The Moving Picture: Up Around the Bend
Posted Apr 1, 2003

I spent an hour the other night on the phone with a consulting firm discussing trends in video editing; $150/hour for them, nothing for me (not even a thank you note or email if you can believe it). Not that I'm bitter, of course; this video company has and continues to be good to me, and I got a great idea for this column (note to editor: please publish this quickly before the consultants take credit for these ideas).

Anyway, back to those trends. They are (drum roll please): the merger of video editing and DVD authoring, and the emergence of automatic video creation tools that shorten production time and improve the quality of videos produced. The first should be wending its way from consumer to professional tools soon; the second will proceed more slowly, but I believe inexorably. We'll deal with each in turn.

The merger of video editing and DVD authoring was first accomplished in Pinnacle Studio 8, as lavishly described by Stephen Nathans in his December 2002 review (www.emedialive.com/r8/2002/review11_02a.html). In brief, here's how it works. Studio has three editing interfaces: text, storyboard, and timeline. Like most timelines, Studio traditionally had tracks for video, audio, and transitions, and Studio 8 added a track for DVD menus. Rather than create a separate menu creation tool, Pinnacle incorporated the ability to add linkable buttons in their very capable menu editor, and voilà, you've got a DVD authoring program.

The benefits are compelling, especially considering alternative approaches. Sonic's MyDVD is a pretty handy DVD authoring program, especially for consumer use. However, MyDVD has limited editing functions, so it ships with ArcSoft's ShowBiz, which, though interesting in its own right, is less capable than Studio. So if you want to add titles to a video, or merge two videos with a transition, you have to head over to ShowBiz, add the effects, and then render the file. Though the links back and forth are automatic, you still have to learn ShowBiz's interface to get anything done.

In contrast, with Studio 8, there's no new program to learn, no video files to render until the project is complete, no worries about double compression. Basically, you can create videos for distribution in any known form from one program.

We're waiting on several announcements from key companies, including Adobe, Sonic Solutions, and Ulead. We know that Adobe will introduce its Encore DVD authoring program, but don't know how closely it will tie it to Premiere. With all other announcements, expect video editing programs to sport integrated DVD authoring capabilities and DVD authoring programs to add video editing capabilities. Ultimately, this will extend from consumer to professional markets and the line between authoring and editing will go away. You heard it here first—please hold your applause till the end.

Now here's the second trend: automatic video editing tools. The key benefit of these is speed, removing one of the last barriers of video production. Today, it simply takes too long to capture, trim, and add titles, transitions, background music, and special effects, not to mention render the files.

But imagine if you could capture your movie to disk, and then tell the video editor to reduce your 30-minute birthday video down to eight minutes, with MTV-style clips and transitions, neatly sync'd to "Cut the Cake," and one or two other appropriate songs. Two vendors, Microsoft and Muvee, offer this function.

In Microsoft's Movie Maker 2, for example, you capture a segment of video, identify the background music track, and select a style. Then the software takes over, analyzing video content and motion and creating an entirely new sequence based upon the selected style, which can range from MTV-like flash to old film content. The algorithm employed seems to prioritize facial shots, so you end up with a collage of quick first impressions, with much better pace and timing than most budding videographers, including yours truly, could put together manually. The feature, called AutoMovie, can consolidate 20 or 30 minutes of previously unwatchable holiday videos into a stylish, engaging presentation, placing the work on the timeline so you can add your own finishing touches.

The original version of Muvee's program works similarly, except there's no ability to retain the original audio—it's all replaced by the background music. This works very well for sporting events and raves, but not so well if you want to hear what Grandma said last Christmas. This will change shortly with a new release.

On its face, this technique would have little application for business-oriented videos. However, one step closer is the StoryBuilder feature in Roxio's VideoWave Movie Creator, which lets you select the final clips in their entirety, and add background music, titles, and animations according to a selected style. The original styles were consumer oriented, but the idea has significant potential for business. Interestingly, Roxio also licensed technology from Muvee so it offers both totally automatic and assisted video production.

Imagine a stockholders' meeting, or testimonial or training session. It's fairly easy to isolate the desired clips, but a lot harder to identify the appropriate title fonts and transitions, or create professional opening and closing animations. VideoWave takes you one critical step closer, in very much the same way that templates in Microsoft FrontPage or PowerPoint help you create professional-looking Web sites and presentations very efficiently.

In videos, as in Web sites, it's all about producing acceptable quality in less time with less expertise. In a word, speed. That and an integrated editing and authoring interface will be the key features of consumer and mid-level corporate video editing programs in 2004.

Now if any video editing or DVD authoring companies are out there listening, just tell me where to send the consulting bill.