NewTek really made its name with the original Video Toaster, a machine that made video-editing simple and, above all, affordable. Trouble was it ran on the now–defunct Amiga platform. It’s taken a fair while for NewTek to get out a version that runs under Windows NT (a Mac version is being talked about), but this product promises to be as ground–breaking as the original Toaster.
VT isn’t a single product, rather it’s a collection of apps bundled with a very clever card that can input and output uncompressed D1 (broadcast resolution) video. The bundled apps are LightWave VT for producing 3D animations, Aura – a video painting, effects and compositing package – and Speed Razor SE, for on- and offline digital-video editing and compositing.
A farewell card?
NewTek argues that with today’s CPUs hitting
1GHz, and with much wider memory bandwidths, why not let the main processor and motherboard shoulder the burden instead of a card? This is what happens with VT: the software, in the form of Aura and Speed Razor, is always working directly with the video stream stored in the PC’s memory.
However, if the PC is doing all the hard work, then what’s the Toaster card for? The answer is to get the uncompressed D1 video from its source into and out of the computer’s main memory as quickly as possible.
Now for the crunch. Obviously, you can’t keep your whole composition in main memory at once, so in order to keep the video running smoothly you’re going to need a RAID array capable of at least 21MBps throughput. This will add to the overall cost, but at least under NT you can assign partitions from separate, internal IDE drives into
a stripe set, which saves the cost of the power supplies and card associated with a RAID. We were lucky enough to be testing Toaster on a dual PIII 500 machine with a 1GB of RAM and a 27GB external SCSI RAID array, kindly lent to us by workstation manufacturers MAX Black, which was a dream to work with.
You may also be asking yourself how many streams the Toaster card can handle. Which would be asking yourself the wrong question, since the number of streams available during non-linear editing is limited only by the power of the processor, memory and software.
The rest of the solution comprises three apps
for front-to-back video production. NewTek’s LightWave is one of the industry-standard broadcast tools. However, the VT version here is
cut down compared to v5.6 – and closer inspection reveals that it’s really Inspire 3D with a LightWave colour scheme. This means fewer plug-in slots, Modeller limited to only four layers, no numeric input in Modeller and no Inverse Kinematics, although bones are supported for animation. It does have two extra features – preview renders can be sent to the video monitor, so there are no colour-correction surprises when the clips are sent for editing.
The middle of the three apps is Aura VT,
which is a video effects, painting and composition package, also produced by NewTek. This is where
a lot of the matting and greenscreen work in a project goes on, and you can actually carry out quite a bit of the video-clip composition from
within Aura itself. Aura has a number of neat features such as the ability to paint over live
video, Animbrushes – brushes that can be used to paint on animation sequences over live video in conjunction with a special keyframer filter – and Time Stretching, which is the ability to squash or stretch a sequence of frames to match the length
of another clip.
Finally, Speed Razor 4.5 SE is the video-editing application proper. The SE means that it supports the .rtv format, that there are no batch-processing features, a few of the sophisticated render effects aren’t there and the real-time interface for other video cards is missing. Speed Razor is a well-respected application in its own right, and has been previously well received in these pages, largely due to its ability to preview video transitions in real-time to the computer monitor. The program sports a completely customizable user interface and has wide support for drag-&-drop throughout the interface, and its Ripple mode allows extensive relayering and reordering of clips without having
to re-render. Since its ability is entirely software-based, the more power you throw at it, the better it behaves.
All in all, this package brings an unprecedented level of video-editing capability to the desktop, but while rendering speeds are approaching real-time, you won’t get the absolute speed of a custom silicon solution, at least not until Intel processors reach around 1.5GHz. But when you consider that nearest uncompressed video hardware solution comes in at around £7,500, the £2,200 asking price for looks like one of the bargains of the year.