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Review: Sonnet Qio High-Speed File Transport Center

Sonnet has crafted a beautiful solution for rapid footage offload that gives your laptop far more connectivity, power, and capability than ever before. The system is solid, and in pure professional parlance, it does what it says it can do. The Qio is, according to Anthony Burokas, the most useful professional video production accessory for a laptop-enabled tapeless live production workflow that you can get.

Laptops are an interesting breed. With today's chips, they do things that required a desktop just a year ago. But laptops have always had limited expandability. Over the years, companies such as Magma have offered PCMCIA and PCI expansion to an external PCI box, and those solutions have limited success for those who need that functionality. But the onus is on you to fill the expansion box with the solutions you need to make everything work together. Today, digital video and still cameras all use flash media, and 32GB chips are readily available.

That's a lot of data to move. But data offload and transfer is a constant of the tapeless live production workflow, and fast and efficient transfer capability is essential to doing the job. The speed attained with eSATA is several times that of current USB and FireWire solutions. Lastly, the typical file sizes of both stills and video continue to grow as still resolution continues to grow, and professional video codecs increase from 25Mbps to 35Mbps and 50Mbps and beyond.

Sonnet Technologies' Qio looks to provide a finished solution for the video professional and live event producer who needs to offload and transfer video reliably and quickly to enable more connectivity and capability.

What's a Qio?

When I first read about the Qio (pronounced que-eye-oh) in 2009, I immediately put in a request to get my hands on one. Almost a year later, I have it in my hands. When I spoke with the Sonnet engineers, they explained that it took quite a bit longer than they expected to achieve the lofty engineering goals they had set for themselves. But unlike with RED and other beta hardware, they wanted to make it right before releasing it. My testing has shown that the Qio does what it says it does. In this case, that alone is sort of a marvel because it does a heck of a lot.

The Qio is a diminutive box that seems to be nothing more than a glorified media card reader. If I can get a 45-in-one for $20 at the local electronics store, how could the Qio possibly cost $999? The answer lies in the engineering that doesn't just give you a media card reader but actually extends the PCI Express bus out of the computer and puts it inside the Qio box. Sure, you could connect any and all flash media simultaneously and copy all of them to a hard drive simultaneously (limited to a total aggregate bandwidth of 250MB/sec.), but the Qio offers even more than that.

The slots on the front of the Qio are labeled with the most appropriate professional flash media: ExpressCard slots are labeled "SxS," PC Card slots are labeled "P2," and the CompactFlash (CF) card slots are labeled, well, "CompactFlash." However, they really are fully available for any type of interface card you want to use. For instance, if you wanted to add multiple FireWire busses
to your laptop, you could use the Qio to add two more via ExpressCard adapters and even two more on PC Card adapters. Do you need to read a lot of SD cards? You could load up on ExpressCard, PC Card, and even CompactFlash adaptors and ingest six (or seven if your laptop also has a slot) SD cards at the same time.

For high-end video production, perhaps you want to use an interface such as the MATROX MXO2 I/O interface, which needs an ExpressCard slot, and write to a very fast external eSATA drive. You just can't do something like that natively on a Mac laptop because there is no eSATA port, and only one ExpressCard slot means only one adapter. With Qio, you can handle multiple I/O devices that use ExpressCard or PC Card interfaces, then directly connect several eSATA drives, and know that 155MB/sec. of 10-bit uncompressed 1080i60 video easily fits under the 250MB/sec. throughput ceiling of the Qio.