Movie Making Manual/Build your own editing system

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This Module is part of the Movie Making Manual

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Why build your own computer?[edit]

It's cheaper to build your own workstation than to buy one off the shelf. While this might not be true for low-end computers, we're building a decent workstation. Many computer manufacturers make their profit from "workstation" class computers. If you build your own computer and put your research in, you can build a fast, stable and efficient machine for maybe 30% less than a similarly spec'd off-the-shelf system. An important note to make is that while you can build a custom Windows PC, you cannot build a custom Apple system: Apple's software is only available on machines they build. However, this has not stopped Final Cut Pro from being a preferred editing solution. The Mac Pro offers a large variety of build-to-order options, and ranges in price from $2000 - $20 000, depending on processors, hard drive space, RAM, and video cards.

Software[edit]

Generally it works best to pick out the software first, and then get whatever hardware is necessary to run the chosen software. See Movie Making Manual/Equipment and software reviews for some software recommendations.

Hardware components[edit]

General requirements[edit]

Editing video requires a powerful computer. If you're planning on working on feature-length films, or working with extensive special effects, this is even more important. Your home computer might be capable of piecing together your vacation footage, but if you want to able to properly edit a longer film, you need a good machine. RAM and storage capacity are the most important things here: one minute of uncompressed digital video, as is outputted from a standard MiniDV camcorder, takes up roughly one gigabyte of storage.

(nope: DV uses DV compression, which is cbr-ish, so there is no 'roughly' either, one minute of DV footage will be 227.601.996 bytes)

If you plan on working in High Definition, this figure jumps much higher.

(nope: you can work in HD by using some cheap formats like HDV, same bitrate as with DV footage)

Storage[edit]

  • Use separate drives for system (e.g a SSD or 10,000rpm SATA) and storage (e.g. SATA RAID array). SATA (good value and modern) is an excellent alternative to SCSI (older and expensive).

RAM[edit]

  • Depending on your operating system, at least 1GB. If you're using Windows Vista, Microsoft recommends 1GB just to run the OS, so a minimum of 2GB is wise.

RAM these days is very cheap and upto 16GB or more is very affordable with 4GB being a recommended minimum. Remember however that Windows 7 Home Premium will only recognise a maximum of 16GB.

Computer monitor[edit]

This is perhaps the most important part of your purchase: computer monitors are very different from TV screens, and what looks good on a monitor might not look good on a TV. If you plan on doing any colour correction, a high quality monitor is a must. Most editing systems also have a large number of different panels, meaning that the larger your screen size, the better. A dual monitor setup is a wise choice.

Top Choices in Computer Monitors

Many Apple and Dell monitors use the exact same LCD panel, so the monitors are actually very comparable in performance.

Graphics card[edit]

ATI and nVidia offer graphic cards specially designed for workstations:

  • ATI FireMV/FireGL
  • nVidia QuadroFX

You can edit videos without these graphic cards, but they make editing a lot smoother, especially real-time effects.

CPU[edit]

  • A Dual-CPU system is preferable, usually server-CPU's like the Intel Xeon and the AMD Opteron are used. If you choose to use desktop-CPU's, an Intel Pentium 4 is better suited for this job than an AMD Athlon 64. New processors from Intel such as the Core 2 Duo are also very well suited to this task.

Update: The Athlon 64 x2 line of cpus outperform Intel cpus including the core 2 duos. Consider using Athlon chips if you want faster rendering times and smoother realtime editing capabilities.

Motherboard[edit]

Ensure the motherboard can handle the components you need, with the possibility of expansion. Additional slots for RAM are handy.

DVD Burner[edit]

  • A reliable, dual/double layer burner. Don't be fooled by burners advertising high speed: it is best to burn at low speeds to reduce the chance of errors.

Case[edit]

  • Big, quiet, cool, lots of storage

Power Supply[edit]

  • A powerful power supply is a must: an editing station will require lots of power to function properly.

Keyboard[edit]

  • Editing keyboards have all the short cuts already on the keys. You can buy these keyboards off-the-shelf, or you can buy a standard keyboard and buy stick-on labels.

Pointing device[edit]

  • Consider a graphics tablet because makes fine control of the mouse much easier (it's like using a pen). Be wary of cheap graphics tablets because they can suffer from judder (i.e. the mouse pointers appears to judder even though your hand is still). You'll need fine control for such tasks as:
    • Jogging back and forth through rushes in a frame-accurate way
    • Rotoscoping

Assemble[edit]

See How To Assemble A Desktop PC for details on how to put all those parts together.

Overclocking[edit]

In a film production environment, where deadlines are tight and speed is everything, overclocking your workstation can seem like a tempting option. However, overclocking a modern computer takes a great deal of patience and knowledge to do correctly. As such, it's generally OK to overclock your home computer but a bad idea to overclock a production system. Why? Because stability is essential in film production.

That said, it is possible to overclock and maintain stability if you're carefull, patient and have the right components.