There is a wide choice of solutions and choices in the world of Web video production, but one product no one seems to be able to do without is Terran’s Media Cleaner. This all-in, all-out compression and encoding suite for all of the three major formats (Real, Windows Media and QuickTime 4) is used by just about everyone in this marketplace – and editing solution provider Media 100 liked the product so much it bought the company.
iFinish is Media 100’s first release since the two companies got stuck into combining the two technologies. It combines the new version 3.0 of the powerful Finish NT-based editing card/software bundle with the EZ version of Media Cleaner – aiming to provide an any-in, stream out video editing solution in a single purchase. The combining of the two sides of streamed video production will also be seen in Media 100’s Mac products – but the widespread nature of this market means the company is pushing its Windows-based machines more (and the Mac machines do not have the seemingly prerequisite trendy iMac-flavoured name).
There’s two ways to look at this part of the solution, on its own or in comparison to its competitors. On its own it’s not as impressive as it could be. There is little direct integration between the two products apart from the ability to work on hardware-native material in Media Cleaner. This is very useful, as quality is not lost through conversion before encoding, but is not what imagined when I first heard that Media 100 were incorporating Media Cleaner into Finish. I wanted the Media Cleaner engine directly within Finish, being able to switch between compression cleaning and editing in a single application. Media Cleaner cannot even export hardware-native video, which limits this further. Most of what Media Cleaner can do can also be done through the editing application (such as static masks for removing camera ‘noise’) but some of Media Cleaner’s best features (such as Adaptive Noise Reduction) can only be performed at the end of an edit.
The other problem with this incarnation of iFinish is that you are only provided with the EZ (lite) version of Media Cleaner. Anyone serious about streamed media production will have to splash out around another £500 to upgrade to the Pro version, as the EZ only offers a wizard. The problem with this approach, apart from limiting your options if you want to get down and dirty with the encoding, is that the wizard is fatally flawed. To allow for network noise, media encoded for users on 28.8k line (a traditional dial-up line) must be performed at 20k. The wizard encodes at bang on 28.8, which impedes the end user’s experience. So upgrading is a must and Media 100 really should have provided the full version if iFinish really is the all-in-one Web video production studio it claims to be.
In the wider concept, iFinish is very good. There is nothing else on the market that can compete with it (except for Play’s Globecaster live production studio), and as Media 100 owns both sets of technology, the integration can only get tighter until we get what we want. The way forward is seen in iFinish’s integration with After Effects, which preserves the timeline layers when iFinish projects are exported through a toolbar command.
Also, in case you had missed it in all of the furore about Web video, there are also new functions for those who don’t give two SDI connectors for streamed media. Still on a multimedia tip, the MPEG option (which also contains Sonic Solution’s DVDit!SE DVD production studio) opens up an affordable way to create (basic) DVDs. At the higher end, iFinish also offers a selection of new features for those wanting to create broadcast-quality material. The colour correction facilities have been beefed up with curves and levels YUV graphs with enough options to keep a Quantel user happy, which is where these have been taken from (but which is startling at this price point).
iFinish is available in a plethora of different options, ranging from the base but certainly not basic V20 (which automatically comes with the DV option built-in) at £1995 to the everything but the kitchen sink V80 (which includes SDI and DV as standard) at £10295. In between are the V40 and V60, and many add-ons are available – including the aforementioned DV, SDI and MPEG options. There are also a good bunch of third-party apps included with the system, including After Effects (with the integration plug-in), Boris FX 4.0 (not V20), Video Spice Rack (V60 and V80), and Inscriber Titlemotion.
All in all, this makes iFinish a very useful and usable product, but it is only halfway from where the two products were a year ago to where they should be. Hopefully next year a new version will fulfil its potential.