By philbeards


October 10, 2011

Earlier this year we decided to upgrade our two Mac Pro editing suites with Mercury Playback Engines. I had been impressed with the demos I’d seen at the AEL Summer School and set about trying to source two NVIDIA Quadro’s. After trying for 3 months to get a price out of NVIDIA and many fruitless e-mails we bought directly from Apple. The difference has been staggering, after a slight issue installing the cards they have worked faultlessly and have handled everything we have thrown at them.

Perhaps the most remarkable project was last July, I designed an installation for the BA(Hons) Digital Media Production course end of year show. I wanted 24 iMacs synced together running video showreels of our graduates work. This was going to be quite a tall order as all the videos would have to be edited frame accurately and all be exactly the same length. I wanted to put in our course logo and branding, synced to appear at the same time at regular intervals. 24 iMacs were chosen so that we could actually spell out he name of the course 1 letter at at time on each screen. Each video was 15 minutes in length and featured 3 students short videos with motion graphics in between. How to edit them in Premiere Pro was a bit of a nightmare to work out, but eventually we came up with the solution of setting up 24 layers of video and turning on and off the layers that required rendering for each movie. We could sync up the motion graphics across all layers and drop the videos in between. We had 24 separate videos to render, each one took about 7 minutes and we were able to set up batch renders of all 24 movies movies together in Media Encoder. The edits, encoding and syncing were performed by our Tech Demonstrator Jason Watkins. The Mercury Playback Engine worked perfectly with no errors at all and apart from a bit of tweaking to get the right combination of videos it couldn’t have gone smoother.

The only problem was then how to sync 24 Macs? Fortunately we had been researching this area for some time and managed to sync 4 Macs for another project a while ago using Max MSP. This led us to an application called MultiScreener, this small application is loaded on to each machine and one machine is set to the master clock, all the others are set as slaves and immediately lock on to the signal generated by the first machine. All the machines are connected by network hubs daisy chained together.

When we set up the installation there was a little trepidation because of the time spent editing and rendering the 24 videos but the whole show ran perfectly. The show ran for 9 days without a hitch with several thousand people viewing the final piece, we received excellent feedback.

The syncing was the easy bit but with out the Mercury Playback Engines I don’t think we would have been able to edit so many videos so accurately. Our Mac Pros have been given a new lease of life and we have managed to achieve solutions that we had never considered feasible before.

You can see a video of the installation here:


  • By Dave Barnard - 9:33 AM on October 31, 2011  

    Excellent multiscreen presentation, very impressive! I’d been looking to do something similar a while ago, great to see this working so well.
    The Mercury Playback Engine also works very well on the older NVidia GTX285 card, much cheaper than the Quadro but needs some hunting around to find them