Alternative Editing
Issue: Volume: 27 Issue: 3 (March 2004)

Alternative Editing

However, alternatives exist. And these programs have enough happy users to make them worth considering before simply following the crowd to the most obvious offerings.

One such user is Harry Maxon of Max Moss Productions, a postproduction facility based in Los Angeles that edits independent films and demo reels. A former Avid Xpress and Final Cut Pro user, Maxon switched to Media 100's 844/X system roughly a year ago, and he could not be more pleased.

What attracted Maxon was the system's real-time power. "For years, I wanted a smoke system, but it was too expensive for us. Then I saw the 844/X, and it did 80 to 90 percent of what smoke did, and even more in some ways. It didn't have the 3D capability of smoke, but it was certainly less expensive and enabled me to hook up enough storage to make long form a possibility."
VelocityQ software offers an interface to its hardware-based capabilities, such as real-time, full-quality playback and mixing of four video streams and up to six graphics streams.

As for the system's stability, Maxon has experienced no problems. In fact, he spends less time troubleshooting the 844/X than he did Final Cut Pro. "The system is amazingly stable and customer support is great. The real-time power attracted us, and the stability sold us."

Interestingly, however, Media 100 is not eager to position itself as a competitor to Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, and Xpress. Mike Savello, Media 100's vice president of sales and marketing, makes clear his belief that the 844/X system is a different kind of animal—an on-line "vertical" editing system, rather than a traditional, horizontally focused NLE. Unlike those other programs, he says, "844/X enables fast, unlimited, layer compositing with 10-bit uncompressed image quality in an editing and compositing work flow."

While the distinction is valid, there's no getting around the fact that the recently reduced prices of the 844/X systems—full turnkey systems now start at $20,000—make Media 100's offerings a viable alternative in the desktop editing market.

Another company that shies away from being called a competitor to Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, and Xpress is Leitch, maker of the Velocity and VelocityQ editing systems. Like Savello, Mike Nann, product marketing manager of professional postproduction for Leitch, argues that the Velocity systems are targeted toward a higher-end user with greater performance and productivity requirements.

Defending that distinction, Nann notes that the other three offerings can function independently of any specific hardware, as "software-only" solutions. In contrast, he says, "All our NLE products won't function without our proprietary hardware. That leads to some considerable advantages for us, particularly in terms of true full-quality, real-time performance. Our customers often base their buying decision on the hardware as much as the software."

It's a valid point, and given that a VelocityQ software and board set costs $10,000, perhaps it's not an option for a user who can get by just fine with a software-only configuration of one of the other three packages. But when you start adding SDI boards, large amounts of storage, and a beefed-up hardware platform to those software-only solutions, the costs really aren't so different.

Dave Hutton, a 2D/3D visual effects artist at Platform Advertising in Kansas, says he assembled six VelocityQ editing systems for his company at just $16,000 apiece. "We went with Velocity because of the price and because of what it can do for that price," he says. "Given that we have to crank out so many spots per day, we just couldn't go with anything slow."

While Leitch and Media 100 provide some attractive alternatives to Final Cut Pro, Premiere Pro, and Xpress at the higher-end of the price spectrum, three companies that offer alternatives that are more affordably priced are In-Sync, Pinnacle, and NewTek.

Of these three, In-Sync checks in with the highest-priced alternative in the form of Speed Razor 5.6, which comes bundled with the company's Loki uncompressed SDI capture hardware for $3999. This PC-based Loki bundle is designed to handle multi-stream, real-time, uncompressed SDI editing.

In terms of product differentiators, Speed Razor's flexible interface and its speed are clear strengths, according to Jerry Hergenreder, In-Sync's director of sales and marketing. "We generally render at least three times faster than our competitors and have about 167 threads of multi-processor support in our applications," he says. "The Loki bundle can handle most anything you throw at it. With Loki, you can edit in 10-bit and 8-bit formats. You can mix and match color on the same timeline, and you can edit DV and uncompressed with 32-bit RGBA graphics and never artifact."

Kevin Christopher, production coordinator at AGI Studios in Atlanta, confirms those advantages. AGI Studios has been using Speed Razor for several years and recently took a serious look at both Final Cut Pro and Adobe Premiere. But in terms of speed, price, and user interface, he believes Speed Razor was the winner.

"Final Cut Pro requires a lot more storage to run than Speed Razor, which makes a fully configured system more expensive," Christopher says. "As for Premiere Pro, it didn't have the drivers yet for the SDI cards that we need. Also with Premiere, there is no real time. Everything has to be rendered."
The speed of Media 100's 844/X enables users to work in real time, allowing them to enhance and tweak scenes without waiting for rendering.

Two other programs worthy of consideration are Pinnacle's Liquid Edition and NewTek's VT[3] software, each offering its own unique list of advantages. Liquid Edition Pro at $999 is perhaps one of the most competitive offerings from a pure price standpoint. Among its strengths are support for up to 10 streams of real-time DV and graphics, the ability to author and burn DVD/VCD/SVCDs directly from the timeline, and the fact that multiple users can edit directly off shared storage. Liquid Edition also works well as a mobile, laptop-based editor, which can be especially attractive to users who own other Pinnacle production systems, such as Liquid Blue or DekoCast.

Price competitiveness and compatibility with other applications in the company's product family also are strong selling points for NewTek's VT[3]. It's actually an integrated production suite that includes not only VT-Edit, but also numerous software modules, including a character generator, a live production switcher, on-screen monitors and waveform/Vectorscopes, paint and 2D animation, and most significant, NewTek's flagship offering, LightWave 3D 7.5 modeling and animation software.

Priced at $2995, the package is a compelling offering. Adding to its attractiveness, says Paul Lara, VT[3] product manager, is that VT-Edit handles multiple layers of either DV files or uncompressed video streams in real time.

"With VT-Edit, you can edit in on-line quality with full resolution at all times," says Lara. "All effects are shown in real time at full resolution, and the software accepts larger-than-video resolution images for pan and scan effects, shadows, color correction, 3D manipulation—all in real time."

With programs like VT[3] offering such impressive capabilities, anyone racing to buy a desktop video editing system certainly would be well advised to slow down long enough to consider all the options.

Stephen Porter is aCGWcontributing editor and a freelance writer who has been covering video, graphics, and digital content creation technologies and applications for more than 15 years. He can be reached at