Videography - February 1997

To Trinity and Beyond!
by Sheldon Liebman

Almost two years ago, an exciting new company was formed in Northern California. In the July 1995 issue of Videography, we introduced you to the people of Play, Incorporated and covered their business philosophy and their first product, the Snappy Video Snapshot. We also hinted at the next product they were developing, Trinity, an all-in-one production tool that was planned for introduction later that year.

It's now only a few months from the third NAB that Play will be attending and Trinity is still under development. It will be shown again at this year's NAB and will likely generate even more interest than it has in the previous two years. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, although the product is still being developed, the version people will see this year should be very close to what will finally be offered for sale. Second, the continuous evolution of this product, all in the public eye, has kept the interest level high even though nobody can get one yet (except for a few select test sites). Third, the promise of Trinity goes far beyond anything that is available for sale today in terms of features and price, which is one of the reasons it is still under development. Finally, this is a product from Play, the company that created Snappy and has some of the original team from NewTek's Video Toaster. They also have the best known spokesperson in the industry, Kiki Stockhammer. When you add it all up, this is not a company that can be ignored.

The Evolving Definition of Trinity
When it was first introduced to the video industry, Trinity was described as real-time, PC-based, open architecture, true broadcast quality, and all D1 digital. Functionally, it was to include a switcher, DVE, character generator, still store, keyer, audio mixer, color corrector, and non-linear editing system. Although this is no longer a completely accurate description of Trinity, it underscores the complexity of the task facing Play. Many in the industry didn't think a product like this could ever be built, but the team at Play has always been confident in their ability to bring it to market.

"We wanted to create a PC-based system that didn't have any limits," says Steve Hartford, Play's Vice President, Software Development. "We saw that people wanted to expand their (NewTek Video) Toasters and couldn't do it." This expandability is one of the key reasons that Trinity is based on the PC platform. "Every year you can use (a PC) for something new," says Hartford. "Databases, Email, the Internet. Now Video Production is one of those new compelling things."

Mark Randall, Vice President, Marketing at Play, agrees that Trinity makes a strong argument for PC-based production. "With Trinity, people will really be able to do television on the PC. It's not (designed to be) another box in the post suite, it will replace the post suite." Using Trinity, adds Randall, "tons of people will be making video."

You Want it, You Got it
In order to meet their goals, Trinity needs to be powerful, expandable, affordable and all-inclusive. This is clearly a tough set of criteria for a product, but Trinity is well positioned in all of these areas.

When Trinity was first being designed, Windows NT was struggling to make an impact in the video production community. Today, it has evolved into a solid operating system with support for a growing number of production oriented tools. One big advantage to Windows NT is that it can run on a wide variety of machines at different price points. To be usable with Trinity, the base computer needs to have an available PCI bus slot. The card in this slot connects the PC with the external Trinity chassis, where all of the magic happens.

"If we could do it all on a single chip," says Hartford, "that would be great. But we wanted the expandability and flexibility of an external box." By using the PCI bus, the external box concept doesn't affect the speed of the product and also creates one key advantage. "We wanted people to be able to put their Trinity in the back room with their tape decks and have the PC in the production suite," explains Hartford. The connection between the two clocks in at 40 MB/second in both directions simultaneously, more than enough to sustain an uncompressed D1 video stream. It can also stretch up to 500 feet to meet the location requirement.

As Trinity has evolved, Play has developed close relationships with a number of companies that bring different areas of expertise to the table. These include Graham-Patten (Grass Valley, CA), Softimage (Montreal, PQ) and Sierra Design Labs (Incline Village, NV). Graham-Patten worked closely with Play to develop the audio side of Trinity. Softimage brought knowledge about the high-end production community and pushed for the ability to handle one or more uncompressed D1 digital video streams. Sierra Design Labs helped to develop that capability, which is called the Trinity Time Machine.

Time Machine is one area that's evolved in the Trinity design. For compressed digital video, the system uses a product called Preditor, which supports up to eight independent non-linear video channels and compression rates ranging from 30:1 down to approximately 3:1. In a switch from the original specification, you don't have to use non-linear editing at all. The base Trinity system includes "the fastest linear editor in the world," according to information on the company's Web site (

The ability to mix and match between tape, compressed and uncompressed video is one example of how Trinity is designed to work in any environment. The software is virtually identical no matter which way you are working. However, the lowest level of the system knows what type of hardware is attached and reacts accordingly. This is similar to the way other types of peripherals are used in PC-based systems. If you replace one graphics card with another, the drivers make sure the features of the new card are available. To the user, the word processor or database package works the same.

Play has also spent a lot of time on the audio side of Trinity. Originally, says Hartford, "we thought (Trinity) would just have a standard audio mixer. It's grown into a full audio system by working with Graham-Patten." For example, Hartford mentions that Trinity now supports "audio compression or expansion and can have a dedicated audio hard drive in addition to the audio capabilities of Preditor and Time Machine." With the expansion of the audio capability, Hartford claims that "depending on what you want, you can have a video heavy Trinity, an audio heavy Trinity, or both."

While expanding existing capabilities in the product, Play has also spent time adding totally new features and functions. One area that Trinity has expanded into is virtual sets, although they have coined the term Synthetic Set to describe their system. Hartford explains the differences.

"In a traditional virtual set system," says Hartford, "you have a machine like an SGI Onyx doing real-time 3D rendering and you combine that with a chroma key. We use the chroma key with our Warp Engine DVE to map the person into the virtual space and reflect them on as many surfaces as you want. You can have all kinds of cool reflections, refractions and even transparent shadows." For now, the virtual environment is limited to stills and pre-rendered graphics, but that can certainly change in the future.

The market for Trinity's Synthetic Set system is also different from a traditional virtual set. Randall says "Synthetic Sets are very valuable for corporate video and training videos where you want to crawl inside a piece of equipment and see how it works." One company that has already used Trinity in this manner is Intel Corporation. In January, Andy Grove, CEO of Intel, used this feature as part of an internal Intel meeting with over 1000 people. Although Randall doesn't call Intel an Alpha site for Trinity, he does say "they are following (it) with interest."

The base Trinity system is expected to sell for under $10,000, with plenty of room for expansion. Hartford says there are almost 30 expansion slots in the Trinity chassis and they expect only 10 will be used by the base system. "We want the base $10,000 system to be real," comments Hartford, "so you don't have to buy anything else." Unless you want to, of course.

In addition to linear editing and audio mixing, the base system will include a production switcher that works with up to eight live video sources, two still-store channels and true color background mattes. It is also planned to have a 2D FX Engine and a cost reduced version of the 3D Warp Engine. Hartford says the main difference in this version of the Warp Engine is that is doesn't do as much filtering. In addition to these two hardware pieces, the system includes Personal FX software to define custom 2D and 3D effects. Rounding out the package are two graphics software packages, Panamation and TitleWave. Panamation is used for paint, animation and compositing while TitleWave is a full-featured character generator.

Playing the Waiting Game
Nobody at Play is willing to commit to when Trinity will actually be available or exactly how much the system or options will cost, but that doesn't seem to be affecting the interest. For better or worse, the phenomenal success of Snappy has allowed Play the luxury of waiting until they are truly ready for Trinity to be launched. Until then, there are almost 40 people at Play who are working exclusively on this product. When they're ready, look out. Randall says they "expect this to be the largest marketing and product launch ever seen in the industry." See you there!

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