Avid fans chill out in the MediaSuite

Avid Technology and Radius, the big cheeses of desktop video, have released new systems aimed at designers. Sutherland Lyall compares and contrasts

With the advent of CD-ROM and multimedia there’s a new demand for non-broadcast video. Not to mention existing markets for training and marketing. But until now video post-production services have cost a lot.

The idea of moving the whole process into the design office has its attractions – cost and the prospect of flexibility and hands-on control. The falling prices of high quality video equipment and computer peripherals mean that desktop video (DTV) systems look increasingly viable, especially those by the two big cheeses of DTV, Avid Technology and Radius. Avid specialises in complete Mac-based DTV systems. Radius is a Mac card-maker and the software most used with its cards is Premier.

The Avid idea, now the standard way of cutting commercials, TV programmes and pop videos, is that you edit your video at low quality on the Mac, generating a list of time-coded edit points. You then take this electronic edit decision list with your original tapes to a facilities house which recuts the video at high quality.

This is the way Avid’s new MediaSuite Pro works, although it is aimed at design offices, ad agencies and corporate media resource people rather than pro video editing houses. It allows you to edit video at fairly high quality, without the need for outside facilities. Buying a system off the shelf is expensive (around

18 000) but designers who already have a powerful Mac can add on the necessary bits for quite a lot less. And it does save you a lot of time – especially with titles and graphics.

The MediaSuite Pro doesn’t feel like a standard Mac application. Because it’s sold as a stand-alone system, it’s very video-specific. The software includes a titling tool, the ability to import graphics and QuickTime movies, as well as a range of dissolves, wipes and video effects. Its ability to use Photoshop filters is limited by only being able to use version 2 filters (a squabble with Adobe methinks). Although you can export QuickTime movies and stills as PICT files, it’s not really built for multimedia work. For this you’ll need Videoshop, Avid’s QuickTime editing application. We found problems using Avid’s QuickTime codec (a compression routine) which is used for converting Avid movies to QuickTime and vice versa. In the end we were advised by Avid’s techies to stick to Premiere’s codecs, which was disappointing.

For straightforward video work it’s really fast, ridiculously faster than tape base editing. You can look at edited sequences without having to wait while a preview is built, which greatly speeds up the editing process. It also has powerful shot-cataloguing features, which let you sort by name, shot type and a range of other options. Effects-building, the most time-consuming part of editing on computer, takes about the same time as Premiere, but there is a feature which allows you to place effects and then render them overnight.

The system uses a lot of hardware. There’s a video in/out card, a JPEG compression card, a CD-quality sound card and a SCSI accelerator. This makes the Mac itself more of a base hardware platform, typically a Quadra 950 with 50Mb RAM, although a

PowerMac-aware version should be out by now and it’s about to go on to Silicon Graphics.

A lower cost option is The Radius VideoVision Studio card and the video editing app Premiere. It’s probably a very good choice for multimedia applications. Although you can’t digitise sound at CD quality, the picture quality is comparable to MediaSuite Pro. At around 4500 it seems a good deal cheaper than Avid’s system, until you realise you’re going to spend a fair amount on additional hard drives and sound cards to bring it up to Avid’s standard. Premiere is a fairly easy program to use. Because the user interface is similar to other Adobe applications, it will seem more familiar to designers. It is, however, designed more with multimedia applications in mind (which is what most people seem to be buying it for) rather than video editing in particular.

Brownie points go to Radius for having an external junction box for all video and audio connections. This alleviates the spaghetti problem and saves wear and tear on the Nubus cards. The Avid system comes with a confusing spaghetti array of cables, all of which plug straight into the Nubus cards and you can practically feel them and their mounts straining as you plug in heavy cables. The Radius solution fits in with the do-it-yourself approach common to most Mac users. It assumes that you’re going to plug all sorts of things into it, rather than have a fixed set-up. It should be said that it’s a fairly sensitive card and occasionally drops video frames if it isn’t set up just right.

In the end, it comes down to how you want to use video. If you see yourself doing a fair amount of editing work, and you’ve got the cash, Avid is the quickest way to edit. There is also an upgrade path should you want to change it up to conventional off-line Avid system. Because Avid systems abound in the professional editing world, it may also be easier to find people who can use it.

VideoVision Studio lets you get into video at a more comfortable price than Avid. But it is still expensive compared to its PC counterparts. In the next few months things are set to change, with Radius announcing a complete DTV workstation based on the Mac, and Apple producing new machines with PCI slots which will mean you can use cheaper PC video cards. As we usually suggest to you, wait, if you can, for six months and see what’s going to happen.

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