Desktop Television Gets Big Boost

Two significant developments early this year foretell the future of television.

Two significant developments early this year foretell the future of television.

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First, Apple Computer's introduction of its new iDVD mastering system completes the production loop in desktop television. For the first time, videomakers on a budget can shoot, edit and master a universally playable DVD videodisc using a camcorder and personal computer package costing as little as $5,000. The implications of this breakthrough are immense.

Second, CNN's recent layoffs and restructuring indicate that desktop television has a big future in the network's news production. CNN has made it clear that it seeks "cross-platform" news reporters who are equally proficient in producing stories for television, radio and the Internet.

In a recent memo to CNN staffers, news executive Eason Jordon wrote that CNN "will accelerate our plans to introduce compact hi-tech newsgathering gear. Look for the quick introduction of small, high-quality DV cameras and laptop editing equipment (a Mac laptop), enabling us to deploy smaller reporting teams – one or two people at times – when it makes sense. Larger gear will be with us for some time to come and will be used as needed."


No doubt generating fear among some old-timers in the newsroom, Jordan said he expects existing staffers to learn new media skills. "Correspondents would do well to learn how to shoot and edit (even if called upon only occasionally to utilize those skills), and smart shooters and editors will learn how to write and track."

No doubt this puts a big smile on the face of Apple's Steve Jobs, an enthusiastic advocate of digital television production for the masses. Once again Jobs pushed the technology envelope at January's Macworld with the introduction of a new computer that creates the first affordable start-to-finish video authoring and recording system. CNN's embrace of the technology puts it on the fast track.

Apple's new PowerMac G4 (priced at $3,500) is the first computer to ship with an internal "SuperDrive" capable of burning video DVDs for playback on most consumer DVD players. Until very recently, such a drive alone cost over $5,000.

This new PowerMac G4 model comes with iDVD consumer software that allows nontechnicians to create DVDs using a friendly drag-and-drop interface. The application accepts QuickTime movies and still images, and it lets the user easily create menus, buttons and slide-shows for DVD navigation.

A professional version, called DVD Studio Pro, priced at just under $1,000, is designed to complement Apple's Final Cut video editing application. It's for independent filmmakers, video producers, trainers and event photographers who want more control than the bundled iDVD application offers.


A key breakthrough in Apple's new computer is its ability to harness the power of the G4 processor's "velocity engine" to dramatically speed up MPEG-2 encoding. The velocity engine can process data in 128-bit chunks, instead of the smaller 32-bit or 64-bit segments used in traditional processors.

In addition, the G4 chip can perform four (in some cases, eight) 32-bit floating-point calculations in a single cycle – two to four times faster than traditional processors. This can accelerate the data-intensive processing required by video, voice and graphics applications.

DVD Studio Pro opens up new possibilities for serious videographers. Users can encode video, conduct complex authoring tasks, preview the finished product in real time and burn DVDs using the new PowerMac G4 SuperDrive. Not only does it ease the DVD creation process for nontechnical users, the new application also simplifies previously complex tasks such as motion menus, chapter markers, scripting, multiple languages, subtitles and Dolby Digital encoding.

Apple's MPEG encoder software, which processes video at double the program time, supports both NTSC and PAL, as well as 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratios. It can also accept MPEG streams from other encoders.


For organizations such as CNN – who need portable video editing, but not necessarily DVD mastering capability – Apple also introduced a new 5-pound G4 Powerbook that incorporates the velocity engine. This new laptop is poised to become the portable of choice for field video editing.

Apple's move to simplify and reduce the cost of digital desktop television, along with CNN's move to cut television production costs, is a significant boost for desktop television production. A more difficult task may be finding people who combine the unique skill set to create compelling stories on a desktop computer.

Just as a word processor never made a writer, a TV creation machine does not make a visual artist. Proficiency in several disciplines – including writing, videography, sound and image composition – is only the starting point for this new breed of video storyteller. I suspect the agile multimedia journalists CNN seeks will come from the ranks of young people who haven't yet learned how to say "no." ?