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AJA: HD and 4K Production

AJA Product Manager Eric Norrell offers an overview of key AJA products and applications for HD and 4K production, post-production, and streaming, along with a look at integrated solutions featuring AJA gear like the vMix Thunder.

All of AJA’s gear is being used in streaming applications, whether it’s visible or not. For example, our routers are integrated with NewTek TriCasters, so if you’re using a TriCaster, our SDI-based routers can be controlled directly from the TriCaster using network protocol ironically called the Grass Valley protocol.

For example, if you’re working with one of our routers that has 16 inputs and four outputs, and you have a TriCaster 460 that has four SDI inputs, you can work with as many as 16 inputs rather than just four--all for the additional $1,600 that the AJA router costs.

It’s a nice layer of hardware to add to your existing system to scale up and do bigger productions quickly.

In fact, NewTek uses AJA routers in their demonstrations and at trade shows; if you ever visit the NewTek in an exhibit hall, you’ll find an AJA KUMO router sitting somewhere under the table or in the rack.

The vMix Thunder system, featuring the AJA Io 4K Thunderbolt, is shown below in Figure 5. Unlike a lot of systems where you need a switcher, an encoder, and various things, this system delivers it all with a laptop and our Thunderbolt I/O device using the vMix software.

Figure 5. vMix Thunder, featuring the AJA Io 4K Thunderbolt

When Thunderbolt technology was first proposed by Apple, most hardware manufacturers were skeptical: “Well, this has a lot of potential but is it going to ever be used by anyone?” At the time, it was hard to tell. As Apple added more Thunderbolt parts, HP and Asus and a few other manufacturers jumped on the Thunderbolt train.

The vMix Thunder is an amazing way to do a three- or a four-camera switched stream with just with a laptop and a little I/O box. vMix is great piece of software. It can actually do 4K production, recording, and streaming today for just $630 (software-only). 4K streaming requires a lot of bandwidth; most people can’t watch it, and no one has a 4K iPhone yet. But even if you don’t expect to stream in 4K any time soon, you can still use vMix 4K to record a 4K version of what you’re doing even though you’re broadcasting in SD or HD.


If you’re working in an NLE, all of our recorders and our cameras natively record in a DNX or ProRes (Figure 6, below). If you use Avid, Adobe Creative Cloud, or Final Cut Pro X, it works really well. ProRes is somewhat ubiquitous. If you’re delivering content to iTunes, you have to deliver it in ProRes. It’s a nice way to work your entire workflow if you’re capturing in ProRes, editing in ProRes, and then delivering to iTunes in ProRes for streaming.

Figure 6. Post-production with AJA

ProRes will improve the quality of your output product. Keep in mind that everything you watch on TV, whether it’s Netflix or cable, has typically been transcoded somewhere between 15 and 30 times. Every time there’s a little quality hit. The goal in compression is always to make a smaller file size that will fit a smaller pipe but look as good as possible. You’ll always lose some quality when you compress your video, so if you can work in the same codec and minimize your transcoding, you will get better-quality output.

That said, most web video is delivered at 8-bit, 4:2:0, like Netflix, who sets the precedent in delivering HD and 4K streams. Traditional cable has been 10-bit. In the world of postproduction, everything is being done in 12-bit.

Often, I’m labeled the crazy streaming guy for insisting that 8-bit is good enough. Look at the Netflix stock price or how many users they have; it’s totally good enough. On the production side, you always want to work in a higher bit depth and with all the color information you can. But once you’re delivering the product, there’s a point of diminishing returns if you’re capturing something so good, and delivering it at 8-bit 360p and for playback on smartphones.

AJA also has boxes for doing live color correction and color matching cameras which can be extremely valuable if you’re you’re doing a multi-camera shoot and trying to match multiple cameras from different manufacturers. They almost never look the same, even when you hit the white balance buttons or the other white balance buttons or try to color-match them during production. AJA makes a product called the LUT Box (Figure 7, below) that allows you to take dual-link 3G cameras and single-link 3G cameras and apply a Look Up Table (LUT) on those so you can match those cameras. It’s a great way to keep using your legacy cameras, which may or may not plug into your mixer directly, and get a good look on them.

Figure 7. The AJA LUT Box

Developer Program

AJA also has a wonderful developer program. vMix, for example, jumped on our SDK and used our retail Io boards to build a mixer. If you know of streaming or other applications that could be improved by more high-quality hardware I/O options, feel free to direct them to anyone at AJA. Our website has a developer sign-up where they can get access to our SDK. We can send out developer units so that your favorite software can use our hardware as well.

For example, we’re building support for Wirecast for all of our equipment. It will be similar to our integration with vMix. It won’t have all of the functionality the vMix has, but Wirecast is a very powerful application. I especially like it because it’s Mac-based, and it’s really the one solution out there that does an inexpensive, widely usable encode.


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