At the November 19 meeting...

The Future of Nonlinear Editing

With Bob Turner and Discreet Logic

By Brian Galford

The November SMPTE meeting was held jointly in Boston at September Productions and their downstairs neighbor, Finish. The former is a commercial and corporate production company, and the latter an editing house. The theme of the night was 'The Future of Non-Linear Editing', and featured one of the creme-de-la-creme systems of the modern era, Canada's Discreet Logic's Fire. Bob Turner brought us all to a simmer with a talk summarizing the entire field of non-linear editing hardware/software.

The first thing he mentioned was the relatively small market, say 2,000 customers, for a Fire-like $500,000 system. However, that market significantly increases to just about everywhere when the price drops below $200,000. That may be what has to happen for a company like Discreet Logic to survive, or for a product like the Flame to prosper. On the other hand, their recent purchase of D-Vision means they have a product to sell for less than $20,000. They can now play in the high-end and the midfield of the market simultaneously. Thus they increase their potential market share many times.

During a recent Videography Roundtable, manufacturers predicted that all the major non-linear systems would deliver a product by this time next year featuring uncompressed resolution. This is very surprising, seeing as how up to now this uncompressed realm has been the Mount Olympus of the Editing Industry, air too rarefied for any but the Gods running on an SGI. What was not mentioned was how this shift would take place. Will they all write software to run on an Onyx? Or will the Mac's G3 and NT workstations be the little engines that could? In any case, once again the future rushes up to meet us!

But wait. Not all uncompressed systems are created equal. Just because you call yourself noncompressed doesn’t mean your image quality is the same as the best. Currently there are 24 companies claiming to provide noncompressed D1 quality internal processing. But the field is very divergent. At one end you have Fire, at $500,000, and at the other end there is Trinity (not yet shipping, according to one source) priced at $6,000. What accounts for this divergence in price? Mr. Turner mentioned a few things, but it is still baffling and will be to me until I see output from these systems with my own eyes. Will you process in RGB or ITU 601? Eight-bit or 10-bit? Further separating the players in this field and gaining in importance with this supposed leveling of the playing field will be: the GUI, the editing toolset and its ease of use. And of course, speed.

Also, this new world order includes compositing, CG and paint subsystems, not simply timeline editorial! Every manufacturer is including multiple capabilities within its software. Ah, but there are levels beyond levels of functionality. For instance, can the system you're considering do this:

How many video and audio tracks will it have? What will the audio toolset contain? And a whole host of other considerations too numerous to mention, some of which, I think, may not be important to every purchaser. And then how much are you willing to pay for all these bells and whistles?

Gee whiz, it all makes me want to simplify my quest for a non-linear system to: great (lossless) image quality, screamin' renderin', ease of use/powerful toolset, CG, for under $10,000. Don't laugh! If uncompressed resolution is around the corner for every manufacturer, then why can't I dream on?

Bob Turner had spent some time at the Discreet Logic offices recently and came back with a glowing report. It seems resumes pour in every day, the company is spearheading the digital video revolution, and is a high energy, enthusiastic place to work. He came away inspired. "It was like Avid was 7 years ago", he said, not a little wistful. Thus, he turned the evening over to Stephane Blondin, "one of the best engineers I've ever met", from Discreet Logic. Mr. Blondin expanded on many of the concepts Mr. Turner treated earlier, taking us through DL's plans for the future.

Fire, DL's flagship product, seems to have just about every bell and whistle known to man. Running on an SGI Onxy, total control over the image seems possible. A generously large bandwidth capable of taking in 4:2:2 video, or RGB is provided. Multiple layers of video to play with. Visual audio waveforms are part of the GUI. Powerful compositing tools are included, as are CG and tri-dimensional DVE capabilities, the ability to warp an image by dragging on its corners, a la Photoshop. The ability to add light sources after the shoot, like an animation program. The list of visual manipulation goes on. A very thoughtful product family includes Stone and Wire, ultra-networking and SCSI-connectable devices, allowing storage of multiple-resolution images on the same hard drive, something that Mr. Blondin said no one else can do.

After this presentation we headed downstairs for a taste of Fire's capabilities in the edit suite of Finish, where many of its compositing, keying, image warping, DVE-type capabilities were demonstrated by Steve Knowlton, Finish's editor. "This system is like a dream come true", he said. All in all, a very impressive package of hardware/software, one of the modern era's most powerful this side of Industrial Light and Magic.

Brian Galford is Writer/Director at New England Medical Center.

Posted: 11 January, 1998
Robert Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor