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San Jose, CA 95131
Based on the formidable DVStorm capture card, the Canopus StormRack turnkey system is a rugged machine with impressive specs. With its heavy price tag and rack-mountable case, this unit is aimed squarely at the studio professional. While most at-home editors will likely select a more conventional desktop system, those seeking a rack-mounted unit should certainly take a close look at the StormRack.
The StormRack is a complete system with nothing to configure, although you’ll need to provide your own monitor, mouse and keyboard; they aren’t included. The StormRack really proved to be plug-n-play once we got the monitor into the correct video port; the two stock VGA ports were unlabeled. We added a second VGA monitor and an NTSC monitor (via an S-video connection) to create a very open workspace. This gave us a lot of screen real estate spread over the two VGA monitors with the NTSC monitor serving as the preview window. We connected a Canon Optura 100MC through the front-accessible IEEE 1394 port. We powered up the system, ran StormEdit and started our tests. DV camera control, both computer monitors and video output to the NTSC monitor all worked flawlessly. We especially liked the jog shuttle control of the DV camera via our mouse wheel. One thing we did notice right away is that the many cooling fans inside the box make this a less than quiet machine. We don’t advise that you record audio too near the box, unless you isolate the mike with soundproofing material.
StormEdit (or The-Program-Formerly-Known-As-Rex-Edit) is Canopus’ editing software that comes with the system. We followed the procedure described in the manual to capture video, but never got the Seamless DV capture feature to work. And there was no problem-solving Help file. Eventually, we used the Batch Capture to set an in-point at the beginning of the tape and an out-point at the end and let it seamlessly capture the whole tape. The clip0001.avi file we created was only 260MB, but it referenced clip0001.000, clip0001.001 and clip0001.002, each of which represented about 19 minutes of video and came in under the 4GB limit. The whole process was completely transparent and we could quite easily work with the video as if it were a single clip. We also tried capturing analog video through the S-video port. We didn’t expect any problems with the dual Ultra SCSI 160 RAID and none were experienced.
StormEdit, a simple, but adequate editing program, was rock-solid and gave us no surprises. The 134 pages devoted to Rex Edit in the manual were useful, but the lack of a Help file led us to suspect that there may have been more to this program than we were able to discover. Or maybe not.
Most StormRack users will utilize the bundled Adobe Premiere 6.0 instead of StormEdit. From our tests, StormRack appears to be a (mostly) stable platform for Premiere.
One of StormRack’s biggest features is real-time editing, meaning that you don’t need to render anything not effects, not transitions, not tiles nor overlays. We set up a timeline with a clip in each of the A and B rolls with a Canopus transition between them. We then dropped an overlay clip into the V2 track above the A/B roll (and in sync with the transition) and used a Canopus picture-in-picture effect on it. We applied a Canopus Pencil Sketch effect to the picture-in-picture overlay and, finally, a Canopus rolling title on top of the entire section in V3. This was not a completely unrealistic test, but one that we knew would be challenging. The DVStorm flawlessly processed all hardware effects, instantly sending finished video to the NTSC monitor (via S-video) and a finished DV stream (with audio) to the camcorder at the same time. This was very impressive.
In our next test, we substituted a few non-Canopus effects into the mix, such as using a stock Premiere transition instead of a Canopus transition. We knew these wouldn’t use the hardware to render in real time, but we still wanted to check render times. When we hit the Enter key to render the effects, Premiere attempted to render three distinct parts, starting with part 1 of 3. When it started rendering 2 of 3, Premiere crashed. Further tests revealed that we could render composited sequences with all Canopus effects or all non-Canopus effects, but mixing the two types (for example, a Canopus transition between two clips, one of which uses a non-Canopus filter effect) consistently resulted in crashes. Moral of the story: don’t mix your effects. While we don’t want to minimize the seriousness of this flaw, we’d also like to point out that there is a generous set of real-time Canopus effects and filters available that should cover 99.9% of your editing needs. The whole point of buying a real-time system is to use the real-time effects.
Once we knew what to avoid when using non-Canopus effects, rendering performance was quite good. And well it should have been, with dual AMD 1.2GHz CPUs. Premiere detected both processors and nicely took advantage of them. We rendered a 34-minute project to make sure we pushed some of the long-form limits. MPEG-2 encoding, which could take many hours on a project of this size on a less capable machine, was faster than real time.
Worth the Price?
There is no doubt that the StormRack has excellent specs, but by themselves, the specs do not justify the high cost of this system. The StormRack is not for everyone. The home hobbyist can get a similarly configured desktop system for less money. But when you compare the cost of the StormRack to other professional rack-mounted systems, the price is a relative bargain. With its real-time effects and powerful processors, the StormRack certainly packs a punch.
Operation System: Microsoft Windows 2000
Processor: dual AMD 1.2GHz
RAM: 512MB RAM
Hard Disk: 40GB system, 75GB video Ultra SCSI RAID
Capture Hardware: DVStorm (with real-time effects)
dual Canopus Spectra Series graphics cards
Sound Blaster Live
OHCI-compliant IEEE 1394 (FireWire)
StormEdit, Premiere 6.0, ACID 2.0, Nero 5.0, TitleDeko, Xplode effects