News for May 2007

Lustre 2007 Update…

Product: Lustre
Version: 2007.0
Manufacturer: Autodesk Media & Entertainment…
Price: Lustre HD – from $190,000 / Lustre Master – from $260,000

Performance & stability: n/a*
Features: 7/10
Expected return on investment: 8/10
Support: n/a*
Longevity: 9/10
Flexibility: 7/10

Pros: A great suite of colour tools, plays well with other Autodesk systems.

Cons: Still missing some fundamentals, like a decent timeline

Bottom line: If you’ve got an Autodesk pipeline, this will fit in nicely

*This review concentrates on features and design rather than hands-on performance

Lustre 2007

Lustre was one of the first commercial digital grading systems available, aimed squarely at the high-end digital intermediate industry. With version 3.0 (um, make that “2007.0″) out in the wild, it’s time to take a look at how it’s bearing up against the competition.

The last couple of years have seen some major updates to the heavyweights of the digital grading systems, though to be honest, nothing earth-shattering. After all, there’s only so much that can be done with colour, and once you factor in the capability to load 3rd-party add-ons and plug-ins (or “sparks” in Lustre’s case), there’s little point creating new effects. So the trend for the last two years or so has been to focus almost exclusively on workflow, redesigning key elements of interoperability and user interface, whilst maintain a steadfast “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” policy. Autodesk is no exception in this case, and the vast majority of improvements in this latest version are to the benefit of existing users.

The most noticeable and probably most interesting improvement is the new control surface. These have been completely redesigned from scratch, even down to the materials used. There has been much fanfare from Autodesk (who were showing them off back at IBC last year) about the new panels, and rightly so. Unlike the previous panels (or those nasty Tangent panels that can be bought separately), the new control surface screams “ergonomic” at you from fifty paces. Rather than try and monopolise the available space and cram it with extra buttons, there is space for weary colourists to rest their wrists. The panels are also modular, meaning they can be happily rearranged to suit you or your available desk space. On top of this, all the buttons are completely configurable, right down to the intensity of the backlights (yes, all the controls are backlit too). Every aspect of the application can now be controlled by the panels, so that the trackball can be used to pan or scrub images, for example. It might not appeal to Filmlight’s “Blackboard” crowd, who have long been used to having every function at their fingertips, but to use an aircraft metaphor, it’s probably the difference between the cockpits of a jumbo jet or a fighter plane.

Another area that has received attention is the overall processing speed. Even on the same hardware, you’ll notice definite speed improvements over previous versions. With the latest hardware, you’ll get roughly double the processing power. The GPU is used to accelerate the preview display, although mercifully the CPU is still used for renders, which should guarantee accuracy and longevity of project data. The net result of all of this is that up to four secondaries can be used for real-time without any need for additional rendering. Though this is not recommended practice for final tape deliverables, it nevertheless is ideal for dailies or less intensive grading sessions. For everything else, some rendering will be required, but then this rendered source can be used to generate real-time playouts at various resolutions through the GPU.

Another welcome feature is the possibility to show UI elements on the broadcast video output. The main benefit of this is for showing things like split-screens on client-attended sessions (for example, in setups that use digital projection. One of the other nice touches is the option to set a coloured border around the broadcast image, very useful for grading in a completely dark environment (when the aforementioned panel backlighting comes in very handy). The two other “stealth” features (i.e. those you won’t hear much about, but which are very useful) are interlaced video support and the ability to read infra-red data from scans. Support for interlaced video prevents the flicker when parked on an interlaced frame. Unfortunately there is no way to digitally remove (or create) fields in Lustre directly, but at least it will process each field separately, necessary when doing things like pan & scans. The infra-red data allows scans to be dustbusted with a little more efficiency, although I believe Lustre requires a particular implementation of the DPX format in order for these to be read correctly (such as those that can be generated by an Arriscan scanner).

The area where Lustre 2007 really shines (to use a really bad pun) though is in its interoperability with other Autodesk systems. First of all, the browser in Lustre 2007 will now automatically map other Autodesk systems it finds on the network. But the real benefit comes from improvements in workflow. For example, you can send a shot to be graded from a Fire system to a Lustre system, grade it in Lustre, and then send it back as a new reel to fire. The real beauty of this system is that everything remains “live” to some extent, meaning that you can make changes in either system and those are automatically propagated to the other systems.

The metadata improvements promised in previous releases are getting closer to reality, at least between Autodesk systems. It’s got nothing on say Toxik just yet, but the trend seems to indicate some long-term direction for the product line. And the more you think about it, the more interesting it becomes. Of course, this is all already possible to some extent with careful planning and sound data management, but this workflow offers a simpler, faster and more convenient (for those with a predominantly Autodesk-based environment at least). Lustre remains a solid choice as a standalone system, or practically a must-have for those who want to add a grading suite to their flames and smokes.

Lustre has one thing few of its competitors do: a good reputation. Even though it seems to be lagging behind some of the newer systems in terms of features, it has a solid user-base across the world, from giants like E-Film and Laser Pacific to much smaller boutique facilities. The pricing is fairly reasonable, but for anyone looking to buy, the decision to go with Lustre will largely depend upon whether or not there are other Flame or Smoke systems already in place.

Posted: May 21st, 2007
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