GV - November 1997

Non Linear Editing - How Low Can You Go?
by Sheldon Liebman

Over the past few years, we've seen tremendous advances in computer systems that can be used for non-linear editing. Led by the "big boys" at Avid, Media 100 and Scitex Digital Video, the quality of full-blown editing systems has increased tremendously while the price of these systems continues to decline.

Last November, we wrote about the pros and cons of trying to create your own system for non-linear editing versus buying an off the shelf system from companies like the three mentioned above. At the time, we mentioned that compression products, the core of a non-linear system, were starting to become available for around $1000. Today, not only can you purchase products in this price range, but you can actually buy a real-time compression solution for under $200!

There are still issues associated with do-it-yourself systems that are not present when you purchase a turnkey system. For example, you need to make sure that all the components you choose will work seamlessly together. On the PC side, advances in "Plug and Play" technology and faster hard drives have made this an easier problem to solve, but it hasn't gone away completely.

Even if everything works well, there is still the time it takes to put it all together and test it out. If it ever stops working, it's more complicated to troubleshoot the system and determine which piece of hardware or software is causing the problem. If you do manage to build a system, though, you'll save a tremendous amount of money and be able to upgrade individual pieces of your editing workstation as technology continues to advance.

NLE - It's Not Just for Video Anymore
One of the driving factors behind the advancements in low cost capture hardware is that the material captured by these products is being used in a variety of ways. The explosive growth of the Internet has created competition not only among companies, but also among Web Sites. If you want to attract people to your site today, it's almost a requirement that you offer animation, audio and/or video.

This is good news for video professionals for at least three reasons. First, it means that the need for content is increasing, providing a steady stream of work for both internal and external videographers. Second, the global nature of the Internet means that if you create work that ends up on the World Wide Web, a much larger audience can see it. And third, the nature of the Internet is such that full motion, full resolution video is not yet feasible, so systems can be created that don't necessarily meet that requirement.

Which PEG Should You Choose?
The debate over MJPEG and MPEG has become a lot hotter with the growth of Web-based video creation and distribution. Originally, MJPEG was the only compression method that was viable for video editing. It contains all of the information for every frame of video, so it can be played forward, backward, or sideways and can be edited from any point to any point. MPEG, on the other hand, achieves much higher compression ratios through the use of keyframes. All of the information for a keyframe is saved, but for subsequent frames, only the changed information is recorded.

Because of this very basic difference, MJPEG is called a "symmetrical" format and MPEG is an "asymmetrical" format. The processing power required for both encoding (compressing) and decoding (decompressing) MJPEG is the same. For MPEG, it takes much more processing power to compress the signal than it does to play it back. Until recently, real-time MPEG compression engines were very expensive. Advances in technology have brought the price down considerably and enhanced the position of MPEG as an alternative to MJPEG.

Of course, MJPEG technology has also been advancing. As we'll see a little further in the article, there are products using both technologies that are selling for under $500 today. At these price points, the relative pricing between the technologies starts to disappear as a factor in making a decision. Instead, the features and capabilities of the products take precedence over the actual technology being used.

Another area that seems to be disappearing as a consideration is the software that's used with these systems. It appears that the software side of non-linear editing has been narrowed down to two major contenders - Adobe Premiere and Ulead MediaStudio. Most of the products mentioned in this article are bundled with either partial or full versions of these two products.

As a user of the systems, you can relax in the knowledge that the software side of the equation is well covered. Both of these products do a very credible job of creating and recording your projects to video. An added bonus is that you probably won't need to spend money separately on either of these two applications, especially if the full versions are included. You also won't have to worry about how well the products are integrated together - if it didn't work well, it wouldn't be there!

Maybe You CAN Have Your Cake and Eat it Too
Trying to keep up with changes in technology today is a never-ending process. Some of the products that will be mentioned have either starting shipping within the past few weeks or are expected to ship within the next few weeks. At least two were announced within days of writing this story. Needless to say, we haven't actually seen all of these products work, although we are hoping to get our hands on a few of them over the next few months. If you choose to purchase one (or more) of these products, please be sure you see it work first.

Azeena Technologies AzeenaVision 500
The AzeenaVision 500 is a two-board set that includes both a video capture card and a separate audio board. For users that want to use their own sound card, the capture card is available alone for approximately $1000. The AzeenaVision 500 captures composite or S-video and includes software that provides machine control over source decks.

Data Translation Broadway
Originally, Media100 was a product of Data Translation. As that part of the business grew, it was spun off into its own company, which many people thought was the end of Data Translation in this market. Earlier this year, the company surprised a lot of people by introducing Broadway, a low-cost ($995) board that supports both MJPEG and MPEG compression.

Broadway lets you choose whether you want to capture full resolution into an AVI format video file or use MPEG compression at up to 320x240 resolution. It includes video output capability so that you can easily record your final output onto videotape. If MPEG compression is used, the MPEG player software can scale the images up to full screen resolution.

Digital Processing Systems EditBAY and Spark
The DPS Spark has received a great deal of attention as one of the first direct DV editing systems available. Priced at $995 with Adobe Premiere or $699 without it, the Spark uses a FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection to capture and record video as part of a completely digital process.

For non-DV applications, the company offers the EditBAY product for $849. EditBAY provides capture and recording capability for standard composite and S-video sources using MJPEG compression technology. The product provides resolution of 720 pixels per line at 480 lines of resolution.

Fast AV Master PLUS
Fast is one of the few companies that markets solutions for both the high end and the low end of the video capture, editing and recording market. At the high end, the company's Video Machine and blue. products can be used for broadcast television projects. For more mainstream users, the AV Master PLUS, priced at $899, supports capture and playback of full resolution, full frame rate composite and S-video signals.

Iomega Buz
Iomega is truly one of the market leaders in removable storage technology. One of the things they've realized is that more and more of their products are being used to archive or distribute digital video. So, the company recently introduced Buz, an MJPEG compression card priced at $199. Buz uses a single PCI bus card along with a breakout box to make it easy to connect stereo audio, composite and S-video inputs and outputs to the product. According to Iomega, Buz can capture from 160x120 up to 640x480 video streams with compression rates from 1:1 up to 80:1. Buz is expected to ship before the end of this year.

Matrox Rainbow Runner
This unique product from Matrox combines the Rainbow Runner Studio daughterboard with the Matrox Mystique 220 graphics card to create a powerful combination priced under $500. Since the cards work together and use a shared framebuffer architecture, setup is relatively easy and hardware conflicts are virtually non-existent. The Rainbow Runner Studio uses MJPEG compression technology to work with composite and S-Video sources. Maximum capture resolution is 720x480

Pinnacle Systems miroVIDEO
Earlier this year, Pinnacle Systems purchased the miro Digital Video Group from miro Computer Products AG. The purchase provides Pinnacle with a full set of products to address the low-end video market. These products include the miroVIDEO DC20 Plus ($599), miroVIDEO DC30 Plus ($999) and the new miroVIDEO DV300 ($799), which was announced at this month's Comdex show and will ship starting in December.

Both the DC20 Plus and the DC30 Plus are MJPEG based capture products capable of capturing full resolution, full frame rate NTSC or PAL video. Compression ratios range from 4:1 up to 32:1. The major difference between the two products is that the DC20 Plus uses your computer's sound card and the DC30 Plus has audio capability directly on the board. The DC30 Plus also supports a lower compression rate (2.5:1) and has accelerated rendering capability for transitions and effects.

The new miroVIDEO DV300 is designed for use with DV camcorders and provides capture and recording capability using Sony compression technology over a FireWire connector. The company claims that this is the only FireWire product that can recover from data errors in the capture process and automatically "fill in" the parts of the source material that didn't come across in the initial pass. The DV300 also features a tape logging system that automatically detects the first frame of each scene and creates a storyboard using these frames.

For a full featured solution that covers both DV and traditional video sources (composite and S-video), Pinnacle recommends using both a DV300 and DC30 Plus in a single machine. Together, these products list for $1798.

Radius MotoDV and EditDV
At this year's NAB show, Radius demonstrated their MotoDV product, a hardware/software combination priced at $499 to capture DV format video using a FireWire connection. The captured video is saved as a QuickTime movie so that it can be easily manipulated as part of a non-linear editing system.

Last month, Radius introduced EditDV, a $995 complete non-linear editing package that includes the MotoDV hardware and software and expands on the capabilities of that product. One nice feature of EditDV is Pan Zoom Rotate (PZR), which allows users to manipulate their video in 3D with true perspective and support for soft shadows. According to the company, PZR provides broadcast quality visual effects.

Truevision Bravado 2000
Just as automakers tend to reuse model names that were good to them in the past, Truevision has resurrected the Bravado product name with the brand new Bravado 2000. This new $899 product was introduced late last month for delivery by the end of the year. Unlike the Targa 1000 and Targa 2000 products, which only run under Windows NT, the Bravado 2000 is being introduced under Windows 95, with an NT version promised for early 1998.

The original Bravado was a low end companion to the original Targa series video boards - the Bravado 2000 provides a similar function for the Targa 1000 and Targa 2000 products. The Bravado captures full resolution, full frame rate video at up to 6 MegaBytes per second (MBps) over the PCI bus. It also has accelerated rendering and display capabilities. Compared to the higher end Targa cards, it offers less capture bandwidth and less on-board memory.

Videonics Python
With a list price of $349, the new Videonics Python typifies the new breed of Internet-oriented capture devices. Perhaps most importantly, it promises to be the easiest product in this article to configure and use - it attaches directly to the printer port of your computer! There are no cards to install, no conflicts to resolve. Just plug it in, load the software and start capturing MPEG video streams in real time at up to 352x240 resolution from an NTSC source (352x288 PAL). The product can also be used for still image capture at resolutions up to 1600x1200.

Since Python does not include full video resolution capture or video output, it is clearly not designed for projects where the final output is to be recorded on videotape. However, MPEG playback software can scale the signal to full VGA resolution and a scan converter could be used to convert that to a recordable video signal. Python should be arriving on store shelves as you're reading this article.

Movin' On Up
The systems described here offer incredible value, but there are some applications that will need more than they can offer. By raising the price level up from the $1000 range to the $5000, there are a number of other products that can be considered. In some cases, these are higher end solutions from the companies mentioned above, like Fast, Radius and Truevision. In other cases, they represent entry level products from other companies. One product in this category that is worth mentioning is from DraCo Systems.

Unlike other non-linear products, DraCo has created a completely standalone system that starts at under $4000. While it won't do your word processing, the DraCo Casablanca could represent just as good a value as the other products mentioned in this piece since it doesn't require the purchase of a computer system to use it. We'll try to take a closer look at this innovative system in a future issue.

For now, enjoy the possibilities of creating your own non-linear editing systems at a lower price than has ever been possible.

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