Innovative solutions for post production professionals

The Quadro FX 3800 with Elemental Accelerator for CS4

As long as digital video compression has been around, video producers have sought to get the best video quality while also keeping file sizes small. The current solution is the H.264 format, which excels at producing small files with excellent quality. It’s the format of choice today for solid-state camcorders, iPods, and cell phones and is also used for Blu-ray disc, YouTube and most other web videos.

H.264 comes with a cost though – its quality and economy of size are the result of a very complex codec, meaning it takes a lot of horsepower to encode, typically taking much longer than realtime to produce the desired output. Whether you’re a wedding videographer making two-hour Blu-ray discs or a web producer creating dozens of small clips for the web every day, time is money and you can’t afford to have your edit system tied up for hours on end to encode videos.

To address the long encoding times of H.264 files, Elemental Technologies has created the Elemental Accelerator software that works in conjunction with Quadro FX series display cards to supercharge H.264 encoding with Adobe CS4 (PC or Mac). The Elemental Accelerator uses the processing power of the Quadro FX card’s Graphics Processing Unit, or GPU, to greatly accelerate H.264 and MPEG-2 output.

Additional benefits are available to expedite the CS4 workflow. The Adobe Fast Color Corrector, scaling, opacity, dissolve and a few other basic effects are accelerated. Editors of complex video formats like AVCHD will experience faster decoding using the GPU power, freeing up the computer processor for other tasks.

The Elemental software is an easy to install plug-in for Premiere CS4 on the PC or Mac. When using the Adobe Media Encoder, users will find several “Elemental” options added to the list. GPU processing will be utilized when choosing these presets for encoding for Blu-ray, YouTube, iPod, cell phone video or virtually any other H.264 or MPEG-2 encoding need.

I did several test encodes in CS4, using 1080i HDV source footage and exporting to various formats, using Elemental MPEG-2 and H.264 presets and comparing encoding times to native AME presets. The test workstation is an older Safe Harbor TSUNAMI with dual quad-core Xeon 2.33Ghz processors, running CS4 on Windows XP Pro and using the PNY Quadro FX 3800 GPU with Elemental Accelerator.

Overall, encode times were consistently about twice as fast using Elemental presets, whether going to MPEG-2 or H.264. On short clips, time savings may be just a couple of minutes, but when dealing with a lot of these short clips on a daily basis, those minutes certainly add up. For wedding and event videographers doing long-form videos, the savings can easily equal many hours per project.

Promotional materials from Elemental claim up to 11x faster encoding is possible. I noticed that their source video in the test was AVCHD, and I believe that time savings are compounded when Elemental is doing the heavy lifting on multiple tasks at the same time.

In the example chart I saw, a 1080p AVCHD clip was being encoded to H.264 at 720p. Elemental will accelerate the decoding of the AVCHD, the scaling from 1080p to 720p, and the encoding to H.264 all at once, and that is where you would see a cumulative effect with a larger time savings than straight encoding alone. I’m using HDV clips that are MPEG-2 based, so the decoding is much easier than with AVCHD clips, which may explain my lower encoding performance numbers to a degree.

I placed a 1-minute 1080i 29.97 HDV clip in a 720p 59.94 project and encoded to Blu-ray, with and without Elemental. The resulting times were 0:52 and 3:59 respectively, so Elemental appears to really help when scaling is involved in addition to the encoding task.

In other words, results will vary depending on what kind of video you are working with, what you are encoding to, and the computer hardware being used. In any case, you can expect to save a good deal of time on most any H.264 or MPEG-2 encoding job you may encounter.

Quadro FX cards have always been known for their exceptional performance with Adobe Photoshop, After Effects and Premiere. Whether you’re building a new system, or just looking to add life to your existing system, a Quadro FX card with the Elemental Accelerator will definitely benefit your workflow all around.

Test Results – using 5:00 1080i HDV source clip: Elemental
MPEG-2 for DVD, CBR 6.0 – 2:12
MPEG-2 Blu-ray, VBR 1-pass 25-30 (avg/max) – 4:19
H.264 Blu-ray, VBR 1-pass 20-25 (avg/max) – 8:17
YouTube 720p, VBR 1-pass 6-9 (avg/max) – 4:30
iPod Large, VBR 1-pass 1000-1400 – 2:22

Test Results – using 5:00 1080i HDV source clip: Adobe
MPEG-2 for DVD, CBR 6.0 – 4:56
MPEG-2 Blu-ray, VBR 1-pass 25-30 (avg/max) – 11:55
H.264 Blu-ray, VBR 1-pass 20-25 (avg/max) – 13:10
YouTube 720p, VBR 1-pass 6-9 (avg/max) – 8:57
iPod Large, VBR 1-pass 1000-1400 – 5:09

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The Quadro FX 3800 with Elemental Accelerator for CS4