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Processing DV Production
Posted Oct 22, 2003 - May 2005 Issue Print Version     Page 1of 3 next »

As a small-shop digital studio, how much time will the latest hyperthreaded PC processors and dual-processor systems save you on your video editing work, and how fast will you recoup your investment on these speedy new systems?

In a previous life, I was VP of sales for a firm that sold restaurant computer systems. Called Squirrel, this is actually the company that makes those elegant touchscreen terminals you may see now and then in finer restaurants. Working with a rookie sales rep one day, we demonstrated the system to a restaurateur who had just purchased a run-down country club.

I had done my homework beforehand, identifying needs and savings, and once on-site we did a good job showing how the system would easily pay for itself in less than two years. The owner had nodded his acceptance during the demo, so I was looking forward to a smooth close.

When he declined to move forward, I pointed out that he had agreed that the system would pay for itself in two years or less. He replied, "That's what all the suppliers prove, Jan, including the PBX, rug, and furniture supplier. If I purchased everything that would pay for itself in under two years today, I'd be broke and out of business by next week. My priority is getting the customers in the door and guaranteeing a good experience. So it's phones and furniture first, then the computer system."

Perhaps if I had been Zig Ziglar or Tom Hopkins I would have had a glib reply, a surefire way to overcome this objection. But his logic made sense, so we wished him luck and promised to keep in touch.

Like the restaurateur in my story, video professionals are bombarded with offers of products that will improve the quality of their productions, streamline their efforts, or both. However, if you bought them all today, you would definitely be out of business next week.

Let me suggest that the priority for any one- or two-person video shop should be saving time. If you can find a product that will shave hours off your production cycle—time that you can then convert to more billable hours, higher margins, or both—you should buy it. If not, you should decline—politely, of course.

Here, we look at Windows computer systems with a strict focus on the payback period for video studios. We make some assumptions about billable hours and productivity up front, and then use these to determine how long it will take for a particular computer, or computer component, to pay for itself in terms of time saved.

Our Assumptions
Here are our critical assumptions, and you can scale our findings one way or the other depending upon how they relate to your actual situation. First, we assumed that you would not purchase a hardware-based editing solution, preferring to use the processor-based, real-time editing features offered in Premiere and most other current video editors.

In computing how long it would take to recoup your investment, we assumed that you were producing 30 minutes of video per week, output to DVD, using Adobe's new Premiere Pro (see sidebar, "Hyperthreading? That's What I'm Talking About!"). We assumed that you have more than one computer, and aren't totally dead in the water during final rendering. So if the equipment saved you an hour of rendering time, we figured you would be 75% productive during that time (compared to your productivity on your primary PC when it's not bogged down with rendering), and assumed that the equipment would boost productivity by 25%. Simply stated, if the computer rendered one hour faster than our baseline test bed, we assumed that you gained 15 minutes of productive time. sidebar mentioned here

Like most editors, Premiere Pro offers real-time previews for most effects, but we assumed that for most projects, you'd like to see actual rendered video, just to be sure. While you wouldn't necessarily preview every frame, we figured you would probably preview the most complex edits once if not several times. To simplify testing and our mathematics, we assumed that you would preview the entire project once during the course of production. Some sections several times, some sections never, but averaging out to the entire video once.

Unlike end-of-project rendering, however, preview speed significantly assists productivity, perhaps not 1:1, because you still need time to check email and get that 15th cup of coffee, but more than final rendering. So we assumed that you would be only 25% productive during that period; if the system saved you an hour of preview time, we assumed that this would convert to 45 minutes of additional productivity.

We assumed that you're currently working with a 2.4gHz Pentium 4 computer without hyperthreaded (HT) technology, with 500MB RAM and non-SCSI hard disk drives. Finally, we assumed that you'd like to make at least $75/hour while editing, and that you bill the client by the job, not the hour. Thus, the productivity added by this equipment should translate directly into higher margins and more billings.

Our test project was a 30-minute video with multiple segments, background audio, and a range of motion, chroma key, overlay, picture-in-picture, blur, and other effects. We tested on an HPxw4100 workstation with a 3.2gHz Pentium 4 processor and a dual 3.06gHz Xeon Dell Precision 650 workstation, changing processor and RAM configurations as needed for our tests. 

For system pricing, we averaged prices from Dell, Gateway, and Hewlett-Packard for the Pentium 4 system, and prices from Dell and Hewlett-Packard for the single and dual-processor Xeon systems.

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