15 Jun Small Tree is streamlining digital video editing
Chippewa Valley-based Small Tree Communications, a supplier of high-performance networking solutions for the Apple Macintosh platform, recently announced a new software protocol called Blaze, expected to ship in the third quarter of 2005, that could streamline the emerging field of High-Definition digital video editing.
Blaze will make it easier for Mac OS X setups to use file-sharing services on the newer high-end 10 gigabit Ethernet cards. It will have a cost of $1,000 for a ten-user license, with prices for the 25-user and unlimited site licenses yet to be determined.
While the move to digital video has made editing a cleaner process in many ways, it has also placed an enormous burden on computer networks. Uncompressed digital video takes up about 13 gigabytes per hour of footage, and the newer high-definition digital video is even denser, weighing in at over half a terabyte for one hour.
Editing HD can therefore be a cumbersome process. Instead of directly editing the uncompressed media over the network, editing houses are more likely to build complex arrays that can bundle multiple network connections together, work with compressed versions for editing purposes, or work directly off of tape decks.
The prices on 10 gigabit Ethernet cards, which would be more than enough to handle those bandwidth needs, are likely to go down in the future, but Seeber says that is still not enough. The networking protocols of most computers have been set up to accommodate older connections and legacy protocols, limiting the overall file-sharing capacity.
The NFS protocol, the basis for most UNIX-based networked storage, dates all the way back to the 1980s and has bottlenecks in the system that weren’t an issue for the more primitive computers of that time, which had low memory and storage and network speeds. As such, the hardware is therefore unable to live up to its full potential on a given file-sharing stream, topping out at about 80 megabytes/second for the fastest streams.
“Nowadays machines have multiple gigabytes of RAM, very fast storage, very fast hard drives, and our networks are very fast, but we’re still using NFS,” said Chris Rock, CG director of CritterPix Studios, a computer animation house in Marin County, California. “It’s a slow protocol, it doesn’t really take advantage of all our machines can offer nowadays.”
Seeber, whose company approached the Mac platform with backgrounds as Unix programmers, recognized the problem. “So we decided to develop from the ground up a brand-new implementation that’s not encumbered by the legacy of Sun’s and Apple’s file-sharing protocol,” Seeber said.
Blaze is a propriety software protocol for networking on the Mac OS X platform. While Seeber can’t tell all the details of how it works, it essentially takes advantage of OS X’s Unix-like underpinnings to optimize network calls in the system and increasing file-sharing bandwidth, thus allowing uncompressed HD to be directly received and worked with over a network without the extra steps of file transfers or offline compression.
“That’s something that would probably revolutionize things right now,” according to John Louder, director of engineering for High Technology Video, a Los Angeles-based editing firm, “because we’ve been touch with people who have NAS systems and their biggest problem is that with one-gig Ether, unless we bind a bunch of channels together…then we can’t get the throughput.”
While HTV and other editing houses are able to work directly off the server, it’s nevertheless through a much more elaborate network setup that cost Louder’s firm about $300,000 for the cross-platform setup to achieve the needed speeds of 300 megabytes/second.
Louder cautioned, however, that bringing down the price on the software protocols alone would not spur widespread adoption of ten-gigabit Ethernet. Instead, he predicted it would be at least a year before 10-gigabit Ethernet cards, which currently retail for over $1,000 per client, would come down in price sufficiently to justify adoption.
“You know, somebody comes with a breakthrough price and the hardware drops, hey I’m sure everybody will grab a hold of it.”
Blaze was previewed last week at Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference, and Small Tree president Corky Seeber was pleased with the reception he received at WWDC, which included movie directors and other media editors, an industry that has tended to have a large Mac presence.
“We had some media attention. We had video-rendering houses, specifically. We also had the video-editing folks contact us and also people who are moving large files, which would include the publication and graphic arts industry.”