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Media 100's Pegasus: Flying Racehorse?

Is This 240 MB-per-second Beast For Real? I Think So! By Charlie White

It takes a lot to impress us here at the Midwest Test Facility of Digital Media Net. Almost every day, we're regaled with tales of spectacular digital doings, with PR flacks quacking about how their board/software/system/widget/whatever can do things that have never been done before. Ho-hum. We learned early on to take such claims with a grain of salt. Like the best scientists are often heard to say, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. So it was under this cloak of skepticism that I participated in a conference call where the topic of discussion was the purchase of Media 100's streaming media assets and DV cards by Autodesk, Inc., the parent company of Discreet.

But then, out of the blue, Media 100 President and CEO John Molinari started talking about a beast he called Pegasus. Those of you who remember your mythology will recall that Pegasus was a flying horse. Now do you believe in flying horses? If someone told you that your flying horse had arrived to take you to work this morning, would you have danced with glee, or told the fool to shut up? Well, I didn't tell anyone to shut up, but at first I felt like blurting out a few choice words. But then, as Molinari described a few details about Pegasus, the secret (until now) "multimedia supercomputer" that reportedly can render unlimited uncompressed video composites faster than Quantel's million-dollar Henry for about $950,000 cheaper, I had to sit straight upright and take notice. Could it be that the Holy Grail of digital video editing was about to arrive?

For some strange reason, when Molinari further described Pegasus' throughput of 240 MB/sec., I found myself believing him. When he said he already has 40 of the systems up and running in his Marlborough, Massachusetts facility, I believed that, too. Why did I believe this man? I, the dyed-in-the-wool skeptic who believes nothing of what he hears and only half of what he sees?

First, I looked at all that Media 100 had created since 1998, the date Molinari said development began on Pegasus. Let's go over this pantheon of digital video wizardry: iFinish, Media 100i, a few acquisitions from Terran Interactive (the Cleaner line), some ICE acceleration hardware, and scraped-up remnants of Radius, Inc. (EditDV, IntroDV, etc.). As far as innovation goes, not too impressive, if you ask me. It didn't look like much had been happening for the past three years, except a lot of business deals.

What had happened to the once-proud, cocky Media 100? I was accustomed to seeing innovation from the company at breakneck speed, with advances like its then-formidable Vincent digital video architecture, a gauntlet it threw down at the digital video editing industry before it began its Pegasus development in the late nineties. Those were heady days, with Media 100 taking its first steps into the Windows arena. Maybe you don't remember this, but the company planned to use Final Cut as its interface for its Windows version of Media 100. Even though the company abandoned that path, still, it was remarkable how quickly it could turn around and port its own software to the Windows platform, while dismissing Final Cut to what seemed (at the time) like oblivion. Little did we know that the app would be snapped up by Apple and turned into a Mac-only powerhouse.

Anyway, Media 100's "streaming media company" market positioning was stylish and hip in 2000 at NAB, but at NAB 2001, Media 100 seemed to have very little, if anything, to offer that raised my eyebrows. Then, a quick look at Media 100's R&D budget made me suspect that something was up: Even when the company was bleeding large amounts of cash, it still blew large portions of its spending loot on R&D -- with $3.14 million spent in 1999, ramping up to $4.08 million so far this year. At the same time, the company would acquire companies like ICE, whose products' reason for being is to accelerate compositing. And, when I would ask Media 100 officials about why their compositing was so lame on all their products, for years they would always say, "If our users want compositing, they'll use After Effects." That's like a Pepsi executive telling customers that if they want a diet cola drink, they'll just have to go and drink a Diet Coke, because Pepsi doesn't have a diet drink available right now. Not likely. What did I conclude from all this? Yep. Something was up.

So there it is. Pegasus looks like it's for real, and we may just see an early version at the next NAB. Media 100 PR folks promise me that I'll get a good look at its development as we go along, and I'll tell you (or drop subtle hints) about the system as it progresses. Just watch this space. But an important point is this: I believe Media 100 when they talk about Pegasus. I know these guys, and they have always been straightforward and honest with me in the past, telling me their secrets and showing me their cards before they show them to anyone else. But Pegasus was a surprise to me and every other press wonk I know. Heck, it was even a surprise to Media 100 PR people when Molinari went on and on about it at the conference call. But I'd be willing to bet that Pegasus is real, and will ship in the first half of 2002.

However, some big questions remain, and even though I tried quizzing Media 100 suits again for some answers this morning, they weren't telling me any more than I was able to extract from them yesterday. For example, they're not telling me whether this is a Windows-based, Mac-based, or (heaven forbid) a proprietary black-box kind of thing. What if the system is OS X native? Wow! Now that would be some big news, maybe even the first professional editing system for OS X. What do you get for the $25,000 price point they quoted, and what's the difference between that and the $50,000 model? Can it edit high definition video? What happens to your existing user base -- will they be gouged for a $20,000 board replacement? These are all questions that I expect will be answered in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, Media 100's competitors are probably running back to their drawing boards, cooking up their answer to this 240 MB-per-second, flame-spitting flying racehorse. This I gotta see.

Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist for the past eight years, White is also an Emmy award winning producer, video editor and shot-calling PBS TV director. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at [email protected].

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