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Bringing Post to the Set

The Ki Pro portable digital recorder from AJA Video Systems rocked the 2009 NAB Show, winning several major awards.

It quickly became the buzz of the NAB press corps once most of us adjusted to the idea that the product's name is pronounced "Kee" Pro, derived from the Chinese concept of Ch'i, or roughly, "energy flow."

Its full impact on the future of editing, however, has taken a bit of time to ferment into our editing consciousnesses. This little gem just may change the way we think of the whole post-production workflow paradigm.

At first blush, Ki Pro is a universal tapeless recorder that can connect to any video or HD camera, thanks to its extensive array of analog and digital connection options.

The "key" (there's a free mnemonic for you) is that Ki Pro records the camera's uncompressed output as high-quality, full raster 10-bit Apple ProRes 422 media. That is, of course, the native format used by an Apple Final Cut Pro edit system, which means the Ki Pro's content can be instantly fed over a FireWire 800 cable into the NLE that is proving to be the world's most widely used editing software.

In fact, in the "2009–2010 Broadcast/Pro Video Product Report" released this spring by SCRI International, Inc., a premier supplier of broadcast/pro video syndicated market research, it says that in the professional video editing arena, "Apple is the overwhelming market leader this year, commanding 49.7 percent of the market place. That is up slightly from 2008 when the firm maintained their lead with 48.7 percent."


But, as Jon Thorn, product manager at AJA explained during a worldwide 23-city roadshow after the NAB Show, feeding an NLE is only the beginning for Ki Pro.

AJA's Ki Pro is pronouced "Kee" Pro, derived from the Chinese concept of Chii or roughly "energy flow." "The real reason this product exists is that we saw a gap between production and post production," Thorn said. "Acquisition used to depend on a camera's recording capability, often shoehorning its output onto sometimes very limited media. Editors on the other hand want the highest quality images possible to work with. Ki Pro bridges the gap between these two worlds."

Editors will relish the fact that Ki Pro lets you record clips in pre-named folders that can coexist on its Hierarchical File System (HFS) drive with PDF or Photoshop files. Not having to rely on arcane numerical file names will let an editor more efficiently cut against the script rather than deciphering a script supervisor's scribbled notes. Even associated metadata comes over the FireWire transfer into the Final Cut Pro NLE.

As Thorn described it, "These ProRes QuickTime files look to the Final Cut Pro software as if they have already been captured by the system itself along with reel numbers, clip names, and other needed information from cameras that can provide it."

This camera-mountable recorder features robust cross-conversion technology so you can have a 720p camera produce a 1080i recording, or, if you have a valued SD camera, Ki Pro can upconvert its output to high definition. Ki Pro can also digitize video from a legacy VTR and with its format flexibility can even serve as the standards hub on a set to provide monitoring outputs to analog displays from its digital storage.


But what is really going to bring Ki Pro on location is the promise that, starting next fall, its RS-422 port will be activated. Then this mighty mite will be able to function as a mastering deck right on the set, completing the editing circle wherever it is needed.

Ki Pro lets you record to an HDD Storage Module containing a 250 GB hard disk drive (standard), removable 34 mm ExpressCards, or an optional SSD Storage Module with a solid-state disk. Although it features VTR-like control buttons, the unit can also have its settings changed via WiFi from an iPhone.

Imagine how useful that could be if your cameraman is hanging from a balloon over the Serengeti shooting 720P when the clients decide they would really like that rampaging herd of wildebeests recorded in 1080!

Obviously, some of the greatest beneficiaries of the advent of AJA's Ki Pro will be Final Cut Pro editors. After just eight years on the market, Apple has announced that Final Cut Pro sales have topped one million licenses with considerably more individual editors actually using the system.

"When we started talking with AJA about the proposed Ki Pro over a year ago, the more we dug into it, the more versatile it appeared," said Richard Townhill, director video applications marketing at Apple. "You can always tell when somebody 'gets it' because the expression on their face changes."

Townhill revels in the implications. "Ki Pro gives extra longevity to existing equipment, lets you mix-and-match high-end cameras with more affordable B-roll models, and end up with a rough cut before you even leave the set," he said. "Ki Pro liberates you from Format Hell."

As an aside for FCP editors, can we squelch the Internet rumors about Apple dumping Final Cut Pro 6 just because no major update was announced at last month's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC)?

Think of it this way. Apple has recently announced that the new Snow Leopard OS will be released in September with 64-bit support top to bottom, a next-generation QuickTime X, and a new Grand Central Dispatch (GCD) engine enabling developers to maximize the benefits of multicore systems. True to form, nobody at Apple will pierce the veil, but who would bring out an FCP version 7 before Snow Leopard hits the ground?

Ki Pro was scheduled to ship by the end of last month, but at press time the wheels were still turning on its all-American production line.

"We won't ship a product until it is ready," said Chuck Whitlock, marketing communications manager at AJA Video. "But we know that, once Ki Pro hits the marketplace, the potential of its impact can only be imagined. Users are already presenting us with applications that we never thought of for Ki Pro."

Jay Ankeney is a freelance editor and post-production consultant based in Los Angeles. Write him at 220 39th St. (upper), Manhattan Beach, Calif. 90266 or