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Opinion: DV Cards Ignite Fire(Wire) Storm

Faster Processors Bode Well For Low-End 1394-Based Editing Systems By Charlie White

In an announcement earlier this week, Intel crowed about how it will soon unleash its newest chip, which finally breaks the 2 GHz barrier. Wow. It didn't seem like it was that long ago when a 33MHz 486 chip was so fast that we were dazzled by its sheer power. My, how things change. Today, we still can't seem to find enough speed, and if we finally get a processor that's fast enough to render all those elaborate After Effects composites, well, then the disk won't be fast enough. Seems like, no matter what, there's always some kind of bottleneck slowing things down.

But the big story is that overall computer power continues its relentless march upward. Of course, this is great news for digital video editors. And, new approaches to editing and processing digital video data, in every market segment and particularly in the DV arena, are riding piggy-back on these nearly-continuous speed improvements.

If you haven't paid much attention to DV capture cards lately, let me tell you: This is one lively market segment! Led by Matrox nearly three years ago with its RT2000 low-cost DV capture and acceleration card, now there are three major players, each with multiple entries into this hot market: Canopus with its DVStorm SE and DVRaptor-RT, Pinnacle with its DV500+ and soon to be released Pro-One, and Matrox with its RT2500, successor to the groundbreaking RT2000. All these cards cost hardly more than $1000 (and a few cost much less), and are able to perform a variety of editing functions in real time.

In this market segment, there are different approaches to the problem of real time transitions and compositing. Some cards, like the Matrox RT2500, depend on powerful chip sets on the cards themselves to do the heavy lifting required to execute real time 3D effects, and even to encode MPEG2 with hardware. Others, like the Canopus cards, offload much of the transition and effects number-crunching to the processor.

While I applauded the power and flexibility of the on-board graphics execution of the Matrox and Pinnacle cards a year ago, now I'm starting to warm up to the offloading idea from Canopus. I'm leaning toward the processor-based effects for one reason: Processing power is dirt cheap these days. As I put the Canopus DVRaptor-RT through its paces for a review I did for DVFormat (another one of Digital Media Net's sites), I was blown away by the amount of power that's available for just a few hundred dollars. In fact, at $599 including a full version of Adobe Premiere 6.0, the damn thing is practically free.

And with announcements (like the one at the beginning of this article) of much faster chips being made on a regular basis, this strategy can only be a winner. If the DVRaptor-RT card can put together three layers of real time video with a 1.2 MHz Athlon setup like we used here, imagine what it could do with an eight-way multiprocessor setup, with each processor running at 3 GHz. I shudder to think. HD editing in real time would be within reason, at extremely low price points.

I realize (and our research tells us) that most of the visitors to this site are considerably higher-end than these cheap-o cards, but look at it this way: If you could put together a few rough cuts at home of your next big production on a complete real-time digital video editing system on which you spent barely more than $1500, wouldn't you go for it? And, this low-end technology might just find a way to trickle up to the high end, as the technology responsible for the explosion in 3D graphics cards has a tendency to do. Best of all, there's the downward price pressure these cards place on the high end. Heck, if you can do all this for $1500, why on earth do high end editing setups cost upwards of $100,000? It's low-ball systems like these that make me more sure every day that HD editing will soon be something everyday people will be able to do with home videos. And that means, for all the high-end crowd, drop-in-the-bucket prices for everyone. I can hardly wait!

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 cwhite@digitalmedianet.com.

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Related Keywords:digital video editing, digital media net, Charlie White, commentary, editorial, Intel, 2 GHz barrier, sheer power, DV, 1394, After Effects composites, bottleneck, data, 1394-based editing systems, innovation, faster processors

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