By Neil Bennett | on December 31, 2001
Price: £995 plus VAT
The world of real-time DV editing may be dominated by Matrox and Pinnacle, but smaller players are also getting in on the act. And if Canopus’ DVStorm SE Plus is anything to go by, the big boys are going to get a serious run for their money. The DVStorm SE Plus is a bundle comprising the eponymous card, a breakout box, and Adobe Premiere 6.0 – plus Canopus’ own StormEdit software, Xplode Basics 3D transitions, and SoftMPG Encoder for creating MPEG-1 and MPEG-2 format video. You also get the usual light version of Sonic Foundry’s Acid Style and Boris Graffiti LTD. You don’t have to buy it like this, though. DVStorm SE (no Plus) drops the breakout box and Premiere – and just over £200 from the price. This make it comparable in price to Pinnacle’s Pro-One, which recently dropped in price to £749 (a direct reaction to the DVStorm SE, according to Pinnacle sources), and not too much over Matrox’s RT2500. This is great if you already own Premiere 6.0, and a major plus point for this system as neither of its competitors offer this option. It’s also cheaper to upgrade if you own an earlier version of Premiere. Breakout box Another, less positive, reason why the non-Plus option is worth considering is that the breakout box didn’t impress me. Unconventionally, it doesn’t move the connectors away from your machine: instead it puts them at the front of its case, taking up an external drive slot. While this may appeal to some users, it does limit the way you arrange your desk and doesn’t do what breakout boxes were designed to do – allow you to hide your computer as far away as possible. The box does include an IEEE 1394 (FireWire) connector, however, which makes it unique in this market. Unlike its competitors, it leaves all of the connectors available from the back as well. At the heart of the DVStorm SE is the board. This is based on a proprietary codec and chip designed by Canopus in collaboration with Sony – the other solutions in this market use CCube’s DVExpress codec and chip. The key difference between the two is that while the latter uses the chip’s power to take over everything, the Canopus/Sony setup can harness the power of the host machine. This means that even the most powerful workstation will have fixed real-time abilities if using one of the other cards. Extra layers What’s not flexible is the number of real-time video layers, which is set at three. Even so, that’s one more than the competition. Real-time graphics layers aren’t fixed in number though, and you won’t need too much processing power to push the number into double figures. Even on the moderately specced machine that accompanied the board for testing – a £2,600 tower from CVP featuring a 1.7GHz Pentium 4, 256MB of nippy RD800 RAM, a dual-screen graphics card, a 75GB removable media drive, and all of the other usual specifications – we managed to get more than 30 layers before we had to wait. The DVStorm SE’s real-time facilities work in both Premiere and Canopus’ own StormEdit application. StormEdit is a decent enough application, but suffice to say it isn’t Premiere. Premiere, for all its foibles, is a well-rounded product that almost all digital-video editors are familiar with. There are some features that work only in StormEdit, such as an MPEG and streaming-media encoding tool that sits about half way between the full version of Cleaner and Premiere’s own basic tools, but you’ll almost never have to leave Adobe’s tool if you don’t want to. At first glance, the real-time filters and transitions seem to be only half as good as the DVStorm SE’s competition. You only get 2D real-time effects, with the Xplode Basic rendered 3D effects being very basic indeed, though they do render very quickly. However, the breadth and depth of the DVStorm’s 2D effects allows you to do things in real time that you use much more often than page curls – and you can apply them to regions of the footage, something other systems cannot do even in non-real-time. One such 2D effect is a full set of colour-correction tools including saturation and brightness and contrast (like the Pro-One), RGB (like the RT2500), and YUV (where it’s on its own). It’s the last one that impresses most, being the colour space that video works in when output. Of less day-to-day use, but equally impressive and unique to this product, is the real-time chroma and luma keying. These work well and include a wide range of options. A real-time blur capability also features. Other real-time effects are more obscure. Filters such as Old Film, Pencil Sketch and Sharpen are good to have, but you’re unlikely to be using them every day. DV output Another unique real-time feature found on the DVStorm SE is DV output. It’s simple to use – you can even just play your timeline and press record on your deck if you wanted – and helps save on time and disk space as you don’t need to render out first. DVStorm SE really comes into its own when combining effects. You can keep piling on the filters, transitions and layers of graphics until you reach your machine’s limit – and even the most basic machines are able to beat the results from the other cards on the market. Matrox and Pinnacle still have the edge in some ways. For example, both the RT2500 and Pro-One offer real-time 3D effects such as page curls, which can be useful if you deal with many artistically-challenged clients that are impressed by such things. The RT2500 offers all of Premiere’s own transitions and filters in real-time, giving quicker access to a wide range of preset effects, plus it can capture directly in MPEG-2 and throws in basic DVD authoring. The Pro-One offers better 3D effects than the RT2500 and a useful image stabilization tool. For the great majority of users, however, none of these features are likely to weigh in against the DVStorm. It’s the new benchmark that needs to be beaten – and its competition have certainly been shown a thing or two.