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Talking Turnkey
Posted May 1, 2003 Print Version     Page 1of 4 next »

Once the province of local resellers who could customize every system to user specs, the turnkey DV editing system is turning into a national phenomenon—or at least a nationally branded one. Gateway's entry into the turnkey DV market with the Digital Film Maker family marks a radical departure from the know-your-niche norm; Laird Telemedia's DVora Media Engine line feels more video-centric but it's still a bundled box. The question remains: can these pre-set pre-configs meet your needs?

May 2003|What do Laird Telemedia, a relatively small digital video technology company, and Gateway, the huge maker of computers in cow-colored boxes, have in common? It's not a trick question, really: both have marketers who have targeted digital video editors and enthusiasts with pre-configured, turnkey video editing systems. Both purport to give you all you need to be up and editing with little more than plugging in and booting up. But make no mistake, these are two different systems with different audiences. Either is a good deal, but only for the right buyer. Which is right for you? Naturally, that's the trickier question.

We tested both Laird's DVC1PRO-XPDV and Gateway 700XL Digital Film Maker; not necessarily in a direct comparison, but to examine the benefits of similarly marketed products from two very different types of integrators serving dissimilar channels. Laird and Gateway are by no means the only companies with digital video editing turnkeys: 1Beyond, ProMax, Polywell, and even B&H Photo & Video offer systems that sound much the same.

Even though Gateway is a vastly larger company than Laird Telemedia, simply by virtue of its national distribution outlook, Laird is categorically larger than the majority of companies who have thrown their hat into the turnkey DV ring—which explains why most of the names listed above may leave you scratching your head, and why anyone familiar with the field may look askance at a mass-market PC behemoth like Gateway trying to compete in such a niche market. With customized turnkey configurations largely the bailiwick of dedicated local resellers since the early days of digital video editing more than a decade ago, can a company as large as Gateway truly serve your individual needs?

Just Boxes?
The basic configurations of the Laird and Gateway systems submitted for review are similar. Each uses a fairly up-to-date Intel Pentium 4 processor with 512MB RAM. Each has two 7200rpm Seagate drives installed so you're appropriately not using your system drive for video capture and media storage. And each comes with a DVI and 15-pin RGB dual-head graphics card for the dual-monitor desktops (which are so helpful in liberating the various bins and windows of today's video editing software interfaces), as well as sound cards, FireWire, and Internet connectivity. And they both run Windows XP—Laird has XP Professional while Gateway offers XP Home as default with XP Pro a $99 add-on.

Yet there are some obvious differences at this basic system level, and a high-volume computer maker like Gateway has a distinct advantage over a smaller company like Laird. For example, our Gateway 700XL features the 3.06gHz hyper-threaded processor, while Laird's turnkey has just been upgraded to an older-generation 2.66gHz. (The impact of hyper-threading is largely untested at present; keep in mind that its benefits are application-specific, and depend on how well the program you're running is optimized to take advantage of it. For more on HT, see Phil De Lancie's "DV on HT Time," www.emedialive.com/r17/2003/DeLancie0403.html.) The demo system we received from Laird was actually an older 2.0gHz, although the price will not change as Laird standardizes on the 2.66gHz CPU. Gateway's full tower includes a DVD-Multi DVD-R/RAM in one bay and a 48X CD-R/RW in the other, plus two handy FireWire ports for DV camcorders and external drives in the front as well as the back. The Laird "midtower" comes with a CD-RW drive and standard back-panel 1394 ports.

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