Tuning your system for video

In this new column, we investigate the relevant issues affecting PC users working with digital video and multimedia.

Michael Schumacher's Formula One Ferrari, Valentino Rossi's 500cc Honda and Colin McRae's Rally Bred Ford are all performance machines. However, you'll never see them together in the same race as performance means different things to different people.

The same goes for creating a performance PC system; the factors involved depend on what you want to do. A games freak needs speed and fast frame rates, and damn the consequences. The latest cutting-edge graphics cards and processors are usually on the shopping list, and most gamers are also happy to overclock their processor in the quest for more speed. Stability isn't the highest priority for this species, as the system can always be rebuilt in time for the next LAN party.

On the other hand, graphic artists depend on colour accuracy above all else, with a strong focus on ensuring that application, PC and monitor are in perfect sync. Therefore, important aspects for the graphic artist are a stable operating environment, more than enough RAM to deal with large image files and the best monitor he/she can afford.

The video-editing enthusiast is a different animal altogether, needing a combination of speed, storage and stability to work effectively.

The ideal DV computer


Affordable FireWire cards have provided the perfect way for video enthusiasts to breathe new life into their pastime, allowing them to simply plug a DV camcorder into a FireWire-enabled PC and edit with one of the many video-editing programs available.

However, the simplicity of digital video and FireWire has meant that a lot of the responsibility for processing data is now with the PC processor.

FireWire does nothing more than provide a bridge from your DV camcorder to the PC. DV effects, filters, titles and the final rendering demand a lot more from the system processor than does an analog solution, as the capture card helps out with the processing tasks. If you don't have a real-time solution such as the Matrox 2500 or a Pinnacle Pro One, rest assured that your PC processor will be doing a lot of work. In most cases, the PC's processor has to handle elements like real-time previews and transcoding DV to Video-CD, DVD or video for the Web.

On paper, processing performance is similar across the range between AMD and Intel, although many gamers tend to opt for the AMD processor due to better price performance and overclocking capabilities. However, the Pentium III and 4 processors is the best way to go with video editing. They dominate the industry and, as such, most applications are made with the Pentium processor in mind.

Thanks for the memory


256MB of memory should be the base level of RAM you should consider for video editing, particularly given the low price of RAM at the moment. After 512MB, it is a case of a diminishing return on investment. 512MB is absolutely recommended if working with video on Windows 2000 or Windows XP platforms. Issues such as SDRAM, DDR RAM and Dual Channel RDRAM are not crucial, although a motherboard that can support DDR RAM is preferable. The speed advantages using DDR266 RAM over PC133 SDRAM is real and the price is about the same. On the other hand, PC800 RDRAM continues to be priced well above SDRAM and isn't worth the money if you are working within a budget. 512MB of DDR RAM is better than 256MB of PC800 RAM, and you can get a better hard drive with the change.

Storage issues


All ATA EIDE drives with a speed of 7200 rpm will work fine with DV. However, since the data rate of DV is 3.6MBps, the capacity of the drive is important - essentially, the larger the hard drive, the better.

At about 1GB for two minutes of DV, you may want to consider the latest 60GB ATA EIDE drives priced at around $400. In an optimised system it is necessary to have the video drive as a second drive, with the computer's primary (C:) drive responsible for holding the operating system and application software.

For editing video, a critical component is the operation of the Direct Memory Access (DMA) for the hard drive. If stable DMA is not possible, the video stream to the hard drive will be interrupted. This may cause dropped frames of video, making the finished movie unwatchable.

Next month, we will look at some of the challenges that video can throw up with regards to exporting finished footage to the format flavour of the month, MPEG-2.

Hard Drive Setup


Use the following setup for hassle-free video. The assumption is that your system has two IDE slots supporting a total of four IDE devices. Some motherboards also ship with on-board RAID, allowing you to add multiple IDE drives with ease.

Primary Master (C: or main drive used for applications) - Don't capture video to this drive.

Primary Slave - CD-ROM, DVD-ROM.

Secondary master (AV drive) - This drive should be as clean and as fast as possible, and should be for captured video.

Secondary slave (AV drive 2) - A CD-RW drive or DVD-RAM drive.

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Denis Gallagher

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