The Impossible VO Machine!

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The Impossible VO Machine!

Is it possible to build a silent, portable DAW that’s powerful enough for gaming?

That was my quest… and I’m up and running on that impossible system!

Requirements:

  • Light Weight
  • Portable
  • Silent
  • Digital Audio Workstation (DAW)
  • Powerful Enough for Gaming

Selecting the Components
I decided to start with silent and portable. For that, I’d need a fanless laptop with enough power to record and edit audio without getting bogged down. That narrowed the field quite a bit. Aside from Chromebooks and tablets, there were only a few machines that met my specs.

Dell XPS-13 2 in 1 Laptop
I chose the “Dell XPS 13 2 in 1” for the base system. Please note: only the 2 in 1 model is fanless and truly silent when running. Very important when I’m in the booth. It also has 2 USB-C Thunderbolt ports, which will come into play for the next parts of the “Impossible VO Machine”.

To handle the demands of a true gaming box, I’d need a higher power graphics card than any silent laptop could offer. For this, I researched External Graphics Processing Units (aka: eGPU). They’re basically a high-end graphics card with a power supply and fans in a separate box. Most also require a high-speed interface. This is where the Thunderbolt ports come into play.

Aorus GTX-1070 Gaming Box
I chose the “Gigabyte AORUS Gaming Box 1070” with an included Nvidia graphics card built in. It works best with machines where the Thunderbolt port runs directly to the main processor (as opposed to thru the chooser). The laptop I picked is just such a machine.

With all the essential components in place, I still needed some additional ones to round out the system.

Plugable USB-C Docking Station
The “Plugable USB-C Triple Display Docking Station” works through the Thunderbolt port to provide power and adds usb ports and external monitor interfaces for daily use.

I already had an external HDMI display, USB hub, wireless mouse and keyboard.

Add to that the audio components (Focusrite Scarlet 2i2 interface, microphone, monitors) and the total package was complete.

Using The Impossible VO Machine
For my daily use as a DAW, I’ve got the USB hub connected to the USB-C port, with connections to the mouse/keyboard, Focusrite, etc. The USB-C Thunderbolt port is connected to the Plugable docking stations, which provides power and access to the external monitor. When recording, I use Sony Sound Forge and Sony Music Studio. Video editing is done with Sony Movie Studio. The system runs like a champ. Silent and powerful.

When I want to do some gaming, I disconnect the Plugable docking station, and plug the Aorus Gaming Box into the Thunderbolt port. It also provides power to the system and connects to the larger external monitor for gaming. The fans are not bad, although too loud for recording. But the eGPU has more than enough power to run all the games I’ve tried so far without lagging behind. Truly awesome!

I’ve also used the eGPU when editing video and rendering animation. It really cuts down on the time needed by taking the load off of the laptop cpu for any graphics operations.

To switch back to DAW mode, I need to select “Disconnect GPU” from the tray app, then swap the Aorus out and plug the Plugable dock back in. Very easy to do.

Issues
No system, especially one with this number of components, is without problems. Early on, the Dell Laptop had 2 issues that I’ve found work-arounds for. The first has to do with using Hibernation mode. Dell was initially not happy with it, and would periodically shut down without notice when in Hibernation. I managed to find a fix for that online that involves clearing out the old Hibernation data.

The second issue was more problematic for recording. The laptop internal speakers would sometimes make burbling noises even when nothing was playing. I suspect this has to do with a driver or design issue. Since first purchasing the system, there have been several driver updates. This seems to have corrected the problem. Should it re-occur, I did find a work-around: just disable the internal speakers. (I wasn’t using them anyway – just my monitors and headphones).

Conclusion
So… “The Impossible VO Machine” proved to be quite possible. There are some compromises, but that is always the case. The pricing for all the components is also higher than a normal DAW. Overall, I’m very happy with the end result. It allows me to record, travel, and game… all on one system.

 

All content written and voiced by Joe J Thomas online at: JoeActor.com

 

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Floating Head Without Green Screen

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Floating Head Without Green Screen

Hey gang!

While making my last song parody video (“The Hell of Diets“), I used a special video trick to make my head float:
The Hell of Diets! (title card)

Since I don’t own a Green Screen, I had to come up with another way.

Okay, rewind… “Green Screen? What the heck is that, Joe?”

Glad you asked! In simple terms, the actor is shot on a set that is all one color (usually green, but sometimes blue), then in the video production, the green is replaced with any other picture or video. The effect in video software is called “Chroma Key”. I’ve used Green Screen in my animation projects, such as the “Ban Ki-moon Tune!” – here’s a peek:
Ban Ki-moon Green Screen

No Green Screen? No Problem!

I realized that all I really needed was a way to ensure my face was lighted much brighter than the rest of the shot. Then I could use the Chroma Keyer in Sony’s Movie Studio software to remove everything else (the darker parts of the image).

Here are the steps (click on any image for a larger view):
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Cut The Cord!

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Cut The Cord!

After years of paying way too much for cable tv, and watching only a fraction of the channels, we decided to cut the cord and go for streaming.

Here’s our main setup:

Hardware: Roku 3 box (connects to tv, streams content)

Paid Streaming:
* Sling TV (20 channels live, including CNN, AMC, History, Food Network, etc.)
* Netflix (movies and original series)
* Hulu (TV series, some movies)
* Amazon Prime (movies, rentals, plus free shipping, etc.)
* HBO Now (most HBO content on demand)
* CBS (most CBS content on demand)
* Google movies (rentals, purchases)

Free Streaming:
* Pluto TV
* Crackle
* PBS
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Acoustic Panels

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Acoustic Panels

I recently decided to upgrade my home studio by adding acoustic panels to the walls.
(links to all sites and products are in the below text – feel free to click away!)
JoeActor Studio Panels
The idea of putting in a booth seemed to be a bit much for my space, and from the recommendation of another VO Pro, I took a look at the AudiMute line of products. They have a wide variety of panels, baffles and other sound-dampening materials. Different color options and even custom print pictures are also available for an additional fee.
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Windows 10

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Windows 10

I got the notice in my tray that I could get a free upgrade to Windows 10

I read all the previews.

I read all the dire warnings.

I checked with equipment manufacturers sites to verify compatibility.
(Click HERE to see the full configuration of my system)

Then, I foolishly scheduled it to install on 8/8/2015.
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Silent Computer

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Silent Computer

The time had come to have “The Talk” with my current computer system:

I don’t know how to say this, so I’ll just come out and say it: I’ve outgrown you.
You’ve gotten too slow and noisy, and I feel I can no longer rely on you.
Really… it’s not you… no, wait… it is you!
Maybe it’s best we just go our own ways.

And so, the hunt for a new computer began!

Requirements

What did I want? Continue reading

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Audition for EVIL!

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Live! from E.V.I.L. is holding open auditions for the upcoming episode titled “Gathering On EVIL”, slated for release in early 2015, and possibly used to pitch the series to major cartoon studios.

Virgil Villain and his henchman Weevil are throwing a Lair Warming Party in order to meet the other inhabitants on Evil Island. This is where you come in!

Now’s your chance…

Click HERE for full Audition Instructions and Rules!!!

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