Understanding real-time

In the video editing industry, the term ‘real-time’ refers to the ability to perform a task — such as creating a special effect or a 3D title — in the time it takes to play the piece of video footage. Unfortunately, companies often redefine the word to suit their product, making it difficult to compare features from one product to another.

So, what are the different types of real-time and what do you need?

Getting real

Editing video and effects demands a lot from a PC system: many tasks such as special effects, titles and transitions take from a few minutes up to several hours to create. For example, a 10-second exploding 3D-title sequence may take anything from 20 seconds up to a few minutes to create, as each video frame is rendered with the new effect. However, a 10-second title sequence performed on a true real-time system would take 10 seconds or less to create.

A couple of years ago, real-time effects were only available on $10,000 systems; today, they are possible on systems priced well below $2000. Recently, companies such as Matrox, Canopus and Pinnacle have released hardware/software combinations that offer the ability to render some effects in real-time — but only the effects optimised for that specific application. Although limiting in some respects, this can be a cost-effective solution. The real-time effects, transitions and title sequences available are usually limited to the standard effects that you would constantly use.

Previously, real-time solutions depended on proprietary hardware to execute, and the PC’s CPU had little to do with the effects process. Today, products such as Canopus Storm 2, Pinnacle Edition Pro and Matrox RT.X10 offer scalable real-time performance. This means that the more powerful the PC, the more real-time performance you can achieve.

Making your PC work harder

The move to put more load onto the PC CPU for video effects has also been adopted by software manufacturers, which is good news for anyone about to buy a new PC.

Adobe Premiere 6.5, Avid DV Xpress 3.5, Pinnacle Edition 5 and MediaStudio Pro 7 now utilise the PC CPU in determining the real-time capabilities of an application. As the speed of your processor increases, so do the software’s real-time capabilities. This means that you can try effects and decide if the transition, effect or title works, before keeping or moving on. You can even add multiple effects to the same clip and see the results in real-time. This process is only limited by the power of your PC: if you don’t have the latest machine, the multiple real-time previews may not perform as well.

Entry level real-time previews

Real-time previews for the entry-level user differ from the more professional offerings. Entry-level applications such as Pinnacle Studio 8 and Ulead VideoStudio 7 usually offer real-time previews on a single effect, allowing you to see how the video sequence will look before committing to a final rendering (See here for a screenshot).

Remember, although real-time preview is extremely useful in determining whether an effect looks OK, you still have to render the video footage at the end of the project. However, most users will be more than satisfied to see how the project is progressing on the fly, and patiently wait at completion when it is time to render a final movie back out to tape, CD/DVD or the Web.

The adage ‘you get what you pay for’ applies to real-time video editing packages. If you are a video-editing enthusiast and have a fast PC, some of the software packages offering multiple real-time previews are an attractive option. However, if you only want to work with one effect at a time and you don’t mind waiting for your final movie to be rendered, packages such as Ulead VideoStudio 7 or Pinnacle Studio 8 may be the better option.

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Denis Gallagher

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