(Freemont Street light show – I was in Vegas this weekend)
I am on the verge of buying a new edit system for my next project, so I thought that I’d take this opportunity to talk about setting up a good working system. Unfortunately I won’t get into exact details on OS versions and QT versions, because that is information that I and others keep closely guarded as this is information we use for consulting. But I would like to explain the general steps and reasons for those steps.
First off, lemme get into the specs of the system. This machine will be one of four edit systems on an XSAN shared network storage, so the specs of this machine will need to match the other 3 exactly. Not that you MUST do it this way, but the more the machines are the same, the better. I will be getting a Dual Core 3.0 Ghz Mac Pro with 4GB of RAM and a 4GB Fibre card. I will also be getting a Kona 3 with K-Box and the AJA HD10AVA mini converter so that I can convert analog signals into HD SDI, since those are the only inputs the Kona 3 has. Finally I will be getting an Intel Mac, after relying on my trusty Dual 2.0 GHz G5 for 2.5 years (It will still see regular use, just as my home system).
On this I will install Final Cut Pro Studio, Adobe Creative Suite 3 (mainly for Photoshop and After Effects), Panasonic P2CMS and HDLog, as we will be dealing with P2 footage. I might get Firefox on there as I like it better than Safari, but that is about it, besides the drivers for the Kona card, which is a given. No games, no funky widgets, no neat little applications from versiontracker.com. The OS and versions of Quicktime will all be exactly the same as the other three machines. All of the Final Cut Studio apps will be updated to the exact same versions. AND WE WILL NEVER EVER EVER PERFORM ANY AUTOMATIC SOFTWARE UPDATES ON THESE SYSTEMS. It is never advisable to do that. Go into the System Preferences and turn that option off. Ignore every prompt iTunes sends you asking to update to the latest version. We are going to inform every editor to NOT update the machines in any way. Print out, in big bold letters on a sheet of paper, “DO NOT RUN ANY SYSTEM UPDATES ON THIS COMPUTER.” Put it on the wall behind each edit station. A simple system update, even to iTunes, can throw a system out of whack and suddenly it won’t work well with the others, and the system administrator will have to wipe the system clean and install everything from scratch, and that is not a way I like to spend my day. When an update says “adds enhanced functionality to Quicktime. Recommended for all Apple users,” don’t believe it. Apple is lying to you…well, that little blurb is lying to you. Sorry, but you have to believe this. This Quicktime update might be designed for Apple’s new video rental system, and often very little consideration or testing was done with Final Cut Pro and the third party hardware you have installed, so there is no guarantee it will work. Don’t do it.
This is the key to a solid functional editing machine. And when you are in a shared editing environment, you really should use exactly same machines, versions of OS, Quicktime components and versions of the software. Any deviation from this can lead to issues. Very often I have seen on the forums people trying to work on the same project but on different systems. From completely different systems like an Intel iMac and a PowerPC G5, one running FCP 6.0.2 and the other running FCP 5.0.4….to two systems running FCP 6.0.2, but one is a Dual G5 and the other is a Quad Intel MacPro. Obviously you will have issues with the iMac and G5, as the versions of FCP are very different. The only solution there is to exchange XML files of your sequences. Obviously this is far from ideal. And you would think that the Mac Pro and the G5 running the same versions of FCP and QT should work, but often they don’t. The wonderful “the project is unreadable or too new for this version of Final Cut” might rear its ugly head, and you are stuck. It doesn’t seem to make any sense…you have the same versions of everything. Well, it could be that one computer is running a different version of the OS than the other computer. And if they are both running the same version of the OS, then it might be the fact that one machine is running a PowerPC processor and the other is Intel processor based. So many factors, and such small ones that you wouldn’t think they’d matter. But they do.
Why would that matter? Well, I am not an engineer so I can’t even fake my way through an explanation. Other than small system enhancements and applications might run some system resource that interferes with FCP or QT in some way. So the need to not have your machine cluttered with applications, and the need for everything to match as exact as possible (even down to the RAM manufacturer) is very important in maintaining a solid shared storage editing solution. This has always been the rule on the Avid editing platform…specific versions of everything, and all the machines running the same version of everything. Big notes on the wall warning against running system updates. Being on a FCP system doesn’t change the fact that specific
But what if you aren’t in a shared storage environment, as I’ll wager 90% or more of you will never find yourself in. Finding and maintaining the perfect balance can be a difficult and time consuming thing. Once you find it, DO NOT MESS WITH IT. Same advice on automatic updates applies. DON’T DO IT. If you are a professional, avoiding the updates and neat widgets and small cute applications might be an easy thing, because your work computer is only for work. If you use the computer professionally, then find your balance, install the applications you need to do your job, then leave your machine alone.
This is a bit more difficult for all of you prosumers, semi-pros, independent film makers and hobbyists. You might use your machine for not just editing, but all of your e-mail and web surfing and playing games. So you might need that update to iTunes and Quicktime so that you can rent those movies online like you have been wanting to do forever. Just know that in doing that you might damage your ability to edit. If you can, have the one machine for editing and get a second machine for web surfing and word processing and e-mail. If you simply cannot afford to do that, I understand I’ve been there myself when I was starting out. I had an iBook that I used for editing and for everything else I did. In this case, before you updated it would be wise to clone your working OS to a firewire drive so in case the updates mess things up, you can always go back to your working OS. I use Carbon Copy Cloner (found at www.versiontracker.com) to clone my hard drive before I perform any updates. And I recommend firewire drives because they are bootable, and you will need the drive to be bootable if you want to clone this system back to your machine. You’ll need to wipe the machine drive clean, then clone back the OS on the firewire drive.
OK…sorry for the long post. I hope even though I had to be vague with details that the overall general points I make are helpful. I have spent many an hour and day fixing editing machines that have had some small update mess things up…dating back to Avid Media Composers running version 6.5 on NuBus Macs. It isn’t fun to fix, and is frustrating to find that one simple extension was the cause for the edit system not working properly. Play it safe, err on the side of caution and never ever mess with a working system, unless the update provides functionality that you need in your workflow (added support for new camera formats). And always cover your ass by cloning your system.