The annual NAB convention is a chance for edit system manufacturers to float out new ideas, technologies and, ultimately, new products. Among the myriad offerings on the show floor were two new edit system introductions at NAB2001 that deserve this year’s "Focus on Editing Spotlight" – Sony’s XPRI, and ivory, from FAST.
Sony Electronics’ XPRI
First, after several other attempts – including the short-lived Destiny series and the more successful EditStation family – Sony Electronics has come out with a new, high-end nonlinear edit system called XPRI. And this time, thanks to a lot of input from real, working editors, Sony seems to have gotten it right.
"XPRI is actually going to provide the interface for a larger array of sitemaps across Sony’s product line, including the 24p CineAlta series," said André Floyd, marketing manager for editing systems at Sony Electronics. "We want to unify the operational characteristics over a whole family of standard- and high-definition production and postproduction systems – and XPRI, as we saw it at NAB2001, is just the beginning."
In its current manifestation, XPRI is a nonlinear system using uncompressed SD and HD video in all the popular formats, including, uniquely, the native mode of Sony’s own HDCAM and MPEG IMX video as well as AVI, QuickTime and streaming media. As you would expect these days from a high-end NLE, it can also offer 1080/24p operation to create masters that can be efficiently translated into any needed distribution format. In addition to being resolution-independent, XPRI is capable of handling files up to 2k x 4k.
XPRI operates on the Windows 2000 professional O/S, and features SDI input/output (with SDTI optional), an audio waveform display on the timeline that can also hold up to 48 virtual video and audio layers and a total of 360 GB of storage on two drives that can hold 48 minutes of uncompressed high-definition material, or 5.7 hours of compressed HDCAM footage. If needed, storage can be expanded up to 4,320 GB to satisfy the needs of even the most-voracious HDTV or digital cinema production.
But for editors, the most important aspect of XPRI is the practical, ergonomic considerations that were built into the system based on feedback from editors across this country and Japan. In fact, the layout of the timeline display will be very familiar to editors accustomed to the most mainstream of NLEs being marketed today.
Floyd himself has been involved with the XPRI project for more than four years, and has seen several prototypes come and go. For example, editors who have grown weary of wrestling with virtual onscreen controls accessible only with mouse clicks will appreciate that XPRI boasts a separate eight-channel audio panel with flying faders, a jog/shuttle module for transport and timeline control that also offers basic editing keys, Sony’s familiar trackball with Z-ring like the one on the DME 3000 for manipulating DVE effects and a multiple-function "media bar" containing context-sensitive, color-coded rotary knobs that can set detailed parameters of various functions.
"In one of the original manifestations of XPRI all these controls were on one very large panel," Floyd said, "but we found that the top-notch editors who previewed this found it too cumbersome. That’s why we divided the functionality into separate modules so editors could move the ones they didn’t need out of the way."
Starting around 1997, Sony started to present its testers with mock-up models of these panels and asked the editors where they would like the company to place the individual pots, knobs, keys and rings. "The result is the variety of individual outboard devices that allow editors to access only the specific controls they need at any given time," Floyd said.
Sony plans to drop its EditStation family of nonlinear edit systems, although the company will continue to sell off current inventory (there’s a special Web price for EditStations on www.sony.com) and support the systems already in the field with new software upgrades. But for the future, Sony’s NLE focus will be based on XPRI technology. The high-definition version of XPRI will sell in the $150,000 range, but we can expect a lower-cost version for more mainstream post by the end of the year.
FAST Multimedia’s ivory
Our German friends from FAST Multimedia expanded the rainbow of their color-coded nonlinear edit systems at NAB2001 by releasing a full-featured system capable of editing uncompressed video called ivory. The new ivory complement’s FAST’s previous NLE for MPEG editing, silver, and the company’s DV-based system, purple – all of which benefit from the new FASTstudio Version 2.55 software, available free of charge to FAST system owners.
FASTstudio 2.55’s new features include QuickTime codecs to open and save files in their native formats. In fact, purple’s DV file format (.dif) is already included in QuickTime. It also gives FAST editors an Xsend function to rapidly transfer clips, containers and sequences from FASTstudio to third-party software, such as Adobe After Effects for effects processing or encoding applications like Media Cleaner to create streaming files.
COVERING ALL ASPECTS
But it is ivory that now tops the FAST spectrum. It will be available initially as a turnkey system only. "Basically, we are trying to cover all aspects of the market by introducing ivory," explains Alain Polgar, FAST’s new executive vice president for sales and marketing. "With our other systems based on FASTstudio editing software we have developed a firm presence in mid-range editing with compressed video, but ivory will now allow us to address the uncompressed media needs of the broadcast and high-end postproduction markets."
Offering SDI I/O along with import/export of QuickTime, AVI and WAV files; an unlimited number of timeline tracks for video, audio, graphics and titles; direct clip trimming on the timeline; and sub-pixel background processing of all effects, ivory presents an editor with a fully customizable interface so both free-lancers and staff operators with a personalized log-in can immediately feel at home on their own configuration of the system and its GUI.
Based on Windows 2000, FAST’s new ivory NLE comes with two InTime boards, providing 6.8 gigaflops of processing power for real-time and accelerated background performance thanks to a total of 12 dedicated video CPUs. This kind of processing horsepower means that many effects are actually performed faster than real time. ivory also features a tactile human interface for navigation and control, seven programmable buttons and a custom color keyboard with all major functions mapped. On ivory you can also get real-time playback, mix of up to eight audio tracks and see an immediate waveform display in both the clip/source viewer and on the timeline.
"FAST means editing," Polgar said, "but we are not leaving our compressed video user base behind. With ivory we are just expanding into new areas with uncompressed video."
Uncompressed does not necessarily mean expensive, however. FAST’s ivory will ship for about $40,000, which includes two InTime accelerator boards and a Fibre Channel card for storage and networking.