Desktop Video: The Mac Platform

Shelly is a really dear friend, even though she’s a PC-head and a bona-fide member of the pocket-protector league.
When she decided to get into video, she went all PC. Proving that God has a good sense of humor, Shelly’s husband Tom is an artist. He, of course, is a Mac-fanatic, who promptly set himself up with a Mac-based video system.

Shelly went to work on her installation. Fortunately, she had Windows 95, so things went fairly smoothly. Only once did she have to arbitrate a conflict where two boards were clambering for the same computer resources. Tom simply popped his cards into his Mac and dropped the software drivers into his system folder. Shelly pulled out the hefty manuals and started to learn all about the great computer adventures ahead.

Tom did pretty much the same thing. Except all his software operated according to the same time-honored Macintosh rules. He put the slim manuals on his shelf and starting using the software. Within minutes, he had produced a rotating 3D logo, composited it over a sunset backdrop and sent it out to video. Shelly put down her manuals and came over to look.

These days, with the proliferation of powerful and inexpensive Pentiums, is there still room for the Mac? The answer, as Tom knows and Shelly is beginning to learn, is a resounding “yes.” A Power Mac offers every bit as much muscle as the beefiest Pentium. And now that Apple has licensed the design to clone-makers, Mac prices may finally become more competitive.

The best reason to own a Mac–its consistent interface–is still its strong suit. Instead of learning a new interface with each program, you can sit right down and get real work done within minutes of installing new software. And, although Windows 95 goes a long way toward helping users plug in a card and play with it, the Mac still is the easiest computer to add hardware to.

Add to this the fact that Macs have long been the first choice of artists. Apple tuned this machine to the needs and desires of creative right-brain types. And if you look at many of the high-end non-linear editors like Avid, Media100 and the VideoCube, you’ll see that they, also, chose to build their systems around the Mac. In short, it’s hard to beat a Mac for digital video. So let’s look at some of the goodies available for videomakers on this classic platform.


The folks at Adobe started the desktop publishing revolution with their invention of PostScript, but they didn’t rest on their laurels. They have continued to provide computer artists with some of the best tools you can place on your desktop. Premiere, the most popular non-linear video editing package ever, is no exception. This program sets the standard for DTV video editing. For $795, Premiere lets you “drag and drop” captured video clips into a timeline window for editing. All the basic editing features are immediately available as on-screen icons, with a wealth of transitions and special effects available from animated menus.

Premiere can edit video for applications ranging from CD-ROMs to broadcast video. In a typical burst of good sense, Adobe helped to standardize something called plug-ins. These are program modules supplied by Adobe and other third-party companies that can add an infinite number of additional special effects. I know infinite sounds extreme, but I honestly don’t see any end in sight.

Elastic Reality produces one such package of plug-ins called TransJammer ($99). This product contains over 100 transitional effects that can add a lively, playful look to your video. Some of the effects, like falling cows (where cows containing the B image fall down and slowly obscure the A image), are reminiscent of the goofy transitions in the hit TV show Home Improvement.

Avid, the producer of stand-alone non-linear editing machines, also produces VideoShop 3.0. Like Premiere, this $395 program lets you drop captured clips into a timeline for editing. VideoShop comes with over 200 special effects.

At the higher end, Adobe now offers After Effects ($995, formerly from CoSA). This is an award-winning software program that offers finely-crafted tools for professional editing. After Effects foregoes the timeline for a series of nested windows where you can build up transitions and effects layer by layer. This is a major power tool, but it still produces detailed, precise work. It’s hard to beat After Effects at any price.

Although most video editing programs offer basic sound control like fade in and out, more exacting sound effects call for a separate program. Macromedia makes one called SoundEdit 16 ($379) that provides a wealth of tools for editing sound and adding effects. Another product along these lines is Session 2 from Digidesign, and Deck II from OSC ($350).

The beauty of the Mac is that sound is built-in. On the PC, since there are no standards for sound, programs have a hard time determining what hardware is available and how to best exploit it. But with inexpensive software loaded onto a stock Power Mac, you have the equivalent of an effects-packed, multi-channel sound studio in a box. The Power Mac’s sound capabilities alone justify its entire cost.

As for graphics, don’t forget a memorable morphing or warping effect. For the oft-requested morph in your next project, look no farther than Elastic Reality ($349). From a company of the same name, this package has a very sophisticated tool set for warping and morphing stills or video sequences. Its simple interface lets you define curves that control the warp over time. This is the program used by broadcast pros when they need to make a talking animal, a metamorphosing beast or the ever-popular bad-guy-aging-into-a-pile-of-dust trick.

For 3D graphics, the Mac has an embarrassment of riches. Studio Pro from Strata ($1495) is a simple-to-learn modeling and animation program that offers the holy grail of rendering–ray tracing. With ray tracing, you can create scenes of perfect realism, then composite them with video. Studio Pro lets you import your video as an animated texture map that you can wrap around any shaped object. If that isn’t enough, you can morph the object into a different shape as your video dances across it.

For character animation, it’s hard to beat Animation Master from Hash, Inc. ($699). This inexpensive software lets you create characters that bend and wrinkle just the way you want. Based on splines instead of the traditional polygons, Animation Master produces organic shapes with ease.

And for flying logos, Pixar’s Typestry ($299) is close to ideal. This program concerns itself only with 3D logos and animation, making the interface a study in simplicity. It also offers some functions, like flags blowing in a digital breeze, that you simply can’t get anywhere else.


Even the most tight-fisted videomaker can get some use out of a basic AV Mac and a deck controller like the Video Toolkit from Abbate Video. This $100 plug-in for Premiere lets you control virtually any deck–consumer to pro–to log your tapes or produce an edit decision list.

It won’t take you long to discover that all the terrific video you want to assemble is devouring your hard disk like a school of hungry piranhas. Gigabyte drives are starting to become routine and that is the least you should consider for video.

If your rich uncle blesses your video project with a cash gift, you could do worse than spending it on a RAID (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Drives) setup. This is a silly acronym for a set of disk drives wired to your computer in such a way as to maximize the data throughput. For desktop video, throughput is one of the biggest problems, and RAIDs go a long way toward alleviating this bottleneck. As long as you’re at it, get a fast and wide SCSI card like the FWB Jackhammer ($599). This will insure that you don’t just dump your RAID throughput down the narrow drain of a slow SCSI.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t warn you that RAM is an issue too. Premiere likes RAM, video capture cards love RAM and 3D programs demand RAM. Eight megabytes would have to be considered a bare minimum, with forty-eight megs recommended. This is a lot of memory, but you have to weigh it against the extra time that programs take if starved for RAM. You don’t have enough time as it is; why would you want to wait around for a slow computer?

Apple makes the AV series of computers with built-in video. Its quality is certainly good enough for producing EDLs on an inexpensive Mac, freeing up your higher-end equipment. It is also good enough for producing QuickTime movies that are meant to stay on the computer–for your CD-ROM project, for instance.

As well as the Apple video solution, third-party vendors have rushed to fill the empty slots in the Power Mac. Radius produces three popular video solutions. The SpigotPro AV ($1599) captures 24-bit, quarter and full-screen images at 60 fields per sec. This level of performance is the “holy grail” for capture/compression cards, in that it approximates the kind of image quality we’ve grown to expect from VHS cassettes.

The next step up is the VideoVision Studio (VVS) 2.0, for around $4850. It captures full-screen, 24-bit color video at 60 fields per second. It now provides RS-422 deck control for professional VCRs and it can output to tape from within Premiere, a thoughtful addition that simplifies the production pipeline. The VVS is very popular in small video companies that can appreciate its bang-to-buck ratio. It is a great system for producing in-house videos, training tapes and instructional cassettes.

For about twice the money, you can get the Radius high-end broadcast product called Video Vision Telecast ($15,800). Video Vision Telecast supports RGB for Beta-quality throughput. We’re talking about top-notch video equipment here, that will let you compete with stand-alone editors costing much more money.

Not to be left out, Truevision produces the Targa 2000 ($5495), which is based on newer technology, and also has a broadcast version for–you guessed it–more money.

Data Translations makes the Media100, which is becoming very popular due its wavelet-derived compression scheme. It produces an image that has few of the blocky artifacts that compressed video has been widely reviled for. It costs less than $10,000 and produces broadcast-quality output. Media100 qx, a new lower-cost version of this popular system, is available for around $5000.

Most of these cards are now available for the PCI version of the PowerMac, as PCI will soon be the standard for video processing. Everything I said above about NuBus Macs still applies for the PCI systems, just better and faster. Theoretically, you could get around thirty megabytes per second of throughput on a fast PowerMac with a PCI bus. That’s good enough to capture uncompressed video, and makes a Mac capable of competing with proprietary video machines costing far more.

Shelly conquered her video applications and, because she loves learning new things, has moved on to other computer projects. Tom was encouraged by his swift success and has been busily producing videos ever since. That’s really all he wanted to do in the first place. Technology only interests him when it lets him realize his ideas. The Mac takes the rocks out of his shoes, so he can hit the ground running with comfort and confidence.

In short, both Shelly and Tom enjoyed their video experiences, and Tom is still making videos. And–as weird as it seems–they are still living happily ever after.

Scott Anderson is the author of Fantavision, a polygon-based animation program, and the book Morphing Magic, from SAMS.

Scan Lines

Video Chips AT&T Microsystems and three partners are poised to release integrated circuits which allow video, audio and data transmission over standard telephone lines. The new chips will deliver data to the home from neighborhood nodes using existing telephone wires. The new circuits permit the delivery of just under 52Mbps (megabits per second) into the home, with 1.7Mbps sent back to networks. The new system will provide ample capacity for interactive services.

Chip In The Dutch government, Philips Semiconductors and Intervest will be funding the small Dutch firm Spase as it develops single-chip devices for MPEG-2 digital video and CD-I. An MPEG-2 chip is scheduled to ship the last quarter of 1995, with the integrated CD-I chip shipping in the middle of 1996.

Product Menu

miroVideo DC20 ($999)
miro Computer Products
Palo Alto, California
(800) 249-6476

miro Computer Products, Inc. introduces the miroVIDEO DC20 high-performance PCI video editing system for IBM PC and compatible computers. The DC20 capture card provides full screen (640×480), full motion digital video capture, editing and playback capabilities at a resounding 60 fields per second utilizing an on-board Motion-JPEG compression scheme. The system includes Adobe Premiere 4.0 LE, Photoshop LE and Asymetrix 3D F/X software.

Video Artist ($450)
Reveal Computer Products
Woodland Hills, California
(800) 326-2222, ext. 2594

Video Artist is a digital video editing system for the PC that enables users to output edited video directly onto videotape. The system includes a PC 24-bit capture and video output card, video editing software, morph and screen capture software. The video capture card takes video from almost any source including camcorders, VCRs and laserdiscs. The editing software features point and click sequencing of video clips, images, music, titles, transitions and special effects.

VideoShot ($199)
VideoLabs Incorporated
Minneapolis, Minnesota
(612) 988-0055

VideoShot is a palm-sized frame grabber for desktop PCs. It plugs directly into the parallel port of a full-size PC or notebook computer. The video capture device operates using three AAA batteries and will capture an image in 1/30th of a second at 640×480 resolution in 16 million colors. VideoShot features inputs for both S-video and composite signals. It is TWAIN compatible and works with most image processing software including PhotoShop, PhotoStudio and Corel Draw.

NEC MultiSpin 6X ($599)
NEC Technologies, Inc.
Wood Dale, Illinois
(800) 388-8888

The MultiSpin 6X CD-ROM reader provides smoother digital video and animation playback over standard 2X CD-ROM drives, as well as faster loading of large graphic images. The MultiSpin features a 900KB per second data transfer rate which is 50 percent faster than 4X CD-ROM readers. The unit comes equipped with RCA and video output jacks, a push-button SCSI ID selection, and a 256KB continuous flow cache.

Screen Tests

Video Director Home ($99)
Gold Disk
2475 Augustine Drive
Santa Clara, CA 95052-3002
(408) 982-0200

VideoDirector Home for Windows is a video editing software package targeted at entry-level camcorder users. The software allows users to edit lengthy video tapes of family and special events into concise, organized video productions. To edit video tapes with VideoDirector Home, you’ll need a computer, a source deck, a record deck and a video monitor or television.

VideoDirector Home will control your consumer camcorder and a VCR from a Windows-based personal computer. The system consists of two floppy disks and VideoDirector’s SmartCable. Simply plug the SmartCable into the serial port of your PC, run the setup program and connect your camcorder and VCR. A graphical interface guides you step-by-step through the editing process. On-screen controls accomplish most editing tasks using simple point and click and drag/drop operations.

Your source deck must either have a wireless remote control or LANC (Control-L) capability. VideoDirector can control your record deck if it has an infrared remote control. The SmartCable consists of a stereo micro-plug that connects to the LANC jack on a control-L compatible source deck. The other end of the SmartCable is the Infrared controller. If you are using a remote-controlled source deck, position the controller so that it points at the remote control sensors on your source and record decks. The system will perform edits with one- to two-second accuracy when using calibration clips in your script. The calibration process realigns your camcorder tapes for added accuracy.

An auto configuration utility asks you to identify what types of decks you are using and sets up VideoDirector to work with them. A Getting Started Tutorial then guides you through editing procedures.

VideoDirector keeps a permanent record of every video clip in an on-line library, so you can access all of your favorite video segments with the click of a mouse. If you want to organize and catalog your video cassette library, VideoDirector Home also prints tape labels in a variety of sizes and formats.

VideoDirector Home requires a 386 PC, 2MB of RAM and a 256-color display. Gold Disk recommends one available serial port and Windows 3.1 or higher for VideoDirector Home.

VideoDirector Home offers a user-friendly interface that gets you up and editing quickly. If you’re looking for an entry-level editing system, this may be it.

Ease of Learning: (4)
Ease of use: (3)
Documentation: (3)
Value: (3)

Adobe Premiere ($695)
Adobe Systems Incorporated
1585 Charleston Road
P.O. Box 7900
Mountain View, CA 94039-7900
(800) 833-6687

Adobe Premiere 4.0 for Windows is a powerful nonlinear on-line video production system. When you combine Premiere with video capture and compression hardware, a fast 486 or Pentium based PC and large capacity hard disk storage platform it performs as a tool for professional editors and producers of film and video, media producers and multimedia developers.

Adobe Premiere bridges the gap between digital and analog video. An enhanced Movie Capture window allows users to import and retrieve video into the program. A simulated VCR control panel displays time code, in and out points, and a log-in/out command that logs clips into a batch list for digitizing.

Premiere offers support for capturing and making movies at 30 frames per second, with 60 field per second video processing, SMPTE time code, edit decision lists, and a Trimming window. A project window lets you assemble all of the various video clips for your project in one location. Premiere 4.0 also features titling, custom filters, transitions, and motion control in addition to 99 audio and 99 video tracks. This latest version of Premiere supports two A/B tracks and 97 superimposition tracks.

Organized and user friendly, Premier’s workspace offers you the ability to preview video projects in real time. And if you are adjusting the length of a video in the middle of a movie track, a ripple tool automatically synchronizes all of the subsequent clips by shifting them to the right. The new Trimming window allows users to compare and adjust the beginnings and ends of adjacent clips frame-by-frame. Premiere’s motion controls also allow users to animate video clips and text by assigning specific rotation and sizing points.

Adobe recommends at least a 66 MHz 486 or Pentium-based PC with 16 or 32 megabytes of RAM. You’ll need at least a 100 megabyte hard drive running Windows 3.1 or later and MS-DOS 5.0 or greater. I recommend a 1-gigabyte hard drive, Microsoft Video for Windows compatible capture card, and a sound card for optimal video production performance.

Adobe Premiere version 4.0 for Windows offers an incredible platform for producing digital video and multimedia applications. If you’re a desktop video craftsman looking for a serious production tool, Premiere is here!

Ease of Learning: (4)
Ease of use: (4)
Documentation: (5)
Value: (5)

KEY TO RATINGS: 5-excellent, 4-very good, 3-good, 2-not so good, 1-poor

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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