Hardware Review: Telestream Pipeline

Posted on by Larry

[ This article was first published in the March, 2009, issue of
Larry’s Final Cut Pro Newsletter. Click here to subscribe. ]


NOTE: I’ve already written about the challenges in testing Pipeline in my Blog. (www.larryjordan.com/blog). But the challenges are resolved and working with this product has been a great deal of fun.

Pipeline

At its simplest, Telestream Pipeline allows us to capture video over a network. But the way that Telestream has implemented this function within Final Cut Pro allows us to do things with video capture that we just can not do any other way.

However, Pipeline isn’t for everyone. If you are a one-person post house that owns exactly one deck which is directly connected to your computer, then Pipeline is probably not a good idea. Starting at $1,950, it costs as much as a deck. Also, Pipeline is not designed for anyone working with tapeless media.

That being said, however, Pipeline has a variety of features that make it very attractive as your needs, or staff, expand.

I asked Telestream to send me their single channel standard-def unit to review. The two rack-mounted units work the same way, but support up to four simultaneous video streams. I don’t own an HD deck, so I was not able to test the HD version of Pipeline.

KEY PIPELINE FEATURES

Pipeline is a network-attached device that allows you to share capture, output, and control from one to four video tape decks, or live sources, between multiple edit suites as easily as connecting to a server.

SETTING UP THE HARDWARE

Pipeline is a hardware device that can be placed anywhere on your network. You plug it into AC power, then connect up to three cables: network, SDI In, and SDI Out.

First, you connect it to your network. Ideally, this should be to a gigabit switch. While a 100 megabit network will work, it is not ideal. It is also important that Pipeline be on the same switch, or subnetwork, as your edit suites.

Second, you need to connect your video sources to Pipeline using SDI cables. There are two ports on the back of Pipeline: SDI In and SDI Out. SDI, which stands for Serial Digital Interface, is a high-speed, fully-digital signal that contains video and multi-track audio from your deck or live feed. There are two flavors of SDI: SDI, which is used for standard-def, and HD-SDI, which is used for high-def.

NOTE: Due to the bandwidth SDI requires, be sure to use cables rated for SDI video. Standard video cables may not work reliably.

Third, RS-422 is used to remotely control the deck. This is a 9-pin connector that goes from your video deck to the Pipeline. While live feeds won’t have, or need, remote control, being able to control your deck from Pipeline is essential. (My deck didn’t have RS-422 control, but most higher-end decks do).

Remote control means that you can click a button in the Pipeline interface and have the deck respond appropriately – just as a FireWire-controlled device does in the Log and Capture window. While it would be nice for Pipeline to also use FireWire to control less-expensive decks, at this point Pipeline only supports RS-422.

Installation of Pipeline software is from a CD. It worked perfectly and took less than two minutes. It installs two applications: Pipeline Porter and Pipeline, as well as a new menu item inside Final Cut Pro. More on all of these in a minute.

PROBLEMS WITH SDI

BMD AnalogMy first big road-block proved to be SDI — and this wasn’t the fault of Pipeline.

I decided to test this unit using my trusty Sony DSR-11 DV deck. However, it only has S-Video and Composite output. So, I contacted the folks at Blackmagic Design for a couple of their mini-converters.

They sent me two mini-converters:

While I really like how Blackmagic has packaged this in environmentally-friendly boxes — and the way they handle power conversion between all the different power systems on the planet is absolutely brilliant – I had a problem.

These little boxes, about the size of a package of cigarettes, convert signals from one format to another. Well, that’s what they are SUPPOSED to do. But, in point of fact, it took me almost a week to discover that the Analog-to-SDI mini-converter has a bug in it that prevents it from working properly.

The specific problem is that the converter determines its settings from a small DIP switch on the side. In the current version, when the unit is powered up, it ignores the DIP switch setting, which means that everything gets reset.

I contacted Blackmagic Tech Support about this issue who then sent me the following note:


You are describing a known bug. We are in the process of fixing this issue with a future release. In the mean time, the work around is to plug and unplug the unit and reset the number 5 jumper to the desired output.

 

The bug is basically that the setting doesn’t get retained. So if you set it to composite, then unplug the unit, the unit doesn’t “remember” that it’s set to composite even though the switch is down. The workaround is to have it set jumper 5 back to component (default setting), plug the unit back in, then flip the jumper 5 to composite. Then until you unplug the unit, it’ll stay at composite. Yes, a little annoying but the newer manufactured ones don’t have this issue. The ones that do have this bug will be fixed when we release software to update the unit.


While I was never able to get S-Video to SDI conversion to work, after a lot of experimentation I was able to get a reliable, clean composite signal by turning off all DIP switches except switch 4. At which point, everything worked great. However, this DIP switch setting does NOT match the printed instructions on how to properly configure the converter.

Because of these problems, I can’t recommend this mini-converter for general use until Blackmagic Design makes the DIP switch settings stable, even after re-powering the device, with settings that match the documentation printed on the package.

The SDI-to-Analog mini-converter seemed to work fine.

USING PIPELINE IN FINAL CUT PRO

The easiest, and coolest, way to use Pipeline is within Final Cut Pro. Here’s how.

Pipeline

After installation, a new menu choice is added to Final Cut Pro. Go to File > Import > Pipeline.

Pipeline

The Pipeline Selector window appears. If you have more than one port on your Pipeline, or if you have more than one Pipeline, this window allows you to choose which Pipeline you want to work with.

Each Pipeline is automatically discovered, which means as long as the unit is powered up and on the same switch as your computer, your computer will find Pipeline automatically.

Pipeline

Select the Pipeline you want to use, pick the Codec you want it to use to convert your media into, and select either 2 or 4 channels of audio.

Pipeline

IMPORTANT: Before leaving this window, we need to set Preferences. Click the Preferences button to open the Preferences window.

Pipeline

Most preference settings are fine EXCEPT the Scratch Disk. Just as you need to capture media to a second drive for Final Cut, you also need to do the same for Pipeline. Unfortunately, also like Final Cut, Pipeline defaults to setting your preferences in the Home directory of your boot drive – just about the worst place possible.

Change scratch disk locations by clicking the Scratch Disk popup menu and re-pointing it. What I did is create a new folder on my second drive called Pipeline Scratch and pointed my scratch disk there.

Pipeline

 

NOTE: Something weird happened as I started using the unit. The scratch disk changed from directly pointing to my second drive to pointing to the scratch disk in the Volumes folder. Volumes is an invisible folder (which is why it is grayed out) on your boot drive that stores a list of the hard disks attached to your system. For some reason, the scratch disk got re-pointed so that all my video was capturing to a folder on my boot drive. For this reason, before starting any capture, it is important to reconfirm that your scratch disks are properly pointing to your second drive.

Once you’ve selected the Pipeline you want to use and configured your Preferences, click OK.

Pipeline

This is the main Pipeline window. Essentially, think of this as Pipeline’s version of Log & Capture. Everything you normally do in Log & Capture, you can do here — though the interface is somewhat different.

For instance, I want to capture some snowboarding footage shot by Standard Films in Lake Tahoe.

Pipeline

This dialog appears if you don’t have remote control over your deck. Again, for live feeds this isn’t a problem, but Pipeline warns you anyway.

Your keyboard shortcuts for deck control, setting Ins and Outs, and previewing are exactly the same as Final Cut; again, provided you have remote control over your deck.

NOTE: One of the neat features in Pipeline is that the Preferences window allows you to create your own keyboard shortcuts, although the default set matches the ones Final Cut Pro uses.

There are two ways you can capture a clip:

Pipeline

To capture a clip, press the red Record button. Pipeline instantly starts recording whatever video is playing from the deck or live feed directly to your hard disk.

Pipeline Pipeline

While a clip is being captured, a yellow “recording” icon appears. Once the capture is complete, the tag changes to a green checkbox.

Pipeline

As you continue capturing clips, the list of clips grows.

Pipeline

Double click the icon of any clip to display the metadata window. This allows you to enter the same information you add during Log & Capture. However, unlike Log & Capture, the metadata is stored in the QuickTime file itself, not just in the Final Cut Browser.

Pipeline

Here’s the cool part. Once you are done capturing clips, click the Import button and all your Pipeline clips are instantly imported into Final Cut’s Browser!

Pipeline

At that point, you edit them as if you had captured them using Final Cut itself.

NOTE: Once you’ve captured an image, you can’t preview it in Pipeline. You need to move the video to Final Cut to review your shots.

One thing that struck me was the quality of the images. Even though I was capturing via composite video, the images were really clean and sharp. Telestream has done a very nice job of maintaining image quality.

Very, very cool!

USING PIPELINE PORTER

Pipeline

Pipeline Porter is a simple application that works similarly to the Log & Capture window in Final Cut Pro, without requiring the use of Final Cut.

From the Applications folder, open Pipeline Porter. Clicking Import opens the Pipeline Selector which we first saw in Final Cut Pro, where you pick which Pipeline stream and various formats.

NOTE: Something that I noticed is that Pipeline does not remember scratch disk settings all the time. Make a point to ALWAYS check scratch disk settings before starting capture.

Once you’ve configured Pipeline, click OK to open the import window. At this point capturing clips is the same as we have already covered. However, when you are done capturing, you will need to import the clips into Final Cut manually.

The Pipeline Porter is an excellent way to have an assistant, on a system where Final Cut is not installed, log, capture and add metadata to clips, without tying up your Final Cut system.

RECORDING BASED ON TIME OF DAY

One of the real strengths of Pipeline is its ability to capture media based on time of day. This provides two key benefits: unattended recording based on time of day, and the ability to start editing a clip while the end of it is still recording. (This last point is truly a time-saver!)

Say you need to record a live feed, or program, starting at exactly 10:00 AM. To set up scheduled recordings, we need to run another Telestream application: Pipeline.

Pipeline

The Pipeline main window provides a series of pop-up menus across the top where you can select which Pipeline to use, the video and audio formats, and a variety of other settings.

NOTE: This application does not remember existing scratch disk settings whenever you create a new schedule, nor does it access your Pipeline preference file. By default, it stores media in your home directory. This must be changed to your second drive to prevent problems with either recording or playback.

Pipeline

To change the storage location, double-click the name of your hard disk in the upper left corner, and point it to your second drive. Again, I’m pointing it to the same scratch disk folder I used earlier: Pipeline Scratch.

Pipeline

Here’s another critical step. You need to set Pipeline to recognize the clock you want to use. Leaving the clock in its default setting of AUTO means that Pipeline zeros the timer when you start the application. You must set the clock to read either in-coming RS-422 timecode from the feed, or your computer clock, depending upon which is the most accurate, in order for the schedule to record properly.

In this case, I’m using the computer as my master timecode and scheduling clock.

Pipeline

To add a new clip to your recording schedule, you have two options:

1) Click the Add New Clip button near the top of the window, or,
2) Drag directly on the schedule itself.

By default, clicking the Add New Clip button creates a new clip at midnight of the current day.

Pipeline

To set the recording time, drag out a blue box in the schedule window. If your recording is 30 minutes or longer, just drag the top and bottom of the blue bar to the start time and duration you want. However, the shortest recording you can create by dragging is 30 minutes.

Pipeline

To set recording times for something shorter, double-click the blue box for the recording and a pair of clocks pops up. This window allows you to precisely set the recording time and add labels and colors to the clip.

Setting the time using the clocks is trickier than I expected. You can’t drag the hands of the clock, nor can you change the Start time to be more than four hours different from the Ending time.

Pipeline

If you get carried away trying to set the clocks, you’ll see this error message.

So, when I have something short to record, the easiest way I found to set the time is to set the Ending time to the duration you need, then click the Link button so the two clocks stay in sync, then change the Start time. Its a bit awkward, but works OK.

Once you’ve established your recording times, save the schedule, and click the red record button.

Pipeline

Pipeline goes into waiting mode until the appropriate time rolls around…

Pipeline

… then shifts automatically into record mode, saving the file with the name you specified in the location you requested.

EDITING BEFORE CAPTURE IS COMPLETE

This is the amazing part.

Let’s say you need to start editing something before capture is complete. Maybe its a news cast, or a long, long recording. Under normal conditions, that is, using Final Cut, you can’t do anything with a clip until capture is complete.

BUT, using Pipeline’s ability to schedule a recording, you can!

Here’s an example.

Pipeline

I’ve scheduled a five minute recording — I could have used any amount of time, even a couple of hours, but I want to get this review finished. Pipeline has started the recording.

What it did it allocate space on my hard drive as though it has already finished the entire recording. So, from the point of Final Cut, it thinks the recording is complete, even though Pipeline is still adding new data to the file.

When I load the clip to the Timeline, the entire five minute clip is loaded, even though I’ve only recorded the first minute or two.

Pipeline

But, when I go to play it in the Canvas, Final Cut plays everything that has been recorded up to that instant, EVEN THOUGH the rest of the clip is still being recorded! This allows me to start editing my sequence without waiting for the rest of the recording to be complete.

I have never seen this feature anywhere else. It is an amazing time-saver!

CONCLUSION

Pipeline is fun to play with. Once set up it is very easy to use. The quality it creates is amazing and I continue to discover new ways to use it. Its tight integration with Final Cut Pro makes it especially worthwhile.

My concerns about Pipeline are three:

  1. If your video sources don’t provide SDI output, converting your video into SDI requires gear not provided by Telestream
  2. Pipeline does not support machine control or timecode via FireWire
  3. Pipeline seems to have an inability to maintain scratch disk settings as you switch between its various applications.

However, if you need to share decks or video sources among multiple editors, or edit video under extremely tight deadlines, Telestream Pipeline makes the process flexible, fun, and with extremely high-quality.

UPDATE – March 15, 2009

Lowell Kay sent in the following questions:

Sienna and Picture Ready have been accomplishing what Pipeline has presented for about 3+ years. The system only records 1 SDI signal to a computer at a time, but you can have multiple servers accomplishing this task. Editing on the timeline while capturing has been available.

 

What was not clear to me from your review, does Pipeline allow you to capture at uncompressed or does it limit you to the bandwiths that can be transferred through Gigabit?

 

What is the maximum video streams that you can record with one unit and if you have multiple units, how many can you have running concurently? If you have multiple units, can they be synced from the software to start and stop recording from one button?

 

If you are running from a clock, will it sync to an NTP server or clock and be frame accuracte or is it just near the TC? I am asking this question because television stations need it to be more than just close. When you did your tests, did you place a TC window on the video that you were supplying and did it return with the same code as what was on the video?

Larry replies: Lowell, thanks for asking. Here are some of your answers.

Picture Ready costs $500 more than Pipeline and requires a Dongle. Pipeline will feed video to any computer on the network, all it requires is the drivers to be installed.

Pipeline has three hardware versions:

Since Pipeline captures at real-time, video formats are limited by the bandwidth of your network. Pipeline does, however, capture to ProRes, among several other formats. More on your other questions in a minute.

UPDATE – March 16, 2009

Rick Lavon asks:

I read your review of Pipeline with great interest since it seems to fit a need we have to share a digibeta deck among several edit rooms. I went to the Telestream site and quickly looked over the feature set. However, I don’t see any info regarding the obvious question…If this shares a deck for input, can it then share a deck for output?.

 

We do several broadcast shows that require a tape for encoding, conversion, dubbing, etc…I know it’s old school, but can Pipeline be controlled as an edit deck through the edit to tape function?

 

Also, does this require multiple licenses per workstation?…or does buying the unit enable all edit stations on a network to install the software…( that seems like the logical solution)

Larry replies: Rick, yes, Pipeline can be used for sharing both capture and output. However, some of these questions I don’t know have answers for. So I contacted the Pipeline product manager, Bill Harris. Here’s what Bill wrote:

Question 1: If you are running from a clock, will it sync to an NTP server or clock and be frame accurate or is it just near the TC?

This is a bit tricky. Each situation can be different. The Pipeline hardware can set its internal TC input to an NTP server but there is no guarantee it will be frame accurate to house time code. There are other Pipeline TC capabilities that can guarantee frame accuracy such as VITC in the input signal, VITC reference video signal or RS422. On the Pipeline Quad the reference input can be used to input a VITC time code that can be used across all four channels. If this time code is sync’ed with house time code then all Pipeline channels will be frame accurate.

Question 2: Also, does Pipeline require multiple licenses per workstation?

No licenses are required. The Pipeline software can be installed on as many workstations as required.

Question 3: What is the maximum video streams that you can record with one unit and if you have multiple units, how many can you have running concurrently?

Maximum streams one Pipeline host system can control is dependent on the bit rate being captured and the hardware being used. A well appointed Mac Pro (8 core, 6GB RAM, appropriate RAID array to handle the incoming media read/write) can support up to eight (8) 50Mpbs standard definition streams and three (3) 220Mbps high definition streams. With the introduction of [Pipeline] v2.0 in April 2009 there will be a one button capture capability.

Larry replies: Thanks, Bill, for these answers.


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