GV – January 1998

Trends in Non-Linear Editing
By Sheldon Liebman

A few months ago, we examined the very low end of the video capture and editing market. As exciting as these products are, they don’t support the quality or the features available from higher end, turnkey systems. They also suffer from the problem that you have to put them together yourself. Having just gone through the process of configuring a system for an artist I know in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I can attest to the fact that purchasing a turnkey package can provide a much less stressful experience.

The players in the turnkey NLE market are pretty familiar to everyone. On the Mac side, the field is dominated by Avid, Media 100 and Scitex Digital Video. For PC-based solutions, there are more possibilities and no clear dominating force. If you go to the highest level, Discreet Logic is a clear winner. This picture is certain to get muddied as the Softimage Digital Studio, Play Trinity and D/Vision (now a part of Discreet Logic) products make a strong push.

Whichever product(s) you look at, it’s clear that the non-linear editing systems market is evolving very rapidly and what you see today is not necessarily what you’ll see tomorrow. The hope, of course, is that anything you purchase now can be upgraded to include the features that are introduced tomorrow.

With that in mind, we spoke with a number of non-linear suppliers and asked them to tell us about the trends they see in the industry. As part of this process, we promised to leave out the names of the people, products and companies in this report. This way, they could relate the trends without having to tailor them to fit existing, announced or future products.

QuickTime 3.0
The first trend that was mentioned frequently is the latest version of QuickTime. As we reported last month, QuickTime 3.0 brings together standard QuickTime and QuickTime VR into a single package. It also allows movies to be created at any resolution and frame rate, which means it can be used for broadcast applications.

At least one executive pointed out that it was interesting that as Apple continues to falter, QuickTime is thriving. And one of the keys to using it successfully is to use a system that is "QuickTime Native." This means that movies can be loaded and saved without having to be converted from one format to another.

Another trend is away from completely proprietary solutions and toward a system that is compatible with other equipment. At one level, this results in non-linear systems that incorporate more functionality. Instead of using a separate DVE, for example, DVE functions are built into the system. Instead of a separate audio system, the audio can be manipulated within the non-linear system. In many cases, this means opening up the architecture of systems to support "plug-in" technology that is supplied by other companies.

At another level, it means that the data can be moved from one place to another. For example, you may be able to edit the audio for some projects, but if you absolutely need to utilize a separate audio system due to the requirements of a project, you want it to be compatible with your system.

At a third level, there is interoperability of video formats. Composite, Y/C, Component, Serial Digital and DV formats are being used at all levels of production. Few, if any, products can easily work with all of them. Especially on the DV side, suppliers are looking at ways to incorporate this affordable digital format into non-linear systems.

Higher Quality Images
Advances in technology at all levels are allowing non-linear systems today to achieve quality levels that were unheard of a few years ago. We asked the people we interviewed whether the trend was to uncompressed video, but they usually answered that it wasn’t. Although nobody can argue that uncompressed video provides outstanding quality, there are ways to compress video that still create a very high quality result. The term "visually lossless" was used by more than one person to describe a signal that is compressed but doesn’t look like it.

In some cases, it was suggested that 2:1 or 3:1 compression can achieve this result, but the actual number is less relevant than the look of the result. Combined with lower prices for storage, using some compression allows affordable systems to be created with room for many hours of source material.

Non-Linear Online
When NLE systems were first introduced, the goal was to output an EDL that would let a "real" editing system bring together the results. Technology has brought us to the point where today’s systems can very often be used for everything from initial capture through the creation of the final result. The industry has started to refer to many products as "finishing systems" instead of "editing systems" to reflect their ability to create the finished product.

Multi-Stream Video
If NLE systems are truly to be used for finishing, they often need to have access to multiple streams of video at once. Many companies are using the term "multi-stream", but the implementation of this concept varies from one product to another. The goal, however, is certainly becoming more attainable as systems become more powerful and communications between the various pieces happens more quickly.

More Power, Lower Prices
This is a trend in the computer industry in general. However, it is worth mentioning that non-linear editing systems take advantage of it as much as other applications. Entry level systems are being introduced at lower and lower price points. At the same time, the configuration of tomorrows entry level system is often more powerful than yesterday’s mid-level product. This trend is certain to expand the market significantly. As with many other applications, people will gain more knowledge about the process and deal more intelligently with those of us who do this for a living.

The trends we’ve discussed here were not the only ones mentioned, but they were certainly the ones that kept coming up in our discussions. The result is that new products being introduced now and throughout the year should make it easier than ever to afford and use a turnkey non-linear system.

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