Promises Delivered

This has been a pivotal year for the video production industry; fighting a sour economy on one hand and the soaring challenge of HD migration on the other.
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This has been a pivotal year for the video production industry; fighting a sour economy on one hand and the soaring challenge of HD migration on the other. It's a sure bet that three years ago when Avid Technology launched a $50 million R & D program to develop their DNA ("Digital Nonlinear Accelerator") technology to supercharge their whole line of NLE's they had counted on planting their seeds in more fertile soil.

The project's security was so tight that even after DNA was sprung unexpectedly at Avid's NAB2003 press gala, many were slow to comprehend its significance. Now, from a year-end perspective, the company whose systems are responsible for posting over 95 percent of all primetime TV fare has kept its promises of both delivery and performance for DNA's double helix combination of software and hardware editing speed along with advanced finishing capabilities.

KEEPING TO THE SCHEDULE

Avid Adrenaline for their core standard definition Media Composer and NewsCutter systems had a launch date of Q2 and left the pad in the middle of that quarter on May 29. Predicted to hatch in Q3, Avid Mojo for their DV-oriented Avid Xpress Pro software fled the nest just under the line on Sept. 29. Its dual-stream uncompressed HD system, Avid Nitris, also slated for a Q3 debut, walked down the aisle on Oct. 15th, close enough in an industry famous for its vaporware.

"Everything we announced has shipped," beams Steve Chazin, Senior Manager of Product Marketing at Avid. "Its acceptance has surpassed our wildest expectation and we really can't build these systems fast enough. For example, Mojo orders are three times what we expected."

Chazin laughs that he's cherishing a five-minute voice mail message from a senior editor at the PBS powerhouse WGBH whose entire content is a repetition of "Mojo is the Bomb! Mojo is the Bomb!" (for the clueless, "Bomb" is an expression of approbation). "It's the convenience of getting realtime DV output from a system that fits in a backpack that makes Mojo so special," Chazin says.

As the portable Avid DNA, Avid Mojo also supports 24p digital video and allows users to send uncompressed video over a standard FireWire cable. Responding to customer requests, Avid has added 4:2:2 component video I/O with a software update and an additional cable kit. Sure you can buy the cables from Avid for $75, but the pin-out descriptions are available on the Avid Web site's Knowledge Center if you want to make your own.

While you are on the Avid site, by the way, you might want to check out Avid's Free DV, a streamlined editing freeware giving you the basics of the Avid interface for both Windows or Mac. With little fanfare, there had been 50,000 downloads of Free DV by the beginning of October. It has been said that Free DV has more editing capabilities than the original Avids of a decade ago. That's a promise delivered that wasn't really even promised.

OUT IN THE FIELD

But how is DNA working in the field? Last August, Grace & Wild, a Detroit-area-based post house exchanged eight Avid 9000 Media Composers for nine Avid Adrenaline systems sharing storage through Avid Unity. "We saw Adrenaline at NAB2003 and everyone said 'Yeah, yeah, a whole new hardware from Avid. But when is this going to be real?" recalls Keith Neff, Grace & Wild's CTO. "Then they turned around a couple of months later and delivered."

Installation at Grace & Wild's two divisions, HD Studios and Postique Griot, took just one weekend and the biggest learning curve was apparently converting its previously Mac-trained editors on their Media Composers to the Windows operating system that Adrenaline uses. "Despite some of the usual minor bug fixes we were operational from day one," Neff says. "Our editors love the increased bandwidth and real-time capabilities with four streams of video."

Jeff Larkin, a senior Avid editor at Grace & Wild's HD Studios, says Adrenaline is a big jump up for Media Composer editors. "There are a lot more toys for editors to experiment with," Larkin says. "For example, they brought over the advanced color correction tools derived from Avid Symphony into the new Adrenaline which the Media Composer Meridian couldn't access. They also included the Avid Marquee 3D titling program that has been sitting on the shelf ever since the old Avid Illusion. This opens up a whole new highway of creative output for us."

The most powerful system in Avid's new DNA family is Avid DS Nitris, capable of delivering real-time effects in HD for up to two streams of 10-bit high definition video along with a wide range of formats from DV 25 to 2K. On the East Coast, the full service post and rental facility PostWorks NY was one of the first to obtain an Avid DS Nitris system to service its broadcast and film clients. It will be in good company in the PostWorks fleet of more than 110 other Avid NLE's.

PostWorks' director of engineering, Jim McKenna, admits that being a beta tester for Nitris was "sort of mandatory." "We simply can't support a new architecture and software without knowing how reliable it will be," McKenna declares. "Beta testing assures us the system will live up to its promise."

McKenna appreciates the fact that Avid DS Nitris hardware depends on the speed of the host processor because CPUs are going to continue to increase in speed as time goes on. "Avid is leveraging the meatiest part of the computer industry," he asserts, "as opposed to relying on custom-built dedicated boards that will soon be overtaken. This should give the DNA concept a better growth pattern as processors inevitably get faster."

McKenna has been looking for realtime HD capabilities for a long time. "Just the fact that we can have an entire title sequence above a timeline and have it play out in real time even with DVE positioning is pretty amazing stuff," as he puts it. "With no rendering needed, that saves our clients a lot of billable time."

That can be crucial in this tight economy. "The great feature of Avid DS Nitris that blows away its competition is its ability to import Avid sequences directly via AFE (Avid File Exchange) and turn it into a multi-track timeline that reassembles itself right before your eyes, complete with text in the proper font, format and position," McKenna says. "We've had a lot of subtitle jobs that would have been prohibitive to recreate with other technologies if we had to go into a different titling application and do them all over. For what we need it does a whole lot more than any other system can offer."

The bottom line of these promises delivered is that even in these tough times, Avid has posted a profit six quarters in a row. In fact, David Krall, Avid's president and chief executive officer, has said, "Year-over-year, the combination of our increasing revenue, expanding gross margins, and cost containment efforts enabled us to generate more than five times the quarterly net income posted just one year ago."

A promise delivered is a promise kept.