In Part 4 we looked at a €399 AMD Fusion-based Lenovo S205. Through a number of video editing software tests I managed to get an acceptable 720p rendering speed out of the device which would be OK for short projects. For 480p output, it was good though. In this article I’m taking it up a notch in processing power to an Intel ‘Sandy Bridge’ based 13” laptop. It’s the lightweight Samsung 900X3A and given the right software, it’s proving to be a fantastic machine for 720p editing, rendering and uploading for YouTube.
Before we start though, a reminder of the aim and parameters set for the project. The parameters I’ve set for the project are shown below and you can read about why these parameters have been set here.
- PC and video editing software to cost less than 600 Euros
- PC to be less than 1.5KG with 12” screen or less.
- Total camera + PC solution to weigh less than 2KG and cost less than 1000 Euro
- Source video should be 720p
- Video sent to YouTube should be 480p minimum
- Video editing sotware must include watermarking, overlays, crossfades, and multiple audio tracks.
At 1.33KG the Samsung Series 9 (900X3A) is light but with the 13” screen, is bigger than I’d like to see. The screen size (1366×768) does have some advantages at this size though. It’s matt and bright too which means it is good for working outdoors. A 128GB fast SSD helps too. There is an 11” version of the 900X3A available to order if the 13” screen is not to your tastes. If it looks and sounds like an expensive laptop, it is. It’s well outside the target price of 600 Euro. You won’t be able to find the 900X3A for much less than 1400 Euro at the moment but don’t let that put you off because this is a premium device that’s one of the first in the market. Intel are promising sub $1000 devices based on the same platform as the 1.4Ghz Core i5 in the Samsung 900X3A and as time goes on, those prices will drop further and during 2012 I expect devices of this calibre to be coming down fast to 600 Euro.
You’ll find a full review of the Samsung 900X3A over at Ultrabooknews but let’s focus on video production here.
First thing to note is the lack of full-size SD card slot. It’s a big minus in my opinion. A micro-SD card slot is available but I really don’t recommend swapping micro-SD cards about. The full-size adaptor with eventually fail and there’s a high risk of dropping or losing a micro-SD card. The solution is to use a USB adaptor for the SD card or a standard USB connection. High-speed cards are a must for high bitrate videos so make sure your adaptor is a quality one. The Series 9 supports USB3.0 but you shouldn’t need that. One of the ports can be used as a charging port when the device is off too which could be handy.
The excellent SSD in the Series 9 works at up to 220MB/s so for large programs like Power Director 9, there’s no hanging around waiting for it to load up. YOu might find it load faster than on most desktops in fact. Moving files around, duplicating and general file work is quick too which really helps to smooth things along.
The CPU/GPU combination in the Series 9 is known as ‘Sandy Bridge.’ It’s the second-generation Core processor from Intel and makes significant processing power gains over the previous generation. It’s an expensive platform but as well as raw CPU power and acceptable low-end gaming GPU power it also includes a hardware video decoder and hardware video encoder for some formats. Support for the video encoder is not widespread though. HDMI-enables full extended screen working but remember that the audio is routed digitally and you’ll need an audio decoder in your monitor.
As with the Lenovo S205, I’m using 12Mbps 25fps 720p from a Nokia N8 and converting it to 720p at 30fps with a bitrate of 6mbps. The laptop is set to high-power mode (no mains power.) Remember, this isn’t a comparison of video editing suites, it’s a test to see how much editing and rendering power and time can be had from the Samsung 900X3A (and by definition, from other notebooks based on the same CPU/GPU/Chipset combination.
Video Editing Software
Cyberlink Media Espresso.
Cyberlink Media Espresso does a fantastic job of converting video. A 7 min H.264 video was converted in just over 60 seconds which is exceptional. It matches the frame rate automatically though and despite setting a 6mbps bitrate, the conversion completed with a 4mbps bitrate. It bodes well for video rendering using Power Director, the video editing tool from the same company. Note that this is a pure video conversion tool and no clip editing or sequencing is possible.
One feature in Media Espresso which could be a real advantage for mobile video creators is the YouTube upload feature. I was able to throw in a 6mbps 720p file for upload which was converted down to 1.8mbps to match YouTube minimum requirements. It results in fast upload speeds and fast conversion speeds at YouTube. A 180MB 1080p file was converted down to low-bitrate 720p and just 33MB in size. Upload speed was obviously 5x faster than the original and the conversion time at YouTube was about 2 mins for 360p and another minute for 720p. Ignoring the video editing tools for a bit, this is one tool that could seriously help beat the clock on uploading YouTube videos. When you’ve got time you can always upload the high-bitrate version at a later time.
Cyberlink Power Director
Over the last 5 years I’ve seen consistent support from Cyberlink for low-level hardware. Early VIA UMPCs had video decoding hardware that was supported by Cyberlink. The recent AMD Fusion platform is well supported and the same is true here with the Intel Quick Sync Video technology.
Despite trying a wide range of settings though, I couldn’t get Power Director to work as fast during standard video clip conversion as Media Espresso. Using a single clip without any affects I was able to achieve a 6:48 conversion time for the original 7:38 clip which is good, about 3 times faster than the Lenovo S205 with the same challenge, but there seems to be a more complex operation going on in Power Director that results slower conversion speeds than with Media Espresso. Using the default hardware acceleration settings (hardware decode only) I only saw a 30% average CPU load. Turning off the hardware decoding though does result in higher CPU load and slower processing (about 2x.) It wasn’t until I spotted the ‘Trial Software’ watermark on the rendered video clip that I realised what might be happening. The Intel Quick Sync encoder can’t work efficiently if there’s an overlay being applied. I’m checking this theory with Cyberlink right now and will update the post when I get new information or am able to test without the text overlay being forced.
Update: Thanks to Cyberlink I was able to test a fully licensed version of Power DIrector. I couldn’t get any more speed or CPU load out of the system so clearly there’s something else that may need optimising. 720p conversion rates remained at just under the 1X real-time mark – about 3x faster than the AMD E-350 based Lenovo S205 and easily 5x faster than a standard Intel Atom netbook.
At this stage we can say that Intel Quick Sync does work in Power Director and this test case, a 720p 12mbps source, gives a 2x increase in rendering speed (with watermarking) but there could be more. Using other clips, 1920×800 at 8mbps for example, I began to see some limits where the hardware encoder wasn’t helping to increase the speed (but was helping to keep CPU usage low and therefore battery drain minimised)
In the best cases (using Intel Quick Sync video) I saw an average of about 18W being used with a peak of 25W, possibly while the Sandy Bridge Turbo feature was being used (until the thermal controls turned it off.) In terms of speed per watt energy consumed, that’s easily the best I’ve seen so far. On a fully loaded battery, the Samsung Series 9 900X3A could encode about 2.5 hours of 720p timeline cuts, fades, titles and sequencing. On the Lenovo S205, you’ll get about 1hr of encoding completed. On a netbook, well, you don’t want to go there with 720p editing and encoding!
Heat and Turbo
Intel’s Turbo Boost technology is interesting and useful in some situations. In video rendering situations though it’s not so useful due to the way it works. Thermal monitoring means that if the CPU core reaches a fixed temperature, the Turbo boost feature will be restricted. In CPU-bound, multicore tasks like video rendering, both cores will reach operating temperature very quickly and Turbo will be turned off. In some cases I saw just 9 seconds of Turbo boost but it depends on ambient temperature and the process being used. For video editing (not final rendering) Turbo boost works well because it’s only need occasionally. It has major advantages but not in video rendering.
SVRT is a feature in Power Director that detects if the source and destination file formats, frame rates and bitrates are the same. In they are the same (or similar in some cases) the source file is not re-rendered completely. Only fades, titles and effects will be re-rendered.. In other cases, the file is ‘passed through’ to the output thus vastly increasing rendering speeds. With the N8 source files I was unable to achieve this. Interestingly, by passing the source files through Media Espresso it converted them to a format that was compatible with the SVRT process.
This pre-conversion process may not be the highest-quality way to treat video clips but for our YouTube target, it’s an interesting process and could, for videos over say 5 minutes, could shorten the rendering time. There’s a second advantage to having Media Espresso in the toolchain too because it does a very good job of converting and uploading files for YouTube. There’s also the option of using some simple clean-up tools although that will extend the rendering time by a lot.
Again, this article is not meant as a review of video editing software but during the series I’ve mainly been focusing on two software packages. The Cyberlink solutions covered above and the Corel Video Studio Pro X4 solution that I’ll talk about now. The reason? They both offer sub €100 solutions, include support for hardware and specialist libraries like OpenCL and they include enough capability for the average mobile video process. These aren’t pro tools but where speed is important and YouTube is the audience, pro tools are often too much.
Using Corel Video Studio Pro X4 I wasn’t able to get quite the speed of rendering that I saw on Power Director and there was no indication that Intel Quick Sync Video was supported although the ‘hardware encode’ option did appear. I wonder if the Intel Quick Sync technology is actually used. After 20 or 30 different tests I was not satisfied with the speed and efficiency of Video Studio Pro X4 and abandoned this a a choice for the Sandy Bridge platform.
Adobe Premier Elements is another popular mid-range editing suite and it does support Intel Quick Sync technology via an Intel plugin (available here.) In my tests I felt confident that more was being pulled out of the Series 9 that with the other two programs although power usage was higher by about 10% than on Cyberlink Power Director 9. Because of the plugin there are specific settings for using the Intel Quick Sync technology and it’s possible to force the use of the hardware. In an initial test though, the video failed to finish its conversion. In all cases video direct from the N8 was misinterpreted as 500fps video and could not be used until I passed the source video through Media Espresso, process that takes time and obviously will degrade the source material.
By using these ‘cleaned’ files and creating a 1 minute timeline of fades, titles and including a ‘demo software’ the process was completed in nearly 2X real time – 37 seconds for a 60 second video. I had no problem in editing or rendering these pre-converted files.
In a test of a standard bridge camera 720p file I downloaded a sample from a Canon SX30is in 720p at 21mbps. The file was easy to work with in Adobe Premier Elements and rendering speed down to 6mbps with fades and edits was almost as fast as with the ‘converted 6mbps file from the N8. Conversion down to sub-2mbps for YouTube and subsequent upload and availability was
The software is very flexible in creating output formats although the user interface didn’t seem as intuitive to me as Power Director. Given that Intel Quick Sync support will be important for the professional version of Adobe Premier, it’s very likely that the Intel Quick Sync technology will get continued support and end up as a core part of the software. At this stage though, it might not be prudent to rely on this two-part solution for professional use.
For the purposes of this article though, it proves the potential power of the 2nd-generation Core i5 platform.
Both Adobe Premier Elements and Cyberlink Power Director confirm that a 1.3KG laptop can be used for comfortable and efficient 720p video editing and rendering. The hardware encoding and decoding in the 1.4Ghz Core i5 platform is clearly helping and in comparison with the Lenovo S205 that I previously tested, you can get a lot more done within the duration of a single battery charge. That’s very important for mobile users. Given our requirements, the Samsung 900X3A is a little expensive and with only 100GB of disk free, there are some storage limits that will have to be offset with a USB3 hard drive but as a platform, Sandy Bridge (at a measly 1.4Ghz) proves it can offer 720p editing and rendering in 1.3KG. Of the video editing suites tested, Power Director and Adobe Premier Elements come out on top for performance with Adobe Premier Elements leading the way assuming source files work correctly with the system. Cyberlink Media Espresso works amazingly fast to convert files down to usable sizes for even faster editing and rendering and also, fast upload times.
In the video below I give you a demo of edit, render, convert, upload and view on YouTube. It’s a 720p 22mbps file from a Canon SX30IS (This sample was used) and the whole process takes 8 minutes.
Note on stability
In tests with Adobe Premier Elements, I saw a number of program crashes. This is of major concern as project work was lost as a result. I didn’t experience crashes on the other editing packages.
Note on Quality
The quality parameters for this project are fairly loose. I’m not looking for the best quality codec but I’m looking for an acceptable 720p full-screen experience on YouTube. At 2mbps, 720p videos are going to be lacking in a lot of finer detail but for YouTube, that’s the way it is. Editing in higher bitrates and converting using Media Espresso for a final YouTube upload leaves the original available for use later if required.
For me, this ends my work to analyse low-end solutions because I know that in Sandy Bridge-based Ultrabooks I’ve found my solution. The next stage is to buy a device, make a final decision on the software and get to work creating content. Right now the Asus UX21 and Cyberlink Media Espresso and Power Director 9 are at the top of the list due to ease and smoothness of use and acceptable rendering speeds.
Thanks to Samsung Germany and Cyberlink for their help with this article. (Loan hardware and software provided.)