|News from NAB
Adobe moves aggressively into nonlinear editing
Quicktime 3.0 promises wide software/hardware intercompatibility
By Robert Lamm
Superficially, NAB'98 was a showcase for the newest video production equipment. But if you struggled past all the new camcorders and tape formats, there was a more fundamental announcement that's likely to have lasting impact on the average video producer: Quicktime 3.0.
Quicktime 3.0 looks like it could become the video equivalent of Postscript, the standardized language that word-processors use to talk to printers. And the benefits would be similar: Video editing software would no longer be tied to particular capture/playback hardware.
The reason this hasn't happened before with the old Quicktime and Video-for-Windows is because these were originally designed for low-resolution/low frame-rate multimedia files and too limited: Filesizes couldn't exceed 1-2 Gigabytes, they couldn't play sequences of files smoothly, some file formats (like MPEG) weren't supported, and there was no way to access a lot of the new hardware capabilities, such as realtime effects. All this and more was fixed with QT3.0.
QT3.0 also has some nice web-streaming features, such as the ability to start playing a web video while it's still downloading in the background, and some interactive capability (their demo guy dropped 'rocks' into a QT3.0 video of a swimming pool to generate waves).
Although QT3.0 was developed by Apple, it works on both the Mac and PC's. Apple seems to be hoping that it will establish the Mac as the dominant multimedia-web-server platform, which is not impossible.
In the meantime, though, nonlinear editing software authors have suddenly been given a tool that not only eliminates the need to hard-code their applications to particular hardware, it also automatically lets them run these applications on any QT3.0-compatible board and exploit whatever features these boards may happen to offer.
The first two companies to announce QT3.0-compatible applications are Adobe (Premiere 5.0) and Macromedia (Final Cut). Both of these were trotted out for the first time at NAB and were worth the look:
Premiere 5.0 is a total rewrite of the old application and is radically different. The Adobe folks copied the basic functionality of the Avid Media Composer and the interface is a lot better organized and easier to use. Among the improvements: desktop-like bins that allow you to arrange clips, sorting/databasing functions, the option of single-track rather than A/B roll timeline, better rolls and crawls, three-point editing with slip/slide, audio processing tools, better EDL support and more. They've gotten rid of the need to use 'Make Movie' to play back the timeline smoothly and the longstanding 29.97/30fps inconsistencies that sometimes caused audio to drift. The bottom line is that the Adobe folks have abandoned their old multimedia editing tool and created a new video editor that appears to fulfil the mandate quite well.
Macromedia has been having lots of teething problems: Final Cut has been a long time coming (a prototype showed at the last NAB too) and it's still incomplete (it's still missing a character generator). The parts that are done are a bit more ambitious than Premiere (for example, the trim window is a bit more functional). But the overall program isn't significantly better than Premiere and some of the features that are lacking are very basic.
Even worse for Macromedia is the clear Adobe take-no-hostages marketing plan: Premiere is going to retail for $895. (Final Cut for about $2000). Even worse, upgrades to existing Premiere owners (and there are a lot of them) will be under $200. (This includes owners of lite and bundled versions.) The Adobe folks have made it clear that they don't just want a sliver of the nonlinear editing pie, they want the whole thing, and I think Final Cut is only the first likely casualty: All the other mid-range editors like SpeedRazor are going to have some tough going ahead.
Of course, this all depends on QT3.0-supported hardware coming out. That seems pretty certain: Most of the hardware companies like Truevision and Pinnacle have announced that they'll be writing QT3.0 drivers for their hardware and even companies like Kinetix (which makes animation software) have announced that they'll make their applications QT3.0-capable.
Truevision in particular had some interesting products to show in conjunction with QT3.0: An uncompressed video capture/playback card (designed for videodisk-type applications) which will use Premiere as a front-end; the other was a version of their Targa 2000RTX card with DV codecs, which will allow realtime effects functionality with native DV editing.
Pinnacle has an MJPEG card with realtime effects, as well as a full range of single-channel cards that will all be supported with QT3.0 drivers.
And don't forget that it won't be long before users will be able to edit video without any specialized hardware at all: New motherboards are coming out with DV connectors on them. (The underlying Firewire technology was designed as a replacement for SCSI.) QT3.0 is Firewire/DV-compatible, so you'll be able to transfer your digital video to and from your DV camcorder like any other computer peripheral and use it as the display device as well.
The story isn't quite over yet: Premiere 5.0 isn't due to ship until summer and it remains to be seen if there are any problems with the QT3.0 drivers that the various hardware manufacturers are currently working on. And it's possible that Microsoft (which has a partnership with Avid to support the OMF file format) may come up with something of its own.
But it really does seem like professional-quality video editing technology is rapidly moving onto the average computer desktop: DV is the first video format to be computer-literate, Firewire and Quicktime 3.0 make it possible for computer hardware and operating-systems to handle broadcast-quality video as a native data type, applications like Premiere 5.0 are leading the way toward software unbundled from proprietary hardware, and companies like Adobe, Truevision and Pinnacle are bringing the price points down within the reach of the average person in an effort to reach the wider market.
Bob Lamm is Manager at CYNC Corp., a video dealership that specializes in professional video production tools. He can be reached at (617) 277-4317, firstname.lastname@example.org.