You have just recorded your first big event. Now all you need to do is edit it. The next thing you need is a video editing computer.
Do you need a mobile workstation so you can take it on the road with you? Or do you have the space and budget to set up your own edit suite at home? Your video editing workstation is the heart of your editing system so choose wisely.
This story examines what makes up a video editing workstation and explains what each part does. We'll delve into mobile workstations and some of the different kinds available then we'll look at some desktop systems. Once you have a better understanding of what form factor and capacity you want, we'll check out some of the factors that will help you decide what you may need and what you can live without.
First let's take a look at what you'll need in an editing computer to get started then establish the minimum recommended requirements. Your video editing computer, whether it's mobile workstation or not, needs to have specific features that standard Internet surfing and word-processing systems don't always have to handle video editing. Typing a letter to mom is not the same as editing her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary video. Editing is much more processor intense.
- Processing Power: The central processing unit, or CPU, is the heart of your computer. The stronger the heart, the easier to accomplish necessary tasks. The CPU needs to be able to handle the job of running the software, crunching video files, inputting and outputting images, and whatever else you ask it to do. At a minimum the Intel i5 dual-core processor is a good place to start.
- Memory: Think of memory as the brain of your computer. Memory is what allows the operating system to run and the programs to function. The more memory, the easier and faster it is for the brain to think and communicate with the processor. A minimum of 4GB of RAM is a good place to start but of course more would be better, depending on your budget.
- Operating System: Make sure your operating system is a 64-bit system. Whether you choose Windows or Macintosh you will need the capability and muscle available from a 64-bit system. There might be many 32-bit systems on the mark-down shelf, but steer clear of them. You don't want that, even if it's a bargain. You need to be forward-thinking with your technology, not moving backwards and many new software programs won't support a 32-bit system. Macs with at least an Intel Core 2 Duo processor are 64-bit, but you can still find Windows supporting 32-bit versions, so be careful.
- Storage: Your hard drive is where your operating system and your software reside. Larger capacity is always better, but more importantly, remember to get at least two drives. You don't want to transfer your video clips to your system drive. You can do this, but it is not recommended. The process of digitizing is rough on hard drives and HD video files take lots of space. Look around for a minimum of 500GB of storage. This is a typical size for a hard drive nowadays.
- Display: We recommend a minimum of a 15-inch screen for a laptop. Editing with a 13-inch screen can be done, but it's difficult at best. The question is; do you have good eyesight? Anything smaller and you will find yourself squinting a lot. More virtual desktop space allows you to make your timeline bigger, display more windows simultaneously, and find a more comfortable seating position. Keep in mind; some video editing applications are more effective with two monitors.
- Input/Output Ports: All computers today come with USB ports that are great for connecting the necessary peripherals like a keyboard and mouse. Any computers supporting USB 3.0 will allow appropriate storage devices to transfer data at 5Gb/s. You may also need a FireWire port to digitize from your camera. FireWire is available in 400 or 800 Mbps. FireWire is also used to connect some external hard drives.
An extra display port will come in handy when setting up your editing system. These can be VGA, DVI, Thunderbolt, or some other kind of manufacturer-specific connector. You may have to buy an adapter from the manufacturer if you are adding a second monitor to a laptop.
New Macs come with FireWire 800 and Intel's new Thunderbolt port. Thunderbolt provides a 10GB throughput speed and will allow the connection of displays, storage devices, and other peripherals. Thunderbolt is still new and growing so keep an eye on it for more uses.
- Recordable Drive: At minimum, make sure you get a DVD burner. You may want to burn CDs as well. Blu-ray drives are available on some systems, but more than likely it will be on the optional accessories list. Just make sure you know what delivery method your viewers can use.
- Graphics Processor: Make sure your new video editing computer has a separate graphics processor. Some CPUs that have an integrated graphics processor are not as powerful. A separate processor for graphics will help the CPU do its job and give you a nice clean display, seamless refreshes, and crisp images. HD video files will use lots of processing power and sometimes the CPU needs help processing all that information. Keep this in mind two-fold if you plan to do any 3D editing.
For Mobile Users
- Battery: For the mobile workstation a battery that will last at least six hours is the minimum recommended capacity. Of course you can work while connected to a power outlet but if you need to go to a meeting and there is no power outlet you will need a battery with decent capacity. And of course you can pay more for higher capacity.
- External Storage: If you are on a mobile workstation you will have to get an external drive to digitize and save your files. Holding your footage on external storage is much safer, so to go along with more space, you need speed to get files from place to place. This is where a USB 3.0 comes in handy bringing a speed of 400MB/s.
- Audio Monitors: You'll want to invest in a pair of good headphones. We've never heard a pair of mobile workstation or standard desktop speakers that we like to edit with. You may even want to purchase some small powered monitors like the Bose Companion 2 multimedia speakers, they sound great and are very portable.
- Carry Case: A sturdy carrying case or cover is an essential accessory to a mobile workstation. You could just dump it into your backpack, but consider the two price tags, the cost of a briefcase is minimal compared to the hardware.
In a nutshell - here are our minimum recommended requirements for a mobile editing workstation.
Processor: Intel Dual-Core i5
Operating System: 64-bit
Storage: 500GB (internal)
Drive: DVD burner
Mobile workstations come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and the prices vary. If you really need to take it on the road you have a few options. There are many mobile workstations available, let's look at these three types.
Best Value: In this category, these are some laptops that meet our minimum recommended configuration requirements. Great for someone who needs a word processor, surfs the Internet, and occasionally needs to edit video on the road. You may have to wait a moment while your video renders but be patient, these machines will get the job done. Prices can range anywhere from $700 - $1,500 dollars. For example, the base configuration of the HP Pavilion dv6t Select Edition starts at an affordable $600 and comes with a Blu-ray player but does not have a FireWire port.
Durability: This category is more specialized and the cost is a little higher. These machines are engineered for harsh environments and to take a little more physical abuse than the average laptop. For example, the Panasonic Tough Book F9 can be had for $2,880. But you only get a 14.1-inch screen, and it will cost you extra to upgrade the included 2GB of RAM. Performance is on par with the best value laptops. If you need something more rugged and your equipment gets knocked around sometimes, the added expense is justified.
High Performance: These are generally slightly larger and are still portable, but due to the enhanced capabilities will weigh more and take up more space. If you want three internal drive bays, a 17-inch screen, and more computing power on your lap then the GoBOXX 2650 mobile workstation can be had starting around $3,020. With the additional internal drive bays you don't have to carry any external drives, and in addition, it has a FireWire port for additional external drives. This mobile workstation could also employ 3D in addition to 2D applications.
Desktops are really the way to go for serious editing. If you're on a budget, stick with a workstation. You can start with a best value machine and upgrade later after a few clients have purchased your services. This is the most versatile feature of a workstation, expandability. Let's look at a few categories of workstations.
Best Value: The following workstations are examples that meet our minimum recommended configuration requirements. An extra drive bay and card slots are common features at this level. Similar to best value mobile workstations, prices can range anywhere from $700 - $1500.
The Velocity Micro, Vector Winter Edition can be found for $750, not including the monitor. It meets our minimum recommended system requirements to get the job done. It also comes with two FireWire ports and an Integrated 7-in-1 Flash Memory Media Reader.
For about $650 you can get into a Dell Vostro 460 Mini Tower, (monitor not included). A little more processing power than our minimum recommended system requirements with an Intel i7 processor. More processing power will come in handy when rendering video effects in the timeline. But, at this price this machine does not come with a flash memory card reader or wireless capability. Make sure you are comparing the same features side by side.
High Performance: If you are considering purchasing this level of machine it means your budget is a little more generous. You're probably looking into running one of the more powerful editing packages like Avid Media Composer.
On the performance side of the house, $5,000 can get you into the high-end world of Apple with the Mac Pro and two 2.66GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon "Westmere" processors, that measures up to a 12-core processor. There's plenty of horsepower here to do just about anything you can imagine. Good for 2D and 3D video editing and compositing and maybe you'd like a digital audio workstation, the list goes on and on. You can get an internal drive and an SSD inside the new 27-inch iMacs.
All-in-One: One more type of computer worthy of mention is an all-in-one computer. If you want more style on your desktop and you're not running your own video editing business, this might be for you. Though Apple has produced many such computers with success, these machines have recently become more powerful, especially with HP's Z1. Typically Intel Xeon processors are found in high-end computers, and the Z1 stands out as one of the few all-in-ones that upgrades easily. But generally; these machines do not have much expansion capability.
For $1,200 the 21-inch iMac meets our minimum requirements for an editing computer.
For Windows users the HP Omni 220 Quad base configuration is $950.
To help you make a decision let's take a look at four factors that will assist you to find what will work best for you. There are many things that will influence your choices but here are some of the more important ones.
- Budget: Need I say more? Don't break open the piggy bank until you're ready. Whatever you buy today will be outdated within the year. If you save for just a little longer, you will be able to get the video editing computer that you always wanted. The key is to get the most bang for the buck when you buy.
- Mobility: This is the one requirement that really helps determine if you need a mobile workstation or a desktop. You can move a desktop setup from place to place, but it would be very uncomfortable on your lap at 30,000 feet.
- Power: There are many computers available that will meet our minimum recommendations. But if you need processing power, and you have the budget, go for a workstation, mobile or not. You can add accelerator cards and even an expansion chassis to beef up your workstation. This is simply not possible with a laptop.
- Scalability: With a workstation you can save money in the beginning and expand it down the road when you can afford it. Later, you can fill those additional storage bays with multimedia readers and the latest and greatest storage devices available. By utilizing an internal card slot you can add more USB ports to connect more storage, or add another monitor port. Memory expansion is the quick trade of parts you can do to get better performance right away.
Have you decided which computer is best for you? As you can see there are many options out there. The first thing to do before you purchase is look at your budget. The more you spend on the basics, the better your computer will perform and the longer it will last.
Remember, along with your new editing computer you will need software, and storage. You may also need a keyboard, mouse, or a second monitor so make sure you budget for these items. If you're not going to reuse that older monitor and keyboard, check with your local authorities about disposing of old equipment. Many electronics retailers have recycling programs that will accept your outdated computers and peripherals - and some will give you a discount on a replacement.
Speaking of software, iMovie, Apple's entry level video editing software is included with every new Mac. You can start editing right out of the box and upgrade to more powerful editing software later after you have made a few videos. For PCs, Windows Movie Maker is a free entry level program, but it doesn't come included with your Windows OS anymore - you have to download it yourself.
Remember - your computer is your brain, if you plan to edit big movie productions, you need to allow for a lot of brain capacity. As your skills or business grow, so might your computer needs, so plan well.
Click here to download a PDF of Videomaker's Video Editing Workstations Buyer's Guide
George F. Young is the A/V producer with the Federal Air Marshal Service.