FAST Picks Up the Pace

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There is a lot of international excitement in digital postproduction these days, and one of the most intriguing lines providing some of the best cost/benefit performance in full-featured nonlinear edit systems is from FAST Multimedia AG, which is headquartered in Munich, Germany.

In March 1992, FAST was the first company to offer us a-real time, dual-stream NLE, the Video Machine, and by the end of 1995 the company had introduced AV Master, an entry-level hardware/software package featuring the first PCI bus mastering capability from a compression card for Windows NT/95.

Then in 1997 FAST began demonstrating something called "blue," a system that the company touted as capable of handling any video playback/recording variety in its native format all mixed together on the same platform.


Last year FAST reorganized its currently shipping professional editing line. What once was called FAST601 is now re-named "silver," an MPEG-2 editing system whose variable compression can operate all the way up to full uncompressed YUV video. silver benefits from the greater storage efficiency of MPEG, and although it edits the video in I-frame only, it can output a long GOP ("Group of Pictures") in real time with its Print DVD option for burning DVD disks or satellite or landline transmission.

Then during the summer FAST brought out "purple" for DV, DVCAM and DVCPRO editing geared for the news and corporate markets. A very tantalizing advance for purple is that because it now has a Sony Broadcast-certified software codec, last December FAST released a software package called purple.Field for the Omnibook 6000 from Hewlett-Packard, Gateway’s Solo and Sony’s VAIO laptop computers, creating breakthrough mobile field editing systems for remote DV editing.

Already, one of Germany’s major TV broadcasters – ZDF – has purchased 10 purple.Field systems for reporters cutting packages on-the-go. Even better, the standard package of purple.Field comes set up for streaming media via the Internet with the built-in addition of Media Cleaner EZ from Terran Interactive.

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"This is our opening foray into remote news editing," explained, Brad Swenson, product manager for FAST Multimedia. "There is a lot of need these days for journalists to get their stories back to the home station quickly, so what the ZDF reporters do is compress their stories into a low-resolution file and send them home over the Internet for review. If ZDF decides to air the story, the reporter goes to a traditional satellite uplink center and zaps the full-resolution version to the station for broadcast."

Just this month, FAST has announced significant enhancements its NLEs, starting with the release of the silver.FX and purple.FX software plug-in options, which add the Z layer to the 2D editor thereby enabling 3D-effects creation.

With FAST’s new InTime Processing multiple CPU board, all effects rendering can be accomplished in the background without hindering editing on the timeline. Using two InTime Processing boards together users can get the power of up to 12 asynchronous processors churning away at a rate of 7.2 gigaflops for faster-than-real-time effects rendering.

But perhaps the most important release this February from FAST is its new Version 2.55 FASTstudio software, which runs both the purple and silver editors. Despite its "dot55" label, this is a major step forward in functionality for both systems. Its features include Xsend, which lets the user send either single clips or whole sequences to other compatible applications such as Adobe After Effects for compositing.

Version 2.55 also provides a QuickTime shell for all of FAST’s media, which means that the clips themselves no longer need to be exported as huge video files for use in applications such as AfterEffects or MediaCleaner. Instead, a small additional file containing ClipIn, ClipOut, ReelName and CaptureName information about the clips is created so the audio/video media can be imported through FAST’s new native QuickTime codec. One tasty benefit to this is that with Version 2.55 even imported clips can be batch-captured.

All this will be on display at NAB 2001. FAST Multimedia is even hinting that it is working with another German company to provide satellite uplink capabilities from silver and purple, although details could not be confirmed by press time.

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But what about the other color in the FAST rainbow, namely blue?

I have been tracking blue ever since FAST gave a concept demonstration of it at NAB ’97, and I believe that although we have seen progressive increments of the system over the intervening years, blue should not be classified as vaporware. FAST has never promised a shipping date until all the technology involved in this challenging all-in-one system could be worked out.

The concept behind blue is that it should be the ultimate answer to dealing with the burgeoning menagerie of digital formats by making this "Every In, Every Out" system compatible with every video/audio format existing now or planned for the future, whether compressed or uncompressed. Providing format omnipotence, blue is intended to edit all video standards with no degradation by always keeping the signal in its native digital format to prohibit any conversion artifacts. That’s an ambitious goal, and FAST is not going to jump the gun by releasing it prematurely.

"Designing the MPEG codec for blue has slowed us down, especially since some companies are using their own proprietary version of MPEG-2 recording technology," said Swenson, "as has the need to be able to use SDTI [Serial Data Transport Interface] I/O. But now Sony has released the record/playback technology that blue has been waiting for in its new IMX deck. It’s a true 50 Mbps VTR that plays all analog or digital Betacam formats and has SDTI interface with eight channels of audio in and out."

When connected to blue, Sony’s IMX deck can provide native MPEG transfers back and forth. "There are also a ton of DV decks that can transfer their files over high-speed interfaces," said Swenson, "so we feel now that as interfaces such as 270 Mbps SDI and FireWire are being implemented and decks are starting hit the field capable of native digital transfers, the advent of blue may be imminent."

In an industry wrought with unfulfilled promises, FAST Multimedia should be given credit for its honesty regarding blue. "We talked about it too early," admits Swenson, "and have taken a lot of deserved heat for that. So we are not announcing anything prematurely – but when blue is released we will make sure it is ready."

If FAST can pull it off, blue will be a significant accomplishment. Insiders say it’s possible that the company will launch blue at the next IBC show. But until then, the company riding high on its purple and silver wings is not blowing any false trumpets.

FAST edit systems are distributed domestically through FAST Sales U.S. in Champaign, Ill.