By Neil Bennett | on October 02, 2000
Price When Reviewed: £599
If you’ve a long memory you may recall advertisements in Digit about 18 months ago looking for beta testers for an unknown video-editing package called MoviePack from an equally unknown company called AIST. Well, here’s the finished product. Although officially named MoviePack 3.0, this is the first commercial release. It managed to get the attention of the crowds at its launch at this year’s IBC conference in Amsterdam – and looking at the feature set it’s not hard to see why. For your £600 you get a combined, full-spec video-editing and compositing package with built-in animation controls. It can also work with any resolution up to full Cineon film resolution, which includes high-end formats such as Film 2k and HDTV. It also runs entirely in software, is totally open, and is almost infinitely expandable. MoviePack does this by having a central engine, MovieX, and building everything else from the interface up on top of this as exchangeable modules. The modules use Windows standards to optimize speed on the OS; for example all of the effects are encased in separate DLLs, the same constituent elements that Windows uses to build itself. AIST has also helpfully created MoviePack’s manual like a partwork, with each chapter separated so you can add more later and mix-&-match the modules you use. If MoviePack is successful, then the modular approach will be one of its main selling points. AIST envisions a worldwide community of companies and individuals expanding the product in ways the company would not have thought of – in the same way as has happened with Adobe Photoshop and 3D Studio Max. Don’t like the interface? Don’t worry, just download a new one. Want to output to Windows Media for streaming? Just download the plug-in. However, this does rely on MoviePack taking off in a big way. I’m not sure AIST has the kind of marketing budget necessary to create enough users to build the kind of community that would do what the company wants with the product. However, in its favour, building modules can be done in standard languages such as C++ and Visual Basic – and more importantly, the product is good enough to obtain the other element necessary to this – devotion from its users. A modular system is worthless if the individual elements fail to deliver excellent overall quality, but fortunately in MoviePack’s case, they do. The central technologies – QPM, ALMT, and ICM – that connect the modules to MovieX allow MoviePack to do things you’d swear required a hardware board. QPM (Queued Processing Management) lets MoviePack wring the most from multiple-processor systems without slowing down for technical tasks like load balancing. ALMT (Adaptive Live Mesh Technology) allows high-grade 3D effects to be previewed in real-time. ICM (Intelligent Cache Management) keeps the rest of effects, transitions and other whizzy things previewing in real-time – although you do need an graphics card with hardware OpenGL support to get the best of these. In keeping with the MoviePack ethos, all three technologies are open source – allowing developers to use them to power their own effects and add-ons. The modules themselves are equally impressive. Open up the standard interface and you get a look-&-feel that’s the bastard offspring of a whole host of editing and compositing apps. This approach is echoed in the module’s feature sets, which combine the best basic features of many different apps. The modules give you a lot to play with. The browser gives access to all the clips, effects, and transitions – and lets you create project albums that are easy to share. The effects and transitions are as fully-featured as those in Adobe Premiere and After Effects – although not as wide ranging (though I should add a ‘yet’ here). However, the ability to preview in real-time is a major bonus. There’s also full support for 3D cameras and light sources, with each layer existing in three dimensions. Not everything matches up to AIST’s claims, however. The package may be able to handle film resolution, but the end result of using the tools on offer aren’t up to that level. The effects, although impressive at this price point, are also no match for a proper software-only compositing tool for film such as Nothing Real’s Shake. There are also no paint tools – again with the ‘yet’ suffix. AIST is aware of this. Higher-end tools based upon the MovieX engine and related technologies are on the way, under the names of Cinergy and Cinergy ++ and, if MoviePack is anything to go by, they may well give Discreet and Nothing Real a run for their money. The few modules that have been announced also give a tantalizing view of the future: with add-ons such as a motion tracker, morphing tools, and the aforementioned video paint. MoviePack may be the start of something big, as long as enough users jump aboard. I hope they do, – it’d be a shame to see something this good go to waste.