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Review: Avid Liquid 7
Posted Apr 24, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1
  

Synopsis: Liquid packs a powerful set of features into a single program. While other suites of programs offer similar functionality, they do so at a dollar amount more than twice that of Liquid. Anyone whose immediate needs include nimble HDV and multiple-format editing and integrated DVD creation should strongly consider Avid's software-only Liquid or hardware/software Liquid Pro bundle.
Price: $499 (Liquid 7); $999 (Liquid Pro)
For more information, contact: Avid Technology, www.avid.com


The event videography marketplace has a variety of video editing tools to choose from. And as in the corporate video market, the editing and production needs of event videographers vary widely. 

A recent trend in video postproduction tools has been to move away from a single editing product to a suite of products. The bundled-software approach is beneficial for multi-person postproduction workflows, but the tradeoff is a steep learning curve, with multiple products to master along with the intricacies of using them in tandem. In some instances, user interfaces across the bundled products vary widely in their maturity and ease of use; while the manufacturers may go to great lengths, with some success, to give the applications a similar look and feel, when they were acquired from different sources and developed by different engineers, there's only so much they can do to bring the interfaces into alignment. Companies like Adobe and Apple are now selling bundles of software ranging from $1,200-$1,900, which contain four to seven programs and an average of 14 pounds of printed material.

In Apple's case, the decision has recently been made to sell Final Cut Pro only in bundled form, and to restrict the sale of other programs in their postproduction suite such as Motion, Soundtrack Pro, and DVD Studio Pro to the Final Cut bundle, which means they will no longer be available as standalone products. Even Apple's free products—iDVD, iMovieHD, GarageBand, and iPhoto—require learning separate user interfaces. Meanwhile, Adobe, which has arguably taken the integration approach somewhat farther than Apple with the Dynamic Link feature of its latest Production Studio, has presented bundle pricing so close to the cost of the individual applications that they've made going with the bundle a virtual no-brainer. But at the same time, they've clamped down on the number of licenses issued with each copy of the Production Studio, which makes it more difficult to use a single bundle purchase to outfit your entire studio or workgroup.

Avid's Liquid 7, in comparison, is a single-software program that retails for $499, almost $700 less than competitors' software-only bundles. While Liquid—in its former lifetime as Pinnacle Liquid Edition—was once sold alongside programs like the Impression DVD authoring tool and the Commotion effects program, its developers have always emphasized integrating functions within the Liquid interface over matching it up with complementary software. Pinnacle's approach with Liquid was to provide the event videography market with a single integrated software tool that performs on par with its more expensive competitors but does so without forcing the user to learn multiple programs. Avid has carried forward this all-in-one-program concept since its May 2005 acquisition of Pinnacle. For those who need bundled hardware to capture and display analog video (component, composite, S-Video), Avid also sells an integrated hardware-software bundle, Liquid Pro, that retails for about the same price as competitors' software-only solutions.

So how does Liquid measure up? Let's look at three areas.

Editing Interface and Codecs

Liquid has two modes for editing: Classic, which will be familiar to owners of previous Pinnacle versions of Liquid, or the new interface, which is much closer to Liquid's more expensive cousins in the Avid editing series. In fact, anyone familiar with CMX-style (now more often called Avid-style) editing will feel right at home in Liquid, as it handles content very similarly to a traditional Avid timeline interface.

Liquid can handle complex edits. Video layers can be nested, as can audio and graphic clips or text. And while Liquid doesn't approach the real-time, multi-layered playout of Avid's pricier and more broadcast-oriented offerings, it does take advantage of extra processing power (either the primary CPU or the graphics card's GPU) to handle background rendering. This means that complex content in one part of the timeline can be set in place and—while the editor works on another part of the timeline—the content will be rendered in the background. This is especially impressive for a program costing well under $1,000 (even with the Pro box included).

Avid's Liquid team has also added a new feature to the timeline, which it calls Open Timeline. Essentially this means that the editor is not constrained to one type of video file. Unlike Final Cut Pro (and Premiere, until the recently released version 2.0), which forces the editor to choose an output type that eliminates particular content from being used, Open Timeline allows the editor to mix and match content at will: DiVX, WindowsMedia 9, MPEG-2, DV, and analog (in Liquid Pro, captured either in Avid's codec or another program).

While not all codecs are created equal and visual degradation and concatenation may occur when the final output is rendered, Open Timeline allows editors to work rapidly within the basic constraints of a variety of codecs. It also has options for supporting P2 or XDCAM acquisition, as well as HDV, which we'll discuss in detail later in the review.

Finally, Avid has included a multicamera editing option in Liquid (first seen in 2005's version 6), which allows footage shot at different angles (and even in different codecs or formats) to be synchronized and then played back simultaneously for making rapid editing decisions. Liquid's native multicam capabilities aren't unique in the prosumer NLE space as they were when Liquid 6 debuted in early 2005 (shortly before the Avid acquisition), but they're still a strong feature of the software.

As with integrating source clips from different cameras in any NLE, you'll face some color-correction and matching issues. Liquid has the best one-button auto color correction in the business, although you'll need to fight the urge to rely on that entirely and take the time to tweak your results until they're ideally matched.

Audio: Dolby Digital and Smart Sound

For a program retailing at less than $500, Liquid packs two very powerful audio tools. First is the Dolby Digital software tool, which allows the editor to create 5.1 surround-sound mixes by assigning audio tracks to the desired front, center, rear, or subwoofer location. And, since Liquid also includes DVD authoring (with chapter assignation and menu placement integrated directly into the timeline) as a part of the software package, these 5.1 surround-sound mixes can be included in the DVD or exported to Windows Media during the video export process.

Smart Sound is a tool that had been available as a separate plug-in prior to Liquid 7 but is now integrated directly into the editing environment. The "smart" in Smart Sound comes from the fact that exact song times can be specified to match discrete areas of the timeline, as can genres, music styles, and tempo.

In many ways, Smart Sound is the Windows equivalent of Apple's GarageBand product, although in some ways it is both more limiting and more liberating than GarageBand. Smart Sound's menu-driven approach allows the editor to choose a variety of loops and pre-recorded royalty-free content, mix them together, and lay them into the timeline without requiring one to learn music or construct complex passages. But it also allows the flexibility to do so if the editor desires.

HDV

This new video format is attracting quite a bit of attention, with several new cameras using HDV's highly efficient Long GOP MPEG-2 encoding engine to capture 720p or 1080i high-definition video in the form-factor of a MiniDV tape.

Cameras from Sony, Panasonic, and JVC capture very high-quality content in the HDV format, but editing HDV has traditionally been difficult. Early HDV-enabled programs such as Apple's iMovieHD captured HDV through an intermediate codec: HDV's high-efficient MPEG-2 video format is converted into another format, normally a motion-JPEG codec, which slightly reduced quality and almost tripled the use of hard disk space.

One of Liquid's best features is its native HDV editing support, which means that Liquid can capture HDV content without requiring the use of an intermediate codec. This not only saves storage space but also allows HDV content to be edited and output natively directly back to HDV tape, and at a significant time savings over programs that use an intermediate codec. The results of our tests with HDV acquisition, editing, and output were impressive and could be a key selling point—as no other program in Liquid's sub-$500 price range supports native HDV across the production workflow.

Summary

In summary, Liquid packs a powerful set of features into a single program. While other suites of programs offer similar functionality, they do so at a dollar amount more than twice that of Liquid. Anyone interested in an integrated, powerful, Windows-based editing program—especially those whose immediate needs include nimble-HDV or multiple-format editing and integrated DVD creation—should strongly consider Avid's software-only Liquid or hardware/software Liquid Pro bundle.

System Requirements:
- 1.8GHz Pentium 4 (2.8GHz for HDV) running Windows XP with 512 MB RAM (1GB for HDV)
- AGP 4X Graphics Card with 64MB RAM, DirectX 9 support (8X, 128MB for HDV)



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