By Neil Bennett | on September 18, 2000
Price When Reviewed: £5,000 plus VAT
Purple is one of the first of the new breed of professional-only DV editing systems. FAST already has a couple of DV products, DV.now and Clipmaster, but this is a completely different clip bin of fish. Those products sit in the sub-£500 price bracket – but Purple is a full-spec editing solution with a price tag starting at £5,000 (including workstation). Although essentially a board-&-software solution, Purple will only be available as a turnkey solution for the foreseeable future. It will be released on its own, but FAST hasn’t specified when. If you want to upgrade your current edit suite, this is rather annoying. However, thinking back to how much trouble we had installing the company’s DV.now product, this may actually be a good thing as Purple uses a very similar IEEE 1394 (FireWire) card. So if Purple’s hardware board is the same as that found in a £500 product, how can FAST justify charging around £2,000 for the editing software (if you subtract the cost of the workstation)? The simple answer is the software. Purple uses the same FAST-Studio 2.5 software as the company’s higher-end solutions: Silver and the forthcoming Blue. All that has been changed is the capture codecs – DV rather than the MPEG-2 base of Silver and the every-in/any-out ability of Blue. Like Discreet’s combustion* (reviewed last issue), the software will either instantly draw you in or turn you off. It uses the same ‘artist-style’ interface that focuses heavily on two video windows for intuitive controls, but has crossbred this with the conventional Windows interface in an attempt to get the best of both worlds. The interface also takes over your computer. Fire up FAST-Studio and to all intents and purposes NT disappears. Certain elements do remain, such as the taskbar and Start menu, but a single click will tell you that these are part of the editing software. The Start menu has items on it like applications and setting tabs – and even a Control Panel icon – but these are for FAST-Studio. The only applications available from here are FAST-Studio’s side apps such as the titling tool – and the settings allow you to customize internal styles such as keyboard shortcuts. The desktop is the same – being part of the editing tool. What this allows you to do is drag clips from the project bins onto the desktop, for example to create a simple storyboard. Clips or groups of clips can then be played back to give a general idea how a piece will look without the need to fiddle with the timeline. The downside of this approach is that it makes it very hard to interact with other applications. Running FAST-Studio alongside an effects or compositing app such as Adobe After Effects or Pinnacle’s Commotion is nigh-on impossible. FAST says that this doesn’t matter as the editing app is so power-hungry that even if it was easy to switch, you wouldn’t want to anyway. However, if this were true then the company’s solution to the problem wouldn’t work properly either. FAST-Studio can work with a wide range of Adobe Premiere plug-ins, so compositing and effects work can be performed within the application through high-end plug-ins such as Boris Red. Red is an excellent package and using it internally is intrinsically better than swapping to an external effects tool, but it’s almost as processor-heavy inside FAST-Studio as After Effects is outside it. The other side of the interface works well, although it’s not quite as intuitive as combustion*. The timeline works as standard although there are no specific video or audio tracks. This will either make your timelines easier to understand or very messy, depending on how organized you are. Click on the effects editors and everything seems to mutate around you. The original toolbar disappears and new bars appear. On the left, conventional sliders can be used to control effects and transitions are with most packages, but on the right a series of buttons let you pick your tool and work visually on the video itself by dragging. Whether this works for you or not is a matter of personal choice but almost every effect you could wish for is possible using the intuitive interface. Get beyond the interface and there’s much that’s convincing. The industry standards for higher-end editing are all here – unlimited tracks, auto-keyframing, and so forth – with some making their first appearance on a DV-editing system. These features include sub-pixel rendering for highly accurate effects and background rendering. Set up an effect and click out of the effects editor and FAST-Studio will automatically start rendering in the background, allowing you to continue editing. You can see the effects of a render up to the current point it has got to at any time. If the software impresses you, then it’s likely that the hardware will as well. FAST-Studio requires a system with a certain set of criteria - and to the company’s credit it has left it at this, rather than tying it to any particular manufacturer. This lets you go with whichever reseller you want and pick a system that fits your needs precisely. To work with FAST-Studio you really need a dual-processor, dual-monitor system. Fortunately even the basic workstation specs, which you should be able to obtain for the £5,000 base price, includes two 700MHz Pentium III processors. The bad news is that it only comes with only a single monitor. Another monitor is really a necessity, which raises the base price to around £5,500. The rest of the base spec is largely impressive. The graphics are driven by a Matrox G400 AGP card with 32MB of memory, which will drive both monitors quite happily. The 40GB video drive, coupled with a 20GB system drive, should be large enough for most projects. The Creative Labs SoundBlaster Live! 1024, with its spec of 64 hardware voices, should also make high-quality audio editing possible. However, the base system is let down by 128MB of RAM – upgrading to 256MB is a smart idea that will save on rendering time. FAST also offers two options for those looking to give their hardware a boost: Purple.Control – a desktop jog/shuttle control – and Purple.InTime – a rendering acceleration board. The InTime board takes the pressure off your processors, performing background rendering while your chips keep you editing. With 3.9 gigaflops of processing power, it’s an impressive but expensive option. At over £4,000 it just can’t deliver the same power/price ratio as, for example, ICE’s Blue Ice card can to a wide range of other editing and effects packages. The jog/shuttle control is a much better investment. The unit is a professional-level control, which is precisely the right size for the average hand and possesses a responsive wheel with an easy-to-use high-speed circle around it. The buttons are well positioned and easily configurable from within the FAST-Studio Control Panel. However, they do need a hefty whack to get them to respond – so it’s not for 90-pound weaklings. Purple is a powerful editing solution that requires a serious test drive before purchase. – and as it uses the same software as higher-end products it can only get more powerful.