Nonlinear Editing for the Rest of Us

At this year’s Videomaker Expo West, hundreds of Expo attendees gathered at the Burbank, California Airport Hilton to hear what the representatives of the major turnkey nonlinear editing manufacturers had to say about the state of the industry. The panel members spoke candidly about the trends and the challenges that face nonlinear editing users today.

Chuck Peters, Videomaker‘s managing editor, led the six-person panel. Filling out the panel were Kevin Mosher (President and CEO of Applied Magic), Jerry Hobelman (Director of Sales and Marketing, Datavideo Technologies), Rick Barron (Director of Marketing, DraCo Systems), Josh Mellicker (Director of Sales and Marketing, ProMax Systems), Robert Wallin (CEO of Solar Wind) and James Nakakihara (Manager of Sales and Marketing, T.S. Computers, a NewTek distributor). Here’s what these experts had to say about turnkey nonlinear editing systems [edited for length]:

CHUCK PETERS (Videomaker): Tell us a little bit about what your systems can do.

JAMES NAKAKIHARA (NewTek): The Toaster/Flyer, is a nonlinear editing system; but more than that, it’s a real-time switcher. So if you have to do any kind of live switching, you have that option available.

What has made the Video Toaster system so popular is that there are a number of tools that are included. The CG [character generator] is included, there’s a paint box, and you have Lightwave 3D, which by itself is quite useful.

ROBERT WALLIN (Solar Wind): We are probably the very first stand-alone nonlinear editing system that’s real-time. The editing system that we use is Adobe Premiere 5.1 RT. We use a new technology for our analog compression that’s called Wavelet. But because we find a movement towards digital video, we have also included real-time DV in our system.

This will allow end users to use whatever analog or digital format you want to. We have two versions of the system. One called the LE, which is a very small desktop unit and the other unit is equipped with a built-in DVCAM deck. So for those people who want to master back to DVCAM, they can do so.

JOSH MELLICKER (ProMax): We’ve been shipping a complete all-digital nonlinear editing system for about a year and a half, called FireMax Studio. We find most of the components from other companies, like Sony, Panasonic, Apple and so on. And then we write the software that makes the whole system work.

It’s an all-digital system based on FireWire and DV. So we’ll take the signal from your DV camera and run it through the entire editing process with no conversions, no transcoding, no generation loss, so you have basically perfect quality.

RICK BARRON (DraCo): We make the Casablanca, which is a nonlinear digital video editor. It’s in a single box. It looks sort of like a VCR.

The difference is that you can swing down the cover of it and inside is a removable hard drive that right now ranges from 4 to 18 gigabyte capacity.

The unit has its own proprietary operating system and software throughout. We tried to make it absolutely as simple to use, easy to operate and learn as possible. Nevertheless, people are doing broadcast quality productions on them.

JERRY HOBELMAN (Datavideo): Datavideo is a manufacturer at the moment of linear editing systems and has been selling those worldwide for quite some time. At the show we have our new product, which is a nonlinear self-contained stand-alone system based on Windows 98.

It will come in three flavors: a pure analog version, a software codec for DV with FireWire connection and then we’ll have a hardware codec which will again maintain DV all the way through, allowing you to convert from analog to digital or vice versa.

KEVIN MOSHER (Applied Magic): We make a stand-alone nonlinear system completely independent of the PC.

Our focus in developing our product, which is based on proprietary operating system and proprietary software, was high performance, cost-effective and ease of use.

It’s very flexible in terms of the IOs. It will accept analog S-video or composite and will also process DV. Everything is real time in terms of transition, effects and titling.

We also give the user the capability of connecting just about any device they could conceive of.

CHUCK PETERS (Videomaker): Generally speaking, turnkey nonlinear systems come in two categories: standalone devices, and those that are dependent upon a computer as host. What are the advantages or disadvantages of each?

KEVIN MOSHER (Applied Magic): I think the big advantage of stand-alone is that when you make a stand-alone device you can make a task-specific device and you can fully optimize that device for the task at hand. It’s fully reliable. The computer’s a general-purpose platform, and anytime you try and make an editor out of a general-purpose platform, you’re dealing with the overhead, incompatibility issues and unreliability issues of the computer.

JOSH MELLICKER (ProMax): The secret is out that you can’t just buy a card, a computer and some software and put it all together and have it run as great as the brochure claims. So that’s certainly the advantage of a stand-alone system.

The advantage I think of a computer-based system, when you’re using the right tools, is flexibility. Because in your video production you may have a project where you need to do some 3D or integrate some compositing or do some noise reduction work on the audio, let’s say.

The advantage of a really well integrated computer-based system is the ability to use the dozens of software tools that are out there.

RICK BARRON (DraCo): I have to say that everybody’s right. It’s the reason they make menus. There are a lot of different needs that different people have. Our philosophy for the Casablanca is to make it as absolutely easy to use as possible. To keep it simple.

I think the major advantage is that on the one hand, with the PC you have an open-ended system that’s expandable. But then on the other hand, you have a high likelihood that along with that you’re going to cause a conflict, and you’re going to be down and you won’t know why. And so you call up the card manufacturer and he’ll say well, it’s probably one of your drivers. You call up the driver manufacturer, and he’ll say it’s probably whatever else, and that never ends.

ROBERT WALLIN (Solar Wind): In all of our research the main reason we looked at going to a stand-alone system really had to do with the end user. We had encountered so many end users that in the process of using the PC and plug-in cards they eventually would get something to work. But after it worked, the first time they changed anything, it didn’t work anymore.

Well, that’s not what they (end users) got in this business for. They got in the business to produce and they want to continue to produce until the project is done and not get involved in the nuts, the bolts, the screws of what the computer’s all about.

JERRY HOBELMAN (Datavideo): Forget the hype, forget the sales pitches. Decide what it is that’s important to you and what you want to do and then go look for it. You’ll find something out there that will satisfy you at least for today.

If you don’t want to fool with the probability of a system not working right, then a completely closed self-contained system similar to the Casablanca is something you should very much look at.

If you’re comfortable in opening up a computer and experimenting and trying different things, then a much more open system or even a board level product is something that you certainly should take a look at.

ROBERT WALLIN (Solar Wind): I just wanted to comment on what Jerry was saying there about what’s available today. There is so much out there. And of course, every company is going to say mine is this and mine is that. But what I think it really comes down to is the end-user, the person who’s going to make the purchase. You’re really going to have to look at what it is you want to do and look at what it is you came to get nonlinear editing for. And you’re going to have to ask a lot of the questions.

JOSH MELLICKER (ProMax): We’re all talking about buying components from different manufacturers without somebody responsible, you know, the buckstopsheretype approach.

It’s a strong argument for buying everything in one place so that you can spend your time creating video rather than troubleshooting, tearing your hair out, spending hours on hold and that kind of thing.

CHUCK PETERS (Videomaker): Why turnkey? Why now? What are some of the factors that are contributing to this segment of the market?

KEVIN MOSHER (Applied Magic): It goes back to what the market says they need. I mean, we interviewed hundreds of dealers, distributors both domestically and internationally. We held focus groups, we have a six-time Emmy award nominee and two-time winner in video production who’s consulting with us. And what we’re hearing is many systems don’t work.

So I think the effort here is to create a system where you don’t have to worry about all the technology and be so intimidated by it and try to navigate through all of that mess and garble and actually focus on editing.

RICK BARRON (DraCo): The idea for the Casablanca came from a specific incident in the life of Eric Kloor who came up with the idea.

He was at that time distributing an Amiga-based editing system, and it was driving him nuts that although it was very powerful, very high end, had tons of capabilities, he couldn’t figure out how to use it. He just wanted to be able to edit video.

He mentioned to the manufacturer of that system you have all the technology you need, you have the hardware technology, you have the software brains, you guys really could do this as a single stand-alone system, would you please design a system I can use. That’s how that happened. That was just three years ago.

ROBERT WALLIN (Solar Wind): Technology I think is something that is very, very important because technology and the movement and the advancement of technology is really what has brought us to the kind of editing systems we have today

But as Kevin was saying, I think the technology should remain with the manufacturer and be totally transparent to the end-user.

JOSH MELLICKER (ProMax): [Finding a system that works for you] is just like a search through the wilderness.

And about a year ago I picked up a FireMax FireWire card that I was using with the Sony DCR-VX1000 camera and when I hooked it all up, it worked instantly, and I literally fell off my chair. You could take digital video out of your camcorder, move it through FireWire onto the hard drive, cut it together and then output back through FireWire right onto the camera onto a blank tape and have a perfect no generation master. And for me it was like finding the Holy Grail.

So I think the desktop video revolution everybody talked about ten years ago is just happening really in the last year or two.

JERRY HOBELMAN (Datavideo): Yeah, I think that’s a very good point. As we work with people in Silicon Valley on the chip side, on the software side, there’s a tremendous amount of development going on now in an effort to integrate all of these technologies into a stable platform.

CHUCK PETERS (Videomaker): Okay. When the rubber meets the road, what it all comes down to with a turnkey system is just how hard is it to hook the thing up and get it going and work? James?

JAMES NAKAKIHARA (NewTek): One of the strengths of the Flyer system is its ease of use. You can just get your job done. And that to me is primarily the issue. And this is based on empirical evidence. I have been using this thing for three years, and it’s been in practically every situation in terms of video production that you can imagine.

ROBERT WALLIN (Solar Wind): We’ve had so many people over the last couple of days stop by the booth and really are absolutely amazed at really how simple it is.

Setting the system up and editing is just take it out of the box, put it on the desk top, plug in the deck, plug in the monitor and edit.

JOSH MELLICKER (ProMax): With our system you don’t even have to turn it on. It comes on. We leave all the power buttons switched on when we put the system together. We plug it all in and we configure the software all the way from the basic system parameters, disc cache, memory cache settings, all the way up to rendering settings.

RICK BARRON (DraCo): When we first released the Casablanca and we sent it around to editors to review, one of them was sent to an editor without a manual. And so he took it out of the box, and he plugged it in. You just plug in the power, and you plug in the monitor. And he said to his 11-year-old daughter, "they’re supposed to overnight me the manual, so I’m not going to use this until tomorrow." And he left to do some work and when he got back three hours later, she had edited a video.

JERRY HOBELMAN (Datavideo): Ours is a PC-based system. So if you are familiar with Windows, that’s the environment that comes up and that you look at. Basically, it’s hooking up a monitor and your input source and your output source.

We are trying to tread the line somewhere between ease-of-use and still giving you the flexibility to use that equipment in ways that perhaps we haven’t even thought of.

KEVIN MOSHER (Applied Magic): Our Screenplay product is right out of the box. You plug it in, hook up your input source, your output source and you have a choice of either using a television set, a video monitor, or a computer monitor as your display, and that’s it. We designed the interface to be very intuitive and easy to use, hopefully without a manual.

CHUCK PETERS (Videomaker): Please join me in thanking our guest panelists for joining us. Their insights and information have been informative and interesting. We appreciate the time they spent with us today.

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