Government Video - March 1997

Non-Linear Editing Keeps Growing at NAB
by Sheldon Liebman

When people speak about the convergence of video and computer technology, the area they usually key on is non-linear editing. Since the introduction of the first non-linear systems approximately seven years ago, this exciting technology has continued to grow by leaps and bounds. After last year's NAB, some people claimed that over 100 non-linear editing solutions were being demonstrated on the show floor. I'm not sure there were actually that many, but it was close.

With that introduction in mind, let's say straight out that this article is not intended to cover all the non-linear systems that will be present at this year's NAB. Instead, we'd like to tempt you with a sampling of the products that will be there and suggest that if you go to the show, you'll probably trip over many more as you make your way around the floor. In alphabetical order by company, here are some of the systems you'll be able to see.

Avid Technology, one of the pioneers in non-linear editing, will be demonstrating their full line of editing and finishing systems. Avid's products are "designed for use as standalone systems or as part of a collaborative environment that includes Avid's effects software, digital audio workstations and advanced storage and network solutions," according to their NAB product announcement.

There are three product lines that will be demonstrated in Las Vegas. MCXpress, available for both Macintosh and Windows NT, provides a cost-effective editing solution that still has high levels of functionality and speed. Media Composer is Avid's high-end video system and has been used on countless television programs and commercials. For film editing, the company will be demonstrating its Film Composer product, which is designed to operate in a 24-fps environment.

Creative Equipment International will be showing the latest versions of their Blossom system, which was introduced at last year's NAB. The Blossom Tower and Blossom FE systems have been upgraded to include a number of new features. In addition, there are three new products that will be shown at NAB.

The first is the Blossom Pro-200, which is based on Windows NT 4.0 and runs on a Pentium Pro 200 machine. This new model features accelerated special effects and support for BetaSP component video. The Blossom Bud is a new, lower cost system geared for the Prosumer market. Finally, CEI will demonstrate the Blossom RT, which is their highest end system. Priced at under $30,000 for a turnkey system, Blossom RT includes dual video streams and real-time effects.

If you're looking for a really "hot" product at NAB, you may want to check out Discreet Logic's FIRE. FIRE is an on-line, non-linear, non-compressed video editing system that uses the power of SGI's Onyx graphics supercomputer. Version 2.0 of FIRE is scheduled to start shipping before NAB and is considered a major release by the company.

Although FIRE can be used alone, it is also easily integrated with other Discreet products throughout a video facility. The most recognizable of these are FLINT and FLAME for special effects and compositing. Discreet also offers products for fast networking and virtual sets.

When I spoke with the people at Fast Electronic U.S., they told me to be sure I stopped at their booth because they were planning to make a top secret announcement at the show that they couldn't share with me before that time. All they would say is that it involves a "revolutionary new digital editing system for the Professional and Broadcast markets." I'm not sure exactly what that announcement will be, but the product they did tell me about sounded pretty impressive already.

DV Master, introduced in January of this year, combines hardware and software to provide digital non-linear editing that is compatible with the digital camcorders introduced last year by Sony. Using the PCI bus and an IEEE1394 (FireWire) interface, DV Master can be used to bring in live video directly from the digital output of these cameras. Company literature claims the product supports CCIR 601 resolution at a full 60 field per second with a list price of only $3995.

In:sync Corporation will be demonstrating the latest version of their Speed Razor software at NAB along with some other products that they aren't willing to talk about before the show. Speed Razor Mach 3.5 is designed to provide D1 quality output and can be used with a wide variety of systems.

Fast won't be the only company with a PCI bus card for FireWire, as Miro will be demonstrating their interface between computers and Sony's digital camcorders, the new miroVIDEO DV100. According to the company, the DV100 can be used with both Macintosh and PC computers. Miro is also moving to the Mac with their DC30 product line. At NAB, this flagship product will be demonstrated in versions for both Macs and PCs.

Media 100 (formerly Data Translation) wants you to be able to take home everything they're showing at NAB. According to Patrick Rafter, "Media 100 will buck the smoke and mirrors trend of NAB and showcase shipping product in its booth." As more and more companies have started showing concepts rather than products, I'm sure there are many people who welcome this attitude from a vendor.

New at NAB will be the Media 100 HDR-FX option for owners of the top of the line Media 100 XS digital video system. This option is a subset of a new architecture called "Theo" that is being developed by Media 100 and offers full CCIR 601 resolution and quality along with real-time transitional effects. The company will also be showcasing expanded support for video networking and asset management with partners such as Mercury Computer Systems and Pathlight Technology. Media 100 is also taking steps to move onto other platforms through collaboration with partners including Macromedia and Truevision.

When NewTek first introduced their Video Toaster, they changed the definition of "affordable video production." One feature that was missing from the product, however, was the ability to use the Toaster in a non-linear editing environment. That's no longer an issue with the introduction of the Video Toaster Flyer add-on card. Using Video Toaster Flyer, editing and accessing video clips from a hard drive can now be a part of a Video Toaster.

One interesting aspect of the Video Toaster Flyer is that NewTek has created their own compression algorithm for use with the product. This technology, called VTASC, is designed to provide on-line quality video for under $5000. A NewTek Press Release claims that VTASC "makes the Flyer the first non-linear video editor to meet (the RS-170A) standard directly from the hard drive.

The Panasonic booth at this year's NAB will have a lot of non-linear editing activity with three separate product introductions. The first is an upgrade to their Postbox workstation. Version 3.5, which will be available in May, incorporates more than 40 functional improvements to this powerful system. These include a new compression board and audio board for higher quality plus support for exporting AVI files, which are popular in multimedia applications.

Panasonic will also be introducing two DVCPRO based non-linear products. The first is a "DVCPRO NLE Kit" for Windows NT. This kit includes the DVCPRO version of Truevision's TARGA 200 RTX video engine coupled with Panasonic's Postbox editing software, Jog Island edit controller and RS-422 VTR control card all working under Windows NT. A system integrating this kit with a 200 MHz Pentium Pro machine and fast storage is priced at under $25,000.

The second DVCPRO system is a fast transfer video editing workstations featuring a built-in DVCPRO VTR that allows disk transfers at four times normal speed. The system's built-in hard disk can store 35 minutes of images and sound. Optional external SCSI arrays can extend that storage time to nearly three hours.

A few years ago, a new company was formed that included a group of people that were once a part of NewTek. That company is called Play and has experienced phenomenal success with a parallel port based video frame grabber called Snappy. The technology behind Snappy is also the core for another product called Trinity. While Trinity is not yet being sold, it has generated a tremendous amount of interest during the past two NABs.

The interest in Trinity is understandable and Play promises that the product being previewed this year is very close to completion. According to a Play spokesperson, "Trinity is an all-in-one live and postproduction system. It's a Windows-based system that offers an 8-input video switcher, linear and non-linear editing, character generator, paint animation compositing system, chroma and luma keyer and real-time digital effects, all in D1-quality." If that's not enough, the base system is expected to sell for approximately $10,000.

Many people consider the Quantel Paintbox to be the standard by which all other still image systems are measured. Their Editbox product is designed to invoke the same feelings about non-linear editing. Quantel claims that over 300 of these high-end systems have been installed around the world in the past two years for use on projects from 10 second commercials up to three-hour productions. As one of the few non-compressed editing products on the market, it definitely aimed at the quality conscious user.

At Scitex Digital Video, a major focus for the company will be on creating a collaborative workgroup environment for post-production. This expands beyond the company's Sphere non-linear editing workstations to include the Abekas family of studio products as well as products from other companies. Using a Serial Storage Architecture (SSA) network based on Pathlight Technology hardware and software, Scitex will demonstrate faster than real-time media sharing.

The Sphere family of editing systems has continued to grow and now includes the StrataSphere, VideoSphere, MicroSphere and DigiSphere, all of which will be demonstrated at NAB. Scitex's DveousFX technology, which provides "the only fully real-time, zero-rendering 3D DVE in the non-linear editing world," according to the company, will be integrated across the entire range of Sphere products.

Although they are probably the only company in the world that can supply virtually everything you need to create a broadcast television or cable station, Sony has not been a major player in non-linear editing systems. Last year, they introduced the ES-7 EditStation in an attempt to change that. The EditStation is optimized for the DVCAM system, but includes both analog and digital inputs and outputs. It is also one of the few systems that can be configured as a linear, non-linear or hybrid system.

Faster Than a Speeding Bullet
As you can see from many of the descriptions above, there is a lot of fast networking starting to take place in the non-linear editing world. With it comes an interesting phenomenon called "faster than real-time." On the surface, this phrase seems like something out of Star Trek. But upon closer examination, it actually makes a lot of sense.

In a traditional video environment, video information is moved as an analog signal from one place to another. This is a real-time operation. For example, dubbing a :30 spot from one VTR to another takes 30 seconds. Once you move from analog to digital, however, you aren't moving "time" as much as you're moving "data." In a typical non-linear editing system that uses compression, that same :30 spot may become a 150 MegaByte file (assuming 5 MegaBytes of data per second of video).

Moving that file from one machine to another is totally unrelated to how many seconds it is. Rather, the important number is the speed of the network in copying a file from one location to another. If a network is capable of transferring data at, say, 10 MegaBytes per second, that file can move from one machine to another is only 15 seconds (150 Megabytes / 10 MegaBytes per second). This is twice real-time. Faster networks provide more of a speed improvement. Using Pathlight Technology's SSA networking technology, a network may move data at up to 40 MegaBytes per second, which is quick enough to move even uncompressed video at faster than real-time rates.

What Network Should I Use to See NAB?
We've just scratched the surface of what will be available at this year's show. In addition to the companies listed here, there are many more turnkey systems manufacturers that we haven't been able to include. There are also solutions for building it yourself.

A few years ago, it wasn't practical to try building a non-linear system yourself, but it's very much possible today. DDRs have come down in price and can be used instead of tape decks for storing video information. One company who will be demonstrating that at the show is Drastic Technologies. Their product emulates over 55 VTRs to integrate into virtually any editing environment.

For pure digital systems, disk arrays are becoming more available. Ciprico is one company that will be showcasing this technology in Las Vegas. Using Fibre Channel and UltraSCSI networking protocols, Ciprico arrays offer performance from 20 to 100 MegaBytes per second.

Unfortunately, faster than real-time can't be used to see 8 days worth of trade show in 4 days. So, spend some time looking through the show guide before you set off to see the products you'd like. And try not to be too non-linear about it or you'll definitely run out of time.

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