Benchmarking the Dell XPS Tower vs the Apple iMac (2019)

Overview

In July of 2019, the Duke Media Productions team was due for an upgrade on our computers. Through a mix of research, budgeting, and consultation, we arrived at two candidates with nearly equivalent specifications: the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition and the 27″ Apple iMac (2019). The price quotes were provided by sales representatives from each manufacturer and are not guaranteed outside of this evaluation. Both machines are summarized below:

Premiere Pro Recommended Specs Dell XPS Tower Special Edition Apple iMac (2019)
Processor Intel 7th Gen or newer Intel Core i9-9900K (8 Core) Intel Core i9-9900K (8 Core)
RAM 32GB for 4K media or higher 64GB 64GB
GPU 4GB of GPU VRAM NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 8GB VRAM Radeon Pro 580X 8GB VRAM
Storage Fast SSD 1TB SSD 1TB SSD
Quote $2479 * $3730**

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Logitech Rally – DDMC Recap

While Logitech has been in the small conference space for some time, when Logitech introduced the Rally platform in the summer of 2018, the AV industry took notice. In essence, the Logitech Rally is a modular video conferencing system for mid- to large-meeting spaces. The platform, coming in two variations, costs $2000 and $2500 respectively. The standard package has a 4K USB PTZ camera, single speaker bar, display hub, table hub, and a single mic pod. The $2500 “Plus” adds an additional speaker pod and mic pod.

Initial Impressions:
We’ve been using the Logitech Rally in our Zoom Room lab for approximately two months, and the experience has been nothing but positive. The PTZ USB camera offers a stunning image and is recognized by the Zoom Room environment. With a few taps of the touch panel, we configured the camera presets with ease. The mic pods have been a pleasant surprise. While unintrusive, they pack the punch necessary for a large room. On a number of occasions we’ve been asked, “What mics are you using? They sound great!” While our configuration doesn’t utilize the two HDMI pass-thru via a Cat 6+ cable, it’s nice knowing that it’s available should we change the setup in the future. As for the speakers, they provide enough audio to fill the room… perhaps too much audio as we’ve had a few complaints.

(Above: Logitech Rally Setup at OIT’s Digitial Media Lab)

So, where would you deploy such a system? Basically, anywhere that is using a soft codec (Microsoft Teams Rooms, Zoom Rooms, Google Hangout Meet), or anywhere you simply want a computer to have access to a nice AV system for WebEx, Skype, etc. Some may argue that $2500 is expensive for a Logitech device, but I’d say that in some small spaces, we’re spending nearly as much, if not more, for a single camera (minus the mics, speakers, transport, etc. etc.). But, when paired with a Zoom Room or similar platform… the Logitech Rally shines.

My only complaint: (and I hope that if I complain enough, they’ll offer it as an option) I’d like to see a hanging mic option for the platform. I’m not sure how they would do that, but it would be a big win from our perspective.

 

Sony PTZ Cameras

Sony visited Duke University’s Technology Engagement Center this past week to review their pan/tilt/zoom (PTZ) camera offerings. Starting at the entry level, Sony showcased the SRG120, ideal for small conference rooms or classrooms on a budget. The optics held up well compared to Sony’s more expensive offerings, but one limitation of the SRG120 is that it can’t be mounted upside down, not a primary concern but something to consider. The SRG360SHE is a mid-tier camera ideally suited for larger event spaces where flexibility is key. The SRG360SHE can send content over an IP network connection, 3G-SDI and HDMI at the same time. The image quality was very clear and the movements were smooth. Rounding out Sony’s top-of-the-line offering, the BRCX1000 is a 4K studio quality PTZ camera ideally suited for production environments where image quality is king. While the $9000+ price tag may scare off many AV folks, when comparing it to the cost of hiring an outside group to film events or a second videographer for multi-cam events, the return on investment can be measured in months.

What PTZ camera review would be complete without control interfaces. Sony demonstrated their new PTZ camera remote controller, the RMIP500. It’s clear Sony has learned from their previous controllers as the PMIP500 has a number of features, such as the ability to lock out areas of the control, that will make controlling your cameras a real joy. It can connect to 100 PTZ cameras and is incredibly customizable. The RMIP10 is Sony’s entry-level control device.

Finally, Sony demonstrated two of their 4K professional monitor. Yes, these are the displays true videographers use when filming their next movie for their legendary clarity and color accuracy. It’s hard to think of a use case at the University side of things, but this is the type of display I’d expect to see in a medical environment where image quality is literally a life or death situation.

Insta360 ONE X

Insta360 steps into the world of action cameras with a big upgrade of their flagship Insta360 ONE.

Here are some high of the features that together are generating a lot of buzz for this device:

  • Retains $399 price
  • Insta360’s trademark FlowState stabilization seems exceptional based on the sample videos shown on the company’s website
  • Optional 5-meter and 30-meter clear housing for diving/ watersports
  • Optional disappearing selfie stick
  • 5.7K 30fps, 4K 50fps, 3K 100fps
  • Optional airplane-shaped “drifter” you can insert the device in and toss for dynamic action shots

Full details: https://www.insta360.com/product/insta360-onex/

 

 

Go Pro Fusion 360 Camera

One of our goals on the DDMC forum over the past couple years has been to keep pace with innovations in 360 camera technology in their application at Duke. We’ve covered milestones from the still awesome Insta360 Nano introduced in early 2017 all the way to the new 6-lens Insta360 Pro 360, which opens the door to 8k in the prosumer sphere. Since GoPro is such an important player in the world of portable action cameras, we wanted to note their foray into the 360 camera space with their new Go Pro Fusion (~$700.00). While the claim GoPro makes that the Fusion is “arguably the most versatile creative tool ever made” is, well, arguable, it is an interesting camera and worth considering if you’re planning on purchasing a 360 camera.

As you would expect from a company built around sports footage, one of the benefits of the Go Pro is its durable design and the thinking that has gone into how the Fusion can function as an ergonomic accessory for someone engaged in physical activity. For example, it has a solid hand-held design and can be extended using a disappearing selfie stick that most reviewers seem to appreciate. In addition, it can be voice activated to make it easy when operating the unit from a distance.

Benefits

  • Durable housing
  • Selfie stick attachment disappears when aligned with camera body
  • Built-in image stabilization (non-gimbal)
  • High res (5.2K)
  • “OverCapture” is a well-conceived framework for accessing and exporting segments of video in post production
  • Voice control

Drawbacks

  • One of the significant differences between the Fusion and other 360 cameras is the requirement for two SD cards, and the fact that each of the two lenses writes their footage separately to each card. This means that in order for you to obtain a full 360 video you’ll need to use the editing software, which adds time and difficulty to the process of creating a video. Takes a long time to export footage. Between 20 and 45 minutes per minute of footage in GoPro Fusion Studio.
  • Large files sizes for exported videos: ~4.5 GB/ minute at 5.2K in Pro Res format (~ 1 GB/minute at 4K H.264)
  • The unit can get hot when operating
  • Mobile software hasn’t been getting great reviews

Here is a fairly through review of the Fusion that delves into many of the nuances of the Fusion and could be helpful if you’re considering making a purchase:

Insta360 Pro: 360 Video in 8K

When viewing 360 video with a VR headset, a high resolution can make the difference between an immersive experience and a blurry novelty. We’ve recently been working with the Insta360 Pro which is capable of filming in 8K and it’s produced some of the sharpest 360 video I’ve seen yet.

Like other 360 cameras we’ve tested recently (such as the Garmin VIRB) operating the Insta360 Pro is a relatively simple procedure of point and shoot (or in the case of filming in 360, just shoot). After a minute-long boot-up sequence, you just navigate to the video icon in the camera’s menu screen and hit enter. An Android/iOS app will also allow you to remotely control the recording. In addition to recording in 8K, you can also configure the camera to record in 3D/stereoscopic 360, or up to 120 frames per second, though not all at once. Prioritizing a high FPS or 3D means reducing the resolution to 6K or 4K.

Once turned on, the camera’s cooling fan will start running which is quite noisy. This could be an issue for video where you’ll want to use the spatial audio. However, upgrading the camera’s firmware will allow you to turn the camera off while recording for fifteen minutes at a time. You have the option of immediately recording again, though I’d be wary of the camera overheating.

At lower resolutions, each of the videos from the six lenses will be stitched in real time in-camera. But for 8K, you’ll need to bring the videos into Insta360’s proprietary stitching software, which requires the camera’s serial number and a user registration to download and operate. Though it’s a bit of a hassle to get set up, I found the actual stitching process straightforward while still allowing for a lot of customization. It allows for batch exports, compression to lower resolutions, and offers a low-res preview of the final video.

For the project we’re working on, we wanted viewing the 360 videos to be both immersive and accessible. The solution we found was to load the video onto an Oculus Go, a wireless VR headset. At $200, it seemed like the best compromise to get a full 360 experience. While the 4K and 3D videos have looked great, we haven’t been able to playback 8K video on the device. This remains one of the biggest challenges to working with 8K video at this point, let alone 8K 360 video: there’s simply not many places to actually view it. For now, I’m already impressed with the quality of the Insta360 Pro’s 4K output, even if it’s not the full capability of the camera.

DISH Network SlingStudio DDMC Visit

DISH Network visited the Duke’s Technology Engagement Center (TEC) this past week to showcase their SlingStudio offering. The best way to describe the SlingStudio, in terms of the environment, is a disruptive multi-camera video production ecosystem focused on entry-level to mid-sized productions, the sweet spot of higher education. Historically, producing and streaming a multi-camera event was expensive (as in $10,000 plus expensive), complicated on both a hardware and software level and usually required 2-3 people to pull off even the most rudimentary event. The SlingStudio re-norms those expectations.

The $999 SlingStudio Hub acts as the heart of the system, allowing a user to hard connect one HDMI input and a range of mobile devices (such as an iPhone) to act as alternative inputs. If you’re interested in adding higher-end cameras (DSLR or consumer/prosumer/pro video cameras) you’ll need a $349 SlingStudio CameraLink per camera to connect to the system. Up to ten devices can be added to the platform for a multi-camera event. And, if you’re interested in going mobile, a $149 battery is available.

The software is incredibly easy to use. Having only seen YouTube demos of the interface, I was able to start switching content within minutes… more like seconds. You can simply drag the content you see to the live window, and boom… it switches. The best part is, the SlingStudio Console App walks a fine line between offering a simple user interface and an interface professionals will appreciate. SlingStudio elegantly hides advanced features away… but they are still a part of the platform. Groups that film multi-camera events, where they edit the footage in post-production, can look at this system as a means of significantly reducing the time necessary to get their content to the public, a key advantage in our SEO world, not to mention being “done” with an event.

With such an expansive ecosystem, it’s impossible to detail every aspect of the platform. That said, DISH Network indicated that they would be happy to offer up a demo unit for further testing. If we find the right event, we’ll make sure to post our findings. It’s an exciting time to be AV and marketing fields.

360˚ to 2D Video Editing In Final Cut X

We recently acquired a Garmin VIRB to expand our production offerings here in the OIT Academic Media Technology department.  The small form factor, built in omnidirectional microphone and ability to capture 360 degrees of video make it an ideal tool for acquiring images in a variety of creative circumstances where total visual immersion is desired.  The viewer can pick and choose whatever they want to focus on (with minimal direction about subject importance conveyed via camera orientation.) The one caveat however is that in order to view 360˚ video, one needs to have a 3D capable headset to view the content, thereby making most 360˚ video a novelty only useful for specific circumstances…

The Garmin VIRB

Or so I thought.

Turns out 360˚ video can be integrated into 2D timeline sequences in Final Cut Pro X!

What are the advantages and applications of this approach?  The first advantage is that this allows for inconspicuous camera placement that covers everything within the 360˚ field of view.  Traditionally multiple cameras shooting with overlapping fields of view were required to document events.  By placing the VIRB in the center of the action, we were able to acquire every subject in our mock roundtable.  The VIRB had a slight capture issue due to my positioning on the periphery of the field of view of the two lenses but otherwise it performed quite well.  As stated before 360˚ video lacks restrictions o the viewer.  Initial vantage points can be established in editing, however the viewer is allowed to look wherever they choose.  This is problematic for academic presentation where key concepts need to be identified.  To put it succinctly, 360 is great for rollercoasters but terribly distracting for roundtable discussions.  This is where the 3D to 2D conversion comes in.

Peripheral shot from the VIRB with some lens aberration.  Notice the ghosting on my face?

After capture I imported the 4K video into Final Cu tX off of the VIRB’s micro SD card.  The import process was as simple as importing 2D video.  I then created a 2D 720P Project sequence to edit my 360˚ video in.  I dragged the video into the timeline and sliced the video where I wanted the “cuts” between focal points to happen using the omnidirectional audio for cue points. 

I then clicked on each of the sliced clips and reoriented the camera position to focus on the new subjects based on the pan, tilt, and roll sliders.  I was also about to constrain the field of view using the Field of View Slider.

 

While I did shoot 4K, I did notice some degradation in image quality if the Field of View slider enlarged the image too much so  I recommend that you place you subjects as close to the camera as possible within the field of view if reframing is going to be necessary.  What you end up getting is a sequence that looks like a perfect multicamera shoot.  Check out the final result below!

 

Overall I enjoyed my experience with 360˚ video and this 2D implementation discovery!

This Isn’t Your Grandma’s JPEG, or Your Grandma’s Internet

Thanks to Libby Evans for finding this excellent article coming fresh out of NAB this year that highlights a couple of the infrastructure changes that are likely to help power the coming revolutions in AR/VR

  1. A new standard from the Joint Photographic Experts Group who brought us the ubiquitous JPEG standard, called JPEG XS, which offers “visually lossless quality” and compression ratios up to 6:1. JPEG XS will support up to 8k video and frame rates between 24 and 120fps.
  2. New 5G networks, which recent tests have show could offer as high as 442Mbps data rates. This huge advance could help pave the way for the exponential increases new technologies like AR and VR and likely to require.

Group Behind JPEG Unveils New ‘visually lossless’ Compression Standard for VR/AR and More

Epson Demonstrates Pro L1300U

This past week, Epson provided an overview of their Pro L1300U projector at the Technology Engagement Center. The projector is an impressive 8,000-lumen beast, specifically designed for medium to large environments where image and color accuracy matters.

The laser light engine is designed to provide 20,000 hours of near maintenance-free service. If you’ve ever seen an AV technician’s eyes light up when they talk about laser projectors… it’s due to the reality that they wouldn’t need to service the projector for nearly 10+ years under normal usage scenarios. For example, if a projector is used six hours a day, five days a week, for 50 weeks a year, that’s about 1500 hours a year. Divide 1500 by the expected 20,000 life of the laser engine, and we’re looking at about 13 and a half years! Now if we could only get the faculty, staff, and students to turn off the projectors (half kidding).

Key Features:
Image Quality: While the projector has a native WUXGA resolution of 1920×1200, it also has a “4K enhancement feature.” Wait… don’t close your browser just yet. I’m generally suspicious of such “marketing-ese,” but it actually seemed to work as advertised. The image seemed to be somewhere between 1920×1200 and a 4K image in terms of quality, so chalk me up to impressed.

Service: Epson offers a good service plan for high use cases. If something should fail with the projector while it’s under warranty, you can get a replacement drop-shipped overnight. That’s music to my AV technician’s ears and sets Epson apart from some of the low-end projector manufacturers.

Lens Options: Simply put, Epson has an impressive array of unique lens options for their projectors. Access the right lens can make or break an AV install in a unique space.

Chameleon Mode: Wouldn’t it be nice if you could swap out your non-Epson projector with a new Epson, and not need to reprogram the AV system? Yes, this is a feature of Epson’s current generation of projectors. You can set the projector to respond to commands from a number of other projector manufacturers. Considering the cost of having an AV system reprogrammed, this could be a great cost-saving measure if you aren’t happy with your current projector or want to test an Epson in your space before purchasing.

As the price of laser projectors fall, Epson continues to lead the pack in many ways and their “sneak peek” roadmap seemed to reinforce that opinion. We look forward to seeing their new offerings soon.