GrandVJ struts its stuff at the World Lighting Fair. Mmmm… light. Delicious light. Photo courtesy ArKaos.

GrandVJ is the live visual world’s best secret at the moment. Maybe it’s the software’s streamlined feature set or simple-looking UI, or maybe hard-core visualists had come to associate the name “ArKaos” with the company’s previous product, which recently had indeed started to look long-in-the-tooth before GrandVJ finally replaced it. But here’s the reason GrandVJ is worth your consideration: it plays back video and it’s rock-solid and fast while doing it. And I’m happy to sacrifice some whiz-bang features to accomplish that.

Here’s a CDM exclusive: GrandVJ’s playback envelope is about to get pushed still further. ArKaos’ MediaMaster DMX-compatible media server will get a significant 1.1 update with reliable support for video playback up to 60 fps soon. (That’s 60 fps playback of two movies.) This much is revealed today by our friend nostromo, ArKaos’ Software Architect, on the company blog. But MediaMaster is a whopping EUR1949.

The good news is, following the MediaMaster update, GrandVJ is also due to get the enhanced playback capabilities, for mixing video at true 50 fps – 60 fps, without dropping frames.

The sample uses two videos, but in tests the engine has mixed up to three 1080p videos and a Flash video on top of that, all at 60 fps, when running on a powerful media server machine. (Videos that large start to hit the real current bottleneck, which is drive throughput.) The test labs at ArKaos have also been displaying across three monitors with a TripleHead2Go multi-display box from Matrox, which, incidentally, you can even run off of a laptop if it’s got enough muscle. (Marc reports lately MP2 has been a favorite format for them.)

There are lots of variables in performance, but the key in this case is that the engine in GrandVJ will be capable of greater frame throughput, maintaining high framerates even with multiple media. Other factors are dependent on your hardware setup and the video source you’re using.

Let’s step back, though – why would you want to run 50-60 fps in the first place? Well, for starters, because you can – projectors and displays can run natively at that refresh rate, so you’ll get jitter-free, smooth displays even at these higher framerates. But beyond that, it’s worth getting these higher framerates because they really can look better. Video looks smoother and more lifelike at 50 or 60 fps, and it’s not hard to acquire lovely-looking 60 fps video these days. (Cheap portable flash cameras and the PS3 Eye, for instance, run comfortably at 60 frames.) Just as importantly, GrandVJ’s effects will run at the same rate, so you can pull off fast-paced visuals on texture-mapped 3D objects. Games and animation typically run up to 60 fps, so motion that may look more natural, even if you’re capturing source to video (more on how to do that in a moment). And lastly, suffice to say that the engine optimizations necessary to improve frame throughput at the higher rates means you’ll be really, really comfortable if you’re still running 25-30 fps.


The GrandVJ interface, running all eight layers at once, with an expanded view of the MIDI keyboard layout interface at the bottom.

Speaking of higher frame rates, I just want to echo the side excursion in Marc’s blog post, which is to sing the praises of the screen capture utility FRAPS.

FRAPS is a Windows-only utility used for high-performance, lightweight motion and sound capture. It supports both DirectX and OpenGL. FRAPS is well-known in the game community for its use in capturing video in games. Now, suffice to say, any utility capable of capturing live video streams from a game – typically far more intensive on the GPU than anything any of us do with live visuals – is going to work just fine for us. FRAPS is actually resource conscious-enoguh that it’s used in benchmarking, too. In his blog post, Marc notes that he can run MediaMaster’s 1024×768, 60 fps video and capture in FRAPS at the same time.

Spend the US$37, and get unlimited updates, which are released frequently. It’s an absolute no-brainer.


FRAPS is so good, in fact, it’s a reason to run Windows – if even on a separate partition on your Mac. Using FRAPS and Windows in general could each make their own posts, but I’ve been impressed with Windows as a live visual operating system, at least once you get a stable version of your video driver of choice. I think you get strange looks when you mention Windows in creative contexts, but while I’m not exactly a Microsoft fanboy (ahem), the thing can work pretty darned well, as I’d hope for the PC operating system used most often for hardware-crunching games.

Anyway, seeing is believing, and Marc packs a number of good tips into his post, so even if you’re not a current or prospective GrandVJ user, definitely don’t miss the story:

Showing the extreme… [ArKaos Blog]

  • andreas

    +1 on FRAPS – I've been using that bugger for years now, and it's hands-down the best at grabbing output.

  • Excellent news for Media master and GVJ, but when is the automation coming to GVJ? This is the big feature all the GVJ users are asking for. I would rather hear the automation for GVJ is coming before a 1.1 update to MM.

  • Hi Kevin,

    We know about the automation feature missing… I'm not sure it's the most sought after from our users but we certainly haven't forgotten it. MediaMaster needed an update, and that's why we focused on it for a while. Once the engine has been upgraded for it, it's fairely easy for us to move it to GVJ, so we'll definetly do it.

    On the other hand, we didn't say it was going to be the only update we'll do to GVJ. At this point we haven't prioritized the feature for next update… keep faith 🙂


  • Ed

    50fps is nothing new, I regularly get that out of VJamm.

  • Dear Ed,

    Just to be totally clear on what we did… The key ingredient here is not that you reach 50 fps per say, we did that earlier too, but more importantly that the frames are served with perfect timing and that no jitter occurs.

    I don't know if you ever compared the output of most software solution with hardware units like DVJ's for example. Hardware have always had 'crisper' display because they link perfectly the image stream with their output frequency. It's not like DVD have more frame, they are just better presented, time-wise.

    Hope this helps,

  • Yea, I dunno, Ive seen DVJs and hardware playback servers, but getting 60 FPS with two+ movies really is not this big of a deal in 2009, even in 1080p in software on higher end systems, but more performance is always welcomed.

  • ml

    rock solid playback is a big deal if you're trying to use a server on a paying job, like a big concert or trade show.

    If there's jitter in the playback, people will see it, particularly on a big screen, with cinematic images.

    I had to give up on using Max for paying jobs for just this reason. More's the pity.

    A lot of 'professional' servers have the same problem, so big up to Archaos for tackling this properly. Now you just need to open-source it…

  • Well, the underlying video library ffmpeg IS open sourced. I think beyond that, the stuff they're doing is probably specific to their application.

    And yeah, vade, I have to disagree – I think it is a big deal to have this work consistently in the engine, 100% of the time.

  • As for open sourcing this, well, the way this was described in the blog post sounds a lot like a display link in Core Video / Apple terminology, which locks your rendering callback to the vertical refresh of the output device, so you know your rendering only happens as often as needed (and never higher than), integer multiples of the output devices framerate. While it does not guarantee non dropped frames, (you can always add effects to cause the GPU to drop frames or add more streams until the drive subsystem cant feed data fast enough), its there and it makes a big difference.

    If you do testing, optimize your GL pipeline etc, you can guarantee that n number of streams with y number of effects on box with specs a b and c will play back solidly.

  • I've used FRAPS extensively to capture Second Life machinima and video tutorial footage. Its one-key record/stop simplicity is great, but since it can't capture outside of supported apps, I often use Camtasia with DivX (lossier quality than FRAPS' own codec, which in turn isn't Mac-playable) to film screencasts featuring interaction between apps. Also, FRAPS doesn't capture some cursors, if that's important.

    On Mac, I like Screenflow. Camtasia Mac is out today which is exciting, but the beta I tried captured FMV very slowly and choppily, so unless that improves, it won't be suitable for the liquid flow of VJ visuals.

    Another consideration: it's considerably harder on most Windows systems to record the computer sounds AND your microphone at the same time. Onboard soundcards with "Stereo Mix" or SoundBlasters with "What U Hear" tend to be hissy, and more pro solutions aren't clearly marketed (I haven't tried the Saffire PRO, but it's one of the few that touts "loopback"). But on my Mac with Screenflow, it's been a breeze.

    Here's to hoping standard NLEs like Sony Vegas will have more GPU acceleration (as GrandVJ) does for their effects. Realtime is SO expected. I wish there was more of an equivalent to Ableton Live for visuals with both session-like and arrangement-esque (to edit improvs later, tighten them up with quantization, etc.) modes — but if you feel there's one, please chime in!

  • Let's face it… when it comes to vj softs Grand VJ just roolz. You can't deny it. All the rest try but fail where this tool clearly had on from the start.

    No techno mumbojumbo needed.

    BEAM ON!

  • To try to explain better what we did in our video engine I wrote this article:
    There are video samples there for you to play with.

  • ian

    FRAPS is pretty awesome, i've been using it lately with surprising results for my specs… but ultimately i think the best way to go in ANY case is external recording. spending a bit on a dedicated recording device saves you processing overhead and you don't have to worry about any a/v latency issues… but then again i'm always a few years behind the technology curve so i'm sure newer machines can easily handle keeping everything 'under the hood'…

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  • Anybody used this with the new 8-output Matrox card?
    What would be the ideal system (processor/ram/videocard(s) for this software to run large files smoothly?