Thursday, February 23rd, 2017

2016HP ZBook G3 Workstation Reviews

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December 2016 – We recently had a chance to review, in a live production environment, the HP Zbook 15 G3 mobile workstation and the HP Zbook 17 G3 mobile workstation. Both of the units featured fifth generation Xeon quad core processors, discrete Nvidia graphics, 15.6” UHD Dreamcolor displays and Windows 10 Pro. The workstations were used as a center point for video processing for several live and recorded television shows which consisted of image and video processing, motion graphics creation, audio processing, final assembly and rendering for broadcast & the web.


HP Zbook 17 G3 Mobile Workstation with Dreamcolor Display

The traditional workflow relied on a HP Z800 series workstation with a 6 core 4th Generation Xeon processors, Intel Pro Graphics and both Direct Attach Storage and a media SAN solution with a 10GE NIC. This workflow used standard commercial & consumer level large format video displays in the environment and connected to the mixing console. One of the first and major differences of using the Zbook workstations was the availability of the integrated DreamColor UHD display. This allowed for the initial setup of the video from all the camera feeds through the mixer to be color corrected and balanced before episodes were captured. The processing power of the platform with the integrated discrete graphics allowed the processing to be done in studio real time.

The mobile workstations have been an “asked for” technology for a long time, as the space and weight requirements of “in studio” and “on-location” are always a concern. In post-production offices, the Zworkstations and a high speed SAN is the dominant technology. The marketplace, however, has driven the need for the same performance in a portable platform and a minimum footprint. For video applications, a the key points have been a high quality display and the ability to run programs that require the units to be on for 72 hrs or more at a time. The long run times, combined with the small footprint of the mobile workstations along with high power processors and lots of memory has usually resulted in both short battery life, and thermal shutdown of the units. The new G3 platforms had none of those issues. The quad core Xeon devices had 32GB of ECC-Compliant SDRAM memory, and were air cooled. In long render tests (including multi-layer compositing for 4K videos up to 1 hour in length), not only did not crash on up to 68hr contiguous runs (connected with a line cord) but had NO errors in the multiple transcodes created.

The primary test software was the 2017 release of Adobe Creative Cloud, and the tools used were Photoshop, Aftereffects, Premier Pro, Audition, and Media Encoder. Additionally, we used DaVicni Resolve and Fusion, as well as Corel X8 and VLC Media Player. All of the software installed without incident, and recognized the DreamColor display. Both the 15” and 17” units had integrated B&O Digital Sound. The sound worked well for both Stereo and 5.1 surround authoring and playback.

The use of the B&O digital sound with the Xeon processors produced one hiccup when a Windows 10 update did not recognize the main processor type and then the digital sound subsystem. The update disabled the sound system, while the diagnostics indicated it was still OK. After reverting the Windows update and re-installing the drivers, it restored properly. In subsequent weeks, Microsoft produced an update without the sound problem and it worked properly in the system. The built-in digital sound processing, and large DRAM configuration, allowed for in-workflow audio processing (from Premier Pro to and from Audition without leaving Premier Pro) to work without any significant delays. This capability worked for processing for live production and the balancing of sounds from multiple recorded sources without impacting throughput.

The integrated GPU with 4GB VRAM and the large DRAM configuration, allowed the render time on the gen5 quad core Xeon in the mobile workstations to actually be shorter than with desktop Z800 series workstation. While the mobile units did have large standard SATA3 HDDs installed, the setup was using USB3.0 External Expansion SSD and HDD drives for the content storage. This interface was chosen as the units only have a 1GE NIC, so DAS had a higher transfer rate than a SAN to mobile workstations. Currently, there is no option for a 10G NIC interface on the Zbooks, as there is on the desktop platforms.

For working directly with camera data, the mobile workstations both support the UHS-II data cards. This interface is both faster and higher capacity than standard SD cards, and is compatible with SD, SDHC and SDXC cards. This interface is a must have feature for people capturing in 4K as over 64GB file transfers are a regular occurrence. The mobile workstations also support 2x2 801.11ac wireless with Bluetooth 4.0. This interface allows for streaming media at reasonable frame rates (FHD at up to 30fps) to and from storage and remote displays. The high speed wireless interfaces and BT4.0 control are a big advantage in the setup and use of the devices in a studio environment by eliminating wired connections.
HP Zbook 17 G3 Mobile Workstation Touchpad

One of the main differences between the two Zbooks, besides the screen size and weight, is the touch pad configuration. The Zbook 17 has a multi-function touchpad with separate left and right select buttons under a positive click action, like a mouse that resides below the touchpad area with three buttons above the touchpad, and Zbook 15 has a single integrated touchpad with the left and right select buttons as tapping points inside the touchpad. Once the flow is established and in the case of processing with streaming content, ingest and render, both touchpads work well. The high sensitivity levels of the touchpads, even when adjusted, make an externally connected mouse or pen based tablet the input device of choice for the many menu selections and multi-window editing of Premier Pro, After Effects and Resolve, Fusion. As a compact device, the additional buttons on the Zbook 17 makes it usable without a mouse if needed for assembly level functions of the content, but the Zbook 15 requires an external device for detailed video content creation.

For the creation of audio content & editing, still image processing and video creation through FHD content up to 60fps, the Zbook 15 G3 with an external mouse is an ideal platform. Under 5lbs, expandable to more than enough ECC memory to allow full capability of a secondary program in addition to the main video editing and background rendering, and a color correct DreamColor display is hard to beat. In desktop use, the large number of TB3 and USB3.0 ports with HDMI output allows the device to be connected equivalently as the Zseries desktops with the exception of the 10G NIC. A great workstation that we actually got full studio slots (4 hr periods before a break) to run off the battery so it was cord free the whole session.

For people who are on 4K flows or are dealing with multiple video sources, the Zbook 17 G3 is the better solution. The slightly larger size of the screen allows for more precise editing and correction on the 4K images as well as supporting an option for more on board ECC memory for the main system. The extra memory is a must for the multiple input source applications. The extra size and weight, still under 8 lbs, and over 4 hr battery life in real application use, is a small price to pay over the 15” Zbook for the increased data size of 4K. Once again, it is a more than capable desktop replacement when combined with a local NAS or DAS array.

In summary, the Zbook Generation3 with the Xeon processors and high capacity ECC SRAM memory now brings the full desktop functionality and performance to an on-location platform. The ability to use the same device for content capture and then for image processing, saves literally hours in data transfer time for FHD and UHD/4K workflows. The integrated DreamColor displays, allows for the creation of broadcast ready content right on the machine in the office or in the field. The requests for a functional professional level mobile platform has finally been answered with “here is a shippable solution”.

 

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