Gateway 700XL Digital Film Maker system
P.O. Box 2000
610 Gateway Drive
North Sioux City, SD 57049
Just about any modern computer has the potential to edit video. This has transformed our thinking about what makes a turnkey editing system. Because of the fickleness of video capture hardware and editing software, we formerly recommended dedicated and specialized turnkeys. Our current definition is most simply phrased: if you open the box, plug it in and can immediately capture and edit without installing any additional hardware, it meets our criteria. Gateway has certainly met our requirements with their well-thought out Digital Film Maker system. More powerful than anything the typical beginner might need, when the right software is installed, this workstation is ready for most any professional productions.
Even on paper the Gateway 700XL Digital Film Maker system looks good. The virtual-dual CPU Pentium 4 and the stock 400GB of hard disk space are jaw-droppingly impressive. The two 18" LCD displays and the surround speakers take care of sight and sound. Oh, and don't forget the Matshita (Panasonic) LF-D311 for burning DVDs. This is an older DVD burner (read: it came out last year) and is a little unusual in that it burns DVD-R or DVD-RAM discs (and not DVD-RW). DVD-RAM is an excellent format for data and rewriting in general, but it is not designed to be compatible with living room DVD players. The cheapest DVD-RAM discs can be found for $5 each, which is significantly more than the $2 you'd spend on DVD-RW media.
This system is configured for digital video (DV) only. FireWire capture happens via the IEEE-1394 port on the Sound Blaster Audigy sound card, although one port is thoughtfully brought around to the front of the machine. The 400GB of hard disk space is split between a 200GB system drive and a 200GB dedicated video drive. Conservatively, this means you could capture about 15 hours of DV footage to just one of the drives. We found both 7,200 rpm drives to be plenty fast for 25Mbps DV video and had no troubles capturing to the system drive as well. Although this can be a cause of dropped frames, and we don't generally recommend it, many folks get away capturing to a system drive without problems (for example, most laptops only have a single slowish drive). Pragmatically, you could get well over 25 hours of footage onto this Gateway computer.
We've seen some fast machines from some other non-video specialized system integrators that were potentially capable of editing video. However, they often come with only the most primitive of software packages. At press time, Gateway was including the Digital Film Maker Bundle (limited time promotion), which includes Pinnacle Edition DV, Impression DVD-Pro and Commotion (in addition to blank disc media, a disc labeler and FireWire cables) at no additional cost. This is a very complete software package. At the time we requested this machine for review, the system shipped with Pinnacle Studio 8. While Studio 8 is a capable application that can get the novice from capture, through editing and finally onto DVD disc, it is very underpowered for this muscular machine. Pinnacle's Edition editing software is far better matched to the system, and were we were happy to see Gateway include it.
The other feature we were interested in testing was the new P4 3.06GHz CPU with Hyper-Threading (HT) technology from Intel. HT CPU architecture theoretically means that some software (such as Windows XP) will see the single processor as two processors. As we've seen with other dual-processor systems we've had in the lab, this results in improved overall performance, even showing moderate gains in non-optimized applications. For example, we managed to encode 20.45 frames of MPEG-2 video per second using Videomaker's own real-world MPEG rendering benchmark, which is about what you would expect from a 3GHz Intel processor. During our rendering tests, the advantage of virtual dual CPUs only came into play when other applications were running. Translation: your PC no longer needs to be bogged down for hours during renders and can easily be used for other activities, such as e-mail, Web surfing or writing product reviews.
Theoretically, applications optimized for dual processors, such as Pinnacle Edition, should show improvements on a dual processor system, but we have not yet been able to measure this in real world tests. We can report that Edition's background rendering was breathtakingly fast on this machine and we really had to race to try and make another edit before the first one was finished rendering. Edition was also especially elegant when stretched across two monitors. The non-standard Studio 8 user interface cannot even fill a single monitor at 1280x1024, much less span two screens.
Wait... There's More
Speaking of two monitors, our evaluation unit came configured with two Gateway-branded 18-inch LCD panels. While the useable viewing angle was rather shallow, the contrast and brightness were very high. Video previews were sharp and showed no laggy artifacts, regardless of whether we used the digital (DVI) or analog (VGA) connections. Video could also be sent out to a television monitor via the S-video port, but not while Windows spanned both LCD monitors. The best solution is to ignore the S-video port on the computer, span the two monitors and use your DV camera for television previews.
The Boston Acoustics BA7900 5.1 surround speakers sounded warm and full. (The BA7900 are $50 more the default configuration with the BA7800, which are not full 5.1 surround speakers.) Gateway shows its commitment to novice videographers by including an excellent full color book and CD-ROM called Capture, Create and Share Digital Movies, published by Gateway Press. The standard warranty includes one year in-home tech support. The 700XL is easily the fastest turnkey we've seen to date and, when a comprehensive software suite is installed (such as the promotional Pinnacle Digital Film Maker bundle), one of the most complete.
Operating System: Windows XP Home
Processor: P4 3.06GHz w/ HT
RAM: 512MB RAM (PC1066)
Hard Disk (system): 200GB (7,200 RPM)
Hard Disk (video): 200GB (7,200 RPM)
Video Inputs: 2 x FireWire
Video Outputs: S-video, 2 x FireWire
Audio Inputs/Outputs: six-channel 5.1, digital SPDIF
Pinnacle Studio 8
Roxio Easy CD Creator 5 (basic)
Special limited-time offer: Pinnacle Digital Film Maker Bundle (Edition DV, Impression DVD-Pro, Commotion, TitleDeko, Hollywood FX)