Hot Gear to Make Cool Video

So you’re thinking you might like to get yourself set-up to start editing your videos on a computer. You’ve got a computer desk in the corner of your family room and it’s just begging for some video gear. But where do you start? And how do you know what to buy in today’s confusing world of video editing products and specifications?

In this article, we’ll help identify some easy editing solutions that will have you up and editing in no time. These simple solutions include editing appliances, turnkey computer editors, external capture devices, beginner editing software and streaming, MPEG and QuickTime encoders. With this article, you can find the gear that will get you editing in a hurry, without ever having to crack the case on your computer or perform any complicated installations.

Don’t worry about not having set-up (or perhaps even seen) an editor before; we’ll help you get the right product and the right help. The manufacturers designed the products in this article to be easy to set up and easy to use. What you need depends largely on what you already own and what you’d like to do with your edited videos. We’ll begin by covering each category in turn, so you can determine which one best suits your needs and budget.

Appliances

Editing appliances are ready-to-edit, video-specific computer systems. All you have to do is plug them in and begin editing. Although editing appliances are computers at heart, the only thing they do is edit video. You can’t use one of these to surf the Web nor send e-mail.

As processors get more powerful and hard drive prices decrease, stand-alone editing appliances are proliferating. They’re called appliances because they’re designed to be as simple to install and easy to use as say, a toaster or a microwave. Plug it in, pop in some bread (or in this case, video) and you’ve got toast (or an edited project). The appliance doesn’t need any tools or special configuration. The manufacturer has taken care of all of that before you ever see it. These appliances are, in many cases, the least expensive way to start computer-based editing.

Draco, the pioneer in editing appliances, is phasing out the Casablanca, the original editing appliance. The new, lower-priced Avio has filled the gap created by the departing Casablanca. There are three models of the Avio available, with list prices ranging from $1,495 for the LT to $2,995 for the SE, or School Edition, which includes a 30-project capacity, locking software, curriculum and training tapes. Draco has announced a new, high-end appliance called Kron but specifics were unavailable at press time.

Applied Magic builds the ScreenPlay ($3,995) and the Sequel ($1,995) appliances. The Sequel is a good entry-level edit appliance, having a more modest feature set than the ScreenPlay, although many of those features can be added as upgrades.

Would an Edit Appliance make sense for you? Do you want an all-in-one, ready-to-use, true plug-and-play device without a steep learning curve? Is ease of use more important to you than all the latest bells and whistles and high-powered machinery? If so, then one of the Edit Appliances in our special Buyers’ Guide grid might be just the ticket.

Turnkey Computer Editors

Computer-based turnkey editors, on the other hand, are full-function computers that come pre-packaged with everything you need for video editing and already configured and tweaked for best performance. Since they are computers, these products are capable of running other computer software on either the Windows or Macintosh operating system.

Moreover, because they are fully functional computer systems that do editing, they tend to be more expensive than editing appliances of equivalent capability. They’re usually one of two types: OEM (original equipment manufacturer) packages, where a manufacturer acquires various products from different companies to bundle together, creating an editing system; or all-in-one systems, where one manufacturer builds everything included in the computer.

One of the most visible product lines in this category is the iMac from Apple Computer. Preloaded with the iMovie software, all you have to do is turn it on, plug your camcorder in to it and begin editing. Starting at $1,299, the iMac DV is powerful, cute and you can edit your video on it just as easily as you can access the Internet with it.

Also from Apple is the G4 line of PowerMacs. Not nearly as cute as the iMac, the G4 is a powerful Turnkey system, with prices ranging from $1,600 to $7,450. With either iMovie, the more powerful FinalCut Pro or Adobe Premiere, these machines are not only easy to learn but powerful enough to take on heavy duty processing tasks.

Another popular turnkey system is the VAIO line from Sony. VAIO is an acronym for Video and Audio Input and Output. These highly capable machines range in price from $1,800 to $4,000, depending on the processor speed, system memory, RAM and hard drive size you desire. They all use Sony’s MovieShaker or Adobe Premiere LE editing software and they all employ Sony’s brand of FireWire, i.LINK to connect to your camcorder.

Canopus offers the portable DVStation turnkey system, which lists for $2,999. It includes two different editing programs, Raptor Edit and the full-featured Adobe Premiere. Canopus also builds the Rex Rack II for high-power desktop editing needs, listing for $5,999.

You might want to consider investing in a turnkey computer-based editor over an appliance if you want more expandability and flexibility or you need to use the same computer for other computer functions like word processing or accessing the Internet.


External Capture Devices

Before you can begin to edit, you first need to get your footage into the editor. We call this process capturing. External capture devices are a fine choice for those who already have a computer that is capable of running editing. They are easy to install – just plug into your parallel or USB (Universal Serial Bus) port. No need to open the case at all. However, none of the products in this category capture full-motion, full-frame video (30 frames per second, at 640×480 or better). This means that these products won’t output full screen, full motion video. If you want to send video e-mail, make video CDs or post your work on the Internet, these devices may be the way to go.

But if you want to record out to tape for display on a TV, then you should consider an editing appliance or a ready-to-use, computer-based editing system.

Pinnacle Systems makes the Studio PCTV USB, which captures full-motion (30 frames per second) video at 320×240, for about $89. By plugging into the USB port on your computer, you can transport this device from one machine to another, as needed.

Another inexpensive external solution might be the Digital Photo and Video Maker, a USB device from Dazzle, Inc., with a list price of $100. It captures full-motion video at 320×240. Dazzle also makes the Digital Video Creator, available in either USB or parallel port models, both priced at $250. The Digital Video Creator is similar to the Digital Photo and Video Maker in capture capabilities but adds video outputs so you can print your finished video to tape, if you want.


Beginner Editing Software

Another product category of special interest to newcomers is the easy-to-use editing software. The products in this category are less expensive and easier to learn than their high-powered brethren; the trade-off is that they may not do everything that the more expensive products will do. Many include titlers and most include transitions (such as fades and wipes) and multiple audio tracks.

It used to be that you had to go to school to learn how to use video editing software and the software was very expensive. Now you can get inexpensive editing software affordable and easy to learn. Three companies, Interactive Solutions, MGI Software, and Ulead Systems, for example, all make editing software that sells for $100.

Digital Origin offers IntroDV, priced for the beginner at $79. And for the Mac users Digital Origin will trade free versions of Media Cleaner EZ and EditDV for your personal information. If you are new to computer-based editing, one of these beginner editing packages might work for you, while saving both time learning it and money buying it.


Streaming, MPEG and QuickTime Encoders

Streaming, MPEG and QuickTime encoders are software-only products that convert files for Internet distribution. They include free encoders from Microsoft, RealNetworks and Apple. The free versions do not include all the bells and whistles that the full versions have, but they easily allow you to prepare your footage and post it to the Net. Many versions are downloadable, making installation that much faster (as opposed to waiting for a CD-ROM to arrive in the mail). And some editing software include streaming encoders among the output options, saving you the time and hassle of buying a stand-alone streaming encoding program.

Once you’ve edited your video, you’re going to want to publish it, that is, get it into the hands of other people. You could copy your production on to tape or onto CD-ROM, but a quick way to make it available to many people is to publish it to the Web. Publishing video to the Web takes three forms: downloadable files (such as MPEG and .mov files and certain types of .avi files), streaming video (where your viewer can typically start watching as it downloads) and progressive download. A progressive download lets your audience view the downloaded portion of the video before completion of the download, but not as soon as regular streaming file would.

It used to be that encoding video for RealPlayer, QuickTime or Windows Media meant you had to obtain each company’s proprietary encoding software. Now, third-party solutions exist that encode for more multiple formats, all at the same time.

Another product, Media Cleaner Pro, from Terran Interactive, lists for $499 and allows you to create QuickTime files, as well as RealPlayer, Windows Media, MPEG and DV files. It also includes a wealth of options to help you get your finished product looking just right.

In Conclusion

If you are new to video editing or want to move from linear cuts-only editing to computer-based editing, there are many new products available to make your arrival in digital editing painless and fairly inexpensive. The products presented here can help your future productions become better, easier and more fun to produce.

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