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 (the fine folks at Adobe were incredibly helpful) , we arrived at two candidates with nearly equivalent specifications: the Dell XPS Tower Special Edition and the 27″ Apple iMac (2019).  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
Price $3,564.72* $4,480.60**

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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.

Zoom Room – Make it Work!

While demoing a Zoom Room, I sometimes get the all-too-familiar look of “I get it… this is great and all, but our students, faculty, and/or staff want a simple solution. They don’t want to download an app, wireless sharing isn’t their thing, and they don’t even know what AirPlay is…” Those are some rather significant hurdles in a technology forward room, but Zoom Room is prepared for the challenge.

By simply connecting a laptop to the system via HDMI (technically, the HDMI is connected to an HDMI to USB adaptor, that’s connected to the Zoom Room computer), the content is automatically shared to the Zoom Room screen(s). No touchscreen navigation required, no “share to monitor” button needed, nothing. It really doesn’t get any easier. The only “gotcha” would be that there are only three HDMI to USB adaptors currently supported (Magewell, Inogeni, and Logitech).

We’re looking forward to further testing this feature over the coming days, along with CEC controls via the touchscreen.

More Info: Wired HDMI Screen Share Via Capture Device

 

Turn Your iPad into a Wireless Second Touch Display for your Mac

Luna Display is a rather inexpensive hardware dongle, USB-C or mini DisplayPort, that allows you to turn an iPad into a wireless second touch monitor for your Mac. Although there are apps on the market that provide similar functionality, those are primarily software based, which can introduce more lag and reduced image quality. They also usually require you to be tethered to your laptop via lightening cable, which also affects the Mac’s CPU and battery life. In comparison, Luna is much faster and more responsive with much better screen quality since it’s hardware based.

Possible Use Cases:

  • For those who travel, it can increase productivity by expanding your workspace.
  • For faculty and instructors, this can be extremely useful for demonstrating Mac applications while remaining mobile.
  • For anyone wanting a second monitor that’s touch.

 

https://lunadisplay.com/

October 2018 Adobe Creative Cloud Update Part 1: Adobe Premiere Pro

It’s fall, pumpkin spice is in the air, the holidays are Christmas decorations are going up, and software giant has just released updates to their entire Creative Cloud suite of applications.  Because the updates are so extensive, I’ve decided to do a multi-part series of DDMC entries that focuses on the new changes in detail for Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop/Lightroom, and a new app Premiere Rush.  I just downloaded Rush today to my phone to put it through it’s paces so I’m saving that application for last but my first rundown of Premiere Pro’s new features is ready to go!

END TO END VR 180

Premiere Pro supports full native video editing for 180 VR content with the addition of a virtual screening room for collaboration.  Specific focal points can be tagged and identified in the same way you would in your boring 2D content.  Before you had to remove your headset to do any tagging but now you can keep your HMD (Head Mounted Display) on and keep cutting.  I’m just wetting my feet with VR but I can see how this could revolutionize the workflow for production houses integrating VR into their production workflow.  Combined with the robust networking features in Premiere Pro and symbiotic nature of the Adobe suite of applications this seems like a nice way to work on VR projects with a larger collaborative scope.

DISPLAY COLOR MANAGEMENT

Adobe has integrated a smart new feature that takes some of the guesswork out of setting your editing station color space.  Premiere Pro can now establish the color space of your particular monitor and adjust itself accordingly to compensate for color irregularities across the suite.  Red stays red no matter if it’s displayed in Premiere Pro, After Effects, or Photoshop!

INTELLIGENT AUDIO CLEANUP

Premiere Pro can now scan your audio and clean it up using two new sliders in the Essential Sound panel.  DeNoise and DeReverb allow you to remove background audio and reverb from your sound respectively.  Is it a replacement for quality sound capture on site?  No.  But it does add an extra level of simplicity that I’ve only experienced in Final Cut Pro so I’m happy about this feature.

PERFORMANCE IMPROVEMENTS

Premiere Pro is faster all around but if you’re cutting on a Mac you should experience a notable boost due to the new hardware based endcoding and decoding for H.264 and HEVC codecs.  Less rendering time is better rendering time.

SELECTIVE COLOR GRADING

Lumetri Color tools and grades are becoming more fine tuned.  This is a welcome addition as Adobe discontinued Speedgrade and folded it into Premiere Pro a while ago.  All your favorite Lumetri looks still remain but video can be adjusted to fit the color space of any still photo or swatch you like.  Colors can also be isolated and targeted for adjustment which is cool if you want to change a jacket, eye, or sky color.

EXPANDED FORMAT SUPPORT

Adobe Premiere now supports ARRI Alexa LF, Sony Venice V2, and the HEIF (HEIC) capture format used by iPhone 8 and iPhone X.

DATA DRIVEN INFOGRAPHICS

Because of the nature of my work as a videographer for an institution of higher education this feature actually has me the most excited.  Instrutional designers are constantly looking for ways to “jazz up” their boring tables into something visually engaging.  Now there is a whole slew of visual options with data driven infographic.  All you have to provide is the data in spreadsheet form then you can drag and drop in on one of the many elegant templates to build lower thirds, animated pie charts, and more.  It’s a really cool feature I plan to put through it’s paces on a few projects in place of floating prefabricated pie charts.

All these new additions make Adobe Premiere Pro a solid one stop editing platform but combined with the rest of the Adobe suite, one can easily see the endless pool of creative options that make it an industry standard!

Stay tuned for Part II:  Adobe Rush!

Elgato Link Cam

I’m always a little surprised when an inexpensive piece of AV that I’ve been secretly lusting after actually delivers on the audio and video goodness I seek. Elgato was nice enough to send us a demo unit of their Cam Link that I mentioned in a previous post. The Elgato Cam Link has one core function, and if you understand what it’s designed to do, it performs that function exceptionally well. Oh, and did I mention it’s cheap!

Every AV technician has been asked, “Why can’t I use my fancy new [insert $500+ camcorder or DLSR (with HDMI output)] with WebEx, Facebook, YouTube, Skype, GoToMeeting, etc.? Simple… because you need an HDMI to USB converter… and it’s not as simple as adding a $4 cable from Monoprice (for now). Until the Cam Link arrived on the market, that conversion process was either rather expensive at $300+ or complicated by the requirement of special drivers or software. The Cam Link is considerably more consumer focused in both price and ease of use.

So, what does Elgato’s device do?
In essence, the Cam Link takes an HDMI (High-Definition Multimedia Interface) signal and converts it to a UVC (USB Video Class) friendly output. So, you can connect an HDMI output from a higher end video camera, AV system, gaming system, laptop, etc. to this device, and the Cam Link will output the video and audio over USB to a computer. And because the Cam Link is UVC compliant, it functions without additional drivers with Windows, Mac, and Linux. Now, this functionality has been around for some time, but at a price… both financial and technical.

There have been a number of articles written about this device from a consumer electronics and gaming perspective, so I’ll focus on how the Cam Link could be used in higher education. I see this device being ideal for:

  • Improving your WebEx, Facebook Live, YouTube, Skype Sessions
    If you are looking to upgrade from a webcam, this is your device. You’ll be able to connect many consumer and professional cameras to the Elgato Cam Link (anything from a GoPro to a $5K+ Sony camera should work wonderfully). You will immediately notice an image quality improvement. Also, depending upon your camera, it may improve and/or simplify your audio capture options (I’ll leave that for another post).
  • Simple Video Conversion
    Yep, occasionally AV techs are asked to make backups (with permission) of VHS cassettes for use in a classroom. If you can find a VHS cassette player with HDMI out (a few now have 1080p upscaling built in). You may be able to throw away that old clunky capture device for good!
  • Content Capture
    I actually used the Cam Link to capture an iPad and iPhone signal for demo purposes, using a dongle, to my MacBook Pro. While not the primary reason to buy the device, it was nice that it had a number of alternative uses. But the Cam Link could also capture connect from a document camera, microscope, gaming system, etc.
  • AV Testing
    Many AV technicians regularly find themselves needing to connect an AV system for testing (“Are we receiving a signal?”). Lugging around a monitor and looking for power isn’t awesome. So, a technician could simply use the Cam Link, connected to their laptop, to check an HDMI output.

I should mention that the device is dangerously ultra portable, resembling a oversized USB thumb drive, so the “walk off” factor is high. It has one HDMI input, one USB output, and a single LED light that indicates that it’s receiving power from the USB drive (so no external power needed). Second, the device only works with a few of the most common HDMI resolutions, so not EVERY camera that supports HDMI will work with this device. ‘d say that about 80%+ of all video cameras should be compatible, but may require that you adjust the camera’s HDMI output. Finally, this device won’t capture High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) protected content, so if you think this is the perfect device to copy Blu-ray movies (or even a MacBook Pro in some situations)… think again. You’ll simply get a blank screen.

The Fine Print
The only gotcha I noticed is that the Elgato Cam Link crashed once (technically lost signal) in the 4+ hours of testing (a quick reboot resolved the issue). Not a critical concern, but something to consider.

HP Sprout Pro G2

HP visited Duke’s Technology Engagement Center (TEC) this morning to provide an overview of their Sprout Pro G2. Describing the Sprout is a tricky thing to do considering the unique capabilities of the device. As HP was quick to mention, there really isn’t anything else like Sprout on the market, and until seeing it function, I assumed they were exaggerating… I was wrong.

At the heart of the system is a robust all-in-one Windows 10 computer (i7 processor, advanced graphics, 16GB of RAM, wireless keyboard/mouse, etc.), all the things you’d expect in a higher-end computer. What makes the Sprout unique is that it has built-in dual screens, one consisting of a traditional monitor and the other being a downward facing projector. The projector projects on a touch sensitive pad (HP calls it the Touch Mat) that easily connects to the base of the unit. The device defaults to extended desktop (one on top of the other), which can take a moment for novice users to fully understand. Both screens are touch sensitive, but the Touch Mat can also be used in conjunction with a stylus, and is a joy to use with minimal lag and various levels of pressure sensitivity. It does feel like you are writing on paper. If HP had stopped here with the Sprout, I’d have been impressed. It would have been a nice classroom computer with touch surfaces, annotation, and a document camera built in.

But wait, there is more… in 3D! The Sprout Pro G2 also offers up 3D scanning in two flavors. The first is a “quick scan” mode where you take an object and hold it under the projector. As you run the software and slowly rotate the object, the computer begins to create a 3D model of the item. The scull that HP provided worked very well, but some other items at the TEC didn’t scan as well (perhaps because of their symmetric nature, reflective material, etc). These scans are ideal for simply creating 3D objects for viewing on a computer or virtual environment, and not really for 3D printing.

The second method of scanning is considerably more accurate, using the 14-megapixel camera, but can be a bit more time consuming. In software, you set the level of accuracy you are looking to achieve, and the device scans the item over multiple captures. The level of accuracy was impressive.

No digital media demo would be complete without a few minor hiccups that HP identified as either an issue with a piece of software, our demo unit, or was an update on the near horizon. For example, we weren’t able to share the content from the projector to the TEC monitor. But, HP assured us that this was an issue with our unit.

As with all well-supported technologies, the Sprout Pro G2 receives regular updates, so it will be interesting to see where this device is in 2-6 months. I’d also be interested to see how well this device would perform in a classroom environment. Overall, this is a very interesting piece of technology, especially considering the took place at Duke’s Technology Engagement Center, the de facto hub for all things 3D in the area.

Wolfvision Cynap


First announced at InfoComm 2015, the Wolfvision Cynap continues to add and enhance core features to the device to adapt to the changing wireless connectivity landscape. To categorize the Cynap as a wireless presentation and collaboration device is a disservice to the robust capabilities of what Wolfvision has created. The Cynap can also acts as a media player, provide web conferencing for Skype for Business, provides app-free, dongle-free mirroring, it can also stream mixed content to services like YouTube and Facebook, and offers robust recording capabilities. Also, it has basic whiteboard and annotation functionality. Finally, the Cynap can receive content from two HDMI inputs or you can stream content to the device as additional inputs (think digital signage), and that’s just the tip of the iceberg… literally.

It would take five DDMC posts to cover the core features of the Cynap. Unfortunately, that brings me to the core “gotcha” of the system. With such an advanced piece of hardware, comes complexity (aka feature fatigue) and cost. The device is outside the budget of a small/medium sized huddle room upgrade. Also, the device would need to exist in an environment where the user base is willing to self-train on the functionality of the Cynap, or offer an on-site trainer to train and evangelize the product. That said, if you found the right group of users that could take advantage of the vast capabilities of the Cynap, it could be an incredibly powerful tool.

 

Microsoft Surface Event

Microsoft visited the Technology Engagement Center (TEC) on Duke’s campus to showcase their Microsoft Surface line of touch devices. From its humble beginnings in 2012, the touch-focused Surface line of portable computers from Microsoft has matured and expanded to include five unique hardware variations. The Surface Pro, Surface Book, and Surface Laptop are meant to provide three flavors of mobile computing for Windows users. While rather similar, the core differences between the three devices are power consumption, weight, screen size, and keyboard flexibility. If you want an iPad-like tablet that runs the full version of Windows 10 and has a portable keyboard and pen option, you’ll want to look at the Surface Pro. On the other hand, if you simply want a traditional laptop with built-in touch capabilities, keep your eye on the Surface Laptop. The Surface Book falls somewhere in the middle of the three devices in terms of a detachable keyboard, power consumption, etc. From a classroom technology standpoint, these devices are ideal for annotating PowerPoint slides, graphing, and note taking, while connected to the local AV system.

The Microsoft Surface Studio is meant to replace a traditional desktop computer, but adds an articulating 28” touch-screen monitor that is simply a joy to use as both a traditional monitor and as a drawing surface. Sure, it’s still a desktop computer, but it’s clear Microsoft has considered many alternative ways that educators, artists, and designers could use the touch-driven device to convey information. With minimal latency and a top down approach to hardware/operating system/software integration, the drawing capabilities are the best I’ve seen, seeming very natural to use. This is the first device where I’ve thought, “I hardly notice the technology” when annotating on top of a PowerPoint. With a few Schools deploying Surface Studios for the fall semester, I’ll be curious to see how they are received.

The final Surface device, not showcased at the TEC due to size/weight limitations, was the Microsoft Surface Hub. With wall and cart mounting options, the Microsoft Surface Hub comes in two sizes (84” and 55”) and seems to be an even larger version of the Surface Studio, but with a focus on collaborative meeting spaces. The DDMC is planning to take a trip to Microsoft’s offices in Raleigh this summer to see one in action.

4K? Meh. HDR TVs Are Coming.

I was intrigued by a recent article on streamingmedia.com that outlines innovations in home entertainment technology that are poised to make a big splash in the months ahead. These changes focus around dynamic range–the ability to express a much wider gamut of color information and luminosity than was possible using previous technologies. HDR expands the range between the brightest and the darkest pixels in a TV set, expanding the contrast to look more like film than video. As a result of this, the colors you see will look noticeably richer and deeper.

HDR TV Comparison

HDR technology will first arrive first in the living room, with followups for desktop media and mobile devices poised for arrival later (the article predicts several years for the technology to filter down).

In short, the article argues that 4k TVs aren’t really that big of a deal, and adoption hasn’t been all that great, given that you need to get a really huge TV in order to appreciate the difference between 4k and 1080p. The difference between current standards and HDR, however, is easily apparent.

Unfortunately, the picture is not all roses, as there are a lot of technical standards competing against each other in the implementation of HDR that will fracture the consumer marketplace and force consumers to make choices that necessarily limit their access to content.

For more information you can check out the full article here: http://www.streamingmedia.com/Articles/Editorial/Featured-Articles/HDR-Is-Here-But-Dont-Rush-Out-to-Buy-a-New-TV-Just-Yet-105068.aspx