Repeat after me: The Video Toaster is not a toy.
NewTek has struggled with a reputation for producing equipment for amateurs since its introduction of the first Video Toaster in 1991. On one hand, the original appliance sold more than 30,000 units, and many are still in use today. On the other hand, its relatively low price tag÷in an industry dominated by high-ticket items at the time÷created the impression that NewTek's television studio in a box (complete with a wipe of falling sheep) shouldnât be taken seriously by video professionals. Not that the Video Toaster was ever supposed to be considered a toy.
The unit debuted in 1991, running on Commodore's Amiga computer platform. From the beginning, the Video Toaster was designed to be a low-cost solution in a video environment dominated by expensive broadcast-quality equipment. "There was broadcast equipment and nothing else," said Paul Lara, product manager. "The accessibility of the Video Toaster changed the landscape."
Brave New Platform Lara, who had been a Video Toaster enthusiast for years before joining the NewTek team, called the original Toaster "the machine that would not die." In the mid-1990s, however, Commodore suddenly went out of business, and NewTek's sales fell dramatically. NewTek was saved by its Lightwave 3-D software, which had already been adapted for the PC market and was enjoying strong sales. The company took the hint÷and began converting its flagship product for the Windows-based systems. (It also released a successful pen-sized test signal generator, the Calibar, in 1997.) A revamped Video Toaster for Windows NT made its debut in 1999.
Lara said the unit had respectable sales, but was considered an interim product by NewTek from its introduction, an editing system to keep its customers satisfied until its new version, Video Toaster , could be released. New And Improved Launched last month, Video Toaster  builds on the tools from the first two versions, and has expanded to provide greater user versatility. Its built-in switcher offers eight component inputs, and like the 1999 release, offers uncompressed, broadcast-quality video.
The capture card also provides a progressive capture option for DVD or Web projects. An internal sync through NewTek's SX-8 switcher expansion unit, sold separately, allows cheaper cameras without built-in gen lock or separate time base correctors to be used together in live shoots.
The unit also provides on-screen patching for up to 24 sources and allows machine control. Video Toaster  also offers the AR-425 Toasterscope, with a built-in waveform monitor and vectorscope. Other features include a basic nonlinear editor, background generator, 16-channel audio mixer (which can mix computer sources and live sources), and a character generator that recognizes installed True Type fonts.
Video Toaster  also provides NewTek's Lightwave 3-D Express and Aura 2.5 video paint software. And not forgetting its roots, Video Toaster  provides hundreds of real-time transitions, including (of course) falling sheep--though now the sheep are rendered in 3-D. The new system was designed to be intuitive for professionals already used to production hardware, not software.
"That's just what we're after," Lara said. "We wanted to give the people real world equipment that they already know how to use." Now that it's available, Lara hopes to convert Video Toaster critics into users. NewTek's first line of defense is to get as many units out as possible. "It only takes seconds to realize this is a professional video tool," he said.
Mark Pescatore is the editor of Government Video magazine.
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