The 64-Bit Question
Does more compute power matter to your bottom line?
64-bit computing is a hot topic in the video production industry—and a lot of people are talking about the benefits of a complete 64-bit system. You may think that moving to 64-bit is expensive, but not necessarily. It’s actually possible to take advantage of the benefits brought by 64-bit systems without much expense, and in today’s environment, anything that brings incremental improvements to productivity without a big cash outlay is worth investigating. This article explores the advantages that 64-bit can bring to various video production workflows, and discusses the easiest ways to upgrade systems to take advantage of these gains.
Are We There Yet?
You may be waiting for 64-bit computing to arrive, an eagerly anticipated explosion that delivers unprecedented new computing power. The reality is that 64-bit computing is not going to arrive as a massive sea change; it’s already here. In fact, you may at this moment be sitting in front of a 64-bit capable machine that can add dramatic productivity improvements to your business, and not even know it. All you may need is a memory or operating system upgrade to start working at blazingly fast, 64-bit speeds.
Whenever the industry moves to a new architecture like 64-bit, it does so in a transitional manner that takes a number of years to complete. Those that move first are the most demanding users who value the benefits of the technology highly enough to endure the teething problems that are a natural part of early adoption. Eventually, as the technology advances, all users will make the change. We are well past the early stage now, and it is fair to say that for all involved in professional video production, the benefits of 64-bit easily justify the cost and time to migrate. In fact, if you wait for the transition to be complete, you will undoubtedly find yourself behind the curve.
The Benefits of 64-Bit
The biggest difference with 64-bit is memory. With a 32-bit address space, the computer can identify 232 individual bits of data, corresponding to 4GB of memory. In practice, operating systems, particularly Microsoft Windows, reserve a portion of this memory for “personal use,” meaning that less is actually available for running applications. With a 64-bit address space, computers can talk to 264 individual bits of data, corresponding to 17.2 billion gigabytes—an effectively unlimited amount of memory that can be used for running multiple applications, often with increased performance.
With more memory, video workflows gain two important benefits, both of which can give you an edge in your business: efficient high-resolution production and more flexible workflows.
Hi-Res and RAW
With more and more productions shooting high-resolution RAW content, the capacity to handle any resolution your clients request might be the deciding factor in getting a particular job, so it pays to be ready. Equally important, the additional productivity from investing in more memory for 64-bit systems equates to less time and lower cost to complete a job, providing the freedom to price more competitively or to increase margins.
Smoothly playing multiple streams of video in real time requires that many frames must be loaded into memory simultaneously so that they can be processed quickly. With cameras like RED capturing very large frame sizes up to 4K and beyond, 32-bit systems run out of memory quickly, hindering performance. With 64-bit systems, memory can be specified according to the expected workflow—if large frame rates will be the norm, you can add up to 64GB to maximize performance.
All Apps, All the Time
Running all your applications at the same time equates to a more efficient production system, leading to lower production costs. More importantly, it opens the door to experimenting more during production because there is no longer a time penalty associated with moving content to and from other applications. For example, if you can use Adobe®After Effects® to add motion graphics to any element of an Adobe Premiere® Pro timeline without having to save and close work in some other application, you are far more likely to experiment because the tools are immediately available. This flexibility can bring a creative edge to your production that improves your reputation, and ultimately, your business success.
As the solutions from the major software providers become well-integrated desktop production systems, workflows become increasingly seamless and flexible. But the reality is the race to higher resolutions means that often there isn’t enough memory in the system to run all the applications you need at the same time, and you have to close/reopen the applications that are used less frequently. With 64-bit systems, the removal of memory limitations means this issue is eliminated—you can add as much memory as you need to run multiple applications.
Getting to 64-Bit
If you are a Mac user, odds are you probably already have a 64-bit machine. With the exception of the very first generation, all Intel-based Macs are 64-bit capable, and all versions of Mac OS X that run on those machines are 64-bit too. This means that a memory upgrade is all that is needed to realize the benefits of 64-bit.
For Windows users, the decision is a little more complex. The major question is whether the CPU in your system is 64-bit capable. If it is, then you will need to purchase a 64-bit version of Windows to take advantage. Microsoft sells the 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate upgrade for just over $200.
For memory there are a number of considerations. The first is the simple question of whether the computer can physically accommodate more than 4GB of memory. This depends on the number of slots on the motherboard and type of memory expected. Most desktop machines will accommodate at least 8GB of RAM. Most laptops are limited to 4GB, although that is changing, with new machines allowing up to 16GB. There are a number of resources on the web that can help you through this process – try searching for “how to upgrade memory.”
At today’s prices, PC users should be able to upgrade a desktop system to 8GB RAM and Vista64 for less than $400. This may prove to be the most cost-effective upgrade you can make to your current system.
Up Close: Dv3 Productions and 64-Bit
One Adobe customer that has moved to 64-bit systems is Dv3 Productions, founded by brothers Obin and Amariah Olson. In Fall 2008, the Olsons became among the first to use the RED camera’s tapeless workflow built around the RED importer plug-in and Adobe Premiere Pro CS4. Their project, Fatal Flaw, is a short film produced by Joseph Simpkins of Living Water Films.
The brothers used Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium software to drop 4K resolution native R3D files straight onto the Adobe Premiere Pro timeline, without transcoding or rewrapping, and 64-bit machines to work either online or offline with the same RAW master files.
The Olsons note that a major benefit of using Adobe Creative Suite 4 Production Premium is that the applications are all optimized for 64-bit computer systems. The latest version of Adobe’s toolset offers increased performance and editing speed, rapid switching among tools, and improved stability—all of which free up time. The move to 64-bit has given the Olsons confidence to work in real-time in client-supervised sessions, editing video and creating effects on the fly using native RAW video. Dv3 Productions got all of these benefits at a low cost that has quickly paid off in improved creativity and better client service.