Building Your Workstation

In this lesson you will accomplish the following:

  • Learn what is important for the Media Manager workstation.
  • Work through a tutorial
Getting Down To It

The last lesson was a blizzard of information focused on  the various considerations (most technical) you need to understand before you start spending money. This lesson will laser focus on what exactly you will need to start work.

Let’s start with the computer and work from there.

You saw this basic workstation configuration in the last lesson (Fig.1). There’s more here than is shown, to make the system function properly AND without a hitch under the rigors of production.

Fig.1 Basic layout of a Media Manager workstation.
Choosing the computer

Although you have a choice of operating systems, you really don’t. The production industry is Mac-centric and that’s the way it is. I would strongly suggest you base your system on the Mac OS.

The best reason for spending the extra money to purchase a Mac computer is this: the utility software needed for a Windows based system has enough operational overhead to really slow down your transfers. Tests have been run over and over on a Windows OS computer using software allowing it to read and write to Mac formatted drives, and the findings have not changed. The megabytes per second transfer rates are noticably slower. Enough so that at the end of the day, you will be behind in your work. If you are working a multi-camera shoot, you will get burried pretty fast if the data transfers can’t keep up.

Based on just this one imparment to getting your work done as fast as possible, what follows is Mac based.

You do have choices in the Mac realm. Two that are popular right now is the M1 and M2 based laptops. There’s more horsepower than you will need for the Media Manager job built into these machines. You can think of them as a bit of future-proof if you do editing, color correction, or plan on moving up to the position of a DIT. Then you will need all they offer.

The other popular, and cost effective Apple computer is the Mac Mini M1 and M2 versions. These are hard to beat when it comes to bang-for-the-buck. But, you need to carry extra stuff to make them work. Namely a keyboard and a monitor. With a laptop, you could use the trackpad (although a mouse is much more convienent) and the basic monitor needed, is built in.

I think if you price out the Mini, plus a keyboard, plus a mouse, plus a monitor, it might come in less than a MacBook Pro M2. You will also need to add protective cases for the Mini and monitor into the cost equasion.

How About Used, Older Gear?

The answer is absolutley. Key here is what the software will run on. If you settle on YoYotta for backups software, you need to check with their system specifications. If they approve running the software on an Intel based Mac running Catalina or Big Sur, you are good to go. But, at some point they will update the software and it will not run on the older OSs. If you get a good enough deal on the computer and have enough work to pay it off fairly fast, this is a no brainer to buy a pre-Mac silicone based system. Even if your work software stops running after an update, you can still use the laptop for other business needs… like your accounting.

If you do lean towards an Intel Mac, get the latest model you can find, with all the options (most memory and largest storage).

MacBook Pro It Is

Okay, lets start building out from the MacBook Pro Max M1 laptop for the rest of the lesson.

The first thing you will notice, referencing the basic drawing (Fig.1), is all the stuff that needs to be connected. The MacBook Pro (MBP) has the following connections:

   – 3 Thunderbold 3

  – 1 HDMI

That’s it.

You need to add a lot more hanging off the machine when all is done.

Now, Thunderbolt 3 has the ability to daisy-chain a fair amount of drives off one connection. But that is not the best, technical, solution. It is far better to connect your outboard devices via a hub (Fig. 2 and 3), for several reasons.

Fig.2 OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock.
Fig.3 CalDigit Thunderbolt Dock.

There’s a number of options out there right now. Key to getting the right one for your needs is checking the ‘I need these connections’ boxes. Ask the following questions:

   – Does it support 4k output to multiple monitors. Some will do 4k to one and 2k to others. This might work fine.

   – Does it have monitor connections? or do you need an adapter?

   – If you need to tap into a router, is the Ethernet port 10 gigbit? It should be. If not, look elsewhere.

   – Does it pass power to outboard equipment? If so, how much?

Comparing the two above, the OWC  (Fig.2) has a mini display port only. You’ll need an adapter if your monitor is HDMI or Display Port.

The CalDigit TS3 (Fig.3) has a Display Port connection and a few more USB3c connections. It also has outputs for headphones and speakers. There’s a newer TS4 (Thunderbolt 4 compliant) available.

They both work fine for most of what you will be up against. But key here, does your computer have a USB3c/Thunderbolt 3 port to maximize the abilities of these boxes. The MBP M1 & M2 have what you need to connect these up. The last versions of the Intel based MBP have Thunderbolt and USB3c.

With one of these breakout boxes, you now have enough connections to handle most any configuration that will come your way. And adapters are plentiful to change connections to what you night need.

Master Array

You are going to need a storage array to hold projects as you work through daily productions. Yes, production will purchase drives for the production, but most Media Managers have their own large array as an ace-in-the-hole backup. I can’t count the times when post or production has called and said “hay… we kinda nuked some footage, do you happen to have everything from day 12?” Of course you do. They are ecstatic that you saved their bacon and will hire you again.

Now, there is a limit to what you can hold and how long you hold it. It is typical that the contract paperwork will have a paragraph indicating that ‘if’ you keep a backup, it will be for a certain length of time. 30 to 45 days is reasonable. After that, you can feel free to nuke the older project, freeing space for the new one.

What size array? 30-40 TB is a good start. And you have several options in the RAID configuration. Some are fixed size arrays (Fig.4 and 5). If you need more storage, you buy another array.

The other configuration is where you populate a case with bare drives. Figure 6 and 7 is an example. If you estimate the project will fill 30TB of drives, you can buy the 4 drives that will make that capacity. The drives can be shelved for your contracted time, then recycled back into your workflow. Some of these arrays can handle SSD drives. Blisteringly fast, but expensive when you try and create a large storage array.

Fig.4 G-raid 36 TB.
Fig.5 OWC 36 TB Raid.
Fig.6 OWC 4 drive thunderbolt RAID (Hard diks and SSD compatable).
Fig.7 G-Raid/SanDisk 4 drive array.

Key points to selecting an array case that you populate with drives are:

   – Connections. There’s no reason not to get Thunderbolt 3 or faster.

   – Which RAID types does it support. It should support at least RAID 0, 1, 5, 10.

   – Will it support SSD drives? They are faster but more expensive to create a large array.

   – What is the box’s max capacity in TB? 40 TB should be the minimum. Larger maximum capacity is better.

Card Readers

Understanding that production will provide card readers. They come with each rental camera (or should). But most are battle-worn and might have older USB connections. Which means that they might or might not work, and they will be slow if they they do work. You need to have your own card readers as part of your kit. Advice…don’t buy cheap.

You’re going to need the following card readers (by card type/format):

   – SD, micro SD

   – CF

   – CFexpress Type B

   – Cfast 2

   – RED Mag & RED Mini Mag (if RED cameras are prevalent in production where you are working)

You can purchase these as the need arises, but these are the most common. Some have multiple readers in the same case. The connection needs to be USB 3.1 gen 2 or faster.

Here’s some suggestions:


So, Figure 8 is where you are now in putting together your system.

Missing is a second monitor and a UPS, or Uninterruptible Power Supply. The UPS is critical. The laptop has it’s own battery but nothing else in your system does. If the power goes away, your drives stop. Not a good situation. Having a UPS keeps everything up and running until you can get it all shut down in an orderly fashion, or power is restored.

Fig.8 Basic system so far.

Choosing A UPS

Basically a UPS (Fig.9) is a battery pack with a recharger built in and a really fast switch to move the power from the wall (shore power) to the batteries, without a glitch. This is oversimplified of course but your get the gist.

UPS systems come in ‘Watt’ and ‘volt/amps’ ratings. A 1500 watt unit will deliver 1500 watts at 120v for a certain period of time. At full 1500 watt load on a 1500 watt UPS will power the connected load for a few minutes.

In order to figure out how much capacity you need (watts) you will simply add up all the watts your system draws when up and operating at full speed.

For example if the following items draw  their rated loads, you simply add them up.

   – Computer (wall charger) 68 watts

   – Array drive = 20 watts

   – Hub = 60 watts

   – Backup drives = 3 x 15 watts (45 watts total)

   – Card readers = 3 x 5 watts (15 watts total)

   – Monitor = 30 watts

Total power draw would be 238 watts. So, if you purchased a 1500 volt amp/ 1500 watt UPS, it would run your entire system for approximately 12 minutes. Actually longer, because the laptop had its own battery and doesn’t need to be connected to the power backup side if the UPS.

12 minutes is plenty long enough to get things in order before everything shuts off.

Fig.9 CyberPower 1500 watt UPS backup.

Final Items

We’ll skip over the monitor selection right now. It was covered in the last lesson.

What you now need to think about is your systems support. Do you need a cart, folding table, or are you going to build something in a case as you saw in the previous lesson.

There’s lots of little things that you will need as well. Extra cables of any cable you have. Extension cords (stingers if you are on set), permanent markers, dry erase markers, post-it notes, note pads, and more.

Here’s a good overview video of what a DIT packs over and above her system. Think of this as ‘your survival kit’.

A final thought on the computer configuration you saw in the video. If you want a Mac only system, replace the PC with a Mac Mini. The only change after that is the LTO tape will need a USB connection, which is now common.

t’s time to plan your system. Using the following tutorials, you will design and price out  your system.

It is mandatory that you use a pencil and paper to sketch the system out, THEN start looking for the parts. You need to see a visual of what will be created. It really helps you NOT miss something.

Locate the Build Your Workstation TUTORIAL in the downloaded files for the course, and work though the steps.

This should take 60 min. to accomplish.

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