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Defining the Entry Level Pro NLE
by Jon Leland
Originally published in Videography Magazine, July, 2002

The rapid and dynamic evolution of the digital video desktop has produced new categories of NLE (non-linear editing) systems that the marketplace is yet to define. Contemplation of the Matrox RTMac with Adobe Premiere bundle led me to create my own definition of an “entry level, professional system.” These requirements include real time, full screen NTSC previews, analog inputs and dual monitor support. By bundling with Adobe Premiere, the good news is that this system is surprisingly inexpensive.

Matrox RTMac Adobe Premiere bundleThe reality is that we live in a world that is often confusing because along with innovation comes an avalanche of choices. Mix this together with an over abundance of marketing hype which often (intentionally or not) clouds distinctions by randomly defining and redefining terms (including ones like “real time effects”), and it’s no wonder that even professional buyers can easily get lost in the storm of options.

And then, of course, at the user’s end, there are also a variety of requirements to be considered including differing types of programs, program lengths, production values (how much layering do you really need?), and (one of my favorite subjects) various distribution destinations and avenues including DVD and the Web, just to name two relatively new ones.

Who Are You?
While broadcast post-production pros would never be interested in entry level NLEs, there are also a very broad array of professional videographers for whom access to a competent editing system, especially at a reasonable cost, offers an alternative that might not have been viable with earlier versions of these same technologies. This is especially true because of Firewire (IEEE 1394) and DV-based editing software like Adobe Premiere 6 (among others.)

Personally, I sit on that very fence myself. I typically operate more as a writer/director/producer, than I as an editor — although I’ve cut my share of shows myself. The question I’m bringing up here is something that Videography focused on for several years by calling it the “Project Studio.” The economic concept seems to me to be that, at some point, as systems continue to become more powerful while also becoming less expensive (paralleling the astounding evolution of personal computers), there has to come a point where it just makes more sense to own your own editing system, rather than to rent one on a project basis.

Of course, when you factor in the learning curve and the maintenance and other time requirements, that decision has more to it than just a simple price/performance analysis — but the trend is still a very significant one.

Matrox RTMac & Premiere
What intrigued me about the RTMac-Premiere bundle (officially known as Matrox RTMac with Adobe Premiere) was the fact that it seemed to integrate a lot of what I consider “bottom line” requirements for a professional system at an impressively low cost (or “financial entry point.”) Also, because I like to be the champion of over-looked products (although I can’t really call Adobe an “underdog”), I was also interested to sort out the reasons that the RTMac (because it is a Mac product) is much better known for its support for Apple’s Final Cut Pro. And, I guess I was especially interested because you could buy this whole hardware/software system (software and hardware) for about $200 less than the Final Cut Pro software costs by itself.

Here are those details: the “stand alone” Matrox RTMac board and breakout box for either Final Cut Pro owners or current Premiere owners costs $599. But if you don’t own either, and you want to buy the bundle, you can get the RTMac with Adobe Premiere for $799. A new version of Final Cut Pro costs $999. (no discounts available), while the street price of Adobe Premiere is about $550.

I’m not going to get into the phenomenon that has become Final Cut Pro. It has deservedly received impressive buzz and popularity. It’s an excellent product and I’m a Mac user, so I’m naturally drawn to it.

But, on the other hand, in today’s climate, a savings of a few dollars is generally greatly appreciated. In fact, if you add $999 (FCP) and $599 (RTMac stand alone), that’s almost $1,600 which makes the RTMac-Premiere bundle about half the price. Given that the differences (and I’m not going to take the space here to debate them) are relatively minor (at least in my opinion), I I think that this product bundle creates an entry point that some video pros will certainly want to consider.

Beyond Real Time
As I mentioned in defining this “entry point,” there’s more to a hardware solution like the RTMac than just real time effects, even though that’s what this product is named for (RT).

Beyond the fact that I find Adobe Premiere 6 to be a quite capable, easy-to-use NLE software package that still suffers from the painful memories caused by the shortcomings of it’s earlier versions (forget what you remember about Premiere 4)… and beyond the fact that there is another, newer version of Premiere on the near term horizon (version 6.5), the features of which I was not at liberty to disclose at press time — what the Matrox RTMac hardware brings to this editing party that is at least as important as real time effects — is features that no professional editing system should be without.

For example, since the earliest days of digital video on the desktop, I’ve been talking and teaching about the importance of previewing on an NTSC monitor (assuming you are in North America or another NTSC country. Those of you who are elsewhere please make the appropriate conversion by replacing “NTSC” with “PAL” because that video format is also supported by the RTMac I/O.)

This is a DV-based system, so we’re not talking about support for those of you who are shooting in HD or digi-Beta, but for those of you who are shooting DVCAM, DVC-Pro or mini-DV, the RTMac is DV native. But, rather than taking the rather clunky approach of using your camcorder as the DV device to support an NTSC monitor, RTMac has that built-in. When you use this kind of set up, the result is just like a higher end system. You get your program preview in an NTSC monitor at all times, in real time, full screen, full DV resolution. In other words, in my opinion, you need to add the cost of a good NTSC monitor to your system, no matter what kind of software and hardware you buy.

At a certain point, the decision really comes down to your professional needs, including both your post production “style” as well as your clientele and/or the types of productions that you undertake.

Input & Monitor Options
The other thing that RTMac provides is analog input. Once again, if you require component inputs and/or outputs, this is not going to be your system; but if composite and S-Video in and out are acceptable in order to integrate footage which may have been acquired on BetacamSP or for which (God forbid) there is only a VHS copy available, you can digitize that footage right into this DV-native system using the RTMac. Certainly, this level of basic flexibility is another feature that even a modest professional must require.

And, yes, RTMac does do some real time effects, minimizing the need for time-consuming rendering; and they certainly do it as well as anyone at this price point. But, again, the purpose of this article is not to labor over differences between the RTMac and competitive products from Pinnacle and others. My purpose is to point out to those of you who may be looking for a cost effective way to get your own NLE system, both what I think you need — bottom line — and what I think is the most cost effective entry point, at the moment, on the Mac.

Knowing What’s Right for You
Obviously, I am assuming that price is an issue. For some of you, it is not, or certainly not at this level, and probably very few of you with those kinds of needs are still reading. If you are still here, there are a couple of questions that you might want to ask yourself: What are my most common output scenarios? If you are outputting more to the Web or to CD, for example, the absence of component output is not going to be as important. You might also ask how important very specific software features are to you that might be different in one package over another. One thing I certainly like about Adobe Premiere is the “Adobe” part. For some users, Premiere’s excellent integration and user interface similarities with After Effects are important considerations.

I could go on, but at a certain point, the decision really comes down to your professional needs, including both your post production “style” as well as your clientele and/or the types of productions that you undertake.

And, then there’s the future. We all know that all of these changes and increasing new options are going to continue, rapidly and dynamically. And, for sure, DV is here to stay; and its popularity will continue to make more cost effective solutions available.

Enjoy… and stay tuned.

Jon Leland welcomes feedback and suggestions via e-mail at [email protected]


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