An Edit Suite On a Budget

On July 21, 2010, in Documentary, Editing, by gregnosaty

I’ve had many people email me recently with questions about building a budget priced edit suite so I decided to blog a bit on the subject. Feel free to add or ask questions because every project and system is unique.

Desktop edit systems with all the bells and whistles can easily cost $10,000 and far beyond. If  you crave one, but you’re on a tight budget my advice is to buy the best machine you can afford. It’s best to start small and farm out what you can’t afford to do yourself, or don’t have the skill set to do well, like audio post or colour grading.

If you are working in HDV or HD 720p or 1080i you have to use an Intel Mac or Windows computer. If you use Adobe CS5 apps you will want Mac OS 10.6 Snow leopard as well. HDV or HD video recorded on a tapless camera system like Panasonic P2 or Sony EX can be easily imported into Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro and AVID.

However the new Apple quad-core iMac’s with the i5 & i7 processors are very fast and affordable, rivalling the speeds of the now very old octo-core MacPros. They lack some of the flexibility of the desktop systems, the most obvious being that there are no PCI Express expansion slots for video capture cards.

If you will be primarily dealing with tapeless media, or if someone else will capture the tape based footage and give it to you on a drive then an iMac or MacBook Pro will do the trick for most video codecs. Although a quad or octo-core MacPro will make rendering and other aspects much faster. In most cases, if you are finishing for broadcast with tape based HD or 3D footage you will need a MacPro with a Kona or Black Magic video capture card, but this technology is improving all the time along with processors and interface speeds.

If you need realtime capture and playback of HD on an iMac or MacBook Pro there are interface boxes, made by AJA and Matrox that give you the option. AJA makes the io HD and io Express and Matrox makes the MXO line of PCIe based solutions, but the MXO will only work with MacBook Pro and MacPro computers. They vary in price from relatively cheap to expensive but they are comparable in price and functionality to their PCI based counterparts: io HD $3500, io Express $1000 and the MXO2 $1600. There are companies that rent these devices so you don’t need to buy them right away if your budget won’t allow.

Hard drives are another issue. To work in HD, especially if it is 1080i, you will need a fast RAID hard drive. A 4 or 5 drive raid 0 or raid 5 drive is sufficient with at least a Firewire 800 connection. eSATA is faster interface but the iMac doesn’t accommodate anything other than USB2 and Firewire 800. PCI and Express Card adaptors are now available from companies like Sonnet but they don’t run on the Mac at the present time.

I have many Sonnet Fusion D500P eSATA RAID’s that have been working well for years. But many other manufacturers make durable RAID’s like: Drobo, G-Tech, Promise Smartstor and Glyph. However if you want eSATA or fibre-channel you will need a MacPro desktop.

MacBook Pro’s, iMac’s and of course MacPro’s come with gigabit ethernet connections which can be used to communicate with high speed RAID drives and shared storage systems. Many server based file sharing edit houses are using iMacs but they also have more muscular networked machines to do a lot of the heavy lifting. MacBook Pro’s and iMac’s also have mini DVI monitor ports which will allow you to connect a second graphic display for more visual realestate which is very nice to have for most post production work.

So in the end my advice is still to buy what you can afford when you need it. It possible to build a system that can suit your need and your budget at the same time. The challenge is to research and find all the right pieces to make it work. The key is to ask lots of questions to people and discussion groups to learn from the experience.

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