Thursday, August 25, 2011

Flame ain't all that

The facility that I'm building at the moment has a couple of Flame Premium suites - the very best version of Autodesk's TV and film compositing and finishing tool. Now I know very little about Autodesk products - I've never really worked in facilities where they were used. Flame, Smoke and the rest of them have been around for nearly twenty years and so you'd think they are what software people would describe as "mature products".
Anyway - a currently model Flame runs on an HP Z800 workstation with a Kona K3 card for video i/o (more about that in a minute!), an nVidia 4500 for desktop and their own proprietary fibre attached storage called "stone". They can typically handle two streams of 2k in realtime.
All very good, but everything is specified in a system - even down to the Eizo monitor you can use for the desktop display. This is because the SDi output for preview (which is not the output of the K3) is made by looping the 2nd DVI output of the graphics card into a daughter card that converts it to SDi. Consequentially you often see bits of the GUI on the HD video monitor. Now the reason for them specifying a certain model of GUI monitor becomes evident - they have to run the output at a rate near video for the DVI output to be convertible! This gets even more silly when you find out you have to use their own provided long DisplayPort cable to run it. We'd run in LC loose-tube fibre with DVI extenders which initially only worked whilst Linux was booting in text mode (i.e. before the X11 display subsystem could run). I had to throw in a Lindy EDID manager to fool Linux into thinking it really had the Eizo directly connected before we could run the desktop (and hence the Flame application).
This, along with a ton of little bits that the kit ships with; an 8-port ethernet hub, Lucid AES->analogue converters etc gives the impression they expect you to install the system on your dining room table rather than in a pro video facility. It really has the feel of a v.7 Avid from 1996! Cobbled together from third-party bits and only just running (everything on the hairy edge).
It reminds me of the Abekas DVEous (again, 1996) - one of the design engineers confided in me that if every bit of silicon on the video-processing board only performed to published spec then the system couldn't work. They relied on everything outperforming itself.

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