GV - May 1999

FireWire Editing Heats Up
By Sheldon Liebman

Back in 1995, we started writing about FireWire and the promise it held for affordable, all-digital, computer-based editing systems. Over three years later, it finally looks like FireWire is heating up, not just for video professionals, but for the prosumer and consumer markets as well. In this article, we'll look at some of the companies and products that are helping fuel this trend.

One of the reasons it's taken so long for FireWire to take hold is that it didn't become an "open" standard until the middle of last year. That's when the IEEE 1394 standard was formalized, and many companies didn't want to commit to the technology until that standard was officially adopted.

FireWire, which is an Apple trademark, is still used to describe their product line. IEEE 1394 is the formal designation of the standard, and is used by many companies to describe their products. In other instances, new names are being introduced to describe products that are based on this standard, like Sony's i.LINK designation. At this point, it looks like all these products will work together, regardless of how the companies choose to refer to them. Of course, it's always a good idea to ask.

Putting Together the Pieces
One of the biggest issues you have to face when creating a DV editing system is whether to get a turnkey package or to put the pieces together yourself. IEEE1394 ports are now available, or will be soon, on consumer and professional computers from Apple, Compaq, Silicon Graphics and Sony. In SGI's case, this includes both their O2 workstation (through an option called DVLink) and their recently introduced Windows NT machines. Usually, these systems include some type of basic editing software that will let you connect a DV camcorder and begin editing immediately. That connection is an issue in itself and is discussed in more detail below.

If you choose the "built-in" route, you'll probably want to upgrade your software to something with more professional capabilities. For the new Power Macintosh G3 systems, Apple certainly hopes you'll choose their new Final Cut Pro software, which was impressively demonstrated at NAB. In fact, the capabilities were so impressive that a rumor started circulating at the show that Avid was abandoning the Macintosh platform. According to our sources, this rumor is unfounded.

Other software possibilities include Adobe Premiere, in:sync Speed Razor and Ulead MediaStudio Pro, all of which are available for multiple platforms.

If you don't buy a computer that has a built-in FireWire port, you can either add one as part of a third party DV I/O product or simply purchase a card that adds the port and put it all together yourself. The leader in add-in cards with IEEE1394 ports is Adaptec, who offer a basic IEEE1394 card that can be purchased at virtually any computer store.

Other products that use Adaptec technology for FireWire include the DPS Spark DV-2000 and Pinnacle/MiroVIDEO DV30. Computer makers Compaq, Epson and NEC also purchase product from Adaptec for their 1394 solutions.

If you want to add a more complete product, the choices are too numerous to mention. However, they generally fall into two very different categories. The first category contains products that only support DV connections, like the Digital Origin (formerly Radius) EditDV product.

The second category includes products that provide for input and output of multiple video formats. The Canopus DV-REX and FAST Multimedia DV Master Pro are examples of this type of product, where analog and digital video signals are combined into a single product. More expensive than DV only solutions, these products typically include DV encoding and decoding capabilities in hardware.

If the thought of putting together your own DV editing solution is unappealing, there are plenty of companies that can offer turnkey solutions, either directly or through their reseller channels.

For example, a complete editing system is available through Pinnacle Systems using the Power Macintosh G3 with built-in FireWire, Apple's Final Cut Pro software and the Pinnacle TARGA board. At NAB, the company also announced an alliance with Panasonic that combines their miroVIDEO products with Panasonic's AG-DV2000 DV VCR and AG-EZ30 DV camcorder to create 100% digital non-linear editing systems.

Blossom Technologies is another manufacturer offering DV compatible editing systems. Their full line of Fury non-linear workstations can be configured with an optional i.LINK connection for DV input and output.

Of course, Sony plays in this space as well. Their consumer level VAIO computers include i.LINK ports on both the notebook (still capture only) and desktop models, although the company doesn't bill them as editing systems. That honor is shared by the EditStation ES-7 and EditStation ES-3, both of which support analog and DV video I/O. The ES-3, which began shipping earlier this year, offers many of the same capabilities of the ES-7 at a lower cost.

There are a large number of resellers representing companies like Matrox and Pinnacle that are also capable of putting together turnkey editing systems. While many of Pinnacle's resellers will be configuring the G3 system mentioned above, the Matrox channel is preparing for the launch of the company's new DigiSuite DTV products, which should begin shipping a few weeks after you read this. DigiSuite DTV offers standard and optional support for virtually every digital and analog video standard that currently exists. Other companies, like ProMax Systems, build editing workstations around the Digital Origin EditDV and MotoDV products for both Macintosh and Windows computers.

Here, There and Everywhere
FireWire support by hardware and software companies across all the major platforms indicates that FireWire is a hot technology at all levels of video production. O2 workstations are used in state-of-the-art video and film production, which can now easily integrate DV format video streams. Professional editing platforms like DigiSuite reach the entire spectrum of production companies. And mass market offerings like those from Compaq and Sony ensure that the home video market will also be penetrated.

In addition, a new Home Audio-Video interoperability architecture has been developed (HAVi). This proposed standard has the support of a diverse set of companies including Sun Microsystems, Philips, Sony, Hitachi, Sharp and others who want to link digital electronics appliances in the home with services offered over a network using Sun's Jini technology. HAVi is designed to use the IEEE 1394 interface for high-speed, secure transmission of data. It also allows products to reserve bandwidth and other resources, making it suitable for uninterrupted transmission of real-time video.

What's In a Name
As mentioned above, the name FireWire is an Apple trademark and the IEEE 1394 standard originated at Apple. However, the computer maker angered many companies in the computer and video industries after Macworld by announcing that it would seek royalties of $1 per port from chip and system makers using the 1394 interface.

Although Compaq, Sony and other companies already using 1394 didn't change their plans after hearing this announcement, other companies that were considering 1394 products appear to have backed off until the dust settles. One company that could be greatly affected is Texas Instruments, who previously secured a flat-fee license to 1394 and hopes to ship up to 10 million 1394 chips in 1999. Lawyers from Apple and TI immediately began meeting to determine what, if any, additional royalty TI will need to pay.

This issue appears to be resolved based on an announcement that Apple, Compaq, Matsushita (Panasonic), Philips. Sony and Toshiba intend to form a patent pool to efficiently license patents required to implement the IEEE 1394 standard. The six companies have pledged to work together to create a joint licensing program and promote the industry-wide adoption of IEEE 1394. Although many of the details must still be worked out, this development appeased the initial critics of Apple's royalty plan.

Making the Right Connection
As FireWire, IEEE 1394, and i.LINK continue to grow, it's easy to assume that since they're all based on the same thing, all of the products using these names will work together. However, that assumes you can connect them together to begin with.

If you've been using DV camcorders or other DV devices, you know that the digital interface port is small and practically square. If you've purchased a computer with a 1394 port or a card from Adaptec, you also know that the connector on these devices is significantly larger than the one on video products.

You would think that as a new standard, IEEE 1394 would specify a single type of connector, but you'd be wrong. The history of the computer industry is full of multiple types of connectors for a single purpose. Old PC keyboards used a large round connector, newer ones use a smaller one. Old serial ports had 25 pins, newer ones have 9 pins. Well, you can add IEEE 1394 to this list.

The formal IEEE 1394 standard specifies a 12mm connector that uses 6 wires, two of which route power between components. However, there is another connector that was specified in an earlier version of the specification that leaves out the power connections and uses only four pins. Except for Sony, it appears that all the computer makers are using 6 pin ports, leaving the unassuming user to figure out how to plug a square peg into a round hole (or something like that).

For thousands of Compaq computer buyers, this is a real problem, as Compaq only offers a 6 pin to 6 pin cable. However, there are a number of other companies that can supply an adapter that converts between the 6-pin and 4-pin formats. So, don't be surprised if you can't plug computer A into camcorder B. Just drop me a line and I'll help you get the cable you need.

For those of us who've been waiting to create a digital studio, it looks like the time is right to build a really "smoking" facility.

Back to Recent L&S Marketing Articles