The Toaster 2 is more than just a nonlinear video editor, it is a complete production studio that even includes a live switcher. If you are ready for a serious system for professional-level work, this system may have everything you’ll ever need.
You get all of the hardware you need to mix a live multi-cam production, complete with graphic overlays and live chromakeying. In addition, you also get all of the software you need for post-production, including nonlinear editing, 3D tools, advanced compositing and effects software. Of course all of this power comes at a price.
The essence of the Toaster is a custom PCI card, in this case enclosed in a dual-CPU Intel computer from Mina Systems. We set the Toaster up in our studio and hooked up two camcorders, a VCR, some video on the hard disk and even an active ToasterEdit project to simulate a live mix. The expansive switcher was very clearly labeled and easy to work with. We could send an entire live mix to a transmitter, a VTR or stream it over the Internet and simultaneously capture it to disk. The system does not, however, output a real time (live) DV stream.
For experienced video editors, ToasterEdit is the most accessible feature of the entire Toaster 2 suite. It has a storyboard to facilitate rapid prototyping and a fairly conventional timeline. When we ran our mouse over clips in the bin, the thumbnails immediately began previewing the video. Very useable timeline-trimming options and effortless ripple editing within tracks enhanced the solid trimming window. Although we liked the workflow and the clarity of the workspace, it must be pointed out that when you use ToasterEdit, it doesn’t feel like you are using Windows. You won’t find a Help menu, there are no ToolTips and you have to learn how to minimize and close the program, since there are no standard Windows features present to do this. Those are just three examples, which shouldn’t be too surprising since the original Toaster software was not created for Windows.
ToasterEdit has a host of efficient features, including right-click context menus and extensive shortcut keys. You can arrange timeline tracks in whatever order you like, mixing video and audio, with lower tracks appearing as overlays on higher tracks. You can control the audio level on a track with faders in a dialog box and you can record your adjustments to automate audio levels during playback. There are no envelopes to visually cue you in to fades or pans. Likewise with DVE and FX animations nearly every dialog has extensive keyframe options and abilities but there isn’t a keyframe timeline that allows you to see your work.
We liked ToasterEdit and feel it compares favorably with any editor on the market, though the capture utility lacks a batch capture feature and doesn’t have scene detection.
The toaster card performs real-time effects out to S-video, but it doesn’t do real time out to DV. After a few layers of effects, ToasterEdit no longer carries out full-frame rate previews (i.e. it’s not real time anymore), but instead starts dropping frames, dependent upon the speed of your computer. This isn’t a criticism of the Toaster, as this is typical of every real-time system we’ve reviewed.
The Toaster does have a trumping ace up its sleeve: background rendering. This awesome feature immediately starts rendering anything that needs rendering as you edit (we’ve only seen it in a couple of products to date). Instead of waiting for renders, you just keep on working.
The original Toaster was famous not only for its revolutionary power, but also for fun effects. Toaster 2 continues this tradition with a host of customizable, real-time digital video effects (DVE). These include some fun ones, like an alien hand that grabs the A-roll and tears it off the screen and sheep wipes. Still, we miss the old Kiki wipes.
With a little talent and creativity you can create your own custom DVEs with alpha channels using the included Aura 2.5. Aura is an impressive piece of software that is simple enough to use as an advanced titler, but really approaches After Effects in its 2D compositing capabilities, with one significant difference: Aura is fast. Even on a muscular machine, significant renders frequently interrupt most compositing apps, even after making tiny changes to a project. Aura is not magic and certainly does require rendering, but even complex changes to mature projects are extremely fast and often instantaneous. It also uses the automatic background-rendering feature used in ToasterEdit.
The specs listed for this system were certainly high-end, including dual 17-inch LCD panels driven by a GeForce4 card, a DVD burner and a respectable set of Yamaha speakers.
And, you can’t forget that this is really an all-in-one television studio with the SX8 switcher, not to mention LightWave 3D Express, Aura, Speed Razor and ToasterCG software.
Again, it must be stressed that the Toaster is much more than just an off-line editor.
If you dropped $15,000 on a complete studio, you might expect a technician to drive up in a truck and install the thing for you. Guess what? That’s exactly what Mina Systems will do for you for any system over $6,000.
Operating System: Windows 2000
Processor: Dual Pentium Xeon 2.2GHz
RAM: 1GB DDR SDRAM
Hard Disk: 20GB system, 136GB video
Capture Hardware: NewTek Toaster 2 SX8 breakout box and switcher
Input: 2x IEEE 1394. 8x component, 8x BNC (Y/U/V), 2x XLR (2 channel). 6x RCA (2 channel)
Output: 2x IEEE 1394. 4x component (Y/C), 4x BNC (Y/U/V), 4x composite, 1x Alpha (BNC), 2x XLR (2 channel), 6x RCA (2 channel)
Optical Disc Writing: Pioneer DVR-A04 DVD-R/RW
Dual 17″ LCD
Dual Head GeForce4
Ultra 160 SCSI RAID
Sound Blaster Live 5.1
Yamaha MS101 II speakers
ToasterEdit, LightWave 3D Express, 3D
Modeler, ToasterCG, Aura 2.5, Speed Razor
Full manuals for all Toaster software
Switcher techniques video
ToasterEdit techniques video (videos from Desktop Images)