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November 13, 2012

Video Editing Supercomputer: Z820 RED Edition

When it comes to video production PCs, I have built them and I have bought them. The new HP Z820 RED Edition is an off the shelf tricked out and tuned PC designed for performance and stability for RED Digital shooters and editors. In this post, I’ll share some information about this special HP PC, and walk you through the optimized workflow that it enables with RED 4K and 5K footage. For background, you can read up on other posts in this series here: intro post, and post production post.

Z820 RED Edition 1 Crop 600

The loaner Pre-production Z820 RED Edition PC used by the author

The Z820 RED Edition PC is built on the capable HP Z820 series platform, so it comes standard with the same features that you get with any Z820 PC:

  • 16-core Dual Zeon processors
  • Up to 512 GB RAM
  • Tool-less design
  • NVIDIA Quadro graphics
  • USB 3.0 ports
  • Large capacity drive bay configurations: 5 x 3.5 HDD’s, or 8 x 2.5 HDD’s, or 4 x 3.5 HDD’s and 4 x 2.5 HDD’s at the same time

In addition to these Z820 capabilities, the Z820 RED Edition is equipped with several custom options and configurations including:

  • All black finish
  • Custom red power button and HDD LED
  • Built-in front panel mounted REDMAG readers (one combo Blu-ray/REDMAG reader, one stand-alone REDMAG reader)
  • RED ROCKET card(s) pre-installed
  • Optimized Windows installation, Adobe CS6 apps preinstalled

If you are familiar with RED Digital Cinema equipment, you’ve probably noticed the consistent industrial design that’s a signature of RED products. Strong lines, purposeful shapes, and red accents are present on all of their products. The RED EPIC camera brain is a great example of this form-follows-function design principle:

RED EPIC brain box crop 600

The RED EPIC Brain – Typical of the RED design philosophy

The Z820 RED Edition has been customized to visually fit in nicely with the RED family of products. The power button and LEDs are all red in color. The case is black and matches the overall look of a RED camera. There’s a lot of attention to detail both inside and outside.

While you could build your own high-spec video editing system for RED footage (and many do), it’s nice to know that you don’t have to. Some of the compelling advantages of the Z820 RED Edition include turn-key convenience, tested and optimized stability, and the well-integrated/clean hardware package. Instead of needing multiple RED STATION readers sitting on top of the PC with cables and power supplies to worry about, you can just plug REDMAG SSD drives right into the built-in REDMAG readers.

In addition to being a great video editing station, the Z820 RED edition also makes a great station for things like live projection/screening of 4K/5K footage. You can take a REDMAG SSD directly out of a RED camera, and plug it into the Z820 RED Edition. It’s then an easy task to access/play/tweak footage directly from the SSD, without needing to first copy files locally. Since the built-in REDMAG readers are connected via SATA, it’s like accessing a built-in SSD- but with the convenience of external connectivity.

The files that are recorded by RED cameras use a format called REDCODE RAW. This raw video format is what enables amazing capabilities in post-production (like drastic exposure correction and color correction) and even enables cinematographers to shoot in challenging lighting conditions that would not normally be possible. But these REDCODE RAW files are not directly playable on most devices without first being transcoded into one of the popular viewable formats (like H.264 or WMV). Transcoding is a normal part of post-production, but in many cases you need to see footage before it’s rendered out as a production file. This is where the RED ROCKET card comes in handy.


The RED ROCKET 4K/5K transcoding card – included with the Z820 RED Edition

Windows offers an advantage in this context because you can stack an arbitrary number of RED ROCKET cards (based on how many PCI slots are available) which is not possible on other platforms. Since it takes a dedicated RED ROCKET card per layer of 4K/5K video being transcoded or decoded, that means that Windows offers the most powerful capability for viewing and editing multiple layers of 4K/5K footage on this kind of workstation.

I’ve been using the Z820 RED Edition for a while now for various tasks, and I’ve been really impressed by its capabilities (the RED ROCKET is awesome!). It’s also been very handy to have the built-in REDMAG readers and Blu-ray player. If you deal with RED cameras and/or REDCODE RAW footage, you should definitely check out the Z820 RED Edition!

This specialty PC isn’t available directly from HP, rather it is available from two suppliers that specialize in media production equipment and software:

· ProMax Z820 RED Edition

· Tekserve Z820 RED Edition

You can follow me on Twitter here: @GavinGear