1133 Westchester Avenue
White Plains, NY 10604
4905 Del Ray Avenue 2nd floor
Bethesda, MD 20814
Big Blue has been around for a long time and while the company does not specialize in video editing, they know a thing or two about building a computer. For production houses where time is money and rock-solid reliability is a necessity, this IBM Intellistation may be what you need. Since the machine is not preconfigured to edit video, we ordered one up and installed in-sync’s Blade 2.1 to see how they might perform together.
The no-nonsense black steel case, and components on the spec sheet (such as the Windows 2000 operating system), all indicate that this is a serious machine. The gig of PC2100 RAM and single 120GB hard disk drive (unusually divided into a 5GB root and a 115GB storage partition) were nothing to get excited about in terms of speed, but the computer was very stable through all of our tests. As with other high-end workstations from non-videocentric companies we’ve reviewed in the past, this IBM multimedia machine came with a video display card that has specialized hardware for 3D modeling and animation applications. This card will not be useful for everyday video editing, but more and more compositing programs have 3D features that may take advantage of the OpenGL features of this card.
The first thing that we noticed when we turned the computer on was the Cessna-like roar of the cooling fans. This computer is clearly designed for a server environment where cooling is critical. Although we did not perform an airflow analysis, informal testing revealed that the fans ventilate the case extremely well. Such robust cooling virtually guarantees the computer will never overheat, but the whoosh of the fans also restricts this computer to isolated post-production work, since there is no way you could use this machine in a studio/production environment.
Blade 2.1 (without the Vampires)
in-sync Blade is another underrated editor we have been remiss in reviewing for some time now. For a very reasonable price, this second-generation application has many cutting-edge features not found in more mainstream applications (which seem to have longer development cycles). We downloaded the entire 23MB package and installed in on the Intellistation. The installation application was not very sophisticated. It did not detect, prompt for the installation of or install DirectX automatically (a requirement for this app) and it warned against installing in a directory with spaces in the path name (such as the "C:Program Files" directory, which is the default install location for nearly all Windows applications).
Once we got everything configured, we ran Blade and were greeted by a slick user interface (UI) that stuck to Windows conventions and wasn’t cluttered by too many buttons. Generally, the application is uneven: some parts of the UI are very nice and other parts are rather primitive. For example, the timeline looks and feels great with simple tools and a great status bar that shows context-sensitive tips, but the capture tool has only the most primitive functions, text-only buttons (with text that is often too long for the button face), no ToolTips, status bar messages or even basic shortcuts (like "I" and "O" for "in" and "out").
Blade certainly has some sweet features. For example, when we rode the audio faders during playback, our adjustments were recorded to the audio clip’s envelope (graph) on the timeline. We also really liked the WYSIWYG preview window implementation of the cropping and panning tool. More fundamentally, the Trim panel was simple and effective. We also like the media management tools and the project trimming functions. As our hard disks have become larger, our projects have grown and the size and number of media files has exploded. We can’t emphasize the importance of a logical bin structure enough, and Blade really comes through here.
Technologically, Blade is also out front with 24p editing (performing the proper pulldown conversions) and support for some high-definition (HD) formats. (Of course, it all depends on the codecs installed on the computer and, at this writing, only JVC’s software supports JVC’s particular form of HD shot on the consumer GR-HD1.) This format flexibility is certainly one of Blade’s strengths.
Overall, we found Blade easy to learn. You don’t have to follow the herd anymore and Blade is another fine alternative to the mainstream consumer editors. Blade is not some also-ran editor, either. The high-def/D1/YUV/uncompressed quality is based on the technology and tools found in in-sync’s professional Speed Razor 2000X.
Stretch it on the Rack
The IBM/Blade combination was a decent performer, rendering 17.46 frames a second in our two-pass VBR MPEG test. Although the machine has a fast processor, it only has average RAM (PC2100) and we’ve seen better numbers on machines with faster RAM. Realtime previews were available at all times and we could also preview out to a VGA monitor via a FireWire-connected DV camcorder in real time. Despite some rough edges, Blade 2 is an affordable and capable editing and compositing application with high-end professional features. Run it on an IBM Intellistation installed on a rack in the server room and your production house is ready for heavy-duty 24/7 operation.
in-sync Blade 2.1
Minimum CPU: P4 1.8GHz (or equivalent)
Operating System: Windows 2000 or XP
Minimum RAM: 512MB
Additional Requirements: DirectX 8.1
Version Reviewed: 2.1
Trial Version: 15-day time limited
IBM M Pro 6219CTO
OS: Windows 2000 SP2
CPU: Pentium 4 3.06GHz
RAM: 1GB (PC2100)
Hard Drive: 120GB (7,200rpm EIDE)
Sound card: onboard
Display card: nVIDIA Quadro4 280XL
Disc Authoring: CD-R/RW / DVD-ROM
Additional Hardware: 2 x FireWire, 10/100 Ethernet, 4 x USB 2.0, mouse, keyboard, rack mountable
MPEG Rendering Speed: 17.46fps
With Big Blue’s backing, this machine is ready for the rack in the server room.