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The Complete Series

Technical Report: New Developments in Nonlinear Video

A three-part series on how the latest PC developments are making it possible to put video editing systems together from off-the-shelf components.

Putting High-Performance Nonlinear Systems on Personal Computers (This article)

Networking and Video Servers

System Design Issues


Product Review
Editing Video with Adobe Premiere
New capture/playback card eliminates the need for rendered program files

By Robert Lamm

Although Adobe Premiere was originally developed as a QuickTime movie editor, many people have been trying to use it to edit regular video too. But Premiere has a couple of serious limitations that affect it's utility for this purpose:

At first, the main problem was the poor image quality offered by capture/playback cards. These typically offered low resolutions and compressed the video so severely that artifacts were hard to ignore. But the introduction of the Truevision Targa 2000 changed all that: It digitizes 640x480 (720x486 on the component version), 60-fields/second with up to 180KB/frame, 6MB/sec data rates. This is quite respectable (about 3:1), significantly superior to the new digital component DV formats that have recently been introduced and that people are so excited about.

But then another problem manifested itself: Premiere couldn't play back the edited program smoothly unless it had been entirely copied over into a single MOV (QuickTime) or AVI (Video for Windows) file. The process of transferring all the video from individual clips into a new file was very time consuming (hours) and took up a lot of disk space. For all intents and purposes, Premiere was limited to making complicated special effects shots (which require rendering anyway), short segments (under 30 seconds) whose rendering times weren't too aggravating, and the low-res, low-frame-rate multimedia files that Premiere was originally designed for.

Then Interactive Images introduced the Plum card. This Windows/95 PCI-bus video capture/playback card eliminates Premiere's need to render out a file of the completed program before being able to play a finished broadcast-quality (720x486, 60-field, 16-bit 44KHz stereo audio) program smoothly. It does this by caching a list of pointers and a bit of the beginning of each clip of video so it can hop from source clip to source clip to play your program on the fly without dropping any frames. No more long rendering times, no more saving extra disk space for a mostly-redundant program file.

We got one of the cards to test out: It works as advertised. It integrates well with Premiere (you can capture directly to AVI file clips from within Premiere). You can play, jog, shuttle, and jump around on the construction window timeline without any annoying delays or stutters. If you want absolutely perfect playback, you indicate the portion of the timeline you want played back with the yellow workspace indicator and press the ENTER key. As I mentioned before, the Plum card doesn't have to render out a complete file in order to play back a perfect program. All it has to do is render the audio out and whatever special effects are neccessary. Audio is rendered out in real time, transitions that we've checked (commonly used ones like dissolves and keys) render at about 15:1. (We've been told that most effects render out at between 10 and 20:1.) Once this is done, you can play back the program instantaneously as many times as you like. We tried making a variety of different programs from various types of clips. They all played back smoothly at the original quality with no dropped frames or audio synchronization problems.

The Plum card has several design aspects that we like. One is that you can adjust luminance, contrast color saturation and hue, when you're digitizing. This allows you to get the optimal dynamic range for your signal and consistent image quality without having to do rendered filtering.

The Plum card also comes with 9-pin RS-422 deck control. We didn't have a deck to try it out, but we've been told that it allows Premiere to control an editing deck for batch digitizing.

The Plum card installed extremely easily: The installation instructions were clear and specific and the card went in just like they said it would.

Finally, Plum's pricing is very attractive: It lists for $3995, which includes a full copy of Premiere 4.2. A complete system running on a Pentium 133 W/95 machine with 9GB of AV-rated disk space (enough for 45 minutes or more of footage) and an SVGA monitor, could be assembled for $8000. (not including VCR, NTSC monitor or speakers.)

The Plum/Premiere combination does have some drawbacks: Timeline playback isn't instant like it is with higher-end programs like MC-Xpress on the Targa 2000. But as I mentioned before, the waiting time for the pointer list to be generated and audio prepared is very modest. And you get to choose exactly what you want to play, so you can loop a particular part of the program over and over again to see how it flows.

Premiere also isn't as nicely organized as MC-Xpress: The user-interface is sort of cluttered, a lot of the functions are buried in layers of menus, and the timeline doesn't auto-scale. But Premiere actually has a lot more functionality, including EDL output, lots of useful filters like cropping (to get rid of those thin blanking lines on the side of multimedia presentations), a much greater number of video tracks, and a very extensive set of transitions.

The Plum card doesn't currently support component input (supposed to be coming soon) or Windows/NT (drivers are in the works). Although we've heard of people getting 5800KB/sec (193KB/frame) with an ATTO RAID system, we've been getting about 100KB/frame (3000KB/sec) with a single Seagate Barracuda drive. We would expect the higher data rates without a RAID system once the Windows/NT drivers are introduced because one can use NT to stripe across the drives.

And like any new product, the card and its drivers have a couple of glitches in them. But they're all pretty minor. One time the audio didn't play (we just played it again and it worked fine.) Another time a button didn't work until we clicked in the grey area first. But we never lost any information nor did the program ever crash. We're pretty happy.

For the Mac folks:

Plum isn't available for the Mac, but the Truevision has a new utility that lets the Mac versions of their Targa 1000's and 2000's do the same thing. We haven't had a chance to try them out, but we're told that performance and quality are comparable with the Plum card. They're also working on giving the PC versions of the product the same capability, but this will probably wait until Active Movie is introduced and Adobe releases its next version of Premiere for the PC.

Bob Lamm is Manager at CYNC, a video/multimedia Equipment Dealership (including Targa, Avid and Plum). He can be reached at (617) 277-4317, cync@world.std.com.

Technical requirements:
Interactive Systems Plum Card

  • Pentium 100MHz or faster with Intel Triton PCI chipset and 256 or greater Pipeline Burst Cache
  • 32 MB RAM (EDO RAM is recommended)
  • Adaptec AHA 2940W or AHA2940UW PCI Wide SCSI Adapter
  • PCI Accelerated VGA Graphics with 2 MB or greater video memory.
  • Microsoft Windows 95
  • AV-Rated, WIde SCSI with minimum sustained throughput greater than 4.5 MB/Sec.
  • Video monitor, VCR to digitize from and lay back to, keyboard, mouse.

Posted: September 1996
Bob Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor
blamm@cync.com