My “heart” language for editing is the NewTek Video Toaster. I was one of the first videographers in the Twin Cities area to purchase the original Toaster in 1990. Compared to other video equipment at the time, it was relatively inexpensive, but for someone just starting out, it was a major investment. And it paid off handsomely. As Toaster evolved and migrated to Windows, you got much more than just an editor: You got a switcher, a 3D graphics application (LightWave), a paint program (Aura), a character generator, and a whole lot more—most of which, I might add, was never used.
In 2007 NewTek did some major surgery on the Toaster (VT as it was then called) by extracting the editor and introducing it as a stand-alone piece of software called SpeedEDIT. The company billed it as the “world’s fastest editor.” It was fast, but ultimately its speed depended on the processor speed of the computer. It was a Windows-based editor, just like its big brother, VT. However, even though it was fast and did many of the things it was designed to do, I felt that it still needed to mature in order to compete with more popular applications such as Final Cut Pro on the Mac and Vegas and Premiere on the Windows side. Jan. 10, 2010, brought the long-awaited announcement that NewTek was shipping SpeedEDIT 2. This was the major upgrade that SpeedEDIT needed to be competitive. It was no longer hyped as “world’s fastest,” though I personally don’t care as long as it helps me complete projects quickly and allows my business to be profitable. In this review I’ll give an overview of many of the key features offered in SpeedEDIT and the significant improvements found in SpeedEDIT 2.
The Ripple Effect
The original Amiga Toaster Flyer was different from any other nonlinear system of its day because it used a storyboard interface instead of a timeline for editing. Those of us who started editing with a storyboard found it to be very intuitive and easy to learn. We discovered that there was a real advantage in being able to move a clip, or drop in a new clip, and instantly be able to play it without rendering.
The Windows-based Toaster introduced a timeline interface but wisely kept the storyboard editor as well. When I edit using VT (SpeedEDIT), I like to keep the storyboard screen in Ripple mode so that any changes I make to the clips are automatically adjusted on both screens. I keep the Ripple adjustment off on my timeline so that I can have the option of making changes—especially in layering—without it affecting all of the other clips. SpeedEDIT and SpeedEDIT 2 essentially look the same, with both having the two types of edit screens (Figure 1, below).
Figure 1. Storyboard and timeline edit screens in SpeedEDIT and SpeedEDIT2
SpeedEDIT 2 has keystrokes that allow you to quickly change from one screen to another or to have them both up at the same time. When you look at the two screens for SpeedEDIT (1 and 2), they appear deceptively simple; however, I’ve found SpeedEDIT to be very sophisticated and well-designed to allow for fast and creative editing. Many of my clients do not have a video editing background but find the storyboard interface to be very intuitive, since we’re able to move our clips until we get them in the proper order.
My clients also catch on quickly to the creative fine-tuning that can be done on the timeline interface. When we’re ready to preview our work, we simply click Play. We can immediately see our work on a full-size external video monitor (as well as the excellent quality one included within the SpeedEDIT interface).
Because rendering is kept to a minimum, we can save as many versions of our project as we want before deciding which one we want to keep. Then we can render the final version in preparation for creating a DVD. When I used to work only with tape, I found NewTek’s editing interface to be efficient and practical, as I would simply play the project and record to tape at the same time—even making adjustments on the timeline before that part of the program was reached.
Working With Projects and Subprojects
When launching SpeedEDIT and SpeedEDIT 2, a screen comes up that gives a choice as to the type of project that you’ll start (Figure 2, below), whether it is PAL or NTSC, SD or HD, 4:3 or 16:9.
Figure 2. Defining your project in SpeedEDIT 2—same as SpeedEDIT
But once launched, the changes made to SpeedEDIT 2 become very apparent. I found the changes made to subprojects to be most helpful in SpeedEDIT 2. A subproject is simply a section of the entire project that has been converted into what looks like a single video clip. And just like a video clip, the subproject can be manipulated in a control tree (Figure 3, below).
Figure 3. A subproject in control tree
With SpeedEDIT 2, this new clip, or subproject, can be resized and treated as an overlay, with complete control over transparency, positioning, rotation, and size. I have only begun to experiment with the new capabilities to subprojects, but I am excited because of the new possibilities for creative editing—all in real time (Figure 4, below).
Figure 4. Customization options for subprojects in SpeedEDIT 2
The other improvement that I am impressed with is the smooth slow motion in SpeedEDIT 2. We now have options that include Linear, for smooth interpolation between frames, and Hybrid, for enhanced image sharpness. I used a clip from my KODAK Zi8 camcorder as a test for slow motion and was impressed with how smooth it was using the KODAK codec. Other real assets in editing are the powerful color correction tools found in SpeedEDIT 2 (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Color correction tools in SpeedEDIT 2
Format Support and Playback Options
When first starting out in video, I got caught up in what were then called “format wars.” That was then; this is now. Just as television went from a few broadcast channels to a plethora of choices on cable and satellite, we now have a plethora of choices for digital formats. The beautiful thing about SpeedEDIT 2 is that it can virtually play them all—same timeline, SD and HD—flawlessly!
In VT, I would often convert a clip to an AVI for smoother editing, but in SpeedEDIT 2 the clips seem to play smoothly and can be exported as HD or SD, in any format desired. SpeedEDIT 2 has also added support for Cineform AVI, selected AVCHD formats, and JVC GY-HM700 and GY-HM100 camera files (MP4 and MOV). There is also improved QuickTime support and enhanced MXF with improved reading of additional file formats such as XDCAM HD. SpeedHQ is now a 64-bit AVI codec designed to maximize smooth playback of multiple layers.
Another change that I like and find very practical is an option called Play Range, which lets you restrict playback or looping to a specific area in a project (Figure 6).
Figure 6. SpeedEDIT 2's nifty Play Range feature
The Show Time option allows viewing of either time code or frame count on the timeline. The Capture panel now allows you to view video in either 16:9 or 4:3 aspect ratios and expand the capture window as large as needed.
Platform Support and System Recommendations
One of the main objections I often hear about SpeedEDIT is that it is only available on Windows and is not Mac-compatible. That objection is only partially true. In testing out SpeedEDIT 2 I used several computers, including my MacBook Pro. It works flawlessly on Intel Macs using Boot Camp—and by having programs that access the Mac side, such as MacDrive, I really do have the best of both worlds. But you do need a full-version of Windows in order for it to work.
SpeedEDIT 2, in my opinion, does some functions such as keyframing better and faster than Final Cut Pro. If you have both on the same computer and use SpeedEDIT 2 for designated tasks, even if you do more of your editing in Final Cut, you have an unbeatable combination. I tried SpeedEDIT 2 on a total of five computers, one of which was 64-bit. For running SpeedEDIT 2 (as with virtually all other NLEs), the main things to look for in a computer, besides processor speed (multicore systems are a must for HD editing) and at least 4GB of system RAM, are a good graphics card (ATI or NVIDIA graphics chipset recommended) and a separate audio card (different from VT). You also need a FireWire card for video ingest and a DVD drive. The recommended operating system is Windows 7 or Vista 64-bit, although in my tests SpeedEDIT also worked well on Windows XP.
On all of the computers, SpeedEDIT 2 loaded effortlessly and performed flawlessly. Even on older computers, with slower processing speed, I found SpeedEDIT 2 to be fast and intuitive. What makes SpeedEDIT 2 so fast (irrespective of processor speed beyond a certain minimum) is that it is resolution-independent, and it streamlines the editing process by eliminating unnecessary steps. Also, all editing functions are performed directly on native clips, avoiding the need to transcode or pretrim content.
Other Useful Features
There are unique features that NewTek developed as far back as VT (and farther) and retained in SpeedEDIT 2 that allow me to quickly and creatively produce several projects a week. I especially like the integration of SD and HD, even being able to layer SD and HD clips together and creating a subproject that in essence becomes a new clip. A feature that has been around for a long time (back to Amiga days) is the Cut to Music feature using the spacebar. This works well not only with music, but also with narration, thus quickly linking appropriate clips with the dialogue.
Using the waveform and vectorscope along with the color correction application allows me to get real-time signal feedback. The Tool Shed tool (Figure 7) allows me to quickly make changes to the video and audio; it also allows me to store my own personal changes that can then be applied whenever I want.
Figure 7. SpeedEDIT 2's Tool Shed tool
SpeedEDIT’s Clip Inherit also saves me a lot of time. But the one application that I use more than any other—especially on all of the photo montages I do—is the Key Frame feature. I can easily set beginning and ending points, make changes in between, and further control the length and speed of clip using the Edit Properties window (Figure 8). Because of the versatile and fast nature of SpeedEDIT 2, this is the main editor that I recommend in both of my courses on Funeral Videography and our recently released course on video biographies. I believe that SpeedEDIT 2 would be a welcome addition to any video studio, big or small.
Figure 8. Controlling the length and speed of a clip in the Edit Properties window
The one area I haven’t commented on is the price. When SpeedEDIT first came out in 2007, it was competitively priced at $495. Registered owners of SpeedEDIT can upgrade to SpeedEDIT 2 for only $295. However, for anyone else, the purchase price is $995. I feel it’s worth buying because of all the tools you get, but there are other editing systems that are priced in that ballpark that offer additional features, such as integrated DVD authoring software. You need a third-party DVD software program if you use SpeedEDIT 2.
Once a month I host a Toaster user group. At the last meeting we discussed the value of SpeedEDIT 2. All agreed that it was a wonderful program, and several indicated that they plan to upgrade. However, when asked, “Is this the program you would choose if you were just starting out?” there seemed to be some hesitancy based on the price. Time will tell if pricing is the downfall of SpeedEDIT 2. I hope not, because I would love to see SpeedEDIT 2 become the “heart language” of the many new videographers entering this rewarding and fast-changing field.
Alan Naumann (alan at memoryvision.tv) is co-author, with Melonie Jeska, of The Complete Guide to Video Biographies, a newly released, comprehensive set of training materials for professional video producers. A featured speaker at WEVA Expo 2004–2010 and a two-time EventDV 25 honoree, he is based in Minneapolis.