PenguinTV 4.0

I’ve released a new stable version of PenguinTV, my RSS reader / podcast downloader / media player thing. I really don’t have a lot of time and energy to do proper releases these days, so it hasn’t been tested as well as it should have.

The real reason for doing this release is that there’s a lot of massive code refactoring that I want to do, but I can’t do it without introducing instability. It makes sense to finally release 4.0 before I make a clean break and start screwing around with things.

I’m past the point of trying to push really hard to sell this application to other people, because as long as it works for Char and me that’s all I care about. I spent years making posts, trying to get contributors, etc, but no one seemed really interested in giving it a chance. If someone else finds it useful, good for them.

Building an Online Suite: Mac Pro Card Slot Fun

In creating my online suite, I am attempting a feat which many say cannot be done: creating a system that can run both Avid and Final Cut. Furthermore, I wanted to have Avid and Final Cut hardware installed on the same machine — Mojo DX for Avid and AJA Kona for Final Cut.

This type of hybrid system is not for the faint of heart. Video editing is a high-performance activity, and the editing packages are very picky about what software is installed, which versions, and how the hardware is set up. I was able to get everything running fairly easily, but the question is, is it running well or just limping along?

For instance, when I first set up the system, I thought everything was working just fine. Avid was working handsomely, Final Cut seemed to be working ok, and my disk benchmarks showed that my hard drives were working very quickly. However, I found out that external video playback in Final Cut was very poor. The video image on my external monitor would lag behind the desktop window by several seconds. This evening, I discovered that I couldn’t capture more than 2 minutes of high-quality video (1080i uncompressed) into Avid without throwing up an error. Clearly, the two sides of this black and white cookie were not getting along1.

Both of these problems stemmed from hardware issues, specifically card slot configuration. The Mac has four slots inside it where one can install hardware cards. Two slots are extra-fast “16x” slots. The others are slower “4x” slots. But even then the two 16x slots are meant for different things. For instance, Slot 1 is for the graphics card. And tonight I found out that the 4x slots aren’t identical either.

Because of all the hardware I have (3 additional cards), there are 6 possible combinations for how I can install them. Trying each combination entails 15-20 minutes of rearranging cables and fastening tiny screws, and then another 15-20 minutes of testing. This is on top of the hours of troubleshooting to discover that, in fact, card slot arrangement was the source of my problems.

At this point I feel like I’ve tried all six. My first arrangement was like this:

  1. 16x: Graphics
  2. 16x: RAID
  3. 4x: Kona
  4. 4x: Mojo

Both the Kona and Mojo claim to be 4x devices, so I put them in the 4x slots. I wanted my storage to be as fast as possible, so I put that in the 16x slot.

But, I was getting these problems. Working with my colleagues on twitter, I discovered that the Kona card really wanted to be installed in Slot 2. Once I moved it there, my monitor playback in Final Cut was fixed. So for a couple months, I’ve had the cards arranged like this:

  1. 16x: Graphics
  2. 16x: Kona
  3. 4x: Mojo
  4. 4x: RAID

But then, my Avid problems. Well tonight, I found an obscure document that revealed that the Mojo card wants to be in Slot 2 or 4. Of course since I had it in slot 3, I had to move it again:

  1. 16x: Graphics
  2. 16x: Kona
  3. 4x: RAID
  4. 4x: Mojo

Now, finally, I think I’ve nailed the right order. Avid is able to capture long clips in high quality, Final Cut plays back correctly, my RAID is still reporting very high read and write speeds, and nothing else has exploded (yet).

Moral of the story: If you can afford to have separate machines for Avid and Final cut, yeah, it’s probably wise to do it that way. I wouldn’t want to pay myself for the hours I’ve put in to fixing these issues. But for those adventurous-types, combining the two is not impossible.

  1. That’s right, I’m making a goddamn Seinfeld reference. []