Editing in The Fast Lane
NewTek has a reputation for making video production faster, easier and sometimes just more fun.
Their latest innovation is SpeedEDIT, and according to NewTek, it is the "world's fastest video editor." As they have, in fact, created several revolutionary products, we'll certainly grant them the pole position. But such a bold claim begs close inspection and a few laps around the track.
We installed SpeedEDIT on our test computer, which well exceeded NewTek's minimum system specs for editing DV. However, it did not have dual dual-core CPUs as recommended for optimal HD editing. So, while we didn't assess complex HD real-time features, we did test these same features in SD. There is no hardware dongle, but installation does require you to enter a registration code that effectively locks the application to only that computer.
The interface is deceptively basic and easy to get around, but dig a little and you'll find plenty of horsepower under the hood. If you are familiar with NewTek's Video Toaster, you'll be right at home; if not, then give yourself a little more time to get acquainted with the layout and iconography and to get in sync with NewTek-think. For example, if you choose not to use the Filebin to import media, you might look under the File tab...nope, it's under the Window tab.
Unlike in many other editing packages, there is no integrated or docked preview window. To preview your project on a single monitor, you'll need to either minimize the main window to give the preview window some room or juggle the preview window around areas of the main window you are not using. You do, however, have several preview options, one of which includes using a FireWire-connected display device (or simply a throughput signal to a monitor via your camcorder). While it's not strictly required, we found a two-monitor set-up indispensable.
SpeedEDIT divides the default workspace into two main panes, each of which is user-configurable in both size and content. You choose each pane's content by clicking on one of five main tabs: Storyboard, Timeline, Spreadsheet, Control Tree and Filebin.
If you've honed your editing skills on timeline-based editors, using a storyboard view may at first seem, well, too easy. And it is! Of course, that also can translate to "fast." SpeedEDIT's storyboard does more than just rearrange clips in preparation for importing into a timeline; it actually dynamically updates the timeline in real time. If you trim or move the order of a clip in Storyboard, it will automatically update the timeline with that change. Delete a clip in Storyboard and the change ripples through the Timeline. This dynamic linking can be a huge timesaver in itself, but you need to get used to the idea that a change in one view will impact the other.
Organizing your clips visually can be very efficient, but of course you can't do more intricate operations like split edits or compositing. SpeedEDIT's timeline is a little different from most; it lacks the traditional vertical division between video and audio. Each clip, however, clearly features either a clip thumbnail image or an audio waveform, so there's no confusion of what is what.
Capturing video is simple and quick. SpeedEDIT gives you basic file management options for file naming and placement, transport control of your camcorder or deck and a meter gauging remaining disk space. NewTek also added a Chop function that allows you to create separate clips on the fly. If you're going to baby-sit the transfer anyway, creating rough individual clips could be another timesaver. Of course, if you have something better to do, you can just click Auto Chop and SpeedEDIT will create separate clips at every point where you hit the record button on your camcorder.
To see how well SpeedEDIT handled multiple formats and resolutions, we imported the following clips: 720x480 .avi, 720x480 Quicktime, 720x480 MPEG, 1280x720p M2T. There was no delay in either loading, trimming or reordering any of these files within SpeedEDIT. We were impressed that SpeedEDIT did not require any transcoding of various clip resolutions and formats before we could begin editing. This is potentially a huge time-saver. The audio portion of the clip, however, may need to be conformed to the pro-ject settings.
To manipulate properties of any clip, you simply highlight it and select the Control Tree tab. Here you'll find everything from 3D positioning, Alpha Channel control, advanced color correction, chroma keying and much more. The real-time chroma keyer offers a good amount of fine control. We were able to get a very acceptable key from a less-than-perfectly-lit background. Additionally, you can fine-tune most properties with keyframes in a graphic environment. Once you've made a keyframed node, right click on it to open up a host of additional features. Like we said earlier, the interface is only deceptively basic.
You access special effects and the titler through the Filebin. SpeedEDIT makes adding special effects as easy as dragging from the Filebin to the timeline. And for the most common transition of all, the dissolve, it's even easier: just slide one clip over another in the timeline, and you've got your dissolve!
Some of the more advanced features also contribute to increased editing speed. We particularly liked the Inherit function. Simply hold the ALT key while dragging a new clip over one to be replaced, and you automatically associate the properties of that clip, such as titling, graphic overlays, transparency values, motion, etc. This is a great way to maintain a consistent style.
NewTek has also tucked additional power into what it calls the Tool Shed. Here you'll find presets for motion control, DVEs, markers, video level and color controls, and even a wizard that helps you edit to a soundtrack. Also in the shed is image stabilization, a sometimes complicated feature of more extensive special effects programs. We loaded a moderately shaky handheld clip of a hang glider coming in for a landing, applied the Stabilize Video preset and hit Perform. It did not eliminate the larger camera movements, but the result was more stable video without the hassle.
One last consideration is re-editing, which can be a major chore for many programs, depending on how you archive your completed projects. The project file will invariably look for media clips in their original locations, not your new archive location. SpeedEDIT does speed up the process of making these new location associations by using the Spreadsheet tab. Simply highlight all the clips needing a new location association, right-click on the Drive icon, and click Edit Drive to type in a new drive location.
Finally, we output our test project in several formats, including directly back to tape and various high-compression settings, such as MP4 and Flash, with no problems. We did, however, run into a few speed bumps. We discovered SpeedEDIT doesn't show drive names, only letters, in the Filebin. The drive name is even missing in the drive properties. This posed a challenge for us, as we often have eight or more drives, internal and external, physical and logical, each named for their different media types and functions. Dropdown dialog boxes are semi-transparent, making some properties hard to read. And while SpeedEDIT comes with a useful manual, it does not include a centralized Help.
The World's Fastest?
So is SpeedEDIT the "World's Fastest Video Editor?" Key features like the dynamically linked Storyboard and Timeline panes, ease of incorporating multiple formats, no transcoding of different clip resolutions, inheriting functions, and plenty of real-time DVE, title and color effects do go a long way in supporting this claim. We would certainly agree that, with the right editor at the controls, there's a good chance it could be among the quickest ways for you to tell your story.
Trial Version Available: No
Operating System: Windows XP (SP 2)
Minimum CPU: Intel Pentium 4 or AMD Athlon processor that supports SSE2 (dual-core CPU recommended for HD/HDV editing)
Minimum RAM: 1GB
Capture Formats: DV, HDV
Batch Capture: No (will be available in future release)
Automatic Scene Detection: Yes
Number of Video Tracks: Unlimited
Number of Audio Tracks: Unlimited
Audio Scrub: Yes
Keyframe Animation: Yes
Number of Video Transitions: 500+ real-time
Number of Video Filters: 10 real-time filters, 175 pre-designed, CG pages
Background Rendering: Yes
Realtime Software Previews: Yes
Optimized for Dual Processor/HyperThreading: Yes
Third-party Plug-in Support: Yes
• Innovative combination of storyboard and timeline editing.
• Compatible formats with resolution independence.
• And yes, it is indeed fast.
• No drive names shown in file manager.
• No centralized Help menu.
• Simplified but non-standard layout may take some getting used to.
SpeedEDIT gives you an easily-navigated interface that can provide greater storytelling flexibility, using mixed resolutions and formats with little to no rendering.
Brian Peterson is a video production consultant, trainer and lecturer.