Pros: 32-bit processing; wide list of colour and channel processing effects and controls; capable of powerful and high-quality effects.
Cons: Some features missing on Windows versions; specific hardware requirements; interface is quirky; limited file format support in Photoshop.
Conduit Suite by dvGarage is a well-established nodal compositing plug-in that enables users to build effects in Final Cut Pro, Motion, After Effects and Photoshop using a flowchart-based system, similar to that found inside high-end applications such as Shake, Fusion and Nuke. This system is better than a layer-based timeline for building complex visual effects.
Previous editions have only been available for Final Cut for OS X, so we were curious to see how the update stands up to the original. For our tests, we used the new Windows version.
Installation wasn’t entirely smooth. The installer assumes you’re running Photoshop CS2 and AE7 – which, strangely, aren’t officially supported according to the dvGarage Web site – and tries to install to the appropriate directories. CS3 users will have to change this manually. Because Conduit relies on DirectX on Windows systems, which in turn relies on hardware rendering in your system’s graphics card, you’ll need to check the system requirements carefully. A stock ATI Radeon X1800 GTO board worked more or less reliably, but some older nVidia and ATI cards won’t.
The Photoshop and AE plug-ins both invoke the Conduit editor, which includes a list of nodes – effectively micro plug-ins, which include channel and colour processing, and some arithmetic – and an editing environment in which they can be chained together. Photoshop can be used to batch files, so while it’s not as flexible as AE – there’s no keyframing – it can still be used for compositing.
It might be stretching the requirements, but it would have been excellent to see Conduit include all other available plug-ins on a system, as well as its own; Conduit’s nodal approach could be very powerful for sophisticated batching, with many applications, and imagining it as just a video accessory could be a missed opportunity. One surprising limitation is that you can only load PNG or BMP files into the spare image slots in Photoshop, not TIFFs, PSDs or JPEGs.
The AE version uses the same editor, but adds links to up to seven input streams, eight sliders, and four colour pickers, with AE’s standard keyframing. Rendering is 32-bit, meaning no corners are cut on video quality, but there’s no 8-bit option for those who want faster output. Users of the FCP version will miss the Plot Window (a useful colour overview feature) and transparent window switching.
Unfortunately you can’t use the transport controls, colour pickers or the sliders while the editor window is open, which is a serious limitation on usefulness. We also had some issues with reliability. A simple RGB - HSV - RGB node chain didn’t work – although to be fair, we weren’t using one of the latest graphics cards, and users of more recent hardware may not experience this glitch.
We wanted to like Conduit, because it has the potential to be extremely powerful and effective. Some fairly simple tweaking produced an excellent colour key, which was much better than any of AE’s built-in keyers, and in Photoshop you can produce creative effects with channels and colour that are hard to create in any other way. If everything worked
as it should, Conduit would be excellent value for money. But all told, the interface quirks and other rough edges meant that we weren’t quite convinced by the new version.