Turnkey Editing Appliance Review: Draco Systems Avio ST

Raising the Bar, Lowering the Price

The Avio, Draco Systems’ new sub-$2,000 video editing box, is an exciting addition to the video appliance category. With its release, the Avio takes its place in video history as the first fully-equipped appliance for less than two grand. At this price the Avio offers a Pentium processor, real-time transitions, an easy-to-use interface, up to three projects and loads of storage space. All of this for less than half the cost of the original Casablanca. The Avio would be a good choice for editing newbies and hobbyists who want an easy way to edit home video without configuring a computer, but it will surely attract shooters with more experience as well. Anyone who wants to get into digital editing without sacrificing titles, transition effects and storage space, or breaking the bank, should take a closer look at what the Avio has to offer. The Avio may also find a place in the classroom (Draco hopes so) or in corporate video production facilities. The Avio comes in three different versions to suit your needs: a stripped down 12GB "lite" (LE) model, the well-equipped 20GB standard (ST) model and a school edition (SE) which offers up to 30 projects at a time. We reviewed the standard model.

It’s New, It’s Different!

For the record, the Avio is not the Casablanca. They are certainly members of the same family, but the two cannot be compared any more than one would compare a 1998 Ford Taurus and a 2000 Ford Escort. They are made in the same factory, even share similarities, and although the Escort may have some newer "improved" technology, it is clearly an economy car aimed at a different buyer.
Like the Casablanca before it, the Avio uses the same simple storyboard editing interface. (For a complete review of the original Casablanca, see the November 1998 issue of Videomaker.) Despite the apparent similarities between the two, there are some significant differences. The Avio uses a standard 20GB IDE drive, SDRAM and a Pentium MMX 233Mhz processor. Unlike the original Casa, the hard drive is not removable. The box is sealed tight. The Avio is clearly a child of the new millenium, making use of MPEG-2 compression, which is the same format that DVDs use, enabling it to store much more video and audio per unit of storage space than its predecessor.
It has two USB ports on the back for a keyboard or other compatible device. There’s a large trackball that comes attached to a 15-foot cable so you don’t have to have your face pressed up to the monitor while you edit. This is a big advantage if you’re editing in your living room on a large TV screen. At this price point, we think the Avio may find its way into entertainment centers and family rooms, not just edit suites.
Unlike the Casablanca, the Avio allows you to store and edit up to three different projects at a time. This means you don’t have to finish and delete a project to start another or buy an additional hard drive for subsequent projects. We were disappointed to find that you can’t share the same footage for the different projects (if you wanted to edit three separate versions of the same project, for instance). Even so, the ability to work on three projects at a time is a big improvement over the original Casablanca’s single-project limit.
Another feature we really liked on the Avio is its large preview window. Users of the original Casablanca had to make due with a tiny preview window. The Avio’s larger preview window provides a comfortable view of the image and can save tons of time on useless renders since you can actually see how the clip will appear.
We liked the Avio’s audio editing features, too. The audio editor lets you adjust the volume of a clip, apply a karoake effect that removes the vocals from a song, reverse left and right channels, create a mono signal and simulate an increase or decrease in the distance between speakers. But audio editing is still a weak spot when you compare it with other computer-based editing systems. There’s no audio scrub and it’s difficult to match video to audio with accuracy.
Of all of the differences between the Avio and the Casablanca, there’s one that made us do cartwheels down the hall. Real-time transitions. The days of long renders are gone forever. Real-time effects are the new wave in editing systems. Of the 16 transitions that come with the Avio, nine are real-time. That’s more than enough for almost any video. It’s worth noting that the Avio is not completely render-free. Color effects, titles, audio and complex transition effects all require rendering.

EZ Setup and Edit

Setup was as simple as hooking up your VCR. The entire process took less than 10 minutes.
We chose YC (S-VHS quality) as our capture setting, which gave us enough room to store over four hours of video footage. Pretty cool. The reason for this increased storage capacity is primarily the Avio’s use of MPEG-2 compression. All this storage space comes at a price though.

The Catch

All of this for just $1,795. There’s got to be a catch, right? As we mentioned, the Avio uses MPEG-2 compression. One of the downsides of MPEG-2 is that you can occasionally see artifacts in the form of chunky, off-kilter, digital rectangles. Some people may never notice the artifacting we saw, and those who do notice may not be bothered by its presence. If you want to edit video to broadcast (in the form of commercials, news or whatever), the Avio is likely not what you are looking for. But, keep in mind, Draco’s targeted buyer for this product is not the broadcast professional.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive fully-equipped editing appliance that can store hours of footage and produce decent quality video, the Avio, with its real-time transitions could be just what you’ve been waiting for.

TECH SPECS

Draco Avio ST

Turnkey Editing Appliance

Platform video appliance

Video inputs and outputs S-video, composite, IEEE 1394*

Audio inputs and outputs Stereo RCA, IEEE 1394*

Hard drive 20GB IDE

Software interface Smart Media card

Data rate 0.3-1.2 MB/sec

Transition 16 (9 real time)

Image filters 22 (none real time)

Motion effects slow, quick, backwards, still & jitter

* Option available for additional fee

TEST RESULTS

strengths

  • Real-time effects
  • Improved interface
  • Easy to operate
  • Multiple project capability

weaknesses

  • Precise audio editing is difficult
  • Projects can’t share footage
  • Some artifacting is visible on output

summary

  • An inexpensive, MPEG-2 video editing appliance with some image degradation that would fit perfectly in a home theater setup as well as in some edit suites.

Avio ST Editing Appliance
($1,795)
Draco Systems, Inc.
5485 Conestoga Court
Boulder, CO 80301
(877) 554-2846
www.draco.com

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