Video Streaming Software Review: Avid Cinema for Macintosh

Nonlinear Via USB

Way back in March of 1997, Videomaker published a Benchmarks review of a then-new, inexpensive, hobbyist-level nonlinear video editing bundle for Macintosh called the Avid Cinema. Since then, both the Macintosh computer and the low-end nonlinear editing market have changed quite a bit, and the Avid Cinema product has changed along with them. Back then, for example, the Avid Cinema’s primary means of distribution was the Apple Macintosh Performa 6400 bundle, which included an internal PCI capture card and the Avid Cinema software pre-configured at the factory.

Now, however, a highly successful see-through computer, called iMac, has replaced the low-end Macintosh line. The Avid Cinema for Macintosh has evolved into a separate package that includes the Avid Cinema software and a small capture device that utilizes the computer’s USB (universal serial bus) port for digitizing video.

Originally conceived as a means of giving the iMac a way to handle digital video editing, the Avid Cinema for Macintosh has since come to embrace the USB-equipped PowerMacintosh G3 as a platform. Although the capture device has changed from an internal PCI card to an external USB box, the Avid Cinema software product remains essentially the same, with one major difference: it now supports streaming video output (more on this later).

To USB or Not to USB

The burning question on our minds when we set out to review the Avid Cinema for Macintosh concerned the USB port’s ability (or inability) to handle the rigors of video digitizing. Though the product is clearly aimed at Web videographers (the most prominent feature on the front of the box is "Make Web Videos" in huge black letters) one of the output options listed in the manual is videotape. However, in order to get video out of the Avid Cinema for Macintosh and onto videotape, you’ll need a separate video capture card with video outputs (which leaves the iMac out of the equation, as it has no expansion slots to accommodate a separate video capture card).

To test the Avid Cinema for Macintosh, we connected the USB capture device to our Benchmarks Macintosh test computer (PowerMacintosh G3, 400MHz processor, 64MB RAM), installed the software and put it through its paces. When we captured our first clips, what we discovered was no big surprise: the quality of the video was sufficient for simple streaming applications or CD-Rs, but not quite good enough for output to videotape. While it certainly was possible to dump the finished video out to videotape, the noise, blurring and pixellation that resulted from the low capture resolution (320×240 or 1/4-screen) was sufficient to irritate even the most forgiving home videographer.

For streaming and CD-based videographers, however, the remaining tests concerned the quality, ease of use and overall reliability of the Avid Cinema editing software. Regarding ease of use, Avid Cinema is probably the simplest nonlinear editing software available anywhere. With a very user-friendly tab-driven interface, pre-configured storyboards (which are really more closely related to shot lists than storyboards), drag-and-drop operation and step-by-step approach, this software is a great way for beginners, or even children, to get into nonlinear video editing. The quality of some of the transitions and the limited audio editing interface may leave a little something to be desired, but they are sufficient for the beginning video editor to learn about how transitions and audio edits work.

For a more complete run-down of how the software operates, we refer you to the March 1997 issue, because the Avid Cinema’s editing interface has not changed at all since then. What has changed, however, is its support for streaming video output. In fact, it’s probably the easiest way yet to publish your own streaming videos. The built-in RealNetworks support is, in a word, fantastic. Just clicking through a series of simple choices allows you to not only output your video in RealPlayer G2 format; the software will, if you so choose, build a Web page that will play your streaming video automatically. Avid Cinema will even go so far as to send your new Web page out to your personal Web site via FTP.

Streaming Simplicity

If what you’re after is raw editing power, then the Avid Cinema for Macintosh is not for you. Its low capture resolution, noisy output, simplistic transitions and jerky movements will leave you craving something better in short order. But if you’re a home videographer who wants only a simple, inexpensive solution for creating streaming videos to share with friends and family, then the Avid Cinema from Macintosh is just what the doctor ordered.


Tech Specs

Platform: Macintosh
Bundled Software: Avid Cinema nonlinear editor
Video Inputs: S-video, composite (RCA)
Video Outputs: None
Video Capture Resolution: 320×240 pixels

Minimum System Requirements:
Operating System: MacOS 8.5 or later
CPU and Motherboard: iMac or PowerMacintosh G3 with built-in USB port
Memory: 32MB RAM (64MB recommended)
Hard Drive: Minimum 1MB/second sustained data transfer rate

Strengths:

  • very easy to use
  • excellent streaming video support

Weaknesses:

  • no easy upgrade path
  • visible compression artifacts
  • no video output included

Summary:
A great way for home videographers to get into video streaming, but not a good solution for serious videotape production.

Avid Cinema for Macintosh

($299)

Avid Technologies

One Park West

Tewksbury, MA 01876

(800)949-AVID

www.avidcinema.com

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