Software dictates component choices even in proprietary editing softeware

Luke Kuhn lukekuhn at
Sun Jun 19 21:35:22 UTC 2011

My experience has been that if you are building a machine especially to max-out open source multimedia editing, components should be selected for how they perform with Linux, not how they perform in Windows or anything else.  This is no different than many pro video editing packages. Avid used to sell their video editors only as complete machines build around their software. When they started selling the software by itself, they advised that only specific CPU's and videocards be used-and got buckets of complaints when people installed it on "unsupported" hardware.  
There is a problem if NO hardware in a category supports Linux, of course. In that case we can either find a way to make Linux support the product (like ndiswrapper adapting prorietary wireless drivers does), or find a way to mod or hop up some other product to fill the gap.
 Sound cards could be physically modded with different connections and mods to the analog circuitry.  This would mean starting with the requirements for connectivity and for audio quality, finding a card or cards for which it is possible to write a driver giving that audio quality and number of channels, and then adding a secondary board giving the external connections and signal levels. 
If more channels are needed an array of cards feeding an external adapter box might work better, rather like some of those multi-graphics card gaming machines but for audio recording and playback.
 I have given some though to the inputs that would be needed for an audio studio with multiple drum mikes and mikes for each instrument recording all in real time to separate tracks, and what I figured would be the solution is multiple sound cards on a board with plenty of pci or pci-e slots, two channels each from their left and right inputs , plus line and front mic inputs, possibly wired through an external box to accept standard cables. Should be able to build at least a 12-track physical setup this way with 6 cards,  maybe 16 physical tracks with 4 cards or even 28 with 7. A driver would have to be written to treat all these cards as a single large soundcard with all these inputs and outputs.
Publishing the circuit diagrams of the mod boards or adapter boxes would be the easiest and most open-source mode of distribution, so long as local production is not out of a hobbyist's or a paid techinician's capability.
I think of selecting a computer in general  as being like selecting a gun, and the software as the ammunition, which is selected first. High-cost pro audio cards, and also the larger, power-hungry video cards, are rarely found and scavenged and repurposed machines, they are bought when a computer is built to to a job. My advice for dealing with such parts is this:  Ubuntustudio should publish a "blacklist" of parts it is known NOT to work with, so people building computers for it know not to buy these components. 
In 2009 and 2010 I built two video editing machines to run kdenlive and audacity as fast as possible, and to be able to produce simple content in Blender. That meant AMD 4-cores back in 2009, the on-board sound on those boards as all functions worked fine with linux, and ATI videocards as their open-source drivers became effective in 2010. Install my exact package on something with different specs, and it may work poorly, maybe not at all if nvidia graphics are involved. It will run on the netbook, but only audacity, the web browsers, and small res video playback are expected to work there. Since the first machine works  well,  I built the second machine to be electrically an exact copy.
The real problem with Linux video editors is this: very little support for GPU rendering outside of Blender. Blender has only basic video editing included, though it can create  sequences from scratch. Cinelerra can use opengl to display effects, not to render, and kdenlive doesn't use it at all, so playback bogs down when effects are added. With source clips being in 1080i,  this is a real issue, and forces the use of the most powerful CPU's available. 
Kdenlive has bugs and issues, but costs nothing and what it cannot do, I can create as a separate clip in blender. Since the compression suck, I render out uncompressed and compress in avidemux, which runs very quickly on all 4 cores. If there were some way to merge the Blender, Cinelerra,  Kdenlive, and avidemux codebases into a single "Ubuntustudio Creative Suite" package, while fixing multithreading in ffmpeg and using openCL for rendering, we would then have a package competitive with commercial video editing suites.  Again like commercial stuff, rendering times could easily vary by a factor of 10 to one between the "right" and "wrong" hardware!  In this case, ranking hardware for desirability would be the approach, rather like gamers with videocards. 
 Scrounged hardware, which I have often used for standalone audio editors and web access machines, is a different scenario. Here the need is often to swap out stuff that Linux doesn't like such as older Soundblaster video cards. When you are stuck with a "random source" scenario, things get more difficult. For this, I recommend people try to find the distro that is the closest fit to what they have, again like finding ammo for an odd gun.
 Video cards can be ignored in a non-accelerated, non video playback nor editing scenario, like when I was using an expendable Pentium II laptop to produce audio news reports from a dicey location. That had an odd audio setup that required a LOT of hacking to get any sound output as well. Having the "gun" I had to come up with the "ammunition" by customizing Ubuntu Jaunty.  I still have that box, won't upgrade the software due to the severe difficulty of making audio work on that old clunker.
There are several reasons people stick with open-source multimedia software, no matter what the Windows/ pay software people have. For me they are issues of cost, issues of trust-and in my role as a far-left journalist, very fundamental issues of ideology. I regard the open-source community as operating in direct competition with the economic model I cover the oppostion to.  The trust issue is the security of encryption given problems with police raids on journalists-including myself. The cost issue is obvious-what I save of software, I can put into optimized hardware instead or not spend at all, or maybe I don't have access to such resources in the case of high-priced video editing suites. I would rather spend an extra 30 minutes per rendering job than buy two licenses at $10K apiece for a pro video editing suite.
In short, I see the market for Ubuntustudio and other open-source multimedia suites as being not the professional content creators, but the competition for the paid content producers.  It is my sincere hope that collaborative media projects and collaborative software both succeed in the long run in "overgrowing" their paid competition though sheer weight of numbers and the overwhelming advantage of being both free and controllable by the users. Someone making content for FOX or Hollywood can afford to have someone else set up their workstation, the rest of us cannot. That means people who want a serious content-creation machine are going to have to build it. Certainly a semi-pro studio serving a dozen neighborhood bands should be able to find  a hacker (and maybe a hardware hacker at that) able to set up their computer, and it helps if that hacker has some guidance so mistakes don't lead them to throw in the towel.
Publishing blacklists of known troublesome hardware and whitelists of known best hardware-or even lists of "validated" hardware" like Avid does would mean that setting up a content creation workstation would not involve guesswork or multiple attempts to buy hardware that actually works.

> Another issue is that Linux provides professional audio apps, but no> professional video apps, hence IMO audio is much more important.> > IMO it doesn't need a special multimedia distro for hobby usage, such as> video editing with Linux, or even for professional artwork, e.g. with> GIMP.> > In would welcome if multimedia distros provide everything that's needed> for professional work flow, since Linux can't provide this for video> editing, IMO audio is much more important. A lot of gfx card vendors> take care of Linux, while most professional audio cards can't be used> with Linux. This is regarding to the 'toy' approach of Linux multimedia,> because especially flashy desktop toy computers need fast gfx cards.e> For a professional audio tool we need professional audio cards, but> since most people have issues to set up a working audio Linux, most> people aren't using Linux for audio, so audio card vendors don't spend> time to support their cards for Linux.> > For professional usage of graphic apps, nobody needs a multimedia> distro, because GIMP and other apps will work OOTB with any regular> distro.> > People who which to do hobby video editing can spend some time to set up> their video editing machine, professional audio studios can't spend time> too set up a tool. Yes, universities are an exception, they have some> privileges a commercial audio studio hasn't.> > Regarding to workflow issues no famous audio studio will switch to> Linux, but at least many semi-professional studios and some non-famous> professional studios could switch to Linux.> > If a multimedia distro doesn't take care about this, than IMO there's no> need for multimedia distros, since Linux with issues, regarding to> audio, is provided by every regular major distro.> > OT: Robin Gareus added frame-accurate video-timeline to Ardour3, see> , since coders will enable professional NLE,> we have to wait some years.> >  		 	   		  
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