Turnkey editing systems, simply put, include everything you need to immediately start editing your video projects. Not long ago a turnkey system was either a standalone appliance dedicated to editing only video or a souped up PC optimized for the rigorous demands of video editing. Nowadays, the line between the turnkey and the off-the-shelf computer may be blurring as ordinary consumer PCs get more powerful. But the video editor still needs to pay attention to specs in order to get the machine he or she needs.
Where to Start
Turnkey editing systems can still be categorized into two main varieties: computer-based systems and appliances. Each kind of system has its pros and cons, so picking the right system will require research into which features you find most important.
Probably the most practical way to begin narrowing the selection of turnkey editing systems is to define your budget. How much are you willing to spend on your editing system? Once you've answered this question, you can automatically rule out any systems priced above your budget. However, if money is no issue, then focus on all of the features you want to get out of your editing system.
Let's start by addressing the issue of a budget. We can break down budgets by creating general user categories. Our three categories are the casual shooter, the serious amateur, and the small-budget professional. Now let's define the casual shooter's budget as anything under $2,500, the serious amateur's as $2,500-$5,000, and the small-budget professional as $5,000-$10,000.
The casual shooter is essentially the hobbyist videographer — those who don't require professional-grade features and effects, but need to have access to basic editing tools. They shoot video strictly for personal use, such as short home video productions.
Serious amateurs need more features and control over their projects. They're the ones spending all their spare time on video projects, often for profit, but haven't fully leapt into the pro arena.
Small-budget professionals are 9-to-5 videographers. They need the best equipment for their dollar, so they can deliver professional, broadcast-quality video to their clients.
PCs vs. Appliances
Computer-based turnkey editing systems are exactly what the name implies — personal computers with specialized hardware and software configured by a professional system integrator designed to edit digital video. Nowadays, there are numerous computer manufacturers who build systems specifically intended for editing video.
An appliance editing system looks and functions much like traditional VCRs. For this reason alone, they often require less of a learning curve than computer-based editing systems. We're all familiar with the universal functions of a VCR (Play, Stop, Pause, Fast-forward, and Rewind). Since appliances use many of the same controls, opting for one of these systems means you'll be able to master it in less time than the sometimes cryptic interfaces of PC-based video editing software. Appliances are often optimized to handle video more effeciently than PC systems.
Why buy a computer-based turnkey system? Well, if you are a little tech savvy, they're sometimes cheaper to upgrade and repair. Appliance systems often use proprietary hardware and/or software, which means you could wind up pay-ing more for system upgrades and wait longer for service calls.
Another benefit provided by computer-based turnkeys is that they can be used for far more than merely editing video projects. These systems function in every way just like any other PC. On the other hand, if connected to the internet, this also means they're open to the typical vulnerabilities of computers, such as viruses, worms, and spyware. A few other downsides of PC turnkeys are that their price tags don't always include analog video capture cards and some of the higher-end editing software.
PCs are getting cheaper and more powerful so gone are the days when you might wonder if a basic system could edit video. Most PC systems today offer at least 80GB of hard drive space, a 2.0GHz or better processor, and 512MB of double-data rate (DDR) RAM.
For example, Dell's Dimension 4700 and Dimension 8400, or the Sony VAIO RB30 with 19" LCD monitor are all affordably priced (around $640, $880, and $1,500 respectively), but none of them include high-end editing software or video capture cards.
Editing software that comes with the less expensive systems generally offers a limited number of video and audio tracks (many offering only a single track for each), which limits your ability to layer video.
On the other hand, other systems such as Avid's DV Xpress Pro Turnkey (starting at $3,300) offer full-featured editing software, as do DV Gear's DVX10, DVX100 and DVXpress PC-based systems ($3,200, $3,600, and $4,100, respectively). The DV gear systems offer either an Adobe PremierePro or Avid Xpress DV bundle with a video capture card as well. Canopus DVRexRT Professional offers professional editing features, including a rack-mountable 19" breakout box with component video, balanced audio I/O, analog audio levels, as well as many real-time editing features ($4,400).
Appliances such as MacroSystem's Casablanca Prestige ($3,000-$3,500) and Solitaire ($4,300-$4,800) offer features such as removable hard drives for expandability. The Solitaire system also includes integrated 3D titling and animation software for professional titling capabilities. Edirol makes the DV-7DL ($4,000) with A/B Roll Editing (two different video sources edited simultaneously in real time).
Higher-end PC solutions, such as Core Microsystems, offer Canopus Edius NX and Edius SP HDV turnkey systems ($6,200 and $8,200 respectively). These are designed for professional high-definition (HD) production. Their advanced features include unlimited video, audio, and effect layers for HD video components, as well as high-quality, full resolution HD previewing. Similarly, for right around $10,000, NewTek's VT4 gives you real-time, uncompressed, multi-format, multi-standard editing as well as live switching and real-time keying capabilities.
Pricing differences in today's systems often translate into timesaving features, such as various real-time effects. Basic editing software doesn't support real-time effects, which is no big deal to the hobbyist who works on video edits as time permits. But, in the professional field, where time is money, real-time features are a necessity — but expect to pay for these conveniences.
Pat Bailey is a digital video Technical Support Analyst and freelance writer.
[Sidebar: Power Computers vs. Turnkey]
Computer-based turnkeys are usually cheaper than appliances, but less expensive PC software may not offer the timesaving real-time features found in more expensive turnkey systems.