Pro Video Workstation Buyers Guide

How to choose a video workstation

Video workstations provide a high performance and stable platform for film makers performing compute-intensive tasks such as video editing, colour correcting and VFX. Video workstations are available in a huge variety of configurations. This is both a strength, in that you have a lot of choice over how much you can spend, but has a weakness because so many choices can seem overwhelming. This page will guide you through what to consider when choosing a video workstation, broken down into five easy steps.

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There are multiple brands of video workstation available in the market, and picking the right brand is an important decision to get right to make sure you receive a professionally assembled system, built from high quality branded components, it’s competitively priced, and is provided with excellent customer service in case you need support.

Key Features

3XS Systems has been designing and building PCs for more than 20 years, so we have a huge amount of experience in building highly reliable systems that deliver the most performance for your budget. Here are the key reasons to buy a 3XS video workstation.

7 Days Support

Our engineers are available 7 days a week to help with any queries.

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Trusted by you

3XS Video Workstations have won hundreds of awards in the media.

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Next-day delivery

3XS Video Workstations are pre-built and tested in our factory to be delivered next-day.

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3 years warranty

3XS Pro Video Workstations include a three-year warranty, so if anything goes faulty we’ll repair or replace it.

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30 Day return Policy

If you’re not totally satisfied with your 3XS Video Workstation you can return it up to 30 days after delivery.

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Quality Components

3XS Graphics Workstations are built using high-quality branded components from market leading brands.

Step 2:

Optimised Performance

Every carefully chosen component in a 3XS video workstation has an important role to play in the performance of the system. This section highlights the capabilities of the most important components, giving you insight into why our video workstations are ideally suited for film makers.

AMD Ryzen and Intel Core Processors

Despite the growing use of graphics cards to accelerate specific processes, especially colour grading and creating VFX, the CPU or processor remains the most important component in a video workstation. The CPU not only determines overall system performance when editing, but also how many add-in cards the system can support such as capture cards, sound cards, network cards and RAID controllers. As a general rule of thumb AMD Ryzen and Intel Core CPUs only support a limited number of add-in cards, while higher cost AMD Threadripper and Intel Xeon CPUs support more add-in cards, and have the added bonus of having more CPU cores, which can be an advantage when working on complex projects.

NVIDIA Graphics Cards

The NVIDIA RTX graphics card or GPU is undoubtedly one of the most important components in a video workstation. The vast majority of content creation applications are visual in nature, and so need a powerful GPU to provide responsive performance. What’s more, the GPU can be also used to accelerate many compute-intensive tasks such as colour grading and rendering, completing such tasks far quicker than a CPU can by itself, meaning you can get more done in less time. NVIDIA RTX graphics cards are available in two main types, GeForce and Professional, both of which are available in 3XS Pro Video workstations.

NVIDIA GeForce RTX

NVIDIA GeForce RTX graphics cards are primarily designed for gaming, but they also provide outstanding performance and value for money for content creators. We recommend these cards for most Pro Video customers, as when combined with the special Studio Driver they perform brilliantly in creative applications.

You can find out more about NVIDIA GeForce RTX GPUs in our Buyers Guide.

NVIDIA Professional RTX

NVIDIA Professional RTX graphics cards are designed for workstation PCs, and are specially engineers for maximum reliability and include certified drivers ensuring optimal stability in supported applications. In addition, unlike GeForce RTX GPUs which only support three concurrent encoder sessions, Professional RTX GPUs support unlimited sessions. Professional RTX GPUs also have more onboard memory, boosting performance when working at higher resolutions.

You can find out more about NVIDIA Professional RTX GPU in our Buyers Guide.

Fast and Reliable Memory

While having sufficient memory on the graphics card is important, system performance will be crippled without adequate system memory. We use Corsair Vengeance RAM in our 3XS video workstations, with a minimum of 16GB on entry-level systems and more memory in high-end systems, ensuring optimum performance.

Ultra-Responsive Storage

Modern professional cinema cameras capture video with very little compression applied. Less compression means larger files to manage throughout the workflow. As an example, ProRes 422 HQ when shooting at 1080p25 10-bit creates a massive 83GB/hr. If you are at a multi camera shoot with four hours of content from four cameras that’s 1.32TB of footage. If the storage in the workstation is too slow to provide the application with each frame of the video then there will be dropped frames. This can show as stuttering or flashes, which is not what you want to focus on while trying to be creative.

3XS Pro Video workstations use the latest high performance NVMe SSDs, as these are around eight times faster than a SATA SSD and an incredible 25 times faster than a traditional HDD. That said, we recognise that you may need to store old projects and documents on your system, and an HDD is ideal for this use as they are very cost effective.

Internal SSDs and HDDs are the fastest way to store your data. In situations where you need additional storage or you need mobility, external solutions are available. Connecting an external Thunderbolt drive is the best route forwards, providing similar performance to internal storage while in the field or on set.

LTO (Linear Tape Open) tapes are an industry standard for archiving content. These are magnetic tapes used for long term storage and archiving. Whilst normal hard drives are reasonably expected to last you 3-5 years LTO drives are rated for up to 30 years! Although LTO tapes are not designed to be a fast solution, the tapes themselves are extremely large with some even giving you up to 30TB, making archiving whole projects as easy as possible.

Step 3:

Video I/O

Video I/O (Input/Output) devices are hardware that are specifically designed for getting video in and out of your computer. These devices are common across every post production workflow and are what allow you to confidently monitor your timeline as you edit and grade. Connecting an I/O device to a calibrated colour critical monitor gives you the assurance that what you are seeing is the most accurate representation of your deliverables.

Not all devices support every possible frame rate and resolution, picking a device that supports what you want to achieve is important. Manufacturers like AJA, Blackmagic Design and Matrox all product a variety of I/O’s that support different connections and formats. HDMI and SDI are two of the most common connections found on I/O’s, but some also support legacy analogue connections which can allow you to ingest and archive old VHS and lay back to tape. It’s also worth noting that HDR workflows will require an HDR capable I/O.

SDI

SDI or Serial Digital Interface is the most common format in professional video. A locking BNC connector used to transmit a digital signal.

HDMI

HDMI is more common in consumer and prosumer products as it does not feature a locking connector. HDMI can however transmit a large amount of data and can even send power for certain devices.

ANALOGUE

Whilst we often think of the older RCA connections as used on older video equipment, professional equipment tends to use the same BNC connector as SDI transmission. As such it’s very important to know whether your device is outputting an analogue or digital signal from its BNCs!

FIBRE

Fibre connections can use a variety of different connectors. Often you can purchase your own SFP (Small Form-factor pluggable transceiver) which will come with a choice of connector. The important part of fibre transmission is not the connector necessarily but ensuring that the device supports the wavelength of fibre signal you are transmitting. The most common wavelength in professional video is 1310nm (nanometers).

I/O’s come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be connected to your system in nearly every way. PCIe is most common for way to add an I/O to your system desktop however if you need to be mobile, say in an on set situation, there is the possibility of USB and Thunderbolt models. Industry standard rack mount units can even be added to your DIT cart.

How is the interface being connected to the computer?

 

THUNDERBOLT

This high-bandwidth Intel technology is currently installed on the newest Mac computers. It’s also found on PCs equipped with Thunderbolt add-on cards. It offers excellent data transfer rates and very low latency performance for the most demanding computer-based recording.

USB

USB ports are present on all 3XS Pro Video workstations and offer the slowest of all the connections. USB interfaces draw their power directly from the computer, requiring no external power supply.

PCI Express (PCIe)

This is an internal card-based computer connection platform that’s found in desktop computers. As PCIe connections provide high data bandwidth and low latency, PCIe interfaces are capable of handling many simultaneous inputs and outputs.

Step 4:

User Experience

The processor, graphics card, memory and storage all contribute to the overall performance of your 3XS video workstation. Here’s are the other characteristics of 3XS Pro Video workstations that go into making for a great content creation experience.

Connectivity

USB

USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-A
USB 3.2 Gen2 Type-C

Display

3 x DisplayPort 1.4a
2 x HDMI 2.1

Ethernet

Intel Gigabit LAN
Realtek Gigabit LAN

It’s very rare during content creation that you don’t need to import and export assets or the final project to another device. Recognising how important this is 3XS graphics workstations are equipped with best-in-class connectivity, including ultra-fast USB Type C ports conventionally located on the front of the system, high-speed LAN ports and plenty of DisplayPort outputs for connecting multiple monitors.

Thunderbolt

It’s very rare during content creation that you don’t need to import and export assets or the final project to another device. Recognising how important this is 3XS graphics workstations are equipped with best-in-class connectivity, including ultra-fast USB Type C ports conventionally located on the front of the system, high-speed LAN ports and plenty of video outputs for connecting multiple monitors.

Cooling and Power

High performance graphics card and processors can consume a lot of power, so 3XS video workstations are engineered to stay cool and quiet, even when running the most demanding renders. We also equip our PCs with high-quality 80PLUS Gold power supplies, ensuring a reliable and efficient power source for the system.

Step 5:

Monitors

Monitoring

Your choice of monitor is important depending on your workflow. Many editors simply require a confidence monitor to check for obvious visual errors however colour critical workflows rely on a high quality calibrated/calibratable monitor to ensure accuracy in delivery. In either situation being able to view your content is key.

Using a video I/O allows you to output an image from your NLE to your monitor but if you have are working on high resolution content then you want to be able to see the whole image without scaling it down to fit your display. There are a range of high-end GUI and colour critical displays available so how do you know which one suits your needs?

Colour critical monitors should cover the full or nearly all of the colour space you are working in and delivering to. If you are looking to deliver for cinema then your display should be capable of displaying the P3 colour space whereas broadcast deliveries are almost always Rec. 709. It’s important to see your colours accurately otherwise your delivered product may not look like you expect it to. Colour critical displays all have the ability to be calibrated either manually or through the use of lookup tables (LUTs).

Probes and calibration software can be used to ensure your monitor is within specification. Calibration software will output coloured patches to your monitor which the probe will then monitor and examine to determine and calculate what adjustments need to be made to represent colours accurately.

If you are planning to deliver High Dynamic Range or HDR content then an HDR capable monitor, after all, how can you deliver if you don’t know what your image will look like? HDR monitors are an exception to the requirement to support the full delivery colour space as there is no monitor currently capable of displaying the full Rec. 2020 space.

You can find out more about Colour Correct Professional Monitors in our Buyers Guide.

View the range of 3XS Pro Video Workstations

Click the links below to view the range of video workstations built by 3XS Systems. We offer pre-configured systems that are ready to go or can custom build a system to your preferred specification.

Pre-configured workstations


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Configure your own workstation


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Need help?

There you have it, everything you need to know when choosing a video workstation. We hope you've found this buyer’s guide helpful. Don't hesitate to contact one of our friendly advisors for more advice if you still have questions on how to select the perfect system.

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