Because I worked exclusively with DV video during the evaluation, I did not assess AVIO's ability to work with analog input or multiple streams of uncompressed or HD video. That's not really the aim of the product, although the fact that you can run QuadCam on an AVIO system suggests that it can handle multiple streams, at least in theory. Users doing that sort of heavy-duty video processing will probably find more to their liking in a higher-end Casablanca system like Prestige or Solitaire.
Stability is a key issue with AVIO/Smart Edit, as with any platform or application. I must admit I experienced fewer crashes evaluating the AVIO than I have during any previous video editing product review, although the process was not entirely crash-free. At no time during the editing process did the system crash (a first for me in a product review, all PC and Mac reviews included). I did experience a problem during DVD authoring (in the DVD-Arabesk 2 application) where the system cut off each time I tried to render an animated menu. According to Bruce Shafer, head of the Macrosystem tech support department, this is a bug in the latest Casablanca OS, and a fix should be available in early 2005. The great thing about these crashes, however, was that I didn't lose one iota of work in the process, and the system rebooted and returned me to my project in seconds. Whoever engineered that perpetual autosave feature, I salute you.
One of the first things a PC or Mac editor will notice when working with the AVIO is the culture shock of its keyboard-free operation. If you're accustomed to doing most of your editing with an external control rather than a keyboard, you'll be more at home than I was, at first, with the Logitech trackball that ships with the AVIO. You'll do all your clip-trimming and navigation, as well as any text entry, with the trackball and its two buttons. Get familiar with it, and keep your wrists loose—carpal tunnel is not your friend.
Physically, there's not much else that's surprising about the system. It doesn't look much different from the various flat form-factor PCs on the market today in its modest sheet-metal chassis. There's an internal DVD-Recorder on the front, and besides that, most of the action happens on the I/O panel on the back. Because the LCD in my home office no longer recognizes video signals via its VGA connector, I did the majority of my testing with the AVIO hooked up to my garden-variety Sony color TV (which made for ugly screen shots in this review, but saved me from any TV-safe worries in preview). Rounding out the system is an 80GB IDE hard drive.
The first thing you'll see when you power up the AVIO is a Main Menu that gives you access to all the aspects of the AVIO production environment. It's divided into three sections: Settings, Video, and Audio. In Settings, top right, you can determine quality and project settings, as well as handy items like modulating trackball speed (a must for anyone with even slightly jittery hands). Choosing Project Settings opens a new screen where you can name your project, make quality choices for the specific project, and choose 4:3 or 16:9 (regardless of the aspect ratio of your video input). If you're working on multiple projects on the AVIO (most models support up to three working projects at a time; the PRO version supports 10), you can also select one and apply the settings to that one alone.