Several years ago after reading about the upcoming release of the Avid system, I
remember excitedly telling a friend about this new incredible non-linear computer
concept, and he responded with a smirk, “What, will computer nerds now become editors?”
Well, in the years that have followed, many editors have indeed become computer nerds.
Let me preface everything that follows by this simple confession: I am computer illiterate.
I know that sounds odd since this happens to be a computer graphics magazine, but there it
is, I admit it. By sheer necessity I have managed to boldly embrace technology, but without
actually knowing what I was getting into. I think the time has finally arrived where
technically challenged people like myself can actually navigate through the muck and
After spending several years as an on-line editor in a linear digital suite, I felt that
the time was right to branch out on my own. My first intention was to buy a used low-res
Avid for off-lines, and to continue on-lining on the Grass Valley systems I had grown so
accustomed to. However, that plan took a dramatic turn when I discovered that the “third
wave” of non-linear technology that I had been anticipating for so long had actually
The first wave consisted of the expensive, pioneering systems used primarily in feature
and high-end post production, while the second wave was made up of less expensive turnkey
systems such as Avid, EMC, Media 100, Video Cube, Postbox, and a myriad of others. The
third wave arrived when it became possible to assemble a reasonably priced, high-quality,
non-linear system with a minimum of professional features using off-the-shelf components.
Although the reliability, track record, and tech support of a turnkey system is attractive,
the negatives far outweigh the positives in my opinion when compared with an editing system
built from several different manufacturers.
First and foremost is the obvious: cost. When you buy a complete system, you also are
paying for all the R&D that went into that product. The concept that a product would
only work with hard drives and cards that were available through that same company drove
me crazy. Once you “bought into” that mentality, you really didn’t have many options as
new upgrades and additions for the system became available. You either paid the new price
for the add on/upgrade, or you continued using the older version, only to be informed that
the company would no longer support that version.
Instead, the idea that you can research the marketplace, decide which hardware/software
solution is right for your specific needs, and make individual choices based on cost and
compatibility is a tremendous plus. Even now, one year into my leap, I love the fact that
if a new editing package or FX card is suddenly available I have the instantaneous option
of plugging it right into my current system and off I go!
What Am I getting Into?
Before finalizing equipment decisions, I consulted with several friends in the industry,
and received many warnings and horror stories regarding every possible malaise: audio
falling out of sync with video; system crashes; incompatibility of cards, hard drives,
and software; not having a single company to call up and scream at for tech support when
your “do-it-yourself system” is emitting smoke while your producer is crying softly and
banging his or her head in the corner. I believed all the stories, but I also felt that most
of the pieces of the puzzle, up until now, were not available on a truly professional
My lack of computer dexterity had its limitations, however. I was able to follow the
basic installation instructions for cards and hard drives, but it became clear very early
on that I needed professional help to properly configure the system. I’m sorry, but
interrupts, port addresses, and virtual memory hold absolutely no interest for me. After
some initial panic, I located a Dallas, TX-based company, Community Video Services, that
knew about such things, and they were able to finish the configuration for a reasonable
Okay, let’s get down to basics and begin with hardware. Be advised that most of what I’ll
be talking about is about one-year-old technology, and as you know, anything you buy related
to computers becomes outdated about the time you get it home and plug it in.
The story all begins with Windows NT. My only non-linear experience was Avid/Mac-based,
and being a computer neophyte, my comfort zone was understandably with Macintosh. However,
once I started researching, everywhere I turned, all I could see was NT. Animation,
graphics, compositing, editing—you name it—anything new coming out seemed to be on this
platform. Simply put, the NT decision was actually no decision at all.
I started with a 200MHz Pentium clone with 64MB RAM. (I have since upgraded to 128MB.)
Part of what gave me confidence in building this “piecemeal” system was the fact that
several components made by different manufacturers were designed to work together. So,
regardless of which equipment selections you make, do your homework and make sure
everything is compatible.
To get video into and out of my system, I opted for Digital Processing Systems’
PVR-2500 Perception system, including the AD- 2500 capture card, and the FX-2500 effects
accelerator card. The Perception system offers composite, S-Video, and component in/out.
The FX card drastically reduces render times on specific transitions; for example,
bringing a 30-frame dissolve home in about eight
The Antex StudioCard was my choice for audio, offering crystal XLR in/out
connections. Although I had heard and read about several people in the past experiencing
audio sync problems when assembling systems, the DPS and Antex combination has been a
surprise, performing flawlessly.
Media storage is probably the most volatile area of
any non-linear system; prices and performances seem to be in constant motion. A year ago,
I started with a Micropolis 1991AV 9GB drive and soon after added a 9GB Seagate Barracuda
ST1917N. Both drives have performed consistently well, delivering high-quality compression
and picture quality that rivals systems costing considerably more.
This is one area where you should do your homework to ensure you are getting the best
solutions available. Make sure you get a list of approved, compatible drives from your
capture card manufacturer.
I considered buying a used/rebuilt BetaSP deck to save money, but instead discovered
that a very reasonably priced Sony UVW-1800 is available new for less money. In addition,
I use two JVC consumer level VHS machines (for client approval dubs), along with a Sony CD
The following equipment is not essential, but I highly recommend it if you are trying to
present post service at a professional level. Most non-linear systems, regardless of make
or model, use silly miniature speakers that, regardless of sound quality, don’t quite pack
enough testosterone, either aurally or aesthetically. Instead, I went with Panasonic’s
cool-looking RAMSA WS-A80 160-watt two-way speakers, powered by a Samson Servo 240 studio
amplifier. (And no, I don’t “rock the house” on every edit, but it’s nice to know that I’ve
got the firepower when the need arises.) Depending on your software, chances are you will
have some sort of internal mixer/equalizer, but I suggest you get a small, inexpensive
external mixer such as a Mackie 1202-VLZ for a couple of reasons. I come from a traditional
environment where one reached out and turned knobs as opposed to opening windows and
clicking and dragging. And, just as important, it’s nice to have a separate box that can
route everything quickly: CD, various video decks, and room monitor level.
Last but not least is the video monitor. Some systems allow you to get away with using a
computer monitor to watch playback, but don’t make this mistake if you plan on actually
having clients sit in during edits. I have seen some systems where people are using
inexpensive monitors or even TVs, but I firmly believe that the presentation of the image
in your room should not be an area where you cut corners.
Even though the final product may be viewed on VHS tape on a less than state-of-the-art
deck, your client deserves to see his or her work in pristine component video. The most
reasonably priced, high-quality monitor with component/S-Video/two-composite in-puts is
the JVC BM-H1900SU.
All right, enough with the hardware issues, now on to the fun stuff: software. I don’t want
to offend Premiere users, because I know there is a loyal base out there doing fine work
with that product, but for me, I couldn’t bring myself to seriously consider it as a viable
option. This was based simply on the fact that over a period of years as an editor, my
knowledge of the product was limited to bits and pieces I heard from friends and from
articles that presented Premiere as a lower-cost product that was not blessed with a very
intuitive interface. And for me, above all else, an editing software package had to be
available with at least a minimum amount of professional features. Hopefully Premiere 5.0
will offer more professional features.
After researching in:sync’s Speed Razor 3.5, by reading reviews about how specific
companies were using the product, and learning about its integration with the DPS
Perception, it was an easy decision. Razor features real-time audio layers, unlimited
video layers that allow endless combinations of rendered effects, batch capturing, and
many other features—all in a user-friendly environment. Understand, this is not a $5,000
program, so don’t expect the world.
My opinion one year into this journey is that for
the money, you can’t touch it! Because of its reasonable cost, I have been able to enhance
it with additional products that more than make up for the areas it doesn’t cover.
(in:sync’s latest version, 4.0, should be available by the time you read this.)
For example, one of the finest character generator’s available is Inscriber Technology’s
Inscriber. I have worked with this package for six or seven years and was delighted when
a scaled-down version was introduced for NT/ Speed Razor, the Inscriber Feature Pak.
The internal CG in Razor is very limited, and again, I don’t fault in:sync because it
is not trying to be all things to all people. (If that were the case, Razor would carry a
higher price tag.) Feature Pak offers fully changeable soft shadows, outlines, beveled
edged draw objects, gradients, background patterns, and a host of other features.
Another area where I have seen a great improvement is in 3D DVE-style effects. I
purchased a package that had a nice-sounding name, but actually turned out to be quite
limited, and not professional-level. However, I have since discovered Artel Software’s
Boris FX 3.0 Pro. Okay, as with any other product at this level, we’re not talking
real-time here yet, but for the money it is great to be able to add clean, professional
effects such as ripples and cubes, all for a price that only a short time ago a client
would have spent in an hour or two in a high-end room. Bottom line here is that Boris FX,
with its vast library of time-saving pre-existing effects, timeline style interface, and
ability for user-defined ef-fects, is in a class by itself. (At press time, Artel is
releasing version 3.1, which promises to be even bigger and better.)
I recently Adobe After Effects for NT and was blown away with its seemingly endless array
of compositing features. This package offers rendered layering capabilities that are similar
to the pre-read layering I used to do with a digital Betacam and a digital switcher with one
difference: You have the capability to edit any of the layers at any point in the creative
process. (In the pre-read world of layering, each pass is done in a linear fashion, and once
it is recorded to tape, your options regarding revisions are very limited. (For example, if
your client decided he didn’t like layer six of an eight-layer effect.)
And finally, let’s talk audio. Often overlooked, audio ad-vances within the framework of
computer technology are nothing short of amazing. The best package I have worked with has
be-come a standard of the industry —Sonic Foundry’s Sound Forge, and its array of support
plug-ins. I can think back a couple of years to edit sessions, where, after endlessly
dialing EQs around on a board, trying to eliminate background hiss or hum from an air
conditioner, etc., a point was finally reached where neither I nor the producer was
happy with how the results affected the sound of the talent’s voice. We agreed to move
on out of necessity. Sound Forge offers noise reduction that can literally lift unwanted
background noise away from a track. It also has extensive equalization and effects,
including a wonderful acoustics modeler plug-in that alters audio to sound as if it was
recorded in a vast variety of environments. I am sure this technology has been around for
a long time at a higher level, but like everything else we are discussing, it has finally
trickled down to the masses.
When dealing with computer technology, there is always the fear of when and what to buy,
since everything seems to be outdated so quickly. However, if you opt to put together a
system made from various components, you have a built-in open architecture safety net,
simply because of your ability to react to new advances on an individual basis. In
conclusion, my advice is to do as much research as you can, talk to others who are
currently working with various systems, and attend NAB and other trade shows whenever
possible. Depending on your level of expertise, locate an individual or company that can
help with configuration of your system. Don’t be afraid of the less-than- ideal results
lower end pioneering systems once delivered; the future is definitely now.
Computer illiterates unite! We can rule the world!
Phil Lee is the owner/editor of Lee Editorial. You can reach him at (972) 401-8206 or