Tower Power

You are getting more serious about your video editing and are ready for a computer dedicated to making your hobby or part time gig go a little smoother and faster. You have three options. One, do it yourself (DIY), two, buy a general-purpose computer and configure it with your software or three, buy a turnkey system designed especially for video editing and DVD authoring. To help you decide if option number three is right for you, Videomaker has interviewed several leading video capture card manufacturers and editing system integrators to get their opinions.

O.K., if you’re mumbling to yourself, "Hey, what about options number one and two? I don’t really need a system integrator." Let’s take a quick look at that option and use your imagination (or, perhaps, your memory).

The DIY Dilemma

You spend hours online, perhaps days, researching and weighing component performance, price and compatibility. You have tracking numbers for 13 separate shipments memorized and develop a near-canine sense to hear the approaching rumble of a UPS truck. After days of receiving packages, you give your best wishes to the UPS man’s mother-in-law (who sprained her ankle last Tuesday) and pry open boxes, plow through styro-snow and pierce shrink-wrap with the fury of a five-year old on Christmas morning.

And there it is, right on the floor, your new video editing system: the motherboard, video capture card, DVD burner, power supply, system case, audio card, hard disks, RAM, CD-ROM, software, floppy drive, zip disk, cabling, and… the wrong CPU. D’oh!

Granted, some of us actually enjoy building our own computers, much as some folks like fooling around with their classic cars on the weekends or doing the New York Times Sunday crossword. This is a distinct hobby from video editing, however. In most cases, while you can guarantee that every part of your computer is of the highest quality, you won’t save much money building yourself.

You can take a shortcut by getting yourself a general-purpose computer and then configure it for video editing. This is considerably easier than building from scratch and you can find some truly remarkable deals from many vendors. For those of you who want to be editing and not configuring, it might be worth a few extra dollars to purchase a video editing or DVD authoring system built by professionals. In other words, maybe you want a turnkey.

The Heart of the Matter

Since the heart of a video editing system is usually the video capture card, we first spoke with representatives from three leading companies: Patrick Beaulieu, Product Manager of Pinnacle’s Liquid Edition product family; Robin Pollock, Customer Service Manager of Matrox; and Mark Fears, Marketing Director of Viewcast Corporation. The first question we asked was if they has a certification system for vendors and system integrators.

"Yes, we have a listing of certified Elite Dealers on our website that have access to Pinnacle products," says Beaulieu. "The most important part of being a system integrator is service and technical knowledge. They need to know the product."

Other companies also noted they have different levels of certification or close working relationships with system integrators. At the level of the motherboard, capture cards can either be based on the PCI or AGP bus. Certification is particularly important if your system uses a PCI card, since compatibility with the motherboard chipset is critical.

"We are trying to certify the chipset, not the motherboard or system," adds Matrox’s Pollock. "Chipset manufacturers such as SIS, Intel, AMD, VIA and nVIDIA come to us monthly to check on compatibility issues." Viewcast certifies specific motherboard/ chipset combinations whereas Pinnacle certifies specific models of computers. All of the manufactures provide an updated listing on their websites.


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So, What’s the Dif?

From the perspective of our capture card makers, it could make a difference if you don’t buy your turnkey system from a certified integrator.

"It could make a difference of frame dropping," cautions Viewcast’s Fears. "Whenever you are capturing uncompressed video, you are running a lot of data through the bus. Maybe the signal is sharing resources with an audio or graphic card."

But what if you are still thinking you can build one yourself? Our capture card makers recommend thinking again.

"Unless you are very knowledgeable in computers, I highly recommend using a system integrator. I’ve seen it many times where some users tried to build their own systems to save a few bucks. When they face problems and don’t know what to do, it can cost more having a technician do the work," says Beaulieu.

Pollock adds, "even if you think you are computer savvy, you may find a thousand and one different problems. You may think you know everything, but every six months things change. The system integrator knows all the ins and outs."

"Let’s say you’re a car enthusiast," poses Alienware’s Cubbage, "you may have the time, passion and knowledge to work on your own car. But someone doing digital content creation might not be as good at this technical side. Since they rely on their editing expertise, they just want something that works rock solid."

Even if you are able to get a system working, notes Cullen, problems can be lurking that will only pop up when your disk gets partially filled or when you try to output video.

Putting it all together – the System Integrator

Next, Videomaker interviewed four video editing system integrators to find out why more and more people are demanding their service. They include: Erik Cubbage, Director, Workstation Platform Marketing of Alienware; Seyed Amiry, CEO of Core Microsystems; Terry Cullen, CEO and Founder of 1 Beyond Digital Video Systems and Dan Hatch, Chief Operating Officer of ProMax.

All of these companies have been around for a while and sell both custom and preconfigured turnkey video editing computer systems. We asked why a customer would have a system integrator build a video editing or DVD authoring system instead of buying an off-the-shelf machine from a big computer vendor.

For a custom system, 1 Beyond’s Cullen says, "We don’t just ask what you want and send you a quote. We ask what your application is, what software you use, what cameras, and so on. We also look at workflow, even for smaller project demands like wedding videographers. We can even suggest tricks on how to make to most of the investment they have to get maximum workflow."

We Support it…We Guarantee It!

Turnkey vendors also offer premium service and support. All of the vendors we contacted offered substantial guarantees on both parts and labor. Most also back up their guarantees with 24/7 free in-house phone support, some extending this for the lifetime of the system. This close customer support is provided to not only allow you to meet your deadlines, but to hopefully keep you from tweaking your system without guidance (potentially voiding their guarantees).

So if you do run into a problem with the capture card, software, or system component, ProMax’s Hatch assures us, "It won’t be like the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz…’he went that-a-way.’ It’s all about service and support. We have about twice as many tech and system integrator support people as sales people." Core Microsystem’s Amiry agrees, "We try to be the only point of contact for the customer. We attempt to support the customer directly."

It’s not that the general-purpose computer sellers don’t offer guarantees and service, but when you are having a video-specific problem, such as dropped frames, it is unlikely that their tech person will know what is wrong. Turnkey vendors, on the other hand, will very likely understand you problem immediately.

Buy Used, Pay More!

When you buy a turnkey system from a certified vendor, you are buying yourself some piece of mind. For those of you who know what you want and know how to get it, building your own system, either from scratch or from off-the-shelf components, is a great idea. If you just want to edit, however, a turnkey editing system will get you doing what you are good at faster and more reliably than any other solution.

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