Planning Your System

As with any major undertaking involving the purchase of new equipment, and the temporary downtime of your current setup, proper planning will ensure that you get the right equipment for your needs, both currently and down the line.

Before reading on, ask yourself two basic questions:

  • Which video formats will I be working with on a regular basis, and which formats might I begin to use in the near future?

Eventually, we're all going to be doing HD productionthe question is, when? Moving to HD uncompressed equipment is the most expensive option in this lesson, no doubt. But since the equipment usually handles SD formats as well, should you take the plunge now to invest in this higher-capacity equipment?

Once you wrestle with this one, you'll have a general idea of how to shop for a capture device. The device you want will be able to capture (and play back) the highest level of video format that you've come up with.

  • How much uncompressed storage capacity, in minutes, do I need for my workflow?

To calculate this number, think of the scale of your average project. Are most of your projects 30-second spots or 2-hour documentaries? As you work, do you usually capture lots of material, or just enough to get the project done? For many folks in post-production, a rule of thumb is to take the length of a finished piece and multiply it by 5. The result gives enough room for the material that you'll end up not using, as well as render files.

Next, multiply this "average scale" value by the number of projects you might have on your system concurrently, and this will yield the total amount of storage, in minutes, that you'll need.

Next, by using the tables in the "Data Rates and Storage Requirements for Common Media Types" section of Lesson 9, multiply your minutes times the megabytes per minute rate of the highest level of video standard that you'll be using. Divide this value by 1,000. This will yield roughly the size, in gigabytes, of an appropriate storage device for your system. Be sure to allow lots of wiggle room for unexpected storage needs.

To summarize, you get your final value of size in gigabytes by using this formula:


the length (in minutes) of an average project


a multiplier that accommodates your scrap and scratch (5 is good)


the number of possible concurrent projects


the MB/minute rate of the highest level of video from Lesson 9




the size, in gigabytes, of an appropriate storage device.

Using the answers to these two questions, you can begin to look for capture and storage devices tailored for your workflow.

Selecting the Right Capture Device

There is a blessing/curse paradigm going on in the capture device market for FCP right now. The blessing is that device prices have never been cheaper. The curse is that devices have never been more plentiful, and as a result, choosing one is quite tricky. For example, there are 22 individual products, offered by four separate manufacturers, that provide SD-SDI input to FCP. Because of the glut, you benefit: the competition and the apparent movement to commoditize these devices has brought about a dramatic drop in price.

The following table has a comprehensive list of capture devices compatible with FCP, at press time. It lists each device's capability to capture the four major uncompressed formats of professional video ingestion in the industry today:

  • Analog component signals from Sony Betacam SP and similar decks

  • Standard-Definition Serial Digital Interface (SD-SDI) signals from Sony Digital Betacam and similar decks

  • High-Definition Serial Digital Interface (HD-SDI) signals from Sony HDCAM, Panasonic DVCPROHD and D5 HD, and similar decks

  • Dual-link (two cable) HD-SDI signals from Sony HDCAM SR and similar decks

To start the selection process, create a list of devices that capture the format you are most likely to use now or in the future. Of course, there are many differences between the individual devices, specifically what kind of formats the devices can output as opposed to input. But the best way to whittle down the choices is to start with a device that will handle the input. After that, you can compare prices and extra features until you come upon a device to call your own. Web sites are provided for your research journey.

Capture Devices in a Nutshell


Analog Component



Dual-Link HD-SDI














Kona LS




Kona 2





Aurora Video Systems (


IgniterX Pro



IgniterX SDI




IgniterX Studio




PipeSDI / Pro













Blackmagic (


Decklink SP



Decklink 2 / Pro




Decklink with Multibridge SD




Decklink Extreme




Decklink HD / HD Plus





Decklink HD Pro





Decklink HD Pro with Multibridge





Multibridge with PCI Express





Digital Voodoo (

SD Edit




SD Flex




SD Spark




Once you have settled on a smaller group of devices, you can consider very important issues such as the following:

  • Audio input: It's a given that any device capable of analog component video capture in the capture devices table also has standard balanced and unbalanced analog input channels for audio capture, but devices vary as to how many channels. As for digital audio, devices vary greatly with the format they use to capture audio and in how many channels they can input and output. For example, many devices simply capture digital audio embedded in the SD or HD-SDI signal path. But what if you have an older digital deck that doesn't support embedded audio? Buying hardware that supports more than two input channels is a good investment in case you receive source tapes that have more than two channels recorded. Check the specs on each manufacturer's Web site to make sure your device captures the audio formats you use.

  • Genlock: Most analog decks require a reference/blackburst/genlock (terms are interchangeable) signal, and most capture devices need to receive that same reference signal to synchronize to the deck. Fortunately, every device listed in our table capable of analog component video capture also has a genlock input. All you need is a genlock generator to feed the input. Companies such as VideoTek ( and Horita ( make popular models.

  • Analog video monitoring: Many devices in our table, regardless of their input capability, can output through analog component cables. This lets you monitor your edit without a deck present, through a relatively low-cost analog component-input monitor. The devices that don't output this way need a more expensive, SDI-enabled monitor or a pricey digital-to-analog converter box in order to view the output.

  • Audio monitoring: Many devices listed in the table also let you monitor the FCP output through a host of digital or analog audio ports. This lets you listen to your edit, without a deck present, on inexpensive digital or analog audio monitors. Again, some devices don't, so check your options, especially if you rent high-end decks for your projects and don't have them around every day.

  • Deck control: Digital Voodoo and Aurora Igniter products need an external USB configuration using the ubiquitous Keyspan USB Twin Serial Adaptor ( and a special DIN-8-to-DB-9 cable to hook up to (most commonly) the RS-422 control port on the back of your deck. However, all devices from AJA, Blackmagic, and the Aurora Pipe products come with built-in deck control. With these devices, you need a straight DB-9-to-DB-9 cable to control the deck.

  • Versatility: Most devices listed in the table have PCI cards that either have direct video and audio ports on the back of the card, or connect to a cable snake or break-out box (BOB) for easy configuration. Alternatively, AJA's Io products actually communicate to FCP through the FireWire interface, which is excellent for moving these devices to whichever machine needs them, but also calls for a separate PCI FireWire host bus adaptor (HBA) if you intend to use an Io product while simultaneously having your DV deck hooked up to the system.

Selecting the Right Storage System

If you thought there was a lot to choose from with capture devices, just wait until you see the diversity of the direct-attached storage solutions for FCP. We say "direct-attached" since we are dealing with storage that will be directly attached to this system only.

If reliability were the only factor in choosing storage, the old adage of "you get what you pay for" would apply. But speed, capacity, power consumption, noise level, and redundancy, not to mention cost, will also drive your decision.

In this section, a more generalized set of categories needs to be established. We'll start with these categories to make your selection process easier.

Here are the major categories of direct-attached storage available for FCP at press time:

Do-It-Yourself Striped Arrays

This category offers the most primitive solution to your storage problem, and it's definitely more suited for the technically savvy. Do-it-yourself (DIY) arrays involve buying individual SCSI, Fibre Channel, or SATA hard disk drives, installing them in an empty enclosure or "cage," connecting them to the computer via a like-flavored PCI Host Bus Adaptor (HBA) card, and using software to stripe them together.

The benefit is cost: DIY arrays are the cheapest solution since you buy individual components.

The downsides are plentiful. No software RAID tool for the Mac can do high-performance redundant RAID levels, only 0 or 1, so these arrays offer no redundancy at the speeds necessary for uncompressed work. Further, as was discussed in Lesson 9 these arrays' data rates drop significantly as the array fills up. Finally, technical expertise required to configure the drives within the enclosure and hook up cables between drives makes them improbable solutions for the left-brain-impaired members of the community.

The following manufacturers produce DIY SCSI and Fibre external array solutions:

  • Archion (

  • PC Pitstop (

  • SCSI4ME (

SATA arrays are being praised in the independent geek-editor community because they offer very low cost and very high data rates and storage capacities, despite the limitations mentioned earlier. SATA HBAs with four or eight external ports, made by folks such as Sonnet Technology (, are just now emerging in the market. These HBAs allow you to create DIY SATA arrays without cables dangling out of an empty PCI slot in the back of your Mac. With this simple advance, SATA arrays will be perfect for locally created render files for Xsan systems. See Lesson 15 for more information.

The following manufacturers produce DIY SATA external array solutions:

  • Firmtek (

  • Granite Digital (

  • MacGurus (

SATA arrays can also be built by cramming more SATA drives into the G5 box itself, enabling high-speed arrays within the G5. Be warned, however, that these systems interfere with the G5's cooling systems and definitely void the G5's warranty.

The following manufacturers produce DIY internal SATA array solutions:

  • Wiebetech G5Jam (

  • TransIntl SwiftData200 (

Prebuilt Striped Enclosures

This category is identical to the one just mentioned, except that the enclosures or cages are prebuilt. You just hook them up, with an appropriate HBA, to the Mac, and stripe them with software.

These units cost more, since the installation and cabling has already been done for you, but they're still a little cheaper than the bridge enclosures mentioned next. You can purchase prebuilt stripe enclosures from the following manufacturers:

  • The DR Group DRaid (

  • Granite Digital

  • Promax SATAMAX (

  • Rorke Data Systems (

  • StorCase (

Built-In Hardware RAID Controlled Bridge Enclosures

This category is by far the most crowded and incorporates the most popular storage systems for Final Cut Pro. The word "bridge" refers to the fact that the interface on the outside of the enclosure is different from the interface of the disk drives. Bridging circuitry converts the language of the host bus into the language of the drives. Even better, this circuitry almost always incorporates a hardware-based redundant RAID scheme on the installed drives, adding high-speed redundancy to their appeal. Finally, because the internal intelligent circuitry, called a controller, is present, these units appear as a single device to the Mac, which makes the formatting process simple and quick. The appropriate HBA is still needed within the Mac to talk to the unit's controller, however.

Three primary bridges used in these types of systems are SCSI-to-ATA/SATA, Fibre-to-ATA/SATA, and FireWire-to-ATA/SATA, where the term before the hyphen is the controller's protocol, and the term after the hyphen is the drive type.

In the relatively new Fibre-to-ATA/SATA category, Apple's Xserve RAID stands out as an attractive option, since it offers sustained data rates necessary for uncompressed 10-bit HD production, even when the drives are configured in RAID 5. You achieve these rates when you bring the two controllers on the Xserve RAID together in RAID 0 using software, which is called RAID 5+0. But many other manufacturers have created systems that compete with the Xserve RAID and provide more availability (fail-proofing) with failover controllers and the capability to RAID more disks together in one array. A Fibre Channel HBA is necessary to connect these devices to your Mac.

SCSI-to-ATA/SATA has been around for some time, and you have many choices. Storage capacity and data speed determine which device meets your needs. Inventiveness also plays a part with these units. For example, Huge System's arrays have a "turbo" feature that places the drives in the array at RAID 3, which is good for redundancy but bad for performance. To counter the performance hit, it limits storage to only the outer sectors of the drives, effectively shutting out the parts of the drives that deliver subpar performance.

The following manufacturers produce Fibre-to-ATA/SATA and SCSI-to-ATA/SATA units:

  • Apple's Xserve RAID (

  • ADTX (

  • Archion

  • Atto Technology (

  • Digistor (

  • Huge Systems (

  • JMR (

  • Medéa (

  • Raid, Inc. (

  • Rorke Data Systems

  • StorCase

FireWire-to-ATA unitscommonly known as basic FireWire drivesare nothing new. But recent advances in controller hardware have made it possible to place multiple (usually two to five) ATA or SATA hard drives inside of a box, and create simple hardware-based RAID 0 or 5 arrays within them. A FireWire bridge allows these arrays to be connected to a simple FireWire bus (usually FW800). In these devices, performance usually drops substantially as the drives fill up, but precautions have been taken for this situation. With G-Tech's G-RAID, for example, the second drive of its two-drive array starts writing data at the center of the platter, as opposed to the outside. Having the two drives write data at opposite sides of their platters evens out the performance as the drives reach full capacity.

Further, almost any FireWire-to-ATA device needs a dedicated FireWire HBA PCI card installed in your machine. The data rates of these HBAs far outperform the built-in FireWire ports of your Mac (especially the G5). FireWire HBAs are also necessary to keep the built-in FireWire ports available for DV decks or products such as AJA's Io.

Although FireWire-to-ATA devices deliver performance for only basic uncompressed SD workflows (less than 80 MB/s sustained), they provide usable storage at appropriate data rates and low prices. This makes them perfect for creating render volumes for systems that are attached to Xsan.

The following manufacturers produce FireWire-to-ATA/SATA units:

  • Archion

  • G-Tech (

  • LaCie (

  • Wiebetech

The Final Comparison: Cost vs. Storage and Speed

With all of the preceding guidelines, finding a device that will meet your needs now and in the future may still be a challenge.

Using the storage capacity size in gigabytes that you calculated earlier, you can draw up a short list of devices that have this capacity. Using the data rate needed for your most ambitious video format, you can further narrow the list with devices in your capacity range that handle sustained data rates comfortably above what you need. Lastly, cost comparisons will hopefully yield a smaller field of devices.

Selecting a Host Bus Adaptor (HBA) Card

Make sure to choose an appropriate PCI-based HBA for the storage system you have selected. The choices are relatively easy.

If you're going Fibre, the best choice is Apple's Fibre HBA card. It beats other manufacturer's two-port card prices by as much as $2,000.

SATA HBAs are relatively new, and at press time offer up to eight external ports. There are also internal multi-port HBAs, but they involve stringing cables from the inside of the Mac to the outside, usually through an open PCI slot, which is not recommended. Two-port external SATA HBAs for two-drive RAIDs provide excellent storage and speeds for SD production. A four-port HBA hosting four drives yields enough bandwidth for 720p HD work. Eight port HBAs, driving eight drives, can provide bandwidth for just about any uncompressed format, as long as you're willing to put up with the RAID not being redundant.

The following manufacturers produce SATA HBAs:

  • Firmtek (

  • HighPoint (

  • NetCell (

  • Sonnet Technologies (

If you're hooking up to a SCSI host, ATTO's UL4S or UL4D cards are about the only ones with reliable, regularly updated drivers. The S model has a single host bus; the D has a dual host bus. Your storage device choice will determine which one you need.

As mentioned earlier, you need a dedicated, separate FireWire HBA to guarantee the lower-speed transfer rates of FireWire-to-ATA/SATA units. Many manufacturers make FireWire HBAs, among them LaCie and Sonnet.

RAID Software

If you chose either of the striped array configurations mentioned earlier, you will need to create a RAID with software. Apple's Disk Utility provides a quick and easy way to create RAID 0 arrays from multiple devices, and since it comes free with your OS, the price is right. However, there are positive rumblings in the industry about SoftRaid (, as it provides greater flexibility with creating RAID 0 arrays and offers slightly better performance optimizations for video work to boot.

Apple Pro Training Series. Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System. A Technical Guide to Real-World Post-Production
Apple Pro Training Series. Optimizing Your Final Cut Pro System. A Technical Guide to Real-World Post-Production
Year: 2004
Pages: 205 © 2008-2017.
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