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Review: Grass Valley EDIUS Pro 4
Posted Sep 26, 2006 Print Version     Page 1of 1

When Grass Valley moved to acquire Canopus late last year, there were logical questions about the future of some of Canopus's products, particularly the nonlinear editing software EDIUS. Canopus had a reputation for strong engineering expertise, especially with compression technology, and Grass Valley could have seen that as a major asset, particularly since the first three versions of EDIUS never matched the market share numbers of competitors like Adobe, Apple, and Avid.
     The release of EDIUS version 4, however, confirms Grass Valley's commitment to and support for EDIUS. What's more, after initially retaining Canopus as a separate, autonomous business unit, Thomson has now repositioned EDIUS under the Grass Valley brand, thereby leveraging a name that has been almost synonymous with broadcast-quality video for several decades. Positioned as Grass Valley EDIUS, the software now has the major backing to compete against the heavy hitters in the editing-software marketplace. 

But can the software, still a few revisions behind the competition, establish itself in a crowded field, even with such a prestigious name as Grass Valley? EDIUS has always done some things very well, like fast rendering, transcoding, and working with effects, but as faster processors level the rendering-speed playing field and sophisticated, configurable effects become standard fare across the board, can EDIUS still make a mark? 

The simple answer is that with version 4, EDIUS has smartly plugged some critical holes to match rival feature sets. Yet, while EDIUS costs much less than Avid Xpress Pro HD or Final Cut Pro, it remains effectively on a par with the much more broadly used Adobe Premiere Pro. In order to gain market share, EDIUS needs to do something special. If you work with a lot of mixed formats, it just might. But is that enough?

There are two software versions of EDIUS: the EDIUS Pro ($699) that we tested and EDIUS Broadcast ($999), which targets Grass Valley's traditional higher-end audience. Both support SD, DV, HD, and HDV. The difference is EDIUS Broadcast's added support for higher-bit rate formats, especially Panasonic's DVCPro 50, DVCPro HD, DVCPro P2, and VariCam, as well as Sony's XDCAM. Most EventDV readers will likely choose to save the $300 and be satisfied with the Pro version.

There are also hardware options, including turnkey editing stations, that are available to enhance EDIUS's I/O and real-time processing capabilities. However, while EDIUS once required a dedicated Canopus 1394 card, it is now OHCI-compliant and works with built-in 1394 ports for DV and HDV. You may still opt for the expansion ACEDVio board if you need analog I/O.

figure 1There are some important changes to the EDIUS interface in version 4, but if you're familiar with it already, you'll find that the basic elements are the same. There are three main windows: the Preview/Program/Trim video monitors, the Timeline, and the Bin. There are also three smaller floating palette windows for Effects, Clip Information, and Markers, although those palettes can now be combined (tabbed) with the Bin to save desktop workspace. I tested EDIUS on a dual-monitor system and, as with any of today's NLEs, I'd certainly recommend the same. EDIUS launches with the monitor window on the top and the timeline below it. In a dual-headed configuration, the Bin window and three other palettes occupy the entire second monitor. Without the second monitor, the Bin and palettes are squeezed in and really take space away from the timeline. That's all pretty much the same as in earlier versions.

One of the most welcome changes to EDIUS in version 4 is the addition of traditional Windows file menus at the top of the Preview/Program window. In the past, EDIUS had coyly hidden such essential functions as "Open," "New," and "Save As…" in nonstandard places that probably seemed intuitive to the design team but to no one else. Thankfully, EDIUS 4 now observes industry conventions and has a full spectrum of Windows menus, including "Help," along the top of the interface. Cosmetically, the interface hasn't changed, although you can now adjust the colors if you don't like the dark default scheme.

figure 1There are some important editing changes as well, starting with the ability to have multiple sequences open at one time. What's more, sequences can now be nested by simply dragging an existing sequence from the Bin into the open timeline of another sequence. The combination of opening multiple sequences and nesting them means that you can divide large projects up into sections and toggle back and forth. Best of all, when you make changes to a sequence nested in another sequence, the changes are automatically updated. That's similar to how other editing interfaces work, but it wasn't possible before in EDIUS.

One of the nicest editing changes in version 4 is EDIUS'S new trimming tool. In previous versions, EDIUS did all trimming right in the timeline. That was fine for roughing and for new editors learning the basics, since it begets no potentially confusing interface-mode change and keeps your eyes working in the same section of the interface. You can still do some trimming in the timeline with version 4 (although minor changes in that functionality may frustrate legacy users). However, the Preview/Program monitor window can now change modes to become a two-window trim editor, similar to the clip-trimming environments of most other professional NLEs.

With the new Trim window, EDIUS can offer greater editing accuracy faster. Sure, dragging your mouse around the timeline while holding down the Alt or Ctrl key can work, but ultimately it's also a bit like playing a video game. Over the course of an entire project, the advanced facility and accuracy of the Trim window will almost certainly speed up the process once you've gotten the hang of it. Current users should find it well worth the little time it will take them to learn it.

The Trim window affords much greater facility for common trimming techniques like Slip, Slide, and Roll trimming because it effectively gives your mouse jog-and-shuttle functionality. It also lets you watch edit-in and -out points in two-window mode. There are the standard +/- 1 and +/- 10 frame keys, nice timecode and duration readouts for frame-accurate editing, and toggle buttons to quickly jump from one edit point to the next or previous one.

To assist less experienced editors, the new trimming functionality also includes somewhat curious vertical color stripes in the timeline that appear when you are working with edit-specific points. A yellow bar appears at the end of the selected clip that is being trimmed, while a green bar appears at the point on the adjacent clip that's affected by the trim. It seems a little redundant, since the two stripes generally appear together, but there are a few occasions when, in the various slip and slide modes, they jump to different ends of the same clip. In that regard, it's a helpful visual cue for novices, but experienced editors are likely to try to ignore it.

figure 1Multicam Editing
EDIUS 4 has followed the industry trend toward multi-camera editing with a new Multicam Mode for "live switch" editing of up to eight tracks. Like the multicam functions of Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro, or Xpress Pro, EDIUS allows you to synchronize clips in a variety of ways (using timecode, make points, etc.) and then edit them by simply playing and watching them all in the multicam monitors. Clicking on the one you want to "take" automatically creates an edit mark in the timeline. Hitting Enter when you're done adds cuts at all those edit marks. If you're not satisfied, you can either do the entire thing again, and EDIUS will simply create all new edit points, or edit and tweak individual edit points just as you would when editing traditionally.

Multicam editing is a boon for event videographers, because it allows you to put entire multicam shoots on the timeline at once and come out with a complete rough cut after watching them just once. And EDIUS's multicam mode is very easy to use, in that it requires very little setup.

On the downside, it's baffling that all of the multicam monitors, whether you're working with a layout of two, three, five, or eight monitors (those are the options), are viewed in the right-side Program window together with a small view of the "Master" Program out. Most competitive multicam modes use the left-side Preview window, thereby affording the normal large Program view. Grass Valley probably chose this odd design to accommodate more affordable single-headed system configurations, where there's really only room for one monitor window. Options for working with audio are relatively limited in the multicam interface, although editors can circumvent those limitations by using the fuller-featured traditional editing mode.

Multiple Formats
The EDIUS engineering team has always done very well working with different file and compression formats. Canopus was one of the first companies in the early 1990s to develop its own MPEG-1 software codec and compression utility and has continued that work with ProCoder. That work all pays off in EDIUS 4, in that it's one of the most responsive editors on the market when working with MPEG files, including the Long-GOP MPEG used in HDV acquisition.

EDIUS also has a remarkable ability to edit just about anything at any time (although as mentioned above, you need to pay extra for EDIUS Broadcast to get high-end format support). Other companies make bold mixed-format claims, but EDIUS delivers by allowing you to work with different formats in the same timeline by just dragging and dropping and in multicam mode, although we did notice some real-time performance hits when multiple HD formats were in play.

EDIUS 4 allows you to capture directly to MPEG to save disk space. You can also conserve space by converting the otherwise-massive files of HD footage into Canopus's own HQ codec, which now supports an 8-bit Alpha channel. Of course, most editors prefer to work in the footage's native format until output, and that's smart, because multiple transcodes can potentially introduce artifacts. On the other hand, EDIUS is one of the few pro editing solutions that does not offer the ability to change your "scratch disk"—that is, the disk and folder in which EDIUS stores rendered footage. But you can assign a specific disk and directory for capture.

Effects and Transitions
Effects and effects editing have traditionally been a strength of EDIUS, particularly in terms of the balanced manner with which EDIUS serves both new and experienced users. Editable effect parameters are presented in both list and tabbed form, so you're never overwhelmed by too many options.

Yet, EDIUS still offers keyframing, motion and direction control, and other options depending on the specific transition. In EDIUS 4, you now have some nicely advanced time remapping (i.e., beyond just slo-mo) and keyframeable color correction.

EDIUS also includes a plug-in architecture that supports third-party tools, such as Boris FX, to work within EDIUS. Awkwardly, that architecture seems to have been rewritten for version 4, and many plug-ins no longer work. I did not have EDIUS version 3 installed on my test system prior to installing version 4, but reports online suggest a number of problems in doing what should be a straightforward upgrade.

Documentation and Online Help
EDIUS has never had very good user manuals, and although there is more documentation in EDIUS 4, it does little to counter the reputation. EDIUS's 134-page paper User Guide is really a book of two tutorials and a 17-page user interface summary. Amazingly, it has no index! It's about one-third the size of Adobe's Premiere Pro user manual and about one-sixth the size of Avid's Xpress Pro manual. Indeed, the Xpress Pro Getting Started manual is almost twice as long as EDIUS's User Guide.

EDIUS's online help is a little better, if awkwardly translated from Japanese, and does have an index. However, even some obvious items such as dissolve (and cross fade and cross dissolve) don't show up in the index or search, and there is an explanation of setting up multicam editing but nothing on actually using it. Perhaps the most telling critique in terms of attention to manual detail is that the front online help page for my version 4 software includes a call-out for "New feature [sic] of EDIUS Pro 3.5/Pro3.6."

There are a number of very nice additions in EDIUS 4 and, with the exception of the disturbing reports about plug-ins, the $200 upgrade for current users should be a good investment. For those looking at buying a new editor, most of the additions to EDIUS—such as the new trimming tool, multicam editing, multiple and nested sequences, and color correction—are all features that bring EDIUS closer to the functionality of its rivals, rather than setting any new ground.

If EDIUS has an interface advantage, it is as an accessible editor that doesn't demand such a steep learning curve as some of the others, especially as those others continue to become more complex.

EDIUS does a very good job handling multiple formats, and that may attract some interest from videographers who regularly work with different types of source footage, but most of the competitors share much of its functionality. And EDIUS will continue to serve effectively those users who purchase the NLE as part of Grass Valley's numerous hardware/software SD/HD bundles.

Can Grass Valley parent EDIUS beyond these niche audiences? It's really too early to tell, given product development cycles, but EDIUS 4 is a step in the right direction.

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