Vertical Editing
Issue: Volume: 26 Issue: 10 (Oct 2003)

Vertical Editing

In the late '90s, things were going well for Media 100. Along with Avid and Adobe, it was one of the most dominant players in the nonlinear editing market. Sales were strong, and the market was hot. By 2000, in addition to its standard video editing tools, the company was bringing to market an array of products focused on the exciting new area of streaming video, and investors were dazzled by the possibilities.

Unfortunately, when the dot-com bubble burst in the Spring of 2001, that all changed. Over the next two years, sales slumped, market share dropped, and Media 100's stock price, which had reached roughly $40 per share, tumbled to less than a dollar.

Today, the Marlboro, Massachusetts-based company is fighting to regain its lost momentum with an offering that it says defies traditional product category definitions. It's not a streaming product. The company is out of that business. Rather, the new 844/X system is focused on Media 100's traditional video production market. But it doesn't fit neatly into the traditional nonlinear editing category nor into the traditional compositing category. Instead, it blends elements of both types of products, creating a new tool that Media 100 says is urgently needed by a wide variety of users.

Media 100 calls its new 844/X product a real-time, online, vertical editing system. But educating potential customers about what that means has become the company's main challenge.

Media 100 is attempting to defy traditional product categories with its 844/X, which blends traditional nonlinear editing and compositing tools.

The goal of the system, explains David Cobosco, Media 100's vice president of worldwide sales and marketing, is to enable editors involved with multi-layer material to work as quickly in the "vertical" direction as a traditional NLE allows them to work in the "horizontal" direction. In other words, it makes it possible for editors to combine multiple layers of video, graphics, and text at the same real-time speed with which they can cut and paste video along a timeline.

While that kind of speed is possible using a high-end, dedicated compositing system such as Discreet's flame, such a system costs upwards of a $100,000 and requires a dedicated compositor. With the introduction of 844/X, Media 100 is striving to put at least some of that power into the hands of video editors working in the broadcast, corporate, and education markets and in small, independent post houses.

However, Cobosco is careful not to suggest that the 844/X is simply a low-cost compositing tool. In fact, he says, 844/X users will still want to create certain elements in Adobe's After Effects just as they will want to create 3D elements in programs such as Alias Systems' Maya. What 844/X does is make it possible to combine those elements into unlimited layers within a video in real time. "We have a lot of the functionality you would find in flame, just as we have much of the functionality you'd find in a nonlinear editing system. But ours are in one box."

Charlie Ray, creative services manager at KOKI-TV in Tulsa, Oklahoma, installed an 844/X in June to handle the creation of station IDs, promos, and news graphics. Since that time, he has been able to work at least 50 percent faster, as a result of the savings in rendering time alone. "In the previous version of the Media 100 product, to lay down just one alpha channel or QuickTime file, you'd lay it where you wanted it, and then you'd render it," he says. "With the 844/X, you can simply lay it on top of your video and the system just plays it. If you want to put another QuickTime on top of that, you position it and you play it. You don't have to render it."

In addition to rendering multiple layers in real time, the system offers other key features. For example, the low-end model, the 844/Xi, with a starting price of approximately $24,000, is able to handle four real-time video streams, whereas the high-end model, the 844/Xe, starting at roughly $44,000, can handle eight real-time video streams. Both models also use 10-bit uncompressed video, which means that once you've cut your piece, you are ready to go to air with a high-quality video image.

Driving this performance is Media 100's GenesisEngine, which the company developed during a multi-year R&D effort code-named Pegasus. The Pegasus project was well under way when the company made its foray into streaming media, but when the dot-com industry collapsed, Media 100 made the decision to sell its streaming technology to Autodesk and focus all its efforts on bringing Pegasus to fruition.

According to Wanda Meloni, market analyst for M2 Research, Media 100's recent troubles largely have been the result of bad timing. Not only did the company's streaming efforts become a victim of the dot-com crash, but at the moment that happened, she says, the company's video production tools were in the midst of a major transition. As a result, the sales slump caused by the economic downturn worsened as customers held off buying the company's existing line of editing tools in anticipation of the new generation that was yet to come.

That new generation finally arrived at last year's NAB show with the introduction of the first version of the 844/X system. The product immediately won several industry awards. And at this year's NAB in April, the company announced it had already sold some 200 systems, which, according to Cobosco, was a significant achievement for a product breaking new ground in the marketplace.

Still, Cobosco knows the sales numbers will have to climb a lot higher if Media 100 is going to build a successful future. Toward that end, the company is beefing up its sales force and extending its outreach to customers through the creation of 844/X showcase centers in New York, Los Angeles, and London.

Skeptics, however, argue that success is still far from certain. While Media 100 sees the 844/X as a new breed of tool, critics say compositors will see it as a compositing system that lacks key compositing features, while video editors will see it as an editing system that lacks key editing features.

Media 100's 844/X hybrid editing and compositing system is being employed in a growing number of short-form applications, such as a unique TV advertisement from Editscope Post. As is evident in the above frames, the new Media 100 program enables digit

Cobosco remains undeterred. For one thing, he points out, Media 100 already has been aggressive in rolling out updated features for the program, and that kind of rapid product improvement will continue. Moreover, he says, the company isn't trying to pretend the product is for everyone. For example, it is not promoting the 844/X as a production tool for feature films or episodic television. Those applications are stronghold areas for Avid, he says, and an Avid system is well suited to them.

Where the 844/X shines, Cobosco contends, is in short-form applications where users need to create short, multi-layered videos on tight deadlines and on tight budgets. Such users, he adds, are typically found in broadcast promo departments, corporations, educational institutions, and in small, independent post houses.

In other words, Media 100's latest product release targets users like Charlie Ray of KOKI-TV, who leaves little doubt about the benefits the 844/X has brought to his department. "It enables us to save time and do more sophisticated graphics. You can view things in real time and see if they look like you thought they would."

Cobosco is convinced such users represent a tremendous market opportunity for the new 844/X product, as well as a bright new future for Media 100.

Stephen Porter is a contributing editor of Computer Graphics World and a freelance writer who has covered video, graphics, and digital content creation technologies and applications for more than 15 years. He can be reached at