Affordable alternatives at IBC: high definition post and beyond

Affordable alternatives at IBC: high definition post and beyond

Bob Pank

AMSTERDAM — Five months is a long time in technology–certainly enough for affordable HD post to make significant moves forward from NAB. Although IBC is a truly international show with 1,000 exhibitors, most visitors are from Europe–that broadcast HD-free zone … well almost. The Euro 1080 satellite channel, now renamed HDI, has been on air since January of this year and post houses are now rapidly adopting HD.

Already, many broadcast players have been stirred into showing their HD cards, including BSkyB with multiple channels coming on stream in 2006. Others include TPS, TFI and M6 in France, and Oy (HTV) cable in Finland. More will follow. There was some format confusion with a reported serious consideration by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) of adopting 720/50p. The result of my straw pole was a “disastrous” vote by all. After all, we already have 576 active lines, 1080 is a common image format, and who wants another HD format? All this was background noise to the busy foreground activities of the growing band of suppliers offering uncompressed, affordable HD systems. These, along with associated tools and technologies, indicate the direction of tomorrow’s HD post.

At NAB, Matrox ( said, “See us at IBC.” Right on cue, their new Axio HD and SD editors were up and running with uncompressed realtime HD 8- and 10-bit capability. The first focus is on the most popular 1080-line formats that are available now; 720-line formats will come in the next release. Matrox is using Adobe Premiere Pro editing software and the demo showed the system working well and offering a wide range of integrated tools, including primary and secondary color correction, speed changes, 3D DVE, chroma keying, realtime blur and more. The system supports EDL, including those from Premiere, as well as support for AAF. There is a breakout box for video and audio connections, including SDI at HD and SD, as well as AES/EBU audio. There is also a 1394 connection ready for other formats.

Long-time tradeshow aisle walkers will already be wary of overused sales terms. Two examples are “broadcast quality” used to describe compression systems and the more recent “realtime” for nonlinear edit systems that can take forever to produce the final result–more prevalent in HD. Matrox has addressed these points as uncompressed operation at 10 bits should guarantee some quality, and they showed two layers of video and two of graphics–with effects–all running together in realtime. With total system cost running at around $20K, this looks like a good value.


Some big post systems offer a wide range of capabilities but Imagineer Systems ( has concentrated on making some specific complex tasks much easier, quicker and affordable. Following their success with the motion keyer Mokey, they showed the production version of the resolution-independent Monet. Developed for broadcast, film and video work, it offers a start-to-finish solution for the often-complex task of element replacement. The demo looked easy, but then demos always do. More convincing was a quoted real-life example where, after only short training, a raw recruit completed a tricky high quality replacement job in three and a half days that was booked for five days on a hero system with a hero operator. That’s progress and it’s affordable at around $11,000 for the software or $27,000 for a complete package.

The driving forces behind affordable HD post go well beyond the power of the latest PC/Mac CPUs. For example, graphics cards are advancing apace and NVidia ( has made an impact with its Quadro FX4000 series. Among many users, Discreet showed it connected to Lustre providing realtime, high quality image scaling between 2K and HD or SD and vice versa, while also applying unique 3D LUTs to the broadcast HD monitor and the CRT UI. Among many users, Discreet applies them to provide realtime resize of 2K images–apparently using only 40 percent of the power–and color LUTs tasks. NVidia predicts that the power growth of their GPUs (graphics processing units) will continue to outstrip that of CPUs by a wide margin, with multiple operations from PCI Express cards possible early in 2005. But already Nucoda (, claiming more programming of the FX4000 GPU than most, has achieved what executive chairman Peter Lambert, calls “something of a breakthrough”–12 layers of realtime secondary color correction at 4K resolution on their Film Master finishing solution.

A more general source of high-speed computational power is available from Aspex Semiconductor ( with their Linedancer offering 4096 processors on a chip. IBC saw the new Accelera, a full length PCI Express card with four Linedancers working in parallel to offer core processing algorithms typically running 20 to 40 times faster than a high-end dual processor PC platform. Linedancer is already used to good effect in Imagineer’s Monet package.

Affordable HD often appeals to startups and smaller organisations. Sanbolic ( with its Melio product offers a low-cost, high-speed and robust way to connect and grow with their approach to shared storage SAN solutions. At a cost of $4,000 per workstation, local storage can move to create a shared open file system with uncompressed HD bandwidth, and more, available for each user. A four-user SAN with 8TB of shared storage comes to just $24,000.

Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic Design ( declares, “I want to create technical democracy and let the talent rise to the top.” The latest releases include DeckLink Multibridge, an all-in-one analog converter and breakout box for $1,995, the Workgroup Videohub dual-rate SD and HD 12 X 24 video router for $4,995 and the DeckLink HD Plus HDSDI interface card, which includes digital audio and genlock at $995. This rapidly expanding range of low-priced, high-quality conversion and interface products is making a big contribution to affordable HD.


Amazingly, the affordable tag now extends beyond HD. A completely new player at IBC, Assimilate ( showed its debut product, Scratch. This is a DI workstation featuring multi-resolution timeline operation at up to 2K resolution and aimed at creating a straightforward, simple workflow to make DI affordable. CEO Jeff Edson states, “Our vision has a specific focus: empower creative professionals with a simplified, integrated and completely realtime 2K DI pipeline. With Scratch, the barrier to entry for high-quality film production is now eliminated for independent filmmakers and small boutique production houses.”

Significantly, Scratch does not use proxies: operators only work from full resolution files. That’s good news for those preparing work for the big screen, where the smallest error will show up. The features include DPX file handling, review, playback (including film LUTs), assemble, edit, conform, primary color grade, scratch audio and visual effects (plug-ins from SpeedSix and The Foundry). All components, including the software developers kit (SDK), are built on open architecture standards–holding the door wide open for third-party developers. The basic price is $35,000 and a typical complete system, including high-rez monitoring and 1.4TB of disk storage, lists at under $55,000. This snapshot of IBC activity points to a growing trend of HD adoption and lower equipment pricing while maintaining quality. Note the absence of proxies and compression; despite the heavier demands on storage, processing and data handling, there is a range of products that mean HD post can be run uncompressed, in realtime and at very affordable prices.



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