Avid DNxIO Review
My Thoughts on DNxIO
At Alpha Dogs we do a lot of finishing work on everything from reality shows in HD to features in 4K. Our challenge has always been how to deliver the best quality in the most economically beneficial way to our clients.
When Alpha Dogs started back in 2002, our business was 100 percent Avid. I could see where the future was going with Final Cut Pro, so unlike most of the post houses in Los Angeles, we worked hard to specialize in finishing projects created in Final Cut Pro. By 2010 over 75 percent of our finishing business was on projects offlined in Final Cut Pro. Then Apple made a business decision that many felt signified their leaving the high-end post market behind with the release of FCPX in 2011. This gave a reprieve to a market share losing Avid, and opened a door that both Adobe and now Blackmagic have heartily stepped through.
We do what we do because we enjoy being a part of our client’s storytelling media creation. That means we tend to not play platform favorites which allows us to work as efficiently as possible with projects coming from a variety of nonlinear editors. However this presents real challenges in building out a facility and keeping it technically current. It also presents a challenge for artists who need to be masters of their software when there are too many options to truly master them all.
We have to be able handle whatever a client brings us in the way of project file, media type and actual delivery specifications. Fortunately, one company seems to be stepping up to the plate for us, and that is Blackmagic with their Resolve color correction (and now editing) package. While it isn’t as fully developed an editor as Media Composer or Premiere, it now has enough tools to allow all the finishing work on a project to be done in one place.
Whether the client works in FCP7, FCPX, Premiere or Media Composer, we can move the project into Resolve to handle all the finishing from that point forward. This gets decided on a case by case basis. Since there are many challenges involved in moving between applications, the amount of pain versus the gain in better toolsets needs to weighed carefully. For example, I recently finished a movie in 4K in Avid Symphony. While the color correction tools are far superior in Resolve, having to rebuild the many complex effects from the Avid timeline would have offset those gains.
From a facility infrastructure standpoint, we face the challenge of getting video out to reference grade monitors, scopes and audio monitoring. There is still some need to output to various tape formats for delivery and archive. Even in the growing file based universe, we continue to deliver a lot of programs on HDCAM SR and even some on digibeta.
Fortunately Avid in conjunction with Blackmagic released a solution with the DNxIO box. Only Blackmagic devices work across all the major NLEs and Resolve, which automatically eliminated a lot of other I/O hardware choices.
The myriad of I/O choices in the DNxIO make tying into almost any existing infrastructure a breeze while maintaining a good degree of forward compatibility via the 3/6/12G SDI. We already have a fully wired facility for both analog and digital, video and audio. This meant for us that the DNxIO basically slipped into the hole left by the old Nitris DX. I did need to invest in 75 Ohm to 110 Ohm Digital Audio Impedance Transformers since the AES audio out connectors are SDI and the Nitris’ were XLR. The other big change is connectivity to the CPU. Instead of the PCI connection used for PC workstations and older Macs, there is now Thunderbolt connectivity for newer Macs. Both of these approaches can limit the distance between computer and the DNxIO unless you invest in optical Thunderbolt solutions. It should be noted that you need to purchase the Thunderbolt cables and PCIe card separately.
The DNxIO also includes the Fusion Avid Connect plugin. While Fusion has become more tightly integrated with resolve 12.5, it has had that integration with Media Composer via this plugin which costs $995.00 to purchase on it’s own. If you use Fusion, then you will appreciate the value of being able to easily bounce between it and Media Composer.
In practical use, we often need capture SD material while scaling it up to higher resolutions. While DNxIO does allow us to uprez to HD, they don’t include the ability to go to 4K, which was surprising as this is sold as a 4K box. This is also true when downscaling. This is important to us as we have many clients who want a DVD approval copy at the end of a job. Currently we will play out in real time and record on a DVD recorder. This is the fastest way to get a client a copy to take with them. If we can’t do that with a 4K job, we have to go through the much slower process of exporting, compressing, and burning a DVD.
As a replacement for Nitris DX on Symphony, there are several ways DNxIO has impacted our workflows. Symphony had a feature called Universal Mastering. It allowed you to cross frame rates in real time on output. Say you have a 23.98 timeline and you want to go out to a 59.94 master. This was a simple real time decision with Nitris DX. Unfortunately this feature was left out with DNxIO leaving more difficult solutions like mixing down your timeline and opening it in a 59.94 project. These may seem like little issues, but we often work on television shows with tight delivery timelines and every wasted hour counts.
We also do a lot of mastering with Closed Captioning. Recent versions of Media Composer added the ability to actually see and edit the imported or captured Closed Captioning in your timeline and on the output of Nitris DX. While this functionality has been promised for DNxIO it has yet to be delivered. While we can work around this to some degree since we have an external Closed Caption encoding box, we’ve lost the ability to edit in the application which is great for last minute changes on an existing mastered timeline or for versioning an existing master while maintaining the Closed Caption information. This means we need to get separate Closed Caption files made for every variation of a mastered show.
There is a good chart of comparisons between Nitris DX and DNxIO here: Avid Video IO Feature Comparison
One hitch we ran into happened when switching between applications like Media Composer and Resolve. Each time we would try, as soon as you went into Resolve it took hold of the DNxIO and wouldn’t release it requiring a restart of the applications. This issue was resolved (pun intended) when we found a setting in Resolve’s General Options called “Release video I/O hardware when not in focus.”
One area of concern that hasn’t been addressed yet is how it will handle HDR support. Avid’s stance is that the box has a HDMI 2.0a port which will be able to handle that in the future when they enable support for HDR output. Since HDR is in the wild west days right now, it is difficult for any company have a great solution. Resolve 12.5 does have HDR support built in so some form of solution may be on the way soon.
As you can see, in some areas this box is helping and in others it hasn’t lived up to the Nitris DX. Overall we have found it to solve a lot of the issues in a multi-platform, multi-NLE, multi-resolution future that we are heading towards..