At a Glance
The AJA IO was the first unit to capture and transmit uncompressed video across FireWire. Designed specifically for Final Cut Pro 4, the IO packs almost every type of video and audio I/O imaginable.
The IO is a rack-mountable unit that connects to your Mac via a six-pin-to-six-pin FireWire connector. On the back of the unit are connectors for SDI, component video, S-Video, composite video, video reference (with loop-through), four-channel AES/EBU audio, eight-channel ADAT audio, two-channel SPDIF optical audio, four-channel analog audio, and even RS-422 machine control.
The IO installation CD includes a set of easy setups for 10-bit uncompressed video, 8-bit uncompressed video, 8-bit to DV50 (down conversion), and 8-bit to DV (down conversion). The IO manual mentions support for PhotoJPEG, but the CD doesn't include any easy setups. Full-size PhotoJPEG is available with AJA's Kona SD capture board. It gives great video quality at surprisingly low data rates. With the 1.1 drivers, PhotoJPEG at 720 by 486 is available for capture and editing but requires manual setup. The only drawback to using PhotoJPEG with the IO is that you're currently limited to watching your video on either an external monitor or your computer monitor. Sending video out to an external monitor sometimes blanks out the picture in Final Cut Pro's Viewer and Canvas windows altogether, but that's a minor inconvenience you can easily work around.
AJA IO's uncompressed 8-bit and 10-bit capture quality is superb. Using these high data formats requires a SCSI or Fibre Channel RAID (I used Apple's Xserve with no problems). These formats are ideal for online editing and professional video projects.
There's a minor problem with the AJA IO and its down-converted captures (DV, DV50, and PhotoJPEG). The capture-in points are never frame accurate (they fluctuate between one and two frames late). AJA and Apple plan to rectify this in the next driver release.
When used with an Apple dual-G5 and Final Cut Pro 4.1, the IO is a technical marvel. With the 2.52TB Xserve RAID for storage, I was able to play back five streams of 10-bit uncompressed video with no dropped frames (more with the 8-bit codec).
The AJA IO requires the entire FireWire channel, preventing you from attaching other FireWire devices to the computer, so it's not well suited to PowerBook users. Even with the top-of-the-line dual-G5, you'll need an extra FireWire PCI, SCSI, or Fibre Channel card to save files to external drives.
The IO has a few shortcomings -- we hope future driver updates will add 3:2 removal on video capture and 3:2 insertion during 23.98 playback.
Macworld's Buying Advice
The AJA IO is an economical uncompressed and offline capture device that works hand-in-hand with Final Cut Pro 4. With its wealth of I/O options, the IO ensures that you can attach practically any video deck imaginable.
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