Our company produces 20-30 same-day edits (SDEs) per year. One of the requirements for producing an SDE is a fast laptop (unless you really want to lug a tower PC or Mac Pro into a wedding venue) that allows you to edit on-the-fly. Since the introduction of DSLRs into wedding filmmaking, with the computationally complex H.264 files these cameras create, having a fast computer to edit those files has become even more essential. Because SDEs require you to produce an edit in such a short period of time, any timesavings you get from your equipment can make a big difference. In our studio, we make sure that all of our systems support NVIDIA graphics cards that allow us to edit Native DSLR files in Adobe Premiere Pro without the need to transcode into a different format before editing. This is a huge timesaver. In the past, if the wedding had only one location, we would often bring our tower computer to edit on. A laptop would have been preferable, of course, but the laptop we had didn't allow us to preview DSLR files smoothly.
GPU Acceleration and DreamColor
While beta testing for Adobe, I learned that HP would be coming out with a laptop with an NVIDIA graphics card that was compatible with Adobe's Mercury Playback Engine and that could give us GPU acceleration that would make playback of DSLR footage much smoother. I contacted HP to see if the company could send me a current model for testing. A company rep informed me that HP was coming out with a new line of laptop workstations that incorporated not only the NVIDIA graphics cards, but HP's DreamColor display. The DreamColor display was previously available only on its desktop monitors.
DreamColor is a technology that HP developed in collaboration with DreamWorks Studios to create a monitor with accurate color reproduction during the creation of the movie Shrek. It has since been adopted as an industry standard by Hollywood studios and production houses for use as the industry's preferred NLE monitor. The first time I loaded some DSLR footage into Premiere Pro and played it back on the timeline, I was truly amazed at how gorgeous my footage looked on this screen.
Size and Speed
When the EliteBook 8760w arrived, the first thing I noticed is how big this laptop is! It weighs in at 7.6 lbs. and has an incredible 17.3" screen, an extra-large trackpad, a backlit keyboard, and a pointing stick (mouse button). The laptop is also equipped with two USB 3.0 ports, two USB 2.0 ports, an eSATA/USB combo port, and a mini-FireWire jack.
It also includes an Express Card/54 slot and an SD slot for reading SD cards, which will come in handy for those who shoot with the Canon T2i or T3i as well as field recorders that use SD cards.
Speaking of cards, the first accessory I wanted to purchase for this laptop was a fast CF card reader. Lexar makes a USB 3.0 reader that is lightning-fast. I ran several tests transferring a full 32GB card and was surprised by the results. I connected the card reader to USB 2.0 and had consistent transfer rates of 25MB/sec.
Once I connected the reader to USB 3.0, the transfer speed jumped up to 72MB/sec. Much improved! I also had an ExpressCard CompactFlash reader that was almost as fast as USB 3.0. Its transfer speeds averaged out at 54MB/sec, which would allow me to transfer two cards at once at pretty fast speeds. These are all good things when you are trying to dump your footage as fast as possible to begin editing.
This laptop is built to handle just about any video or graphics software you might throw at it. It has an Intel i7-2820QM 2.3GHz processor running eight cores. This is great when it comes to rendering or running multiple apps at the same time. Having 16GB of RAM also helps when using Adobe's Creative Suite and Adobe Dynamic Link between apps.
What's more, HP has added the NVIDIA Quadro 5010M graphics card, which is optimized to use the Mercury Playback Engine and allows real-time, full-frame rate playback of native DSLR files right on the timeline. The high-end graphics card paired with the DreamColor display allows you to reproduce exactly what was shot out of the camera during preview. Also, a majority of Adobe's color correction effects are accelerated to play back in real time, thanks to the way the graphics card handles processing effects through the Mercury Playback Engine.
Another great feature of the HP 8760w laptop is its toolless design. There is a small lever on the bottom that allows you to remove the bottom panel. Once you take off the panel, you have access to the memory slots, hard drive bays, and the DVD/Blu-ray Disc drive.
HP has configured this system to handle up to three hard drives. To add more storage capacity within the laptop, simply remove the optical drive and replace it with a laptop-sized hard drive. The system I received came with one solid state drive (SSD) for the OS. At 256GB, it proved sufficient to load Creative Suite 5.5 and one video project. But I knew I needed more space for my SDEs, and I happen to have a spare 500GB 7200 RPM laptop drive. It was really easy to pop the drive in the spare bay and have it available once I booted up the computer.
One thing I recommend to editors who use a laptop is to replace your system hard drive with an SSD drive. You'll be amazed at how fast Windows and applications will load. Even projects in Premiere Pro load lightning-fast. I ran some tests to see how fast Windows loads from startup, and it took only 35 seconds. A 100GB project takes 15 seconds to open and load the media. Super-fast!
One thing that's important to consider when you're buying or building a laptop for SDEs is how long the battery will last. On a power-hungry laptop such as the EliteBook 8760w, I recommend keeping the laptop plugged in while editing. Typical battery life for editing peaks at around 2 hours, which is fine if you have to travel from one location to another and edit in the car.
We have a 1,000-watt inverter installed in our van so that we can edit there if we need to. When we shoot in locations that don't really have a room where we can cut the SDE, editing in our vehicle works well.
Once you complete your SDE, you have several options for exporting your video for display. My favorite option is to export the video as an MPEG-2 HD file directly to a thumb drive. Once the video is exported, I can pop the thumb drive in my media player connected to my projector and be off and running. (For more information on display devices for SDEs, see my April article on recommended projectors and media players.)
You can also send your video to Encore through the Dynamic Link and burn directly to DVD. This process takes a little longer than exporting out to a single media file. On our old laptop, exporting out to an HD file would take 20-30 minutes, with burning to DVD taking about the same time. With the HP 8760w, exporting a 5- to 7-minute HD file with color correction and DSLR footage is slightly faster than real time.
If you're in the market for a new laptop for your SDEs, I highly recommend the HP EliteBook 8760w workstation. It's like taking a super-fast, full-sized tower computer and cramming it all into a laptop with an amazing display. With Adobe CS 5.5, the 8760w, and its built-in NVIDIA graphics card, you'll be ready to rock the SDE world!
HP EliteBook 5760w System Specs
OS: Genuine Windows 7 Professional 64
Processor: Intel Core i7-2820QM (2.3GHz, 8MB L3 cache)
Chipset: Mobile Intel QM67 Express
Max Ram: 32GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
Solid State Drive: 256GB
Optical Drive: Blu-ray Disc/DVD Super Multi DL; DVD+/-RW Super Multi DL; DVD-ROM
Display: 17.3" diagonal LED-backlit FHD UWVA
anti-glare DreamColor screen
Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro 5010M with 4GB dedicated GDDR5 video memory
• Two USB 3.0
• One USB 2.0
• One USB 2.0 charging
• One eSATA/USB combo
• One external VGA monitor
• One Display Port
• One 1394a
• One stereo microphone in
• One stereo headphone/line out
• One AC power
• One RJ-11
• One RJ-45
• One docking connector
• One secondary battery connector
• One Express Card/54
• One Smart Card Reader
• One SD/MMC
Sound: SRS Premium Sound, integrated stereo speakers, dual-microphone array, button for volume mute, function keys for volume up and down, stereo headphone/line out; stereo microphone/line in
Input Devices: Trackpad with on/off button, two-way scroll, gestures, three pick buttons; PointStick with three additional PointStick buttons
Chris Randall (info at edit1media.com) is co-founder, with his wife, Laura, of Seattle-based Edit 1 Media, an award-sinning studio specializing in corporate and event video production. Two-time EventDV 25 honorees, the Randalls have spoken at international conferences on same-day edit production.