Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Quantel eQ

In the eighties (when I was working in engineering at BBC Television News) I was in post-production maintenance with responsibility for (amoungst other things) a bunch of origional series Quantel Paintboxes (they became ¨Classic Paintboxes¨ when the V-Series hardware was launched). I knew those things inside-out. They were so elegantly designed and logically laid out that maintaining them was a joy and I could figure out which board had a fault in a couple of minutes and get it down to the chip in twenty.
After I left the Beeb I had virtually no dealings with Quantel. I used to see them at trade shows but it's always hard getting past the marketing to see what the real engineering is. They've regularly published a little book called The Quantel Digital Fact Book (which should, in truth, have been called The Quantel Digital Lie Book!) - essentially it was a bunch of marketing spun up to look like engineering. One article entitled ¨Resolution Independence - a universal panacea?¨ banged on about how a single platform couldn't support differing TV standards properly. They dropped that particular bit of fiction when they introduced resolution independent equipment! The superiority of 8-bit video was another myth they propogated (and I heard a number of otherwise sensible Soho engineers repeat that bit of nonsense) - again, they stopped saying that when their kit started to do 10-bit.
Anyhow - last week I was installing an eQ workstation and made a few suprising observations;

  • It's now a PC! They use an industry standard Intel server board (dual Xeons) with commodity drives (SATA) and graphics card (Radeon X800).
  • The video i/o card is bought in - although I couldn't get a good look at it I'm pretty sure it was a DVS Centurus card - as used in Clipsters, Baselights etc.
  • I saw an AMC sticker inside - we've used those guys to integrate specialised computers for us - they do a good job but I was suprised to see them building Quantel machines!
  • They include all of the extenders you might need to get USB and SVGA to the suite - it's nice to see that they still cling to the notion that equipment belongs in a machine room and people in the edit suite - Avid would do well to learn this!
Although the eQ in question had a fault and I didn't get to see it running reliably it does seem that Quantel (although having gone to commodity hardware even more so than Avid) take seriously the idea of a professional application. It seemed snappy, launching quickly and responding really well. I suppose it your heritage is in expensive hardware that was built for one job only you have a good set of pointers.

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