TVBEurope - October 1997

Where There's Smoke, There's Fire
by Sheldon Liebman

At last month's IBC show, Discreet Logic unveiled SMOKE, a significant new system that rounds out their non-linear editing product line. We were lucky enough to get a sneak preview of this product at August's SIGGRAPH show in Los Angeles, CA and were very impressed with both the promise and the reality of this new development.

Discreet Logic is a company on a roll. Like Quantel's Paintbox in the 80s, Discreet's FLAME and FIRE have become the "must have" tools for high-end production professionals in the 90s. Of course, in addition to being very powerful, these systems are also very expensive. As a result, the price of admission has been too high for many facilities.

In the area of compositing and special effects, Discreet offers the mid-level FLINT to complement the high-level FLAME. The toolsets are very similar, but the hardware requirements, speed and price are lower for FLINT. At SIGGRAPH, Discreet debuted the latest version of FLINT running on SGI's new O2 workstation. This combination creates a new level of price/performance for the company.

Until now, Discreet did not offer a similar mid-level product for uncompressed non-linear editing. With their recent acquisition of D-Vision, they now have a mass-market product that provides non-linear capability for compressed video. But SMOKE, which is capable of supporting multiple streams of uncompressed digital video, is truly the product Discreet watchers have been waiting to see.

SMOKE is based on the same interface design and editing toolset of FIRE, but is designed to run on a much lighter platform. Unlike FLINT, SMOKE is not available on the entry-level O2 workstation. However, it requires just a single step up to the OCTANE, which can be configured with lots of memory and dual processors for under $50,000USD. Both of these workstations were covered here recently (NOTE TO FERGAL: PUT IN A REFERENCE TO THE SGI STORY I SENT A FEW MONTHS BACK).

Although the base version of SMOKE doesn't offer the complete functionality of FIRE, optional modules can be installed to enhance functions such as creative effects, retouching, color correction and keying. A 3D DVE can also be added and the package is compatible with hundreds of SPARKS plug-ins.

The demonstration I was shown at SIGGRAPH included powerful video and audio editing capabilities, all accomplished in real-time or with a minimum of delay. Using a STONE storage device and high speed networking, access to the footage was virtually instantaneous. The Editor operating the system, who is an accomplished user of FIRE, commented often on how similar the response time was between this newer system and its higher end relative.

I am certainly not an Editor, but my experiences with computer animation systems have given me a good feel for how long a wait is acceptable and when it becomes too long. With SMOKE, the speed of the system didn't appear to inhibit the creative process. As quickly as the operator could describe a function and select it from the menus, it would happen. Recognizing that anyone can make a canned presentation appear to be fast, I asked him to perform a few functions that were definitely not a part of his original plan. After thinking about them for a few minutes, he was able to accomplish these tasks quickly and easily.

SMOKE is scheduled to begin shipping before the end of the year, and I'll guess that Discreet took a lot of deposits at IBC. The company has a proven track record of providing superior high end tools for all aspects of the production process, and this time, it's certain they aren't just blowing SMOKE.

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