Thunderbolt Tools For Film


Thunderbolt Tools for Filmmakers and Editors
posted by Andy Shipsides
Topics Post Production
Tags 2big, apple, Belkin, DS1, Echo, intensity, ioXT, Little Big Disk, mac, macbook pro, pegasus, RAID, Sonnet, T-Tap, t1, T2, Thunderbolt, ultrastudio

When the super fast Thunderbolt connection for Apple Macs was announced, there was a lot of fanfare around it. With bi-directional 10Gbps speed, it caught the eye of filmmakers and editors everywhere, offering the promise of high-speed file transfers and external input and output devices. However, Apple released Thunderbolt to the world well before the different Thunderbolt devices were available. The first MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt was announced in February 2011, and it wasn’t until this year that we’ve really seen accessories start to ship.

Apple’s new MacBook Pro has two Thunderbolt ports and an HDMI output – now Thunderbolt can truly be taken full advantage of. The HDMI output means that an external display won’t have to share the Thunderbolt port like it has in the past. Some Thunderbolt devices do not offer outputs to loop through, and having two ports will help a lot with those situations. With all of that in mind, I wanted to round up the Thunderbolt accessories that filmmakers and editors everywhere will find useful. Check out my post below and look for some custom computer packages that use these new Thunderbolt tools from AbelCine in the future.

Hard Drives & RAIDs

Promise Technology Pegasus RAID Storage – Promise was one of the first companies to release a Thunderbolt-ready device. Their Pegasus RAIDs come in a 4 TB/8 TB 4-bay model or a 6 TB/12 TB 6-bay model. Pegasus RAIDs offer impressive sustained transfer speeds of 500 MB/s on the 4-bay models and 800 MB/s on the 6-bay models. These would be wonderful to have when editing a project, since the sustained transfer speeds could handle several streams of uncompressed HD or higher resolution material. They would be equally at home on set when file transfer time matters. All the Pegasus RAIDs have two Thunderbolt ports for input and loop through.

CalDigit – CalDigit has consistently made great drives for our industry and they have two new Thunderbolt devices on the way. Their T2 is a two-drive hardware RAID which can be set to RAID 0, 1 or JBOD (Just A Bunch of Disks). The T2 can take either 3.5″ HDD drives or 2.5″ SSD/HDD drives, all in a slim enclosure that can easily be removed. These options mean you can set the T2 up for super fast performance – RAID 0 with SSD’s can get you up to 630 MB/s – or for redundancy in RAID 1 mode.

With this two-drive enclosure operating in RAID 1 (mirror mode) it is common to separate the drives for safety and use only one for post. This is why CalDigit also has the T1 single-drive Thunderbolt devices. The T1 will be able to take the drive enclosures from the T2, keeping your workflow uninterrupted. The T1 by itself can give you speeds up to 170 MB/s or 470 MB/s with an SSD. Both the T1 and T2 have dual Thunderbolt ports, allowing the important loop-through function.

Lacie – Lacie offers two Thunderbolt drives, the Little Big Disk and the 2big drive. The Little Big Disk has a compact design and comes in 1 TB, 2 TB and 240 GB SSD models. It houses two non-removable drives that can be set to be a software RAID (via the Mac Disk Utility), and with two SSDs in RAID 0 you can get up to 480 MB/s. The 2big drive offers storage from 4-8 TB and fast transfer speeds up t0 320 MB/s in software RAID 0. Both the 2Big and Little Big Disk have two Thunderbolt ports.

Seagate GoFlex – If you are looking for a much smaller drive but still want the speed of Thunderbolt, Seagate offers a Thunderbolt interface for the GoFlex line of products. GoFlex works via you buying a drive and then choosing an interface for it. For instance, you could buy a 500 GB GoFlex drive and get a Thunderbolt interface for it, or Firewire 800 if you prefer. The GoFlex Thunderbolt interface also works as a download station for the Gemini 4:4:4.

Cameras & Recorders

Blackmagic Design – Making big waves at NAB this year is the new Blackmagic Cinema Camera (BCC). This new camera features a 2k (2432 x 1366) sensor and a Canon EF lens mount. It can record in many formats including ProRes, DNxHD, and Raw on to SSDs. It features a large touch screen display for control and HD output. The camera can also output 2K RAW data via a built in Thunderbolt port. This will open the possibility of capture many hours of Raw footage directly to a hard drive that is connect to your computer.The BCC should start shipping sometime in July for under $3000.

AJA – AJA’s new Ki Pro Quad is a full featured HD, 2k, and 4K solid state recorder. It can take in a variety of HD formats via 4 HD-SDI inputs, recording 1920×1080 4:2:2 or 4:4:4 video, 2k video, 4k (Quad HD) video, and 4k Raw data from the upcoming Canon C500. Working with Raw data coming out of the C500, the Ki Pro Quad can debayer the incoming signal and record it in ProRes. That converted video stream can also be sent back out via SDI or HDMI, or the Raw data can be sent out via a Thunderbolt connector. Because 4k Raw data is quite storage intensive, this is a nice way to record directly to hard drive.

Card Readers & Expansion Chassis

Sonnet Echo – Sonnet is leading the way in the Thunderbolt card reader business. Their Echo ExpressCard and ExpressCard Pro Thunderbolt Adapter works as the perfect SxS card reader. With recently released drivers, the Echo can read the SxS cards used in both the Sony cameras as well as in the Arri Alexa. Of course, this is an ExpressCard adapter so most of the Sonnet ExpressCard/ 34 adapters can work with it, for example their Pro Dual Compact Flash card reader, or even their QIO Multi-Card reader can work with it (which connects via ExpressCard). See a full list of compatible ExpressCard /34 products here.

Sonnet Expansion Chassis – Sonnet is also making two Echo Expansion boxes that allow you to attach a whole host of different PCIe cards to your computer through Thunderbolt. They have two versions: Echo and Echo Pro. The Pro version supports full length PCIe cards. With these chassis you can take PCIe cards and make them Thunderbolt add-ons to your laptop. Special drivers are required for Thunderbolt support so make sure to check Sonnet’s support card list to see what’s available. Note that IO cards from Red, AJA and Blackmagic are supported, as well as SAS and 10 Gig Ethernet cards.

Magma – Magma also offers a PCI expansion chassis with Thunderbolt, their ExpressBox 3T. It can hold up to three full-length PCI Express cards; two PCI lanes are x8 and one is x4. Additionally, the ExpressBox offers Thunderbolt loop-through. It’s not shipping yet, but we should see it out sometime in the future.

Video Input & Output

AJA – In addition to being able to use AJA cards in the Sonnet Expansion chassis, AJA also has their Io XT video Thunderbolt device. The Io XT is a video input and output device supporting 3G/HD-SDI, HDMI, and HD/SD analog input and output. It is a full-featured IO product, and includes analog audio and TC input as well. Importantly, the Io XT has a Thunderbolt loop-through, so it doesn’t have to be at the end of your daisy chain. The Io XT is compatible with Final Cut, Premiere, and AVID.

BlackMagic Design – Blackmagic was one of the first on the list of Thunderbolt supporters. They have released several Thunderbolt IO devices including two in their Intensity line and two in their UltraStudio line. The Intensity Shuttle Thunderbolt and Intensity Extreme both have HDMI and analog inputs/outputs. The Intensity Extreme is supported by all NLEs so it costs a bit more, but both are under $300. The UltraStudio Express adds support for HD-SDI in/out, and the UltraStudio 3D pushes up to full 3D and 2k in 12-bit. All of these products have a single Thunderbolt input, so they will have to live at the end of your Thunderbolt chain.

Matrox – Matrox has added Thunderbolt support to their MXO line of products through a Thunderbolt adapter. This converts the ExpressCard interface to Thunderbolt. The MXO line of video IO products includes everything from the MXO2 Rack Max to the MXO2 Mini which all include HDMI and SDI inputs/outputs and analog video options. The Sonnet Echo ExpressCard can also be used to adapt the MXO to Thunderbolt.

Converters & Docking Stations

Apple – Because the new MacBook Pro does not have Ethernet or Firewire 800 onboard, Apple has just announced two new adapters that go straight from Ethernet and Firewire 800 to Thunderbolt. Apple also has their impressive 27″ Thunderbolt display which has USB 2.0, Firewire 800, and Ethernet ports on it.

AJA – AJA announced their new T-Tap at NAB, which takes the monitor output on Thunderbolt and converts it to HD-SDI and HDMI. This was possible with a couple of different converters in the past, but this adapter has a sleek design and draws power from the Thunderbolt port itself.

Belkin – Belkin announced a nice docking option for Thunderbolt called the Express Dock. This device takes in Thunderbolt, loops that through, and adds HDMI, Ethernet, Firewire 800, eSata, USB 3.0 ports, and audio plugs. This is a very handy option to have, especially with the limited port options found on the new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air computers. We expect to see this shipping sometime in September.

Lacie – Lacie has a small and affordable product called the eSATA Hub. It simply allows you to connect two eSATA drives to your computer through Thunderbolt. This is very handy when downloading media cards, and offers a Thunderbolt loop-through to other devices.

Matrox – Matrox has also announced a docking station called the DS1, which takes Thunderbolt in and gives USB 3.0, Ethernet, DVI, and audio output. Unlike the Belkin dock, it does not support Thunderbolt loop-through, but should be considerably less expensive. The Matrox DS1 should also be available in September.

The number of Thunderbolt options out there is growing, so I hope you found this post helpful. As always, feel free to leave any comments below!
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About montyedits

San Francisco based film and video editor.
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