March 22, 2007

RaveHD uses Linux to help movie studios process raw video

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

SpecSoft's Linux-powered RaveHD DDR-VTR system is not a video editing tool for home users or small-time professionals. It's a system that stores, manipulates, and plays back uncompressed video that can be turned into film clear enough to fill a Hollywood movie theater's wide screen. It's what you need when the file size of each frame in your video is measured in gigabytes and your whole project takes up multiple terabytes of storage, and you have not just one or two but 100 or 200 animators and post-production people working for you. At this level of video and film production, says SpecSoft co-founder Ramona Howard, the question isn't why you develop your utility programs in Linux, but why you would even consider using a proprietary operating system.Ramona Howard and her son Jason founded SpecSoft in 1997. They have used Linux as their primary development platform from day one. They didn't originally focus on the broadcast and film industries, but worked on a US government software project. At almost the exact time funding for that project ran out, Ramona says, "We were approached and asked to write a driver for the StillStore board. So we did. Within a weekend."

Jason had already written some code for dvgrab, which they were using in-house for some video editing projects they were working on. But, according to Ramona, the real impetus for moving SpecSoft toward video-oriented work came when a representative from the award-winning special effects company Digital Domain came to them with a "wish list" for a software product the company wanted to buy but which didn't exist. SpecSoft turned that wish list into RaveHD, currently at version 2.0, with 2.5 due to be released at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in April.

Why Linux?

Even though Ramona keeps saying the real question would be why they'd develop in anything but Linux, we still had to ask. And she replied, "[With Linux], you don't have to fight with the operating system. For example, if we're going to develop a feature and we run into an OS snag, we can develop in the OS. The OS doesn't define what we can and can't do The other thing Linux lends to us is stability.... You can choose whether you want a lot of things running or just one."

Ramona points out that RaveHD runs on single-purpose, application-specific boxes. She says that if you have a lot of things running -- email, video, Web browsers -- you may be setting yourself up for system crashes. She says SpecSoft is a big believer in the old-line Unix philosophy of using programs that each do one thing well, and that RaveHD was built on that principle.

"Over the years, our product has become more of a Swiss Army Knife [than it was originally], Ramona says, "but it still has some of that philosophy. Within our application we have all these litle modules that run independently. They all have a particular job to do. It doesn't matter if you have one of them running or 20 of them running. If you have a module whose job is to support a particular [video] format, it supports that format and that's it. You can even break those modules out and use them for other applications."

One thing to make clear, though: While RaveHD is Linux-specific software, Ramona says, "We're not open source in the sense of free beer. We're [only] open source to our customer base." In other words, you get the source code if you buy the product, and you are allowed to modify it, but you have no right to redistribute that code. But even this limited code sharing has helped RaveHD development, and Ramona notes that one reason RaveHD development has been so rapid is that customers have helped develop it. It's also helpful that all their customers "are on the same page, all in the same workspace."

Linux in high-end film and video production does not dominate

Only one major movie studio, Dreamworks, is rumored to run Linux throughout its entire operation, right down to the receptionists' desktop terminals. Most studios run a mix of operating systems. While Linux dominates render farm applications (often running proprietary software written in-house by the various studios), most studios use either Avid or Final Cut Pro as their primary video editing suite.

Ramona believes that for almost anyone short of a major studio that writes its own software, end-to-end Linux video editing is still a "maybe someday" thing. She says SpecSoft's RaveHD contains "some editing functions" but is not by any means a full-blown video editor. She also knows people "who have written their own little apps within Linux" to handle various video editing tasks, but she doesn't believe it would be practical for SpecSoft (or anyone else) to develop an all-new, professional-grade video editing software suite for Linux -- or, for that matter, for any other operating system.

"We could take everything we've done and apply it to an editor," she says, "but it's pointless to compete with Avid or Final Cut Pro without all the bells and whistles those programs have."

Click Here!