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Copyright © 2004 -
Information Today, Inc.

May 09, 2005

Table of Contents

Review: Apple Final Cut Express HD
Century Introduces New Xtreme Fisheye
EIZO Introduces FlexScan L997 LCD Monitor
Sony Offers New DVD Burners With 4X DVD-R Dual Layer Recording
Apple Announces New iMac G5
ATI Introduces Radeon X800 XL 512MB Graphics Board
CyberLink Announces PowerProducer 3 Encore
InterVideo Announces Bundling Partnership with Google

Review: Apple Final Cut Express HD

Synopsis: If you're not ready to take the leap to Final Cut Pro 5 or the Final Cut Studio suite (both of which should be available by the time you read this), Final Cut Express HD is more than just a stopover on the way to bigger and better things. It's an unqualified success on its own terms. Bundled with Soundtrack and LiveType, FCE HD ($299; $99 upgrade from FCE 2) is a significantly better value now than its predecessors, and not just for the HD capability. But if it's HD you want, at an attractive price point, you won't be disappointed.

We've all been to weddings where one side of the church—usually the bride's—is filled almost to capacity while the pews on the other side are little more than half-full. Come to think of it, that was how the church looked on my wedding day, a result not of my wife having more friends than I do but of her family's prominence and deep-seated roots in the small Wisconsin town where we got married, making our day into something of a community event. (At least that's what I tell myself.)

If we were to divide computer users into two pews—and the analogy is apt, since we all know plenty of folks who are as passionate about their operating system as they are about their faith—the Windows side would be standing-room-only, while the Mac side would be almost empty. Of course, the Windows users wouldn't deign to sit on the Mac side, and the Linux and UNIX users wouldn't even bother coming to church.

But if we limit our attendees to videographers, the picture changes. Like any other group of what Apple likes to call "creative professionals," videographers tend to use Macs more than do those boring, uh, non-creative professionals. So when Apple introduces a new product or upgrades an old standby, it's big news. All of which means that the introduction of Final Cut Express HD in January was just that, though not as earth-shaking an announcement as the unveiling of Final Cut Studio at this year's NAB in April (http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=9802).

In fact, Final Cut Express HD is essentially the same product as Final Cut Express 2, and begs the same question: since it offers the same user interface as Final Cut Pro HD, and lacks some of that tool's advanced features, isn't the only reason to purchase Express HD the fact that it's $700 cheaper? The answer is yes, although the $1,299 Final Cut Studio—a suite including Final Cut Pro 5, Motion 2, DVD Studio 4, and the all-new Soundtrack Pro—changes the cost equation. So if you've yet to upgrade to an Apple HD product, now's the time to weigh your options and check your budget.

Express Purpose
That doesn't mean we can't evaluate Final Cut Express HD on its own terms—as a professional-level nonlinear editor that does HD for $299. And on those terms, it's hard to beat. I've still got the same reservations I had about the original Final Cut Express: it still lacks batch capture capability, and the user interface is nothing like the easy step up from iMovie (which itself now does HD) that Apple would like us to believe. It also lacks a number of filters and transitions, as well as the advanced, three-way color correction found in Final Cut Pro HD.

But Final Cut Express is a significantly better value now than it was before, and not just because of its HD capability. It's now bundled with a full version of Apple Soundtrack, which makes it easy to score semi-original music from pre-recorded loops (see review, http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=8314), and LiveType, which replaces Boris Calligraphy as the title generator and, frankly, blows its predecessor away with better fonts and greater control over them. Without going into detail on either of those tools—and even with the understanding that Soundtrack soon will be replaced by Soundtrack Pro, at least as a standalone product—these add-ons alone justify the $99 upgrade from Final Cut Express 2.

Still, if you're buying FCE HD, you're likely buying it for the HD. The good news is that it handles HDV footage with aplomb. The bad news, at least for us, is that we didn't have an HDV camera in the office for our testing, so we can't report on FCE HD's HDV capture capability. Instead, we used a selection of HDV files supplied by Apple for our testing. All of it was skateboarding footage, much of it was high-action, and aside from the expected increase in render times, it was no different from working with any other FCE-compatible format. (Having a relatively robust computer surely helps; our testbed was a dual-processor 2GHz G5 with 4GB RAM and an ATI Radeon 9800XT graphics card, outfitted with OS X 10.4 Tiger.)

HDV Performance
The clips Apple supplied happened to be fairly small—ranging from a one-second, 1440x1080, 8.63MB clip to a 90-second, 1920x1080, 875.9MB behemoth—the final project I ended up creating was a scant three minutes long. Still, that was enough to get a feel for how FCE HD handles HDV, and how HDV affects the FCE workflow as well as whether or not it bogs down the workstation.

To test the latter, I applied filters and effects to several clips within the project and then rendered them all at once (figuring that rendering a 7-second clip wouldn't give me much sense of how the process affected the machine). With color correction applied to two clips and fisheye, 3D, pond ripple, and diffuse applied to four other clips (one effect each)—for a total of 62 seconds of video—rendering took just over four minutes, and slowed any other operations, even checking email, down to a crawl. When rendered individually, the color correction clips moved the quickest (about two seconds per one second of video), while the more elaborate effects unsurprisingly took longer. Thankfully, though, they're the kind of effects that most editors wouldn't often apply to more than a second or two of video, so that performance shouldn't discourage anyone from editing HDV with Final Cut Express.

The next step was to test the difference between rendering effects on 1920x1080 HDV clips versus standard, 720x480 QuickTime DV stream files. (I just converted the HDV clips to QuickTime DV for a, pardon the pun, apples-to-apples comparison.) Needless to say, the 1920x1080 clips took longer, but the degree of difference varied greatly from one effect to another. (Notably, FCE HD needs to render DV stream files even without any effects.) On a particular 15-second clip, one with relatively little motion until the last five seconds, FCE HD rendered color correction changes in 27 seconds on the DV stream and 35 seconds on the HDV clip. The difference was more pronounced on more dramatic effects; a fisheye filter applied to the same footage yielded a 54-second render on the DV stream and 2:54 on the HDV.

Once your project is done, of course, your HDV playback options are limited. You can output back to HDV tape, an option that our lack of an HDV camera prevented me from testing. When I output the three-minute project to uncompressed QuickTime, however, even the juiced-up G5 sputtered when playing back the 12GB file. Results were better in other formats, though encoding to some resulted in a loss of quality that was beyond what I'd consider tolerable for professional video. The AVI clips were particularly bad, with wave-like ripples showing up in what should have been clear blue sky. That's not Final Cut's fault; it's just the vagaries of converting from HDV to other formats.

Closing Thoughts and Topics for Further Research
One issue in the FCE HD/FCP 5 comparison that we'll take up in a later issue is the way the two programs handle HDV material internally. While FCE and iMovie convert the MPEG Transport Streams with their I, B, and P frames to a more manageable I-Frame-only data stream, FCP 5's new native capture utility keeps the MPEG-2 HDV streams in pristine form, just as they're acquired by the HDV camera. Because that means processing three video frames for every conventionally editable frame, it's a much more processor-intensive approach. We'll compare the impact on the G5 processor and workflow in a future article when we have an HDV camcorder handy and the (at press time) unreleased FCP 5 in for review.

But we're here today to assess FCE HD, and the report is a good one. All in all, Final Cut Express HD performed even better than I'd hoped, and I had to remind myself more than once that I was actually working with HDV. So if you're not ready to take the leap to Final Cut Pro 5 or the Final Cut Studio suite (both of which should be available by the time you read this), Final Cut Express HD is more than just a stopover on the way to bigger and better things. It's an unqualified success on its own terms.

System Requirements
• 550MHz Macintosh PowerPC G4 or G5 (550MHz for PowerBook G4; 450MHz for dual-processor PowerMac G4 or G5) with AGP graphics card
• 384MB RAM (512MB required for RT Extreme and Soundtrack)
• HDV requires 1GHz or faster PowerPC G4 or G5 and 1GB RAM
• Mac OS X 10.3.7 or higher
• QuickTime 6.5.2 or later
• 1GB available disk space for hardware installation; 5GB for Soundtrack content; 9GB for LiveType content

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Century Introduces New Xtreme Fisheye

Schneider Optics, Century Division has expanded on their family of fisheye adapters to offer the Xtreme Fisheye. This new attachment offers an ultrawide field of view along with pronounced barrel distortion.

The Xtreme Fisheye is currently designed for use with mini DV camcorders, including the Sony HVR-Z1U. Employing the highest grade optics, Century's Xtreme Fisheye lock-mounts onto the front of the camcorder lens to provide approximately 1608 horizontal angle of view (1808 when measured diagonally). For reinforced support, this new optic interfaces with existing standard rod systems.

The Century Xtreme Fisheye is designed for action sports, music videos, or dramatic impact shots in tight environments where capturing the field of view is otherwise impossible. Fisheyes effectively exaggerate depth, pull nearby objects closer and cause distant objects to recede into the background..

Priced below $3,000, the Xtreme Fisheye will be available Fall 2005.


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EIZO Introduces FlexScan L997 LCD Monitor

Eizo Nanao Technologies Inc. ("EIZO") has announced the FlexScan L997, a 21.3" LCD monitor. The generous screen size coupled with a wide range of image control and usability features made possible with EIZO's own ASIC (application specific integrated circuit) ensure the FlexScan L997 is ideal for professionals engaged in CAD/CAM, DTP, or other graphics work.

The FlexScan L997 has a new Super In-Plane Switching (IPS) panel that minimizes color shift and provides wide 170° viewing angles. Brightness is 250 cd/m², contrast ratio a very high 550:1, and pixel pitch a fine 0.270 mm. At a viewable image size of 21.3" and a native resolution of 1600 × 1200, it can display two A4 size documents on screen side-by-side. An ergonomic design includes thin bezel design on all sides of the screen to help save space, tilt and swivel angles of 40° and 70°, and a height adjustable stand with a range of 82 mm. Dual DVI-I inputs are included for compatibility with both digital and legacy analog graphics boards, and a USB hub with one upstream and two downstream ports offers high speed connection with other USB compliant peripherals.

ActiveRotation II - Portrait Orientation Support
Available for the first time with the FlexScan L997, Active Rotation II offers support for portrait mode simply by rotating the panel 90°. EIZO first introduced ActiveRotation in its monitors in 2003, and although it proved to be an attractive alternative to software-based solutions which absorb CPU power and can compromise graphics performance, it required the user to change the settings in the OSD menu to enable portrait mode. To make the feature more user friendly, the FlexScan L997 includes a gravity sensor so it "knows" when it is being rotated, and can automatically change between landscape to portrait orientation accordingly. ActiveRotation II supports both Windows 2000/XP and Macintosh OS 9/X platforms.

ActiveShot - Picture-in-Picture Display
ActiveShot offers picture-in-picture from two PC sources\ so users can perform two tasks at once without having to switch between application windows. ActiveShot comes with Standard and Clip modes. Standard mode shows the entire screen from the second PC source in the sub-window. With Clip mode, the user can select just the desired area of the screen for display in the sub-window. In both modes, the position of the sub-window can be moved as required. The sub-window can be made to appear and disappear at the touch of a button.

14-Bit Processing
The ASIC converts 8-bit data (256 tones for each primary color) received from the PC to 14 bits (16,384 tones) in the ASIC and then back to 8 bits for a proper gamma curve. This 14-bit processing ensures extremely smooth grayscale display even in dark areas which are typically problematic for an LCD monitor to render without banding.

Independent 6-Color Control
Hue and saturation can be controlled individually for each primary (red, green, blue) and secondary color (cyan, yellow, and magenta). With this detailed control, a single color in an image can be adjusted slightly or changed altogether. Emulation of Color Characteristics With color characteristic emulation, the FlexScan L997 can emulate the color characteristics of CRT or other LCD monitors by inputting their coordinates for white, red, green, and blue with the bundled ScreenManager Pro for LCD3 software. This is especially useful for color matching when another monitor is the standard monitor in a workflow or when different models are used in a multi-monitor environment.

For comfortable viewing of any type of content from detailed text documents to color-rich images, the FlexScan L997 includes EIZO's Fine Contrast function which offers five imaging modes: Text, Picture, Custom, Movie, External, and sRGB. Each mode has its own settings for image parameters such as color temperature, gamma, and brightness. Navigating between the modes is done simply by pressing a button on the front panel. A sixth mode, WindowMovie Mode, is accessible through the ScreenManager Pro for LCD software. WindowMovie displays a video player software application at the monitor's maximum brightness setting and the rest of the screen at a lower brightness set according to user preference.

Additional features of ScreenManager Pro for LCD include the assigning any Fine Contrast mode to an application so that when the application is activated, the screen automatically changes to the assigned mode, and control of all OSD functions with the mouse or keyboard rather than the OSD menu.

The FlexScan L997 is now shipping with a 5-year warranty and comes in a choice of gray or black. The MSRP for the monitor is $1,549.




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Sony Offers New DVD Burners With 4X DVD-R Dual Layer Recording

Sony Electronics has expanded its lineup of DVD burners with a pair of new drives that support 4X DVD-R Dual Layer (DL) recording. The internal DRU-800A and external DRX-800UL models can burn up to four hours of high-quality video or up to 8.5 GB of data, music and/or images onto a single DVD-R DL disc. In addition, the DRU-800A and DRX-800UL drives come bundled with a software package from Nero for burning and authoring home movies, creating digital scrapbooks, and backing up crucial data.

The internal DRU-800A drive comes with an ATAPI interface for easy installation inside a PC and includes a black replacement bezel for those with black-colored PC cases. The external DRX-800UL drive features a space-efficient vertical design and offers connectivity with both i.LINK and hi-speed USB (USB 2.0) digital interfaces.

The burners come bundled with award-winning Nero DVD video authoring software, as well as with DVD/CD burning software for creation of data, music, and video DVDs and CDs.

The internal DRU-800A is currently shipping for about $130, while the external DRX-800UL is expected to ship in late May for around $210.


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Apple Announces New iMac G5

Apple has unveiled a new iMac G5 line with faster 2.0 GHz PowerPC G5 processors, built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, and Mac OS X version 10.4 "Tiger". The new iMac G5s also include faster graphics, a new 8X SuperDrive with double-layer support, built-in Gigabit Ethernet for faster networking, and 512MB of memory across the line. Every new iMac G5 comes with iLife ‘05, Apple's suite of digital lifestyle applications.

The iMac G5 also features a slot-load optical drive built right into a two-inch thin display. The new iMac G5 offers widescreen displays including a 20-inch model with 1680-by-1050 pixel resolution or a 17-inch model with 1440-by-900 pixel resolution. With built-in AirPort Extreme 802.11g and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) wireless modules, users can reduce cable clutter with the optional Apple Wireless Keyboard and Apple Wireless Mouse.

Featuring the performance of the PowerPC G5 processor and offering up to a 667 MHz front-side bus, the new iMac G5s include 400 MHz DDR memory expandable to 2GB and storage capacity up to 400GB. All new iMac G5s offer the ATI Radeon 9600 graphics processor with 128MB of dedicated video memory to deliver high-performance graphics and effects. The new G5 also provides ultra-fast, pixel-accurate image processing when combined with the graphics capabilities of Tiger.

The new iMac G5 line is available immediately through the Apple Store, at Apple's retail stores, and Apple Authorized Resellers. The new iMac G5, is priced at $1,299.


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ATI Introduces Radeon X800 XL 512MB Graphics Board

ATI Technologies Inc. has launched its new Radeon X800 XL 512 MB graphics card, allowing users to run demanding applications at the highest image quality. Further, the introduction of 512MB graphics cards allows graphics software developers to raise the visual quality bar for their next-generation applications currently in development.

The Radeon X800 XL 512MB is currently being used by developers including BioWare; Crytek; Digital Extremes; Funcom; Gas Powered Games; Grin; id Software, Inc; Juice Games; Lionhead; NCsoft; Remedy: and Valve.

Radeon X800XL 512MB will be available in May, with an MSRP of $449.


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CyberLink Announces PowerProducer 3 Encore

CyberLink Corp., a developer of integrated solutions for the digital home, has announced the release of PowerProducer 3 Encore, an enhanced version featuring new editing tools and certification for reliable DVD authoring and burning.

PowerProducer 3 Encore builds on CyberLink's DVD authoring technologies, offering support for the latest DVD disc and burner technology, including Double Layer discs and 16x burners.

PowerProducer 3 Encore is priced at $69.95.


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InterVideo Announces Bundling Partnership with Google

InterVideo, Inc. and leading Web property provider Google have announced a new partnership created to help bring internet and personal search capabilities to PC users with InterVideo's leading line of PC software products. The initial project bundles two recently released Google products with each of four main InterVideo products.

InterVideo will incorporate a Google Toolbar and Google Desktop Search application with four of their robust product lines. Included is the WinDVD DVD playback solution, the WinDVD Creator DVD authoring solution, DVD Copy, and the "9-in-1" utility suite package, MediaOne.

By the end of May, with every new trial and paid installation of these InterVideo products on the Web, users will have the option to install the Google Toolbar application which includes a browser utility search engine for Internet Explorer, a Pop-up Blocker to eliminate annoying pop-ups, and an Auto-Fill to help fill out Web forms instantly, as well as the Google Desktop Search utility that provides a full text search of the user's emails, files, Web history and chats they have viewed.


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