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Copyright © 2004 -
Information Today, Inc.

February 22, 2005

Table of Contents

Review: Macrosystem Solitaire
Silhouette FX Ships Silhouette Roto
Macrovision Introduces RipGuard DVD to Reduce Digital DVD Piracy
Panasonic Expands Convertible Camera Lineup
Rimage and YesVideo Announce Interoperability Partnership for Automated Digital Transfers to DVD
Sonic Releases DVD Burning Plug-in for Windows Photo Story 3
Alias Announces Release of Maya 6.5
Primera and Dexxon Digital Storage Announce Worldwide Distribution Agreement
Dell Adds New Flat-Panel Display to Portfolio
EventDV Spotlight Reader Survey #4 RESULTS

Review: Macrosystem Solitaire

As the top-end product in Macrosystem's various lines of standalone video editing systems, Solitaire ($4,769 as reviewed) is an easy-to-learn, simple-to-operate non-linear editor, one without the complexity or hassle of PC-based systems.  While earlier versions of Macrosystem's patented OS/NLE, SmartEdit, may have seemed limiting to some pro users, Solitaire now comes with added power and flexibility, and is an alternative worth considering when shopping for video editing solutions around $5,000. Users can also choose among an array of add-on effects packs and utilities to extend Solitaire's capabilities; of special interest to videographers is QuadCam, an ingenious tool for synching footage from multicamera shoots.

Macrosystem's Solitaire is very aptly named.

It's a standalone video editinhg appliance: it works without a computer, doesn't need a dedicated display, and can even be used without a keyboard.

Solitaire is an easy-to-learn, simple-to-operate non-linear editor, one without the complexity or hassle of PC-based systems. It's the newest entry in the Casablanca family of standalone video devices from Macrosystem Digital Video AG.

Almost literally, you can be up and editing minutes after taking Solitaire out of the box. But this apparent simplicity is both its strength and its weakness.

For those new to video editing, Solitaire or one of its siblings is a great way to get started; company reps say you don't have to be an editor to edit with them. But earlier offersings from Macrosystem were almost toy-like in their simplicity to those with professional editing experience, especially on top computer-based NLEs.

While earlier versions may have seemed limiting, Solitaire now comes with added power and flexibility, and is an alternative worth considering when shopping for video solutions around $5,000.

It includes recently updated software, removable hard drives, a leading DVD burner, one-button backup, and more memory than previous models. More often than not, a trackball is all that's needed to navigate the user interface and initiate system functions, although Solitaire does ship with a keyboard and dedicated "shortcut" software.

A wide selection of software is available from Macrosystem, designed for Solitaire and other Casablanca family members Avio, Prestige, and Kron (see Stephen Nathans' review of Avio Pro at http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/PrintArticle.aspx?ArticleID=9287). At the core of these offerings is the current OS/editing program, SmartEdit 4. There are also new DVD authoring and burning utilities. CBPaint is the latest paint and graphics program, and PhotoStudio is a brand new release for photo manipulation, including pan and zoom. Perhaps most interesting to videographers is a new tool called QuadCam that's designed to facilitate multicamera editing with support for as many as four cameras.

In fact, dozens of software programs--effects and transitions, animated backgrounds, title motion, and 3D packs--are available extend and enhance the capabilities of the hardware. Solitaire comes with several on-board, but there are so many more from which to choose that, all in all, a big chunk of the investment in a Macrosystem video editing solution potentially lies in the software, the upgrades, and the learning curves.

Luckily, that is where the solitary nature of the Solitaire disappears.

Its growing user base is supported by a vibrant owner community and tech-support network, including online forums, chat boards, and a truly helpful and responsive corporate help desk. The company itself supports and benefits from this exchange of ideas, of course, and it integrates such feedback into its product support and development.

Take the Tour
Solitaire comes in a shiny, silvery cube. Its glassy cover (front and top) gives it a sleek, distinguished look, diminished somewhat by the flimsy plastic-hinged doors on the front.

Touch-sensitive buttons marked on the glass are kept to a minimum: Off, Open, and One Touch Back-up are all that are needed. A small LED display indicates the unit's operating status.

Behind the bottom door on the front of the Solitaire, ther are supplemental video connections (DV, S-Video, RCA/composite) and a SmartCard slot, used to load new operating software or special effects packages. The top flap opens to the DVD burner, Pioneer's DVR-A08, featuring the latest high-speed and dual-layer recording technology.

The back of the unit is where the main connections are found, including video and audio I/O as RCA composite, dedicated S-Video, or four-pin DV. Solitaire comes with a handy two-way adaptor for those who do not want double the cables running out the back of the unit--a simple switch changes one set of cables from input to output.

Suitable for analog editing, the product now uses what's called Direct DV--incoming digital video is no longer transcoded to MPEG-2 (as in previous products) bus is captured "as is" in raw DV files, maintaining pristine image quality.

Other important connections are for trackball, PowerKey keyboard, Ethernet/LAN, dedicated VGA monitor, or outboard USB devices.

Inside, the system includes (depending on the configuration purchased) a 3.2GHz Intel processor, up to 1GB RAM, a removable IDE (up to 300GB) and backup drive (also up to 300GB), and the built-in DVD burner, as well as video chipsets, codecs, and other dedicated processors (codecs from C-Cube and MainConcept).

Getting Started
Once plugged in, Solitaire rests in standby until one touch to the front sensor button fires it up. After about 15 seconds, the main page appears on any attached display (I used my ordinary 25" color TV). Basic set-up choices for project and system settings, including audio and video, are displayed and determined from this main screen.

System settings include operating language, display preferences, trackball speed, and more. Importantg functions like install software, system backup, and rendering are determined here. Settings for each editing project, such as name and format, are also stored here (Solitaire can have up to ten projects).

Video settings (used when capturing or importing video into the system) specify which inputs to use (front or back, analog or DV). Basic brightness, saturation, and contrast controls for analog capture are featured here as well.

Only a few key parameters must be set before editing, like video inputs.

The system is ready to go once a video device, like a camcorder, is connected and identified. Click Record from the main screen to bring up the capture display, where video source material is displayed. A small graphic overlay shows basic tape transport (Play, FFWD, RW, etc.) and capture controls.

Simply clicking on the large red button imports material played on the outboard device into Solitaire. A display indicates how long the current capture is, and a system space indicator shows overall storage availability.

Recorded scenes are automatically numbered as S[cene]1, S2,S3, etc.; these notations can be changes to more useful and content-specific names afterwards. Each captured chunk of video is placed by the system into a corresponding project Scene Bin, where thumbnail images of the captured clips are displayed. Each scene in the bin can be played (now coming from the hard drive, not the outboard device) and renamed as needed. Audio comes with the video clips as in any FireWire DV capture; other audio elements--like tracks from CDs--can also be "ripped" to the hard drive with a slightly different process.

Once the video is recorded, one click on the trackball exits the Record screen, and another click on Edit brings up the actual screen where shots are arranged and programs assembled.

Arranging the Shots, Sequencing the Program
Solitaire works with a storyboard approach to editing. Working in SmartEdit on the Solitaire is much as Stephen Nathans described it in his Avio review (http://www.eventdv.net/Articles/PrintArticle.aspx?ArticleID=9287). A brief recap: video is represented by thumbnail images, displayed side by side on the screen and arranged left to right in the order they would play if you were watching the finished program. The Storyboard occupies the upper half of the Edit screen. To add a selected scene to the Storyboard, highlight (click) the scene in the Scene bin at the bottom of the screen. Then click Add to put that scene--and its corresponding audio--on the storyboard.

Split your clips into manageable chunks manually or using the Auto feature, which will automatically split up long chunks of captured video based on the start-stop command data laid down by the camcorder itself during videotaping. As well, there's the Trim function, used to clean up captured video scenes individually. With either the trackball or keyboard commands, new in or out points for a scene are set by moving through the video step by step, and then clicking the appropriate button on-screen. Using the Add function brings a new scene--with its corresponding audio--to the Storyboard. But sometimes you want only the new video, without audio.

In these cases, Solitaire offers the Insert function. Again, simply highlight a desired clip in the Scene Bin, but this time click Insert, not Add. The scene is moved to the Storyboard, covering over any existing video at the chosen point, but leaving the original audio intact.

Enhancing the Video with Special Effects
Having arranged the shots in a desired order, it's now time to add some transitions and effects to the program—as mentioned, Solitaire users have quite a selection from which to choose. The Transitions screen is accessed from the Start-up screen, or from the Transitions icon at the bottom of the Edit screen. Once selected, the display now shows video thumbnails between which a transition will be placed.

Along the left-hand side, a scrolling list of available transitions is shown. Other controls, such as Edge or Direction, are also in this interface. Some transitions are immediate; once applied correctly, they can be viewed in real time. Some transitions need to be built or "created"—a non-real-time process in which the effect must be rendered. Solitaire addresses this issue with its Preview function (the effect appears in a small window without rendering) or Batch Render command (which will do all needed processing after the fact).

What's more, the new SmartEdit 4.0c update with its Smart Rendering feature will do rendering in the back-ground, even while work on the project is going on in other areas. The idea is to eliminate waiting time at the end of an edit session.

Along with special effects and transitions between scenes, Solitaire lets you apply special Image Processing effects to individual scenes, or entire sequences.

From basic first aid filters (like white balance, color correction, brightness, or contrast) to more creative and sophisticated image adjustments (film look, mosaics, solarize/posterize,sepia, or B & W, etc.), such effects are added or created with a dedicated user interface screen, accessed from the main start-up page (or with Edit screen icons). Again, depending on the nature of the video and the type of processing involved, the effect may need to be previewed or rendered.

Solitaire's titling capabilities are also accessed through dedicated interface screens (including one with a small window to preview titles over video). Select Titling from the main screen, and the system presents several options for title style, shape, position, size, font, placement, color, edges, motion, and much more. Once the parameters are selected, titles are saved and loaded into working video projects. Titles are applied by Solitaire as image processing effects, and may be previewed in a similar fashion. The ability to customize available fonts is OK; you can purchase more fonts in order to expand creative options.

Macrosystem's audio editing features have been enhanced over the years. Soundtracks can be volume-corrected, manipulated with audio features, exported as 5.1 surround sound, and enhanced with improved audio import capabilities (such as from CD). A dedicated interface lets you mix, fade, adjust, and add effects among six audio tracks (captured audio with video is one track). Crossfades, audio envelopes, and waveforms can also be applied.

QuadCam for Live Event Editing
One of Solitaire's most intriguing new features is software (available for any compatible Macrosystem product) for editing multicamera shoots.

QuadCam syncs video material from 2-4 camcorders (without hand-claps or photo flashes, although those methods still have value). The footage from all four cameras is displayed in the user interface, and editing among them is a point-and-click matter in real time. The system exports a storyboard based on those edit decisions. Transitions or effects can be added, DVD output can be selected, and the work can be exported as .AVI files for use in other NLEs.

Under a patent-pending technology called Smart Sync, Solitaire uses a DV camcorder's built-in clock, and the data from that clock stored on tape, to set itself up.

The user connects each camera to the Solitaire via FireWire (before the shoot is recommended, but any time within 24 hours of the shoot is generally OK). Solitaire reads the time information from each camera and calculates the difference (in milliseconds) between camera time and its internal time (within a one-second resolution).

The early release of this new software is still a little quirky, and users will note some limitations. Not all DV camcorders are supported (that's where the handlcaps come in handy--you can still use QuadCam even if the cameras cannot be read precisely). The software determines that one camera (designated Background) supplies all the audio for a multicam edit. That is generally OK, but user-discovered workarounds for mixing other cameras' audio sources is a little cumbersome.

With a three-second handle available to tweak any edit decision, QuadCam and the new Solitaire provide a quick and easy way for the solitary videographer to cut a multiple-camera shoot.


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Silhouette FX Ships Silhouette Roto

Silhouette FX, LLC has announced the availability of Silhouette Roto, a rotoscoping engine designed as a plug-in for Adobe After Effects on Windows and Mac OS. The plug-in is also compatible with Apple's Final Cut Pro. A standalone version for Linux, Mac, and Windows will be available shortly, according to Silhouette FX.

Rotoscoping (roto) is the process of manually extracting or isolating a portion of an image. Silhouette Roto features a user interface and workflow designed exclusively around the rotoscoping task. Beziers and b-splines are provided along with tools for drawing, reshaping, and transforming shapes. Shapes can be rotated, scaled, skewed/sheared, moved, and corner-pinned in a single mouse click. Silhouette Roto offers a multi-frame editing mode that ripples changes across a user-definable range of keyframes.

Silhouette Roto provides flexible, high-quality motion blur and shape feathering (variable edge blur) that doesn't require an entire second curve to be edited. Motion trackers can automatically guide, shape, or point movement. Final composites can be previewed live as you work. Rendering is assisted by OpenGL hardware acceleration.

Shapes can be imported from Elastic Reality and Commotion. Shapes can be exported to GMASK files compatible with combustion, flint, flame, inferno, smoke, and fire systems. When running as a plug-in, After Effects masks can be imported directly into Silhouette Roto if desired, and shapes created by Silhouette Roto can be fed directly back into After Effects as masks.

The plug-in version supports 8- and 16-bit depths. The standalone version offers float point processing along with 8- and 16-bit support. Color image files including alpha channels or alpha channel only files can be written to a variety of formats including OpenEXR. The standalone version also allows multiple sessions to be included in a single project. The company notes that the standalone version for Linux is built for making economical dedicated roto stations.

Silhouette Roto, as a plug-in for Mac OS and Windows systems, retails for $395. As a standalone application for Windows, Mac OS, and Linux systems, Silhouette Roto retails for $495. Both the stand-alone and the plug-in can be purchased together for $595.


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Macrovision Introduces RipGuard DVD to Reduce Digital DVD Piracy

Macrovision Corporation, a supplier of content and software value management solutions, announced the worldwide availability of RipGuard DVD, a digital rip-control solution for DVD-Video.

RipGuard DVD is a unilateral content protection system that is applied to DVD discs and requires no additional software or hardware to be incorporated into PCs, DVD players, or DVD recorders. The combination of Macrovision's analog copy protection technology and RipGuard DVD, provides comprehensive DVD protection from analog and digital piracy threats.


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Panasonic Expands Convertible Camera Lineup

At NAB 2005, Panasonic will debut the AW-E860, a native 16:9 2/3" 3-CCD convertible camera, and complementary accessories to bolster its line-up of remotely controllable, multi-purpose cameras. New accessories include the AW-PH400 high-speed pan-tilt head, AW-PH360 pan-tilt head, the AW-RP400 pan-tilt controller, AW-CB400 camera control unit, and AW-RC400 cable compensation unit.

The AW-E860 is native 16:9 510,000-pixel 3-CCD bayonet-mount camera for indoor shooting. The AW-E860 incorporates advanced IT CCDs that deliver 850 lines of horizontal resolution, 63dB signal-to-noise ratio, a minimum illumination of 0.4 lux, a sensitivity of F11 at 2000 lux, and variable shutter speeds from 1/100 to 1/10,000/sec. with synchro scan and electronic light compensation. The camera offers 12-bit A/D Digital Signal Processing and 12-vector color matrix masking for fine color adjustment and a dynamic range of 600%. It includes Panasonic's proprietary Digital Noise Reduction (DNR) technology, as well as chroma detail and dark detail.

The AW-PH400 High-Speed Pan-Tilt Indoor Head has a pan speed of up to 90 degrees/sec., and stop accuracy of maximum 0.008 degrees. It has a pan range of 400 degrees, a tilt range of +/- 150 degrees, and a load capacity of 17.6 pounds (8kg). The AW-PH400 features 10 trace memories, while retaining a memory of its last position. It operates at a distance of more than 1640 feet (500 meters), according to Panasonic. The unit offers SDI, component, and composite outputs and will accept both broadcast and industrial motor-driven lenses. An AC adaptor, position encoder and teleprompter outputs are standard.

The AW-PH360 Pan-tilt Indoor Head offers a pan speed of up to 30 degrees/sec. and a stop accuracy of 0.05 degrees. The PH360 features a pan range of 300 degrees, a tilt range of +/-95 degrees, and a load capacity of 8.8 pounds (4Kg). It is also RS-232C-controllable, offers 10 trace memories, and operates to a maximum distance of 3280 feet (1000 meters). The PH360 provides SDI, component and composite outputs and a tally light is available. The PH360 can be controlled by the Panasonic AW-RP301, AW-RP305, AW-RP501, AW-RP605, and AW-RP400 pan-tilt controllers.

Complementing the PH400 and PH360, the AW-RP400 Pan-tilt Controller offers a changeable zoom/focus controller (joystick/seesaw), 50 preset positions, five pan-tilt heads control, Zoom/Focus/Pan/Tilt speed control, a Tally/Intercom function, and 10 minutes of tracing memory. The AW-RP400 offers a SD memory card slot to save settings to a postage stamp-size SD memory card. It has a maximum control distance of more than 1640 feet (500 meters), and is also RS-232C controllable.

The AW-CB400 camera control unit offers full control of five cameras, a tally/intercom function, and its maximum control distance is up to 3280 feet (1000 meters). The AW-RC400 cable compensation can compensate up to five analog video signals and has a maximum cable distance of more than 1640 feet (500 meters).

The AW-E860N will be available in April at a suggested list price of $11,000. The AW-PH400 will be available in March at a suggested list price of $12,460. The AW-PH-360 will be available in May at a suggested list price of $4,900. The AW-RP400 will be available in March at a suggested list price of $6,000; the AW-CB400 will be available in March at a suggested list price of $1,600; and AW-RC400 will be available in March.


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Rimage and YesVideo Announce Interoperability Partnership for Automated Digital Transfers to DVD

Rimage Corporation, a provider of CD-R/DVD-R publishing systems for business applications, and YesVideo, Inc., a developer of automated digital media authoring, announced an interoperability partnership for the automated transfer of digital camera photo and video content to DVD. The companies will demonstrate their integrated solution for photo retailers at Rimage Booth #3163 and YesVideo Booth #2071/2073 at the PMA 2005 show from February 20-23 in Orlando, Florida.

Under this partnership, the companies have integrated YesVideo's proprietary YesDVD software application into Rimage's hardware platform. The resulting automated application converts digital photo and video content from flash memory cards directly to DVD.


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Sonic Releases DVD Burning Plug-in for Windows Photo Story 3

Sonic Solutions, a developer of digital media software, announced that it is providing Windows Photo Story 3 users with a new burning solution. Sonic DVD for Photo Story 3 is the program's first DVD burning plug-in that enables users to record their photo stories to DVD.

Users can easily retouch their images, add dramatic pans and zooms, create a soundtrack, and even add narration. In addition to sharing projects on DVD using the Sonic plug-in, completed photo stories can be shared via email or the Web.

Pricing and Availability
Sonic DVD for Photo Story 3 is available from Sonic and will be available from Microsoft on February 20th for a limited, introductory price of $19.99 exclusively for users of Photo Story 3.


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Alias Announces Release of Maya 6.5

Alias announced that worldwide shipping of Maya 6.5 is now underway. Maya 6.5 addresses the needs of next-generation productions in gaming, film, broadcasting, and digital publishing industries. Maya now delivers improved interactivity, calculations of deformations and simulations, I/O, and redrawing.

Large datasets are more manageable in Maya 6.5 software due to improvements in scene segmentation including reference file editing, nesting, and locking. Additionally, a new STEP translator makes the importing of CAD data files faster.


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Primera and Dexxon Digital Storage Announce Worldwide Distribution Agreement

Primera Technology, Inc. has announced the appointment of Dexxon Digital Storage, Inc. as an Authorized Primera Distributor. The agreement covers worldwide, wholesale distribution of Primera's complete range of DVD and CD duplication and printing solutions.

Primera's Bravo II and BravoPro Disc Publishers are used by offices, churches, schools, government agencies, recording studios, video production houses, and more. In addition, Primera offers CD/DVD burning and printing solutions for home and SOHO users as well as large, high-volume production systems for service bureaus and CD/DVD replication plants.

Dexxon Digital Storage is a value-added distributor of computer media, hardware, duplication equipment, storage furniture, and supplies for the office and IT marketplace. Founded in 1986, the company is located in Columbus, Ohio.


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Dell Adds New Flat-Panel Display to Portfolio

Dell, a provider of LCD monitors, has introduced its largest flat panel display, the 24-inch UltraSharp 2405FPW. The widescreen monitor is designed for graphics professionals and computing enthusiasts.

The 2405FPW includes a 9-in-1 memory card reader on the side of the panel for a convenient way to download files and photos. Four USB 2.0 ports enable users to attach devices such as keyboards, secondary hard drives, and printers. With S-Video, composite, and component inputs, the 2405FPW can be hooked up to a video camera, gaming console, DVD player. or cable box. Picture-in-picture and picture-by-picture modes, and allow users to watch video input and PC content simultaneously.


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EventDV Spotlight Reader Survey #4 RESULTS


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