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REVIEW

 

HEAD

WORKSHOP PRACTICE

 

INTRO

Video editing on a PC takes another tentative step forward with the imminent arrival of Maze’s Video Workshop For Windows. We’ve been looking at an early production sample for this exclusive preview in advance of a full review

 

COPY

Video Workshop for Windows from Maze Technology could be a turning point for PC editing, bridging the gap between comparatively simple packages, like Video Director or Camlink’s Edit Mate, and high-end systems such as Video Machine and Video Pilot. As the ‘Windows’ tag implies this product is intended for the IBM PC and compatibles, Maze say they have no immediate plans to produce versions for other platforms, recognising the significant support the PC now has at all levels of video post production.

 

Workshop is a modular system, based around a pair of plug-in cards and operating software. The main board contains its own microprocessor, which goes a long way towards explaining the fairly high price. The dedicated processor speeds up graphic and image handling operations and allows true mutitasking operations, enabling the computer to do other jobs, such as word-processing or titling, at the same time. However, many features of Video Workshop can only be used in conjunction with a video capture board;  Maze bundle a Rombo Media Pro board in with Video Workshop and both packages together with operating software and connecting leads comes to £1,000 (£1175 with VAT).

 

Before we get around to explaining what it all does, a few words about system requirements, in other words what sort of computer you’re going to need, to use Video Workshop. It will run on any moderately fast 386 (25MHz or above) though it’s more at home on a 486; it needs at least 4Mb of RAM memory, 10Mb of free hard disc space and most importantly, a 1Mb display card and SVGA monitor. The PC will also need at least two spare ISA expansion slots; three if you add a genlock card at a later stage, to fully use the system’s titling and special effects facilities.

 

Installation is straightforward enough and it should be possible for most PC owners to do it themselves, though the instructions don’t really cater for absolute novices, and some prior knowledge of the innards of a computer and loading programs is assumed. Providing you get that right the only other hurdle is the nightmare lead from hell... All of Video Workshop’s inputs, outputs and control connections are routed via a single RS232 connector which branches out into 16 separate plugs, sockets and connectors. Maze say they’re thinking about a dedicated external switch/connector box -- like Fast have with the equally horrible Video Machine Lite lead -- the sooner the better we say! Even a simple two-deck set-up soon develops into a nasty tangle that can take ages to sort out if a problem develops. It’s a surprisingly amateurish and cheapskate aspect to a product that hopes to gain professional acceptance.

 

BUT WHAT IS IT?

Yes, yes, but what is it?  Essentially Video Workshop is a sophisticated three-machine edit controller. It can operate all of the primary transport functions of two playback machines, and one record deck, the Windows based software it is very easy to use with all operations controlled by pointing and clicking at on-screen icons, via the PC’s mouse. It employs the most common edit control systems, used on domestic camcorders and VCRs (LANC (Control L), Panasonic 5/11 pin), plus the RS232 and RS422 protocols used on professional editing equipment. It also has a learning infra-red control system for machines that do not have editing terminals. Video Director  can read most commonly used timecodes (VITC, RCTC, LTC etc.), so with the right decks edit accuracy can be close to professional standards (+/- 2 frames). It can also control a range of external devices via a GPI (general purpose interface) or RS232 port.

 

So far none of that is particularly unusual but where Video Workshop differs from other PC based edit controllers is in its use of visuals and graphics, to help speed up and simplify the editing process. The Desktop is divided into five distinct areas; there’s a familiar-looking VCR control panel, and an edit control panel, for designating in and out points. However,  what you won’t have seen before are a scaleable (you can alter it’s shape, size  and position) video input window, showing the currently selected video image, and two extra windows called ‘preview’ and ‘storyboard’. The storyboard is an alternative to an edit decision list, but it’s not compulsory, a conventional text based EDL can be called up instead. However, in the storyboard mode it will display a series of small frozen images or picons (picture icons) of the edit in points (and edit out points as well if desired), along with tape counter or timecode readouts, and a short description, it almost, but not quite a time-line editing. Having this kind of visual prompt can be an enormous help in long or complicated productions. The ‘preview’ window works like a kind of electronic ‘flick-book’ skimming through the picons so you can get a very quick overview of the production.

 

Flexibility and upgradability are the most important features. The desktop can be easily rearranged and windows modified  to suit the user’s needs and working patterns, and all of the key functions can be configured to work with a wide range of hardware, including AV mixers, like the Panasonic MX30 or MX50, Video X and Coriovision, as well as genlocks and other devices. In short that means Video Workshop can be tailored to work with just a camcorder and VCR in a simple domestic editing system, or as part of a full blown professional edit suite. There’s a range of special effects including synchronised playback of computer generated or stored ‘WAV’ audio files, and automated playback of sound-effects from an internal or external CD deck. Naturally Workshop will work in conjunction with other Maze video packages, including the highly acclaimed PC-Titler, and it can call up graphics, title or animation sequences during edits. It will also work with other graphic packages, including Autodesk Animator, 3D Studio and Animator Pro.

 

PERFORMANCE

At this point it is customary to tell you how well it worked. Unfortunately our very early hand-built sample was not up to a full evaluation. It worked satisfactorily for us on Maze’s own testbed PC but the hardware and software proved to be rather unstable on our own 386 and 486 machines, crashing several times, so rather than go ahead with a full review we’ve decided to wait to see a production version, hopefully within the next couple of months, though Maze have told us they are changing chip suppliers, so we can’t be certain. We can tell you that on the Maze PC all the storyboard functions worked very well indeed and it successfully read our timecoded test tapes.

 

VERDICT

As we’ve said we’ll reserve the final judgement until we see the finished product but the signs are encouraging, providing it works as well as the demo system suggests. Video Workshop could turn out to be the new standard in affordable PC editing, watch this space.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                              The Video Workshop For Windows

Guide price                                £1000 (ex. VAT)

System requirements                 IBM PC or compatible, 386/486 4Mb RAM, SVGA monitor, 1Mb graphics card (see text), two free ISA slots, MS DOS 3.3 or higher, Windows 3.1

Video input/output              Composite or S-Video

Camcorder/VCR Control    LANC, Panasonic 5/11-pin, RS232, RS422, learning infra red

Distributor                                 MAZE TECHNOLOGY, Zenith House, 210 Church Road, Leyton E10 7JQ Telephone 081-556 5620 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1994 1009

 

 

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