In a sense, it's old news. The democratization of video production has been going on for more than a decade. Beginning in small steps in the early 1990s, Avid can now claim an amazing 98% of all primetime television shows being edited on the company's equipment, as well as a clear majority of award-winning major motion pictures. Still, Avid has historically been a vendor of premium non-linear workstations that are not particularly realistic solutions for less resource-backed video makers. While those early systems were groundbreaking, they were stepping into an established infrastructure of analog equipment.
Today, studios are increasingly awash in a stream of digital data. Digital acquisition is now a reality at all levels of production from consumer to High-Definition and that has dramatically reduced the need for expensive analog video processing hardware. With DV format camcorders, moving digital data onto a computer hard drive requires no hardware beyond a FireWire port, standard equipment on a growing number of desktop and notebook computers.
Maybe that's old news, too. DV camcorders have been around for several years and now one out of every three consumer camcorders sold is digital. Serious video producers, from prosumers and semi-professionals to top-end facilities have, for the most part, long since gone digital.
Still, the nature of the digital studio itself is changing. Where computers were once barely able to display postage stamp-sized video, today's faster CPUs can easily process standard-resolution DV footage in real-time. And that's a remarkable change from just a few short years ago because it allows once-humble software editing applications like Adobe Premiere and Ulead Media Studio Pro to turn out very professional finished products, without reliance on extra hardware.
Yes, expansion hardware still plays a role in many of today's digital studios. Dual-stream DV cards—like Pinnacle Systems' DV 500 and ProONE, Matrox's RT2500 and RTMac, and Canopus' DVStorm (DVStorm actually leverages the processor to achieve more than two layers of simultaneous effects processing)—give those software interfaces increased editing speed and facility. Yet at the same time, they are not critical for simply getting a professional job done. That means today's digital studio is not necessarily an exclusive workstation computer and need not even be in a studio.
Avid's XpressDV version 3.5 has been qualified to run in a notebook computer, as has Pinnacle's new Edition software. The same is true of Adobe Premiere and Ulead Media Studio Pro, although Xpress DV and Edition are both fairly affordable professional interfaces that vary very little, if at all, from the editing interface used in each company's pricier hardware-software combination systems. Putting either on a notebook allows us to take the digital studio into the field for editing during shooting, onto an airplane for editing during travel, or home in the evenings for editing after the kids have gone to bed.
Today's notebooks or desktops can connect to removable storage via FireWire, allowing them to share media and project files. Indeed, while Xpress DV is a capable editor on a notebook, Avid really envisions it being used more as an offline system in conjunction with its own online finishing systems. Its project timelines are compatible with those of higher-end Avid interfaces, allowing for relatively easily navigation between editing stations.
Apple, on the other hand, has no higher-end editing interface than Final Cut Pro and it runs just as effectively and efficiently on a PowerBook as it does on a desktop. Apple's picture of the digital studio, as sent to EMedia for its review of Final Cut Pro [See Sauer's review, www.emedialive.com/r8/2002/sauer8_02.html—Ed.], is an 800mHz PowerBook Titanium with FireWire for digital video in and out. Leveraging just the processor, Apple's digital studio performs transitions and filters in real time, much the same as fully configured hardware-software editing workstations.
What's more, Apple pre-installed its professional DVD authoring software, DVD Studio Pro, on the Titanium PowerBook for finishing and outputting edited projects in high-quality MPEG-2 video. You'd need to attach a FireWire DVD burner for creating a disc, but they are readily available today for less than $500. Finally, if you're in the studio, you can plug the PowerBook into Apple's flat-panel cinema LCD display.
All those things are possible with a Windows-based system. DVD authoring software can come from many places including Ulead and Pinnacle, but also Sonic, MedioStream, and Dazzle. There are plenty of other flat-panel monitors from Sharp, Samsung, and others. Apple just has all the tools under one roof.
The point is that the digital studio can look a lot different from the analog video studio, can feel a lot different in terms of carrying weight, and can add tremendous flexibility where there once was little. Today's digital studio is about getting work done on your terms.