buying/building a new PC very soon.

I would like it to be more friendly to editing than other tasks.

I will continue to use my old 500mhz/128ram/10gigHD/boat anchor for office tasks etc but would like the two to be networked since they will be in the same room.

My very limited experience w/digital video & editing as well as not knowing one mother board from another etc. causes me to ask for suggestions. What should I put together? My budget is $2500.

I have purchased Sony Vegas 5+DVD Production Suite based on what I've read on DVinfo.

My local PC GURU (the guy that will build the machine for me) does not speak DV so he suggested I ask you guys the do's & don'ts.

Once up and learning I intend to do limited editing for the experience and create DVD presentations--based upon industrial processes I work around daily.

thanks in advance for your help

Thomas Edward Bufkin is offline   Reply With Quote
Old November 26th, 2004, 07:04 PM   #2
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Hello, Thomas, welcome to DVInfo.net!

$2500 should make for a great system in my opinion, especially since you already have the editing suite picked out and purchased, freeing you to put more of that money into the system. Not sure if you will be looking at a deck, speakers, or monitor at this point however, so let us know if that will affect the budget.

Here are some general suggestions:

Visit Vegas' website or forums for system specification suggestions and/or products to avoid. I'm unfamiliar with Vegas, but I believe it is more accomodating than others. Avid Xpress Pro for example, is notorious for its inability to work with certain kinds of hardware, and Matrox and Canopus systems alike both have system recommendations. The Vegas info that is available (click on link) is quite sparse so I imagine Vegas will play nicely with a variety of hardware. But check the forums just in case.

Another tip I've learned when it came to building your own editing machine was to read up on existing turnkey editing stations, whether from Alienware, Dell, or a company that specializes with DV like DVLine. DVLine in particular has every hardware component spelled out for their editing systems, so you could build yours in a similar fashion adding or removing parts as you please. Show your computer friend the systems you find. Our own sponser B&H Photo has editing machines too. You could even cheat and ask them what motherboards they use for their systems if you can't find that info.

The reason why this is a good idea is because these manufacturers have already tested the compatibility of each and every hardware component in these systems so you know they should work well with each other. I stress should because there could be driver/software differences of course between their setups and the one you build.

Turnkey systems, by the way, are systems that will edit DV right out of the box (hence, like turning the key in a car). Usually they are more expensive than building your own but you get the guarantee that it'll edit video as required.

Good luck, and let us know how it goes!
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Old November 27th, 2004, 01:07 AM   #3
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Specs you should look for:

Processor: Pentiums are faster than AMD64 at video (while slower at other things like games and DAW). The Prescott-core Pentiums are faster than the Canterwoods, but create more heat (less over reliability) and cost more because they consume more electricity. Either is a good choice. The performance whore in me says to go with the Prescott.

Rendering speed is very closely linked with CPU clock speed, so the higher the better. There comes a point however where the extra cost is not justified (i.e. EE processors are never worth it. The top few speeds grades are also generally ripoffs.)

RAM: 512MB minimum. The optimal amount is debatable. If you have large RAM previews (i.e. using large still images), then 1GB+ is good. 1GB is a 'safe' choice, although 512MB is very very feasible.

Quality of RAM: Do not get low latency RAM, do not get overclocking RAM. Low latencies make no difference on rendering speeds (I tried with Vegas). The cheapest RAM is a good way to save money, but you might want to use memtest86 or microsoft's RAM diagnostic to test the RAM to see if it's dead/faulty on arrival.

Hard drives: More capacity is better- I recommend you get more than you think you need. Running out of space is bad.

Brand and serial/SATA (new interface) versus parallel ATA doesn't make too much difference. I would prefer PATA for lower cost and greater compatibility and possibility of adding SATA drives. I would avoid Maxtor as they tend to be less reliable, but that's annecdotal evidence.

Motherboard: Whatever's compatible is fine. On-board IEEE1394 is nice if it's cheaper than an add-on firewire card.

Video card: Get a dual monitor card. Check DVI/VGA is right for your monitors, and whether you need to buy a DVI-VGA adapter. Performance of the video card isn't important... when it does, video card prices will have fallen so upgrade then.

Nvidia has better drivers than ATI (you can kind of calibrate your monitor to NTSC bars if you'd like), so I would slightly prefer them (worth maybe $10). Ultramon is a good dual monitor utility which you might want to pay for if you do get dual monitors.

Monitors: The Digital Tigers database has a list of thin bezel LCDs if you want to go dual LCDs.
2 CRTs is also fine.

DVD burner- get one?

mouse- the 5-button Microsoft Intellimouse optical is cool since the extra two buttons move left/right on the Vegas timeline. Otherwise any optical mouse is fine.

As for specific brands and stuff, the Ars Technica Buyer's Guide has some recommendations for the case+PSU, monitors (kinda), DVD burner, and sound card. Other recommendations there don't really apply.

2- Vegas doesn't have compatibility problems with hardware so I wouldn't worry about it. From the user forums here and at the Sony site, you never see compatibility problems unless you are trying to use pro sound cards or control surfaces (this relates to using Vegas for audio/multitrack... not video).

You do need to check that parts are compatible with each other (i.e the processor is for the right socket).

3- The computer shouldn't blow your $2500 budget. My guestimate is ~$1200 for the tower without monitors (too lazy to price things out).

Just save the extra money for something else. With computers, there comes a point where you have to pay a lot for a smidgen of extra performance... while computers double in speed every two years or so.

4- Note: A better system can be achieved by overclocking, but I recommend against it unless your computer friend really knows what he's doing (and is not just saying so). It's hard for you to tell if he's competent... so I would just avoid overclocking.

5- To get a reliable configuration, the following things would be very helpful (more so than worrying over which parts to use, as Vegas is not very picky compared to other NLEs):

A- partition your hard drive so it can easily be recovered with Norton Ghost, True Image, or a partition copying utility.
B- Stress test the system. On MSI/Abit/Asus boards, use the manufacturer's overclocking utility and temporarily overclock the computer 10% and stress test there. If it passes, put it back to stock. (Your processor is tested in a way similar to this. They are overclocked and overvolted and stress tested for quality assurance, and then binned for their maximum speed.)
C- Take steps at spyware + virus prevention. One good way is to keep your computer off the internet. Otherwise, AVG antivirus, spam filtering for email (spambayes/outlook is great), Spyware Blaster, Firefox instead of IE, and user education will work very well.
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Old November 27th, 2004, 04:11 PM   #4
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Hi Thomas,

Some really great advice already, so I'll just add a bit from the build-your-own camp. I've built 4 computers from scratch in the last 3 years, all perfectly capable of editing video.

First, a couple of important ancillaries:

Backup, backup, backup!!! Whatever else you do with your system, ensure that your hard work stored on it has a good backup solution. Hardware does occasionally fail.

UPS: You know from living in the Houston area how often the power will flicker during our very long thunderstorm season (it's 13 months long, isn't it!?). A Universal Power Supply will save your bacon on a regular basis in these parts. Get one for every computer in your home or business! You won't be sorry when the "10th power flicker this week" makes you reset the clocks, but you didn't miss a beat while working on your computer. (Of course, this doesn't nullify the wisdom that if a storm is just about to be on top of you, shut down and unplug! A close hit can kill anything.)

Build your own or buy? Christopher makes an entirely valid point about the turnkey solutions. NO argument against that at all; it may be well worth the price premium to know it's all set and will work right out of the box, especially if you don't care to dig inside the box.

But if you're into this kind of fun, there's a lot of satisfaction in building your own computer. More importantly, though, you know exactly what components are in it and how it is put together...and honestly, it ain't that tough to build a computer from parts. Couple hours, tops. If a part ever does fail, there are no service hassles. You know what failed -- just run down the street and buy a replacement part. No muss, no fuss. I've found that the overall cost of building a system is about the same as buying a comparable Dell or Gateway (as opposed to the turnkey video setups, which usually would probably be a bit more). You're buying the parts at retail and doing your own labor (again, it ain't that hard), or you're buying the whole thing at retail. It's about a wash, costwise. Sometimes the name brand computers have "OEM versions" of name-brand hardware (like graphics cards) inside...they are pared down versions of the hardware that they get on the cheap from the part manufacturer. Doesn't mean they're necessarily JUNK, but when they do that, it is to reduce costs...no way that brings an advantage to the performance-minded buyer! In the past, I've seen this with modems, video cards, sound cards in Dell, Gateway, and Micron computers I bought. Again, if you build it yourself, you'll feel a lot more comfortable maintaining and upgrading it later, because you understand how it was put together.

My personal experience thus far is that as long as you stick to name-brand parts, like Antec cases and power supplies, ATi or nVidia graphics cards, Gigabyte or ASUS motherboards, you won't have much in the way of compatibility concerns. Unless you decide you want a Canopus or Matrox board, just get a motherboard with 1394 ports and you're all set, as Glenn wrote. It'll work with your camera and editing software as long as it is OHCI compliant, which I'm sure they all are. A "stock" home-built will do you just fine, as have mine been a pleasure for me to use.

Some of the particulars:

Case and power supply: Antec seems to be the Big Name, but that's less important than ensuring the front of the box supports 1394 and USB 2.0 (a lot of case jacks still only support USB 1.1). OR, you may choose to get a drive bay connection port to stick in a more basic case. You may also want an audio connection, but that'll depend on what audio solution you want/need. All this simply so you're not constantly having to dig behind the computer. This is probably one area where the Big Manufacturers have a slight advantage: these days, their custom-designed stylish cases usually have an array of front-panel connections that may take a little bother to emulate in an off-the-shelf case.

Motherboard: Just make sure it has the latest Intel chipset, simply to maximize your forward compatibility for future upgrades, etc.

Processor: Agree with Glenn that Intel is the way to go for video. If you're trying to hit the sweet spot for price/performance, get the 2nd fastest processor speed. The "King of the Hill" processor at any given time always commands a premium out of proportion to the gain in performance compared to the next fastest processor speed. If you go too far down the "food chain," you'll feel the cold chill of obsolescence quickly.

RAM: I'd go for 1GB; new apps tend to require more and more RAM. I agree with Glenn that you don't need to pay for hype, but DO make sure that the RAM you buy definitely meets or exceeds the specs required by your motherboard. Flakey RAM, or BIOS settings that don't match the RAM's capabilities, absolutely CAN give you Blue Screen of Death nightmares.

Video Card: You honestly don't need the latest, greatest expensive 3D graphics card for video editing. Those are for gaming and other 3D applications. My video machine has an ATi Radeon 9800 Pro in a dual-monitor setup and I do think they've gotten past their historical reputation for especially buggy drivers. I'm happy enough with my ATi's. Still, I've read that nVidia does have more robust dual monitor support. If this is a purpose-built video machine, you might want to lean that way -- having just upgraded to a dual-monitor setup, it is The Way To Go! DO get two good quality LCD monitors!

Hard Drives: Notice that both Glenn and I use the plural. You'll want Windows plus your programs on your C drive, and a separate drive for temp files. Glenn has apparently had poor luck with Maxtor; I've had good luck with Maxtor and poor luck with Western Digital. I think it is probably more chance than anything...they're all very similar in design, with high MTBF, but high-hour usage. So hard drives fail once in a while. Backup, Backup, Backup!

I think it is still true that the other manufacturers besides Maxtor stopped with Parallel ATA at 100. That's fast enough for video, but in a head-to-head comparison would lag. So if you go with PATA-133, that means Maxtor drives. Personally, I like the no-brainer approach of SATA-150...no jumpers, thin and easy-to-handle cable, faster, and "the future." I'm sure Parallel is going to be supported on motherboards for some time to come and I still use my older P-ATA drives, but any new drive I buy now, like Maxtor's latest S-ATA150 300GB drive I just bought for $229+tax on my most recent pilgrimage to Frys Electronics last weekend, are S-ATA. For me personally, it is not worth it to buy a drive that's already lagging behind at purchase. Oh, that reminds me: whatever drives you buy, make sure they are at least 7200RPM, unless you're SURE that you won't ever want to use them for anything other than backup/storage. Yeah, they can probably handle video capture alright, but 5400RPM drives perform decidedly slower than 7200RPM drives.

DVD+/-RW: Absolutely. Don't get one of the dual layer drives, though. The reports I've read say they're slow at dual layer burning, the media are hard to find and expensive, and blue lasers aren't far away from the US market. Just get a quality DVD+/-RW for now. And a DVD-ROM as a second optical drive if you'd like.

Audio System: I'm less helpful here. But make sure it isn't an after-thought. That's one area where I'm still learning...playing catch-up, because I didn't fully realize the challenges and importance of good audio production for good video. You don't want to have it sound "ok" on your tinny little computer speakers, then sound like crap on a client's nice AV system.

If you have your PC guru build your system for you, at least participate...be there when it is put together. Sooner or later whatever you learn during those couple of hours will help you out. If you are more of a tinkerer, or are going to build it yourself, spend $10 on a cheapo computer tool kit. Best $10 I ever spent; those cheap little custom tools make all the difference when digging inside a computer case.

Also, for a home-built, you'll need an operating system. If you go to a big electronics retailer like Frys Electronics, you can buy the OEM Full Version of Windows for the same price point in the computer hardware department, as an upgrade version sitting in a box on the software racks. Unlike the OEM hardware I mentioned above, this is the full-up, real deal. All you have to do is buy ANY piece of hardware for your computer to be eligible. Nice $$ savings to have a full, legal, dedicated version of the OS for your editing monster. FWIW, I prefer WinXP Pro because -- unless Micro$oft has recently changed this with SP2 or another update -- the Home Version doesn't support Hyperthreading.

Looking forward to hearing how all this evolves for you. Please keep us posted!
Pete Bauer
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Old November 28th, 2004, 08:42 AM   #5
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Having owned over a half-dozen computers and built 5, including 3 for myself... I'll offer my somewhat experienced opinions...

I would go with a Pentium system for stability and DV efficiency. I had an Athlon system which I set up to be supremely compatible and I still had a lot of problems with dropped frames and crashes. After a year of fighting it I gave it to my nephew for a gaming rig.

For mobo I'd highly suggest Intel for stability. You can get an d875pbz for about $90 right now but if you want to run a Prescott you need to get the upgrade of this board, which runs about $140-150. I went with the cheaper one 'cause I wanted to run a Northwood and I also didn't want onboard video/audio. I like me some clean boards for video... mmm-hmm.

Get Western Digital (or Hitachi) hard drives... they aren't hardly ANY more then Maxtor and I agree that Maxtor is a slightly inferior brand... which is ironic considering another product I'm about to recommend.

Get a Maxtor "One-Touch" backup... This has been the greatest thing since sliced bread. Since it's not working all the time I don't mind the fact that it's a Maxtor and that this brand has failed me before. The One-Touch is a mainstream product designed for your grandma's digital photos and since it's not going to get daily use I think it should last fine. Basically this is a case of the benefits outweighing the risks. This backup is very well designed and an absolute pleasure to use! You can easily set it up for one touch backup of whatever files (or entire computer) into a folder. The first time you use it you'll wait 10-15 minutes for it to complete and the next time it'll take 5 seconds. It only backs up what's new or changed. Then I use the remaining space of the One-Touch for extra space. I just set up a folder that I can fill and periodically clean out. Seriously, this particular Maxtor product is GREAT.

For video card I'd highly recommend either an Nvidia or Matrox. You can get a g550 for $20 on ebay and it'll never let you down. But realize it's a 2D card that can do 3D... just not as well as any modern 3D card. You could get a g550 from a legitimate retailer for probably $50... or you could even go with a 650-750 for around $150. The Matrox cards are ULTRA-stable and ULTRA-compatible for video. If you have the cash you could go with an Nvidia Quadro... but you'll be over $250 and for me that was just getting too close to the performance of a really good 3D card. I ended up with a 6800 but I run my computer with 2 different system drives (in swappable HD cases) 'cause if you intend to play video games on the same system you use to edit video you're setting up for a major crash... at least in my experience!

Dual monitors is almost mandatory for video... the cards I suggest above will run dual monitors... as will almost ALL cards these days... but not all of 'em do dual dvi. The Matrox cards do and many others do... but you gotta' check for it.

If you're REALLY into the audio portion of video then I'd suggest the DMX6Fire for your sound card. I've got an Audigy2 and I've really enjoyed it, but the dmx 6-fire is a full pro solution... and the Creative products really aren't... and they're about the same price so if I would have known ahead of time I wouldn't be running Creative... although Creative stuff is totally compatible and still pretty good. (But if you're spending "new" money why not get the best for the same price?)

Hmm... well that's all I can think of that I really care about right now... I'll see if this thread grows and something else triggers a bad or good experience I've had...
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Old November 28th, 2004, 09:15 AM   #6
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Thomas, thanks for starting this thread. Lots of great info is getting compiled into one place!

Matt, not to hijack Thomas' thread, but hopefully this question regarding the audio will be of help to Thomas and others as well...

I've spent actually quite a lot of time trying to learn more online about audio solutions and come away still nearly empty-handed.

From what I can tell, all of the consumer level audio cards will either decode Dolby Digital to analog and send the split signals to the receiver via 3 pairs of mini-to-RCA cables. Or, they will send STEREO ONLY PCM audio out via SPDIF. The analog out is "ok" but a bit "not elegant," and I do get some interference sounds at higher volumes from my optical mouse, of all things.

I guess what I've really been trying to find is a way to use SPDIF-Out of the computer as 5.1 DD or 6-channel PCM, and thusly into my 5.1 DD-capable receiver for sound work (not for watching DD-encoded DVDs...this is for my editing box). If possible to do, I presume that it would both be simpler in terms of cabling and would give cleaner sound.

So after all that, the basic question is: will these pro-type audio cards like the DMX6Fire you mentioned, allow multi-channel SPDIF out so the receiver can do the decoding for best results? Or can this not be done without really large expense?

Pete Bauer
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. Albert Einstein
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Old November 28th, 2004, 09:34 AM   #7
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"Non-Audio" mode for transmission of AC3 and DTS streams via digital interface.

I would assume this means that it does what you want... but you may want to shoot an email to Terratec for clarification.

The DMX6Fire was full 24/96 for 2 years before Creative finally got the Audigy2 up to par... and if you scour the Terratec site you'll see why I like the DMX6fire so much. It's a pro-solution at $199 street.

Okay now back to the rest of the DV computer talk!

I forgot to mention that if you get an EZ-Edit Keyboard DO NOT GET A USB VERSION OF THIS KEYBOARD... I REPEAT DO NOT GET A USB EZ-EDIT KEYBOARD! GET THE STANDARD KEYBOARD CONNECTOR AND DO NOT INSTALL THE EZ-EDIT SOFTWARE... This is CRITICAL to system stability! The USB Ez-Edit keyboards are sh*t... Sure there may be a few people who reply to this and say they haven't had any problems... but feel free to take the chance if you like! If you have all sorts of BS after getting a USB Ez-Edit keyboard just remember me and this thread!

The editing keyboards don't do anything different then a normal keyboard which is WHAT YOU WANT! The editing keyboard just makes it easier to identify the keyboard shortcuts that editing apps already have programed in! If you get a USB model and install the drivers for it (or EVEN let windows install SPECIAL keyboard drivers) you just complicated something that didn't need complicating! When you finally get a bad crash... and you probably would... remember me and my bad luck! The bitch of it is you'll think it was something else that caused the crash! I wonder how many people with NLE problems on these forums have a USB ez-edit keyboard that's just been silently sitting there wreaking havoc on thier systems... all the while they can't figure out what the problem is. If I ever met the guys at Bella I'd kick 'em in the ____!

USB devices don't identify themselves as the source of problems... even if they're the ONLY thing causing that problem... so a lot of people are probably going nuts trying to solve an issue that's right under their fingertips...
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