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VISITING AVID - TvTechnology

VISITING AVID

While the courtesy driver Avid had sent chauffeured me through the colorful New England’s fall foliage toward the company’s campus in Tewksbury, Mass., I had time to reflect on the central dilemma facing this leader of nonlinear postproduction technology: profit.
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While the courtesy driver Avid had sent chauffeured me through the colorful New England’s fall foliage toward the company’s campus in Tewksbury, Mass., I had time to reflect on the central dilemma facing this leader of nonlinear postproduction technology: profit.

Avid announced that all 34 of the primetime fall shows being debuted by the networks for the 2001-2002 season, were edited on one of the company’s NLEs. Yet, despite this impressive market dominance, Avid has still been having trouble staying in the red, given the turmoil affecting both the video industry and the nation. In fact, the company’s Q3 financial report shows that it is still running somewhat in the red, with a net loss of $801,000 (excluding one-time and non-cash expenses).

"Avid is no different from other companies operating in the high-tech world today where the economy and recent tragedies have impacted our business," said David Krall, Avid’s president and CEO. "So we are doing everything we can to focus on our future, and that includes taking our leadership in video editing and audio postproduction into the next generation of what customers are looking for. If I were to narrow it down to a single concept, it would be the transition from individual standalone products to integrated systems that empower the overall work flow."

As Krall explained, the methodology of the ‘90s, which relied on tape acquisition to feed disk-based post systems, is being replaced by a totally digitized approach that provides multiple workstations access to the same material simultaneously –thereby making the multipurposing of source footage, in-house graphics and archived material – much more efficient.

The impetus for my pilgrimage to Tewksbury was to learn more about the major announcements Avid made at IBC, where attendance by U.S. industry personnel was restricted by the September terrorist actions.

Avid Technologies itself suffered the loss of its director of New Market Development, Doug Gowell, who was a passenger on United flight #175, which hit the second tower of the WTC. But though in mourning, the atmosphere throughout the company’s facility expressed an eager optimism, evidenced by a digital calendar in the lunchroom counting down the days to NAB2002.

OPENING ACT

Matt Allard, product marketing manager for Avid|DS, began by describing how several incremental software upgrades announced at NAB2001 – and that began shipping in July – were well received at IBC. Version 3.5 for Avid Symphony, 10.5 for the Media Composer line and 4.5 for Avid Xpress are Windows 2000 compliant and provide title crawls, real-time moving matte enhancement, multiformat mastering and delivery of 601, Web and DTV formats.

I also learned that the effects-optimized Avid|DS and Avid|DS HD systems will have new version 5.0 software – slated to be released in November – that enables offline editing of high-definition projects at lower resolutions, a real-time picture-in-picture effect and the ability to import Photoshop files while preserving individual layers.

New at IBC was the Avid MediaStation digitizing station, which works with the Avid Unity MediaNet shared storage network. "MediaStation lets you start dicing up pieces of your media workflow in a high-speed shared environment to feed editing systems like Symphony or Media Composer," Allard explained. "It also has full telecine support and 24p capabilities."

NEXT STOP: INTERACTIVE

Product Manager Michael Phillips next gave me a glimpse of some future technology for the Media Composer – tools that involved enhanced interactive capabilities on the timeline. "We will soon be able to handle metadata on the timeline that can be imported via a standalone Java application," Phillips told me. "This could include interactive television elements in HTML for WebTV-style applications, database result criteria or opaque metadata – such as subtitling, embedded audio, a full character list or scripted dialogue –provided by one of Avid’s partners, Final Draft."

What makes this especially useful is that during the editing process, you are immediately able to see the results downstream through a TV’s set-top box, according to Phillips. Thanks to a live update link on the timeline, this will let a client/producer see what the interactive team is creating at a remote facility. And, just like any other element on the Avid timeline, all the metadata is editable.

After lunch, I was shown the newest release of NewsCutter XP 2.1 and NewsCutter XP Mobile by Jim Frantzreb, senior product marketing manager for Avid’s Broadcast Group. Both offerings now include support for the 4:1:1 PAL video format.

"What editors like about the NewsCutter system is that, on top of all its capabilities, the logic of the layout just seems to work with you as you are cutting under deadline," Frantzreb said. "For example, version 2.1 now supports PortServer Pro, letting it interface with Avid Unity for News media network. And its auto V.O. tool lets you strip out previous narration to repurpose a news package by using existing B-roll over different versions of a reporter’s commentary."

Frantzreb said that the division’s biggest news is the release of NewsCutter XP Mobile software package that runs on a Windows 2000 laptop. "It’s really just NewsCutter XP without the hardware," he explained, "and it’s giving reporters around the world the ability to cut their stories in the field and network them back to the studio as a finished package.

"If you don’t have a high-speed connection," said Frantzreb, "you can even send them to the home server as a QuickTime movie, which can be played to air. We think it’s a very exciting introduction."

CLOSING COMMENTS

Finally, Charlie Russell gave a demonstration of Avid Xpress DV with version 2.1 software just released Oct. 19. In comparison to the first sophisticated linear edit suite I piloted a few decades ago that could have filled the bridge of the Enterprise, this inexpensive software package can run on a slim Sony VAIO notebook (among many others); it really puts the digital revolution into perspective.

With enough editing and effects features to satisfy most editors’ creativity, Russell described how the Xpress DV now supports the Pioneer DVR-AO3, a DVD burner costing less that $1,000. "With disk prices rapidly coming down, this gives a much broader spectrum of editors the ability to create inexpensive DVDs either for client review or one-off releases," Russell said. "We expect to see several competing low-priced DVD burners hitting the market soon, so our Xpress DV system will fit into a growing market for DV productions released on disk."

Avid has bundled several best-of-breed, third-party software systems into the slightly more expensive Xpress DV PowerPack – including Pinnacle Commotion 4, Cleaner EZ 5.0.3 and Sonic DVDit. This mini-mite package can now handle the new Matrox G550 card and is dual processor safe.

Russell pointed out that Avid Xpress 4.5, which now even has an uncompressed single-channel video option, is running on the Macintosh 9.1 operating system, while the Windows version has been ported from NT to Windows 2000. Avid Xpress 4.5 even offers an image-stabilization feature, but currently only in the Win2000 incarnation.

It can be somewhat daunting to encounter all this new technology in a single day and I’m sorry I couldn’t cover everything I saw. But the gung-ho attitude of all the product representatives on the Tewksbury campus was downright reassuring as the video industry turns its face into the wind of an uncertain, and ever-challenging, future.