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NEW TECHNOLOGIES changing NLEs

Ever since the CMX 600 system introduced disk-based editing at the 1971 NAB convention in Chicago, digital nonlinear editing has become a mature technology capable of cutting everything from DV to 2K resolutions. But even though the past year has seen significant brand name consolidation in the post-production game, the difference between manufacturer's edit systems can be found in the core technologies hidden under the hood. For most of us, NAB is our first opportunity to look at the latest crop of editing products — and there have been a lot. In June, we'll review the new editing products introduced at NAB2006. For this article, however, the focus is on the new technologies that differentiate NLEs.

Adobe Production Studio 1.0

Adobe released its Production Studio 1.0 collection of software components last January as part of the Creative Suite family. The premium version of Production Studio provides plenty of new capabilities for content creation in the new versions of:

  • Adobe After Effects 7.0 for motion graphics and visual effects;
  • Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 for real-time editing from DV to HD; and
  • Adobe Photoshop CS2, which increases the capabilities of the industry standard for image editing.

However, sharing images between these packages has been challenging in the past because of the need for intermediate rendering when moving images from one application to the other. But now the Adobe engineers have come up with a new technology called Dynamic Link. It lets an editor drag-and-drop images from one software package to the other, enabling these three modules to work together seamlessly. For example, the layers for a green screen shot can be created in Photoshop CS2, composited in After Effects 7.0 and then dropped into the bin of Premiere Pro 2.0 to be edited into the timeline.

CineForm Visually Perfect

Adobe Premier Pro 2.0 can directly edit HDV in its native format. But for some applications, either on lower-powered workstations or when intensive compositing will be involved, editors may find it useful to transcode those 4:2:0 long GOP files into the 4:2:2 format of CineForm's Visually Perfect post-production codec.

The codec incorporates a compressed AVI file format called CFHD. It employs a full-frame temporal wavelet transform that eliminates block artifacts risked by a DCT compression. Still, 1920 × 1080 source material with an uncompressed YUV bandwidth of about 125MB/s can be compressed to between 12MB/s and 20MB/s after compression, while preserving visual quality indistinguishable from the source.

CineForm's intermediate software is also being used with Wafian's HR-1 disk system for direct-to-disk recording of high-definition material from the HD-SDI output of Canon's new XL H1 HD camcorder. Although the camcorder is capable of producing an HDV signal for recording, when output through its HD-SDI connection, the signal bypasses internal HDV compression. It is then delivered as a traditional 1920 × 1080 YUV 4:2:2 60i signal that can be accessed directly for nonlinear editing by using CineForm's Prospect HD plug-in on Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 editing software.

Apple Final Cut Pro

Apple was one of the first to support native editing of both DVCPRO HD and HDV in its Final Cut Pro (FCP) software, part of the Final Cut Studio software suite. All of the editing done on Apple's Power Mac platforms (now with Intel chips onboard) is based on the open specification of QuickTime, and the project data inside FPC uses XML as an interchange format. That is why it has always been easy to get material in and out of the FCP editing flow.

But delivering a high-definition project cut in a desktop edit system to clients has always been a challenge. So it is notable that Final Cut Studio enables the creation of a high-definition DVD for distribution by taking the output of an HD project edited on FCP directly into Apple's DVD Studio Pro 4 disk authoring software.

Internally, Apple has implemented the HD-DVD specification intended to be used with a blue-violet laser in commercial DVD distribution and made it work with a red laser disk recorder to put high-definition programming onto a standard DVD disk. Of course, the disk must be burned and played back through an Apple G5 computer. But at least for today's desktop editors, this has freed up HD disk distribution from the Blu-ray/HD-DVD format blue laser format war.

Canopus EDIUS Pro 3.6

Now a part of Grass Valley, Canopus is energetically developing its EDIUS Pro 3.6 editing software based on the power of its codecs. The HQ codec is used as an intermediary for HDV editing to make the process less CPU-intensive. This frees up the CPU's power for effects creation, which means that, in a typical dual Xeon 3.4 system with a RAID drive, the HQ codec's intraframe compression can provide four tracks of variable bit rate HD content.

Included in the system is Speed Encoder for HDV, which splits the long GOP encoding into two separate processes on dual-core platforms. Unlike the typical multitasking that processes the MPEG transport stream linearly, Speed Encoder splits the encoding tasks into two streams and processes them simultaneously.

Canopus systems can now interface with the new Grass Valley 35GB REV PRO storage disk, which is an extension of the Iomega REV format. Because these disks are used as removable storage for the Grass Valley Infinity camcorder, they can feed two streams of 55Mb/s MPEG-2 or DV material directly into an EDIUS nonlinear edit system. Once edited, the EDIUS can output the rendered HDV file and play it onto a Grass Valley Turbo iDDR.

Discreet Smoke

Moving into the high end of hardware-based NLEs, the Discreet systems that are now marketed under the Autodesk brand emphasize working with completely uncompressed 4:4:4 RGB material. Because it is built on the Irix-based SGI platforms, the Smoke edit system runs on multi-CPU technology within a 64-bit architecture.

Although it does include a 4:4:4 proxy workflow, Smoke doesn't offer a compressed video option. One reason the Discreet systems can handle this throughput is because of their proprietary Stone storage file system, which is based on an algorithm that is essentially frame-size agnostic. This ensures that the data access patterns are optimally aligned to the storage system and hardware architecture.

The systems work seamlessly with SD, HD or 2K images. That can be essential when working with a combination of standard files (such as DPX) and standard file systems (such as XFS) in a digital intermediate workflow.

Quantel eQ and iQ4

Pushing hardware to the limit are the resolution-coexistent eQ and new iQ4 systems from Quantel. Proprietary scaling technology allows them to perform real-time pan-and-scan from 4K digital intermediates.

For effects, the systems employ the Eiger Media Engine as the media processing heart, and this is at the functional heart of the new Pablo color-correction system. The engine is built with field-programmable gate array technology, enabling new hardware features to be added to Pablo with simple software upgrades. Eiger uses 64-bit per pixel inputs, giving Pablo full 16-bit accuracy for each image component, while internally the Media Engine works to at least 32-bit precision. A second engine is used together with sophisticated resource scheduling. It enables integrated concurrent processing, a technology Quantel calls TimeMagic. TimeMagic allows the operator to work with full interactivity in the foreground, while the second engine renders in the background.

DVS CLIPSTER

When shooting 2K and higher digital cinema productions, sometimes it's necessary to have an edit system that can handle files of that size on the set. The portable (well, at least transportable) system being seen on Hollywood sound stages is CLIPSTER from DVS. It creates real-time transitions in 2K to let the DP and digital imaging technician review sequences on location in uncompressed RGB 4:4:4. Inside the system are levels of proprietary I/O boards that use field-programmable gate arrays. The newest software supports workflows for digital dailies, using various compressed formats such as JPEG2000, WM-9 and QuickTime, depending on where they will be screened.

CLIPSTER accesses its data files from the Pronto2K and ProntoHD disk recorders, which provide instant access and capture of uncompressed 2K, HD and SD to combine the advantages of a disk-based recording system with a workstation. It can even play out 4K files in real time, but it edits them in a lower resolution by using 2K files as proxies.

Avid Interplay

Avid recently announced a system called Interplay that is intended to define a whole new category in media production technology. It is designed to give everyone on a production team access to shared data within powerful security and revision control. This open system can accommodate more than 100 different media and non-media file types and can link to production tools from virtually any other company.

The core technology of Interplay is a client/server engine that works with any member of the Avid Unity MediaNetwork family of shared-storage systems. Its components include a PC server that acts as its central nervous system connecting to the media assets. Its user software client provides revision control and management capabilities to desktop and laptop systems on the network.

Interplay allows customers to work natively on any resolution, use a background network service to transcode to different resolutions and create as many resolutions and formats of a clip as necessary. Its archive software module lets editors work with low-resolution proxies of archived files either directly from the editing interface or automatically through the system's access tool.

L.T. Martin is a post-production consultant.

The information in this article was received prior to NAB2006.