Turnkey Video Editing Systems

I was a little surprised when my Aunt Betsy ambushed me at Cousin Tia’s wedding, announcing that she wanted to buy a video editing system. She still uses 110 film and finds automobiles “upsettingly modern.” But when she mentioned that it was for my 18-year-old cousin Scooter, who is a skate enthusiast about to head off to college, I felt a little relieved. Just then, the wedding videographer, who had been sleeping behind a large plant, chimed in, “I was thinking of getting an editing system myself, but I don’t know anything about computers.” Video editing devices are like kitchens: different ones for different people.

“Well,” I said, “you should both consider a turnkey solution.” It may just have been my imagination, but it seemed the festivities stopped and everyone turned to listen.

What is Turnkey?

It used to be that if you wanted a video editing system, you went out and bought yourself a computer, a video capture card and some video editing software. Then you sat on the living room floor and built yourself an editing system. Computers can be fickle things and setting up the editing software to work with your capture card and your display card could be a frustrating and time consuming task. For this reason, many people today, opt for a pre-assembled turnkey system, so called because all one theoretically needs to do is “turn the key” to make it work, just like a car.

Whether or not a turnkey system is for you depends on several factors. Most importantly, do you have the time and skill necessary to put together a video-editing computer? If so, you could save several hundred dollars (after a lot of aggressive Internet price shopping) by doing it yourself. If you’re working at the high end of video production, the do-it-yourself options are more limited, because of specific special features and hardware required.

Video Editing Systems

“Now,” I said, trying to lean around the DJ who had thankfully stopped playing the Chicken Dance, “There are two different types of video editors: ones based on standard home computer-based systems and appliances, which are dedicated systems that work without a computer.” Both of them span a variety of price ranges from about a thousand dollars to well over fifty thousand dollars, depending on what you’re doing. In the past few years, computers have risen to meet the challenge of video editing. Almost any new computer out of the box today is potentially capable of editing video as long as it has a FireWire jack or two. This means that you’ll be able to produce decent video even at the low end of the scale.

Less than $5,000

Market: casual to serious video editors who use their computers for other tasks as well.

For many reasons, Apple Macintosh computers have always been popular with video editors. Nearly all Apple computers come out of the box yearning to edit video. Apple’s iBook, starting at $1,099 is no exception. Laptops are always a compromise between price/performance/
portability. Quite honestly, editing video on a small screen using a touchpad is not terribly fun, but if you need portability, nothing else will do. This laptop is no slouch though, with an impressive 800 MHz G4 processor, 30 GB hard drive and 256 MB of memory. iBooks also come with a fast FireWire port for connecting to your digital camcorder or an external disk drive. It’s constructed out of rugged high impact plastic for editing on location, which makes it a great option for your college student.

There are many options for desktops in the under $5,000 range such as the strikingly cool looking Alienware Roswell Performance, available in such exotic colors as Martian Red and Saucer Silver. It stacks up an impressive array of features at $2,674, including a 2.8 GHz Intel Pentium 4, an entire gigabyte of RAM, NVIDIA Quadro FX 500 video card, a 240 gigabyte video drive, and the Matrox RT.X10 DV editing system. Alienware also provides one year’s worth of 24/7 telephone technical support.

$5,000 – $15,000

Market: serious enthusiasts, education, small companies.

The $5,000 – $15,000 price range gives a lot of great possibilities for people who are serious about video work. For $7,231, Promax will deliver the Macintosh powered Xpress Pro-G5-2GHz-DP, a dual processor G5 with 1,024 MB of RAM, a 250 GB video drive and Avid Xpress Pro video editing software.

For around $6,000, 1Beyond will deliver a 2.06 GHz Dual Xenon Power with RexRT Pro, 2 GB of RAM, a Canopus ADVC 500 Breakout box, 400 GB of AV drive space. That’s a whopping 37 hours of DV video. Adding high-end software like RexRT Pro will bump up the price by nearly $4,000 while something more economical such as Avid Xpress DV will only run you $550 extra.

More than $15,000

Market: high-end corporate customers, broadcast facilities, offline post production facilities.

Lots of professionals use video editors that cost less than $15,000, but if you’re editing a feature film, where time is money, you would use something a lot beefier and more expensive. The advantages of a really high-end system are rendering, which is real time, and in areas such as technical support. Of course, the really high-end systems also have really high-end software.

If you have serious video demands, like a professional post production house does, Discreet’s Smoke 6 software comes to you on an SGI Tezro Unix-based computer with four processors and a throughput so fast it may melt your eyeballs. With a starting price of $68,000, it may melt your wallet too.

The Avid Media Composer is an industry standard and editors who have celebrity motion picture directors breathing down their neck don’t have the time to waste waiting for renders. At the low end of this line, Avid Media Composer’s new Adrenaline starts at $24,000. At these prices you won’t be buying out of a catalog, you’ll be working with a vendor to come up with a price and configuration that you can both live with.

“I hate computers!” barked Great-Uncle Bernie from behind a pillar, waving a bottle of champagne at me. “Aren’t you in jail?” I asked. I was surprised to see him.

Video Editing Appliances, Under $3,000

Market: home enthusiasts, small businesses.

Video editing appliances are standalone editing machines that do one thing: edit video One example is the Casablanca Avio DVD from MacroSystem US, which retails for about $1,500. This is an excellent choice for the computer-phobic. The Avio connects to an ordinary television and is ready to edit video right out of the box. In DVD quality mode, it can store more than two and a half hours of video. It accepts S-video, RCA and FireWire capture from your DV camcorder. It will output to your camcorder, TV or even to DVD and has the ability to connect two monitors for simultaneous use.

Screenplay by Applied Magic comes in at just over $3,000 and provides a host of exciting features. A lot of what Screenplay does happens in real time, such as brightness, colors and slow motion. For most video tasks, you won’t have to wait for rendering. The software supports a dozen different storyboards, more than a hundred custom transitions and outputs digital video via the FireWire jack. It also includes a CD-ROM drive (for music) and an 80 GB hard drive for storage. Setup time from opening the box to editing videos is about ten minutes.


Eager not to be discovered stealing the bride’s thunder, I tried to sum things up quickly. “There are lots of turnkey video editing solutions for all sorts of people. The great thing about them is that they come out of the box ready to go and there’s limited setup involved. There are laptops and desktops and dedicated appliances: what you choose will be based on how much money you want to spend and what type of editing you want to do. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll take this opportunity to run to the buffet while you’re all clustered around my table.”

Kyle Cassidy is a video artist and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia with his cats Milla and Tatiana.

[Sidebar: Appliances]

A VEA or Video Editing Appliance is a piece of hardware specifically dedicated to editing video. Unlike a highly-customizable computer, VEA’s have fewer options that require configuration and are perfect for someone who doesn’t have a computer, doesn’t want a computer or doesn’t want to configure a computer to perform video editing tasks. Looking something like a VCR, they are component devices that connect to your video camera, a screen or television and a supplied mouse and keyboard. Unlike a computer, a VEA’s usage is limited: it’s configured to do video editing and video editing alone. This also means that you’re not going to be playing Return To Castle Wolfenstein 3D on it during your down time.

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

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