Our readership is comprised of both intelligent beginners who have never trimmed a clip and seasoned professionals who earn their daily bread and butter in the edit bay, but we probably have very few readers who have ever edited a feature film for Hollywood. At our Expos and Workshops, however, we meet people all of the time who want to know what editing application they should learn if they someday want to go pro. Regardless of which app is the best or easiest or fastest, it must be admitted that mastery of an Avid editing system looks good on a resume. In recent years, Avid systems have finally become affordable to the masses. This system from Laird offers professionalism at a price point that many hobbyists can justify, whether you are an aspiring pro or not.
This turnkey from Laird is impressive, even at first glance, and it is important to note that this is an Avid certified system. The most obvious difference on the computer case itself are the audio meters on the NASA spaceship-style front panel, which contains all of the audio/video inputs/output for the machine. Equally impressive is the brushed-aluminum case and the matching metal breakout box (BoB). The 1RU BoB has two balanced XLR inputs and outputs; component BNC video inputs and outputs; S-video in and out; and composite in and out. The BoB is attached with two thick-but-flexible cables that are plenty long enough to run through a wall into another room, which is important, since the fans on this machine are not particularly quiet. The inputs can then be controlled via software or using the previously mentioned front-mounted buttons. The machine also has standard FireWire inputs for digital video, although these connections are not on the BoB.
Avid In Use
Once we hooked up our media sources, we fired up Avid Xpress DV 3.5 and took the Laird for a spin. As with any editing application, if you haven’t used an Avid system before, there is a pretty long learning curve. Still, having cut our teeth on Media Studio Pro and Premiere years ago, we subjectively found Avid Xpress DV to be a fairly friendly piece of software. Capture was simple and we liked the Analog/DV source toggle button on the front case. We manually captured from a number of DV camcorders, although we had to tweak the device control settings on one older Panasonic camera. We then effortlessly logged and batch captured an entire tape, again without incident. We also captured a 12-minute section of tape with scene detection, which is a feature we’ve really become addicted to. If you have plenty of hard disk space and don’t want to go through your tape twice for logging and batch capture, this is a no-hassle method of getting video onto your machine.
The timeline editing workspace is very clean and uncluttered. The program was very fast and responsive on the Laird system and the workflow was very pragmatic, moving smoothly from bins to storyboard to timeline. We especially liked the extensive workspace and keyboard customization options which, when combined with the included Avid keyboard, got us into a productive groove very quickly. We also liked the nested structure of the track layout, which we’ve seen in a couple of other editors. This method of organization allows you to composite complex layered effects and then collapse them down to a single track on the main timeline. So while Xpress DV is technically limited to 8 video tracks, the nesting structure essentially gives you an infinite number of tracks.
Xpress DV offers a nice-but-standard set of effects to play with. We enjoyed working with the keyframe animation tools and envelopes, which allowed extensive modification of many effect parameters. Of course all of the effects can be previewed in real time, but this is now a completely unremarkable and standard feature of all editing systems. The titler is decent, but very basic and has no automatic animation features. We created a multi-layered composition with titles, transitions and an effect or two and found the real-time preview capabilities of the DVora to be decent, but unremarkable. Xpress DV did not output a real-time preview signal via FireWire, so if you are editing DV, a render will be required at some point. Our benchmark numbers for this machine showed MPEG renders of 11.5 fps. This bench is not a particularly useful measure of the real world performance of this machine, however, since the test does not involve any Avid software. Furthermore, the particular DVora we reviewed was equipped with a 1.9GHz P4 CPU, although we can see from Laird’s Web site that they are constantly updating these systems with newer CPUs. As of this writing, this machine comes standard with a 2.6GHz P4 for the same price. Avid Xpress’s general performance, and its real-time capabilities in particular, improve on faster machines.
The DVora is an excellent turnkey for the professional studio or the advanced hobbyist, but buyer’s should be aware that the price does not include monitors or speakers, so you’ll have to budget a bit more to get a working system. Videomaker is a consumer magazine and as such, we did not evaluate the DVora in a professional production environment, and that is where this machine really belongs. There are a number of critical features of this machine that a broadcast studio will require, but that consumers shooting DV only will not need. For example, the BNC component video inputs and outputs are a clear sign that this machine is ready to accept video from Betacam SP cameras and VTRs.
Operating System Windows XP Pro
Processor P4 1.9GHz
RAM 512MB (PC2700)
Hard Disk (system) 40GB (7,200 rpm)
Hard Disk (system) 60GB (7,200 rpm)
Display Matrox G550 dual-head display card
Audio SBLive! sound card
Disc Writer CD-RW drive
Other Hardware 10/100 Ethernet, Avid Professional Keyboard, Steel Breakout box, 3-year warranty
Video Inputs/Outputs Component, S-video (Y/C), Composite (RCA), FireWire
Audio Inputs/Outputs Balanced XLR (2x), mini jack
- Avid certified turnkey
- Professional breakout box
- No FireWire DV previews
- Ready to go pro?
2000 Sterling Road
P.O. Box 720
Mount Marion, NY 12456