The Moving Picture: Twins
Posted Jan 17, 2005

When the digital video industry was born roughly a decade and a half ago, it was really more like the birth of twins. They were fraternal twins, to be sure, but they shared plenty of sibling qualities, learning from each other and even adopting some of each other's personality traits as they grew. Of course, both infants were spawned from the same desire to use the increasing power of the computer to facilitate video production, but they grew with two separate visions of how that new power could be used, and by whom.

The more predictable and righteous of the twins was embodied by companies like Avid and Montage, who envisioned a better way for professional video producers and editors to work. Over time, their non-linear editing products have matured into—and inspired other companies to create—tools that are used today as part of the production of virtually all primetime television shows, as well as nearly every major motion picture. They are elite tools in the hands of industry insiders.

The other twin, the one with attitude, was nurtured by companies like Apple, Adobe, and NewTek with a quite different audience in mind. The real mischievous seed in its infant soul was NewTek. Sure, professionals in some circles used NewTek's Video Toaster (although few would admit to it at the time). But NewTek's real goal for the Toaster was to democratize video production: to leverage the computer's burgeoning imaging power to bring editing and effects capabilities to those outside of movie studios, post-production monoliths, and secret-handshake inner circles.

Today, Apple's QuickTime is a solid building block to professional digital video, but early versions were good for little more than desktop fun and games. Postage stamp-sized movies that stuttered along may have been a technical marvel, but they hardly had anything to do with serious videography. Adobe's first versions of Premiere made an apparent game out of re-arranging those QuickTime video clips, but nothing more—or so it seemed.

Yet, as with NewTek, there was a method to the Apple/Adobe madness: a vision that bringing video to the computer could popularize video production as digital imaging had desktop publishing. It was less about serving those already with access to the best video production equipment than it was breaking down the barriers for those without. The gestation period for desktop digital video publishing has taken longer than that of desktop publishing, but the vision it first suggested has driven a whole class of products including video capture cards, inexpensive hard drive arrays, DV camcorders, and affordable editing software. All together, they paved the way for a new breed of serious videographers, those of either more modest means or of independent spirit.

As the well-behaved twin garnered technical Emmys and Oscars for serving the needs of the post-production parent, the capricious twin proved more provoking. It is this populist strain of the digital video industry that grew stronger and ultimately blurred the lines between professional and prosumer video production. And it's this class of user that forced the DV revolution. In so doing, the event videographer began literally, for the first time ever, shooting and editing in the same format as many professionals at the highest levels of documentary, news, and even minor motion picture production.

HDV will soon enable—if it hasn't already—event videographers to shoot in high-definition and edit that footage natively in software from companies like Apple, Adobe, Canopus, Pinnacle Systems, Ulead, and even Avid itself. It's a format that's almost tailor-made for event video production, and that's a wonderfully empowering position for a class of users that, like the family problem child, often hasn't gotten its rightful respect. But it's also a format that's good enough to attract the attention of those across the industry, much to the alarm of the manufacturers.

When Sony introduced the HDR-FX1 and the slightly higher end HVR-Z1U—the first two 3-CCD HD camcorders for less than $4,000 and $5,000, respectively—it took great pains to explain how HDV is meant for "prosumers," "semi-professionals," and event videographers. Many companies made the same argument for early DV, but that argument failed to stand the test of time.

That, of course, doesn't mean that many professionals of means won't purchase more elite HD products—cameras with less compressed HD formats and editors with more real-time features and facilities. However, the simple fact that the gap is narrowing between equipment once considered high-end or low-end shows that these are heady days for the event videographers.

Today, the limits you face are less technical or financial, and concerned more with your creative use of the right tools. The once-impish, less upstanding twin has finally grown up and achieved respect in the market. That means that you, the event videographer, will get more attention than ever with newer and increasingly more robust products. And we're here to let you know about them.