At the February 21 meeting...

Nonlinear Editing Shootout

Advances in Image Quality

By Robert Lamm

Prior to the meeting, our host, Wilson Chao, asked all the exhibitors to digitize identical test footage from a Digital Betacam machine so attendees could compare image quality between the systems. The results were impressive:

The D-Vision and Media 100 systems were completely transparent. The ImMix Turbocube was reported to be a teensy bit soft, but only the Avid Media Composer showed any noticeable artifacts. The consensus seemed to be that nonlinear editing has definitely moved into the online world.

And now some details on the various systems on display: (In alphabetical order)

Avid

Avid actually showed two products: The aforementioned Media Composer and a new application called Real Impact. Real Impact is Avid's first foray into the PC world: It runs under Windows NT. It's also a departure from prior Avid philosophy in the sense that it's an open-system application: Avid supplies the software, you supply the digitzing hardware on your own. It currently runs on the composite-Y/C version of the Truevision Targa 2000 but will soon support the component version of the card as well as other cards. The software has substantial multimedia capabilities, including full bitmap and video-for-windows file formats. And the next version is expected to offer MPEG capability. Quality, especially under the upcoming component version, should be pretty good: the Targa 2000 PCI was designed to support data rates of over 200KB/frame.

D-Vision

The best image quality was probably on the D-Vision system, which was the only one with CCIR-601 inputs/outputs. It's a very ambitious system, also designed to run under Windows NT, with a very nice interface. Rather than trying to come up with a perfect interface layout, the D-Vision people made a supremely flexible interface that one can customize to suit the task at hand. For example, one can have multiple timelines open on the screen and do cut and pastes between them. One can also have multiple views of the timeline open, for example at different timescales to make it easy to move around a program while still making exacting edits or to allow you to look at just a few tracks at a time. All the tracks are moveable, 24 can be mixed and played in real time, and there are an unlimited number of video channels.

Data Translation

The Data Translation Media 100 also garnered lots of attention: This Mac application has just come out in a PCI version, and offers essentially transparent video quality for a price considerably less than a comparable Avid Media Composer. One can buy the PCI digitizing card separately and run Premiere on it until one decides to upgrade to full M100 functionality.

ImMix

The ImMix Turbocube had an a really nice demo tape made by a local company. This system consists of a special electronics box with a mac as it's front end. As a result, it's very tailored to post-production requirements, with such things as real-time keying and 3D DVE. For example, with the Turbocube one could create a chromakey, use a soft edge wipe to mask a portion of the key, use the DVE to reposition the chromakey in 3D space while maintaining the mask. It can also apply picture correction controls such as tinting or black stretch to both the foreground and background images and even add a minute long credit roll. All parameters to this complex edit are readily available for adjustment in realtime.

About that night...

I should mention that this was probably our best-attended meeting ever. Cambridge Television Productions was absolutely mobbed. We'd like to express our thanks to all who came and especially to the kind exhibitors who showed us their latest stuff. Finally, a special round of thanks to Wilson Chao, who not only arranged the event, but also allowed us to use his facility and arranged for scrumptious eats.

Bob Lamm is Manager at CYNC Corp., a video dealership that sells (among other things) nonlinear systems. He can be reached at (617) 277-4317, cync@world.std.com.