Millions of Americans own an IBM Personal Computer (PC) or PC-compatible, but the majority are not using it for Desktop Video (DTV) production. If this describes you, you’ll be pleased to learn your PC computer can become a valuable tool, saving you money and helping you find ways to earn more.
What can a PC do for video? It can create titles, graphics or animation. It can edit sound easily and
quickly. PCs make excellent frame stores and edit controllers. You can even use it to send digitized video
clips, over the phone lines, to clients or associates at other locations.
Why the IBM PC
The term “PC” has come to refer to any machine that operates using a series of Intel microprocessors
or computer chips called the “86” series. The original PC used an 8086 processor. Over the years,
we have seen development of the 80286 (or just “286” for short), 386, 486 and 586 “Pentium”. In 1996, the
next generation Intel processor–dubbed the “P6”–will hit the market.
One word explains the difference between the processors: power. The higher the processor designation,
the more computing power it has. Comparing the computing power of a Pentium processor with an 8086
processor is like comparing the carrying capacity of a Jumbo jet to a single-propeller airplane.
A computer requires two major components to do useful work: hardware and software. Hardware
consists of the physical component themselves: the circuit boards, disk drives, CD-ROM drives and case.
Software refers to the programs (sets of instructions) that the computer executes to perform a given
A tremendous number of hardware and software manufacturers continue to develop and introduce new
products that work on the PC. Lucky for us, one of the areas showing the greatest innovation is the DTV
market. More on that in a minute.
The PC is the most popular of all microcomputers available today, with over 60 million in use in homes
and offices around the country. PC-compatible computers are also available from countless different
vendors outside of IBM itself. It’s that huge market size that contributes to one of the greatest strengths of
the PC: its affordability.
The large size of the PC market keeps prices competitive. Computer shops, electronics stores, general
merchandise superstores and mail order houses all sell PCs by thousands. The PC has become a commodity
where the sale goes to the vendor with the best price.
Maintenance and support are also big issues. If your VCR or stand-alone edit controller breaks down,
where do you get it fixed? In some regions of the country, you may have to drive hundreds of miles to find
a repair shop. And forget about free estimates.
In contrast, computer repair is relatively inexpensive, and readily found. The parts used in most PCs are
interchangeable. That means spare parts are very affordable.
Perhaps the biggest difficulty in dealing with PCs is the lack of standards among manufacturers. This
often makes it difficult to determine what the best value is. For example, Vendor 1 is selling a PC with a
15-inch screen and a double-speed CD-ROM drive. Vendor 2 has a 14-inch screen and a quad-speed CD-
ROM. Vendor 3 has no CD-ROM, but comes with a 21-inch monitor and larger hard drive. Which is the
better value? Comparing PCs from dealer to dealer can be as confusing as trying to find the best airline
ticket price for your vacation.
One of the standards being set for PCs is “Windows” compatibility. Windows is the popular operating
system available for PCs. Software publishers design their programs to be Windows compatible. For the
most part, any Windows program will run on any Windows-compatible computer.
Unfortunately, there are three popular versions of Windows: Windows 3.1, Windows 95 and Windows
NT. Most PCs sold today come with Windows 95. Windows 95 will run programs written for Windows
3.1. Windows 3.1, however, will not run programs written specifically for Windows 95. Make sure you get
the right software for the version of Windows you are using.
While components for your PC, especially video components, are easily obtainable at deep discounts
from mail order vendors, installing them can be very intimidating. Installing hardware in PCs can often
turn into a frustrating juggling act of interrupts, DMA channels and hex addresses. If you don’t recognize
these terms, plan on having a knowledgeable friend or consultant do your hardware installation and
tweaking for you.
Hardware standards are a very touchy issue. Windows 95 claims to automatically configure your PC for
you when you install something new into it. However, Windows 95 doesn’t always recognize older
hardware already installed in your computer. That means headaches when installing new upgrades or
components. “Plug and Play” is a nice concept, but it’s still not a reality.
What to look for in a PC
One fact you must accept when you purchase a PC is that it is already obsolete. The technology
moves forward so quickly that if you decide to “wait until the new feature is available,” you will always be
Decide what you want to do with your PC. Do you want to run pre-production software or typical office
applications, like word processing and accounting? Are you planning to create multimedia presentations?
Or will you be doing some high-powered production work? We’ll look at two different application
examples and see how a buyer could proceed.
Your best bet for comparing PCs is to compare key components: the CPU, the amount of volatile
memory (called RAM for “random access memory”) and the amount of hard disk storage space. We
measure RAM and hard disk space in Megabytes (MB). One megabyte equals one million units of
memory. If that sounds like a lot of information, it’s really not by today’s standards. Many Windows
packages require at least eight megabytes of RAM, and 20 or 30 megabytes of free hard disk
We measure the CPU by its computing power and speed. A 486-66 CPU is the least expensive chip you
should consider buying for video work. (The “66” on the end of the number specifies the speed of the chip
in megahertz or MHz. As you may guess, faster is better.) For video work, you should really be looking at
a Pentium CPU. The Pentium comes in several popular speeds: 75, 90, 100, 120 and 133MHz. Each step
up in processor speed costs $100-200 dollars over the previous speed.
Here are some recommendations for the person who wants to create computer-based presentations, do
some audio editing and dabble with digitized video.
A 75MHz Pentium will give you a good price-to-performance ratio. Look for a minimum of 8MB of
RAM, 16MB if you plan to use a lot of digital video in your computer presentations. A large hard disk–
around a gigabyte or more–will allow you lots of room for working with digitized audio and video.
An audio capture board, combined with an audio editing program, will allow you to edit music beds,
create sound effects and modify existing sounds. (See sidebar.)
A multimedia computer, equipped with a video capture board, will allow you to digitize video. Digital
video is often an important component in computer-based presentations or productions distributed over the
Internet and other on-line systems. To distinguish them from full-fledged digital video images, multimedia
video clips are usually 1/4 or 1/8 of the screen in size. This is clearly not adequate for video production, but
works well for computer-based presentations. It also doesn’t place a huge burden on the computer.
The most exciting developments in the computer video world these days are taking place in the DTV
arena, and nowhere is DTV development occurring so rapidly as for the PC platform. The combination of
affordable hardware and standardization of the Windows operating system has created an environment
where DTV product manufacturers are able to justify the high research and development costs necessary to
create new technologies.
PC-based DTV systems include editing controllers, switchers, special effects generators, character
generators, graphics systems and non-linear editing systems. A PC-based editing controller allows the
computer to control the operations of your edit system. At the low cost end of the spectrum, these
controllers allow editing with a consumer desktop VCR and a camcorder as an edit system.
More elaborate editing controllers interface industrial or broadcast tape machines with a wide variety of
other video peripherals to create professional edit systems. These systems cost in the thousands of dollars
and require more in the way of computer resources.
PC based switchers/DVEs (digital video effects generators) have come become popular since
the introduction of the Newtek Video Toaster. These powerful tools combine custom hardware and
software to allow your PC to perform the tasks of a switcher, a digital effects generator and character
generator all in one. Several of these DTV products include time base correctors or frame synchronizers
that will allow you to do A/B-roll edits.
Perhaps the most popular DVE/switchers for the PC is the FAST Video Machine Lite (or VM Lite). For
a street price of about $2500, VM Lite gives you an A/B-roll edit controller, a six input switcher, two
frame synchronizers, a four channel audio mixer, a video titler and over 200 pre-programmed digital
effects, with the capability to create your own. Less expensive DTV options include the Aver Video Suite
($700) and the FAST Movie Machine Pro ($500).
One DTV area that video users were quick to embrace was the use of the PC as a graphics system. In the
early days, graphics were an afterthought on the PC platform. The Amiga and Macintosh platforms greatly
exceeded the PC’s graphics capabilities. Today, PCs hold their own in any graphics application, sporting a
number of very mature image processing programs.
To manipulate still images, you will need an image capture card and a VGA to NTSC encoder for
outputting your graphics to back to videotape.
The granddaddy of all video graphics boards is the Truevision Targa 16+. With a street price under
$1200, the Targa 16+ allows freehand drawing, still image capture and character generation. The Targa
16+ has a video encoder/decoder that can handle S-video, composite video and RGB.
Non Linear Editing Systems
The fastest growing use of DTV is non-linear editing. Non-linear editors digitize video footage, store
it on computer hard disks and allow you to edit using a cut-and-paste technique similar to a word
Non-linear systems are widely available for the PC in several different forms. The greatest difference
among the various systems is the level of picture quality they offer.
The central component of a non-linear editor is the video capture module. Similar to the video capture
cards used for multimedia video, these electronics range in price from several hundred dollars to several
thousand dollars. VHS quality is at the low end, while Betacam SP is at the top.
The miroVIDEO DC1 TV, with a street price of less than $750, is a low cost tool that will allow you to
get your feet wet in non-linear editing. DC1 produces an image quality roughly similar to that of the
standard VHS format.
The Digital Processing Systems Perception Video Recorder (PVR) prices out at around $3000 with
video capture option. The PVR is getting rave reviews from users, and may be the standard that many non-
linear editing vendors will be trying to beat in 1996.
You can also add non-linear editing capabilities to the Fast Video Machine line with the Fast Digital
Player/Recorder (DPR). The DPR offers Betacam-quality non-linear editing for around $7000.
All non-linear editing systems have one feature in common: they are resource-hungry computer
applications that require massive computing power and lots of RAM. Because digital video files get so
large, especially when digitizing images at broadcast quality, non-linear editing systems have a healthy
appetite for hard disk space. We don’t measure non-linear editing hard disks in megabytes (millions)–we
use gigabytes (billions).
Configuring a computer as a non-linear editing system can be a tricky task even for an experienced
technician. If you’re not comfortable taking apart your computer, setting micro switches and installing
complex system drivers, you are better off buying a complete turnkey system.
A computer being used for non-linear editing generally requires the most powerful processor available
when you purchase your system. Today, that’s a Pentium CPU. Next year, look for the P6.
Non-linear editing systems require as much RAM as you can afford. Sixteen megabytes is considered
the absolute minimum, but many production houses are going for 32MB.
Hard disk space is another commodity you can never have enough of. At Betacam SP quality levels, a
single minute of broadcast quality digitized video will fill up 250MB. A ten minute program, recorded at a
3 to 1 shooting ratio, will need 7.5 gigabytes of disk storage space to hold all 30 minutes of raw footage.
Even at VHS resolutions, non-linear editing gobbles up disk hard disk space at an amazing rate.
A Pentium 133 with 16MB of RAM, and an 800MB system hard drive comes with a price ticket of
about $3200-$3500. Add two 1.9 Gigabyte AV drives at $2000 each and you’re up to $7500.
It seems that a new DTV system hits the market every other day. Prices continue to drop, quality levels
continue to rise, and we, the video users, are the ones who are benefiting. If you’ve got a PC and you’re not
using it to produce your programs, you’re missing out on one of the best tools available. And if you’re not
using a PC–what are you waiting for?
David Felder is a video writer and producer.
Acquisitions Videonics Inc.(Cambell, CA) recently acquired both Abbate Video, a leading
developer of personal computer editing software and Nova Sytems, developer of video frame
synchronizers and digital time base correctors. Videonics believes that Abbate’s software technology will
help them develop a real-time, non-linear solution for personal computer users. With the acquisition of
Nova, Videonics expects to gain an increased presence in the higher-end broadcast and video post-
MPEG Bundle Quadrant International, Inc. signed a bundling agreement with CeQuadrat Inc.
CeQuadrat is a developer of formatting software for several platforms and types of recorders in the CD-
ROM market. Under the agreement, CeQuadrat’s PixelShrink MPEG Encoder will bundle with Quadrant’s
Q-Motion 150 M-JPEG video-editing card for personal computers. Quadrant believes that Q-Motion and
PixelShrink will bring a complete solution to users who want to affordably edit and create MPEG
Digital Video Arts LTD.
The WakeBoard is a high-performance PCI bus video capture and compression board that supports Intel’s new wavelet-based Indeo video interactive. It enables real-time capture and compression of Indeo video as a key frame video file. Any captured video can then be edited and output to video tape. Near real time recompression is available for playback on a Video For Windows equipped Macintosh or PC.
nTitle 2.2 ($1995)
San Francisco, California
n-Title 2.2 is a 2D animation application for the SGI platform useful for the creation and animation of text,
geometric shapes, and logos. Use it to create titles, credits, slates and multi-layered 2D animation graphics
for broadcast, commercial productions and corporate presentations. nTitle is capable of keyframe
animation and editable spline paths to fly text, logos and geometric objects.
EditLink AV 2110 ($695)
FutureVideo Products, Inc.
Aliso Viejo, California
EditLink AV, a hardware/software system for PCs, consists of a Windows-based software package and
an EditLink 2110 controller card. The EditLink system provides time code synchronization and dubbing
between a variety of devices such as VTRs, ATRs, CD-ROMs and CD players. The system will also
control both videotape and audiotape recorders via RS-422A communication. The EditLink AV 2110 is a
multimedia system that enables users to synchronize and control audio for video or audio only without the
need for an entire audio production studio.
Sound Blaster AWE32 PnP ($250)
Creative Labs, Inc.
The Sound Blaster AWE32 PnP is a sound card delivering professional-quality audio features like Advanced Wave Effects wave-table synthesis for hundreds of real instrument sounds and effects. It also offers Spatialized Audio for true 3D audio in multimedia applications. This is the first in a series of industry standard audio cards to include Plug and Play features and full compatibility with Windows
Video Director Home ($99)
2475 Augustine Drive
Santa Clara, CA 95052-3002
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 and 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
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 is it!
Ease of Learning: (4)
Ease of use: (3)
Visual Arranger ($59)
Yamaha Corporation of America
P.O. Box 6600
Buena Park, CA 90622-6600
If you’ve always wanted to create musical compositions for your videos but don’t know a minor chord from a video cord, Yamaha’s Visual Arranger can help. Visual Arranger 1.0 is a music arrangement and composition software for the Macintosh platform. A Windows 3.1 version is also available.
Visual Arranger allows users to create great-sounding music compositions and arrangements without requiring a serious musical background. It offers an easy-to-learn, icon-based layout for recording and arranging phrases, melodies and chord progressions. The software supports point-and-click sound mixing, allowing users to compose and arrange songs graphically on the computer.
Visual Arranger lets you create songs by dragging music Style icons from Style palettes onto a
Sequence display in any order you want. Music accompaniments are organized into eight groups of 160
musical styles. And if that weren’t enough variety, each musical style has eight different variations such as
Intro, Main A, Main B, Fill-ins and Ending. There are also hundreds of preset musical patterns to choose
from for playback. Visual Arranger offers a “Favorite” Style group folder where you organize a palette of
preferred styles for quick access and playback.
Visual Arranger’s graphic mixer lets you access and change MIDI controls like volume, pan and
reverb during playback. In addition, Visual Arranger is compatible with the MIDI standard and therefore
saves music style data in the standard MIDI File (SMF) format. You can even record music in real-time
using an external MIDI keyboard.
The system’s Smart Arranger function makes tracks fade out. It also changes the tempo or musical
instrument in any song by simply clicking an icon button.
On the Mac side, Visual Arranger requires a 68020 or higher processor. A MIDI interface and
external keyboard or MIDI-compatible soundcard with tone generator are also required.
Visual Arranger’s ability to arrange, compose, and change musical styles makes it a valuable
audio tool. Once you create a musical style, output through a compatible MIDI or soundcard device is easy.
Videomakers looking for a creative way to develop their audio for video programs will like the simplicity
of the Visual Arranger.
Ease of Learning: (3)
Ease of use: (3)
KEY TO RATINGS: 5-excellent, 4-very good, 3-good, 2-not so good, 1-poor