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Media 100 iFinish 4.5: A Web Producer’s Dream Box

With versatile new software editors, like Apple's Final Cut Pro and Adobe's revamped Premiere, running on ever more powerful machines on both Mac and Windows platforms, the question becomes: What is the need for a somewhat creatively handicapped yet powerful system like iFinish?

It Comes in a Wide Assortment of Flavors

Media 100 offers several versions of iFinish. We reviewed the fully tricked out iFinish V80 ($14,995 for kit, which comes with boards and software). It’s $18,4995 for turnkey, which includes: Inscriber’s Title motion, Cleaner, DV cable, pigtail cable, P6000 card, Boris FX, and the SDI I/O daughter board. The turnkey system itself includes a Compaq Evo Workstation W8000 with a 1.7 GHz Intel Xeon processor, 512MB RAM, an 18.2GB a 10,000rpm Ultra160 SCSI drive, a 16X/40X DVD-ROM drive and Windows 2000 Professional Other bundles to choose from include:

V20DV- $2995 ($6495 for turnkey): Comes with Inscriber Title Motion, Cleaner, DV I/O cable, video I/O cable (with composite and S-Video connectors), and P6000 board with DV daughter card. Does not include Boris FX.

V40 - $4995 ($9,990 for turnkey): Includes all of the above plus 300KB image quality, real-time monitor and waveform vectorscope, real-time static graphics, Boris FX, Analog breakout box with Component, Composite, S-Video and balanced and unbalanced audio I/O.

V60 - $9995 ($16,995 for turn key and includes RT MPEG Pro): Includes all of the above plus a real-time, dual-stream effects, real-time YUV colorcorrection and real-time parametric audio EQ.

V80 - $14,995 ($18,495 for turnkey): Includes all of the above plus lossless video quality, SDI I/O daughter card and SDI junction box with one SDI video input, two SDI video outputs and one AES/EBU channel pair of audio inputs and outputs.

Note: You can upgrade the V40 and V60 to lossless for $3995.

Perhaps the biggest news with this release of Media100's flagship product is the introduction of its 8-bit "lossless" codec technology (sold as an option for V40 and V60 users). Media 100 claims to have far lower system requirements than true uncompressed lossless systems, which often require a consistent data throughput far higher for what are visually indistinguishable results.

Media100's famous image quality, coming in what was once a ceiling of 300 kilobytes per frame (NTSC) can now peak if necessary as high as 600 kilobytes per frame. Because the lossless codec uses a variable rate that only digitizes non-redundant information and records redundant information as a reproduceable mathematical equation, this rate can vary. A talking head against a solid background will have a lot of redundant information and can easily stream onto your drives at a lower rate than, say, a bicycle race. This compares favorably to a true 8-bit uncompressed system, which would treat all the digital information the same way, at a consistently high data rate, using considerably more disc space.

Editor’s Note: Media100 says their lossless option will eventually become available to Media 100’s Mac line of products.

Software Stories

Although Media 100 sold Cleaner to Discreet, Cleaner owners who purchased the program when it was still under Media100's umbrella will continue to be supported by Media100, and iFinish still has an "Export to Cleaner" feature under the File menu. But before exporting a program for compression in Cleaner, iFinish users can now author and embed interactive "events" in the video timeline, a trick Media100 picked up from CineStream. More on this later.

All modern editing software wants to be all things to all people, meaning that they also claim to be effects generators, titlers, and most of all, compositing tools. With its two-track plus one graphic limit, this has always been a sticky spot for iFinish and Media100 users. Rather than redesigning the software (or perhaps the real-time capable hardware) from the ground up, Media 100 addresses this issue with the inclusion of third party software components, which it integrates into its main application, such as the new Boris FX’s version 6.0 software, which is included with iFinish 4.5. The new Boris gives iFinish users the ability to composite, layer, and assign effects to clips from within the iFinish app, without having to export a timeline to After Effects.

However, if you're used to building multilayered and/or keyframed video right there in the same timeline with everything else, a la Final Cut Pro, you may not appreciate even Boris 6.0's very capable tools, as it’s still a separate program within a program.

One big advantage to this system, though, is that Boris 6.0 can now use any After Effects compatible plug in. Although After Effects is still the tool of choice for most people who have less than enough cash for a major stand alone hardware compositor/effects machine, the fact that you can work with these filters is going to be a real plus for a lot of people who don't feel the need to learn After Effects, but still want to enjoy the benefits of fully customizable effects and real-time previews.

By the way, in case you are of the After Effects persuasion, iFinish is capable of exporting a project directly to After Effects with transitions and audio in corresponding layers, ready to tweak.

Gently down the stream

The big news in iFinish 4.5 for streaming mavens is Media 100's EventStream technology, which lets iFinish users author a video clip specifically for the Internet with interactive hot spots that trigger various events.

The kinds of events that can be programmed to occur at the markers, include display of text, opening another URL in a Web browser, a hotspot that specifies a shape and location on a video with up to 10 associated actions, Go To Time, which jumps to a different time in the movie, Replace Movie, which specifies a new URL for a new movie to start at a specific point in time, and Pause, which pauses the playback of a movie.

Graphics can be exported as a separate track from the video data, which maintains the graphic's integrity, saving it from compression artifacts while reducing total file size. The authoring all takes place in the iFinish application, and then the finished program is sent out to Cleaner to be prepped for streaming. Metadata can be attached to files in the iFinish authoring environment, but can also be revised later in Cleaner (i.e., if your copyright information changes in the middle of your project, you can revise it in Cleaner instead of having to go back and open the program again in iFinish).

Media 100 claims the true beauty of this system is that you can author an interactive Web presentation just once for all streaming media formats in the iFinish timeline, and then export directly to Cleaner to encode your stream in any format you please, maintaining a single source for all data.

Performance Issues

While everything worked fine during our tests, we did experience a few GUI anomalies, including a bad case of disappearing cursor, slightly sticky timeline scrubbing, and seemingly long renders of effects in Boris. Given the otherwise solid performance and real-time capabilities of iFinish, these don't seem like big issues, and might be addressed by a future software patch.

iFinish is ultimately built for producers who need to begin with high quality video, edit and output various streaming formats for the Web. With the V80s ability to work in the lossless codec and accept SDI connections (as an option), this version of iFinish would be well suited for broadcast/Web production post shops. If you’re working in wit DV or Betacam doing corporate or event videos, the V40, may be just what you’re looking for. Nothing can beat iFinish for its ease of use and integration with Cleaner, and no one will deny it’s a powerful two track editor, but from where we’re standing, it appears Media 100 has painted itself into a corner over the last few years. There are solutions from Canopus, Pinnacle Systems, and Matrox that can do practically everything iFinish can do, and more. We’re not saying steer clear of iFinish at all costs, we’re just saying evaluate all of the other options out there before you make your decision.

Pros: 1. One of the simplest interfaces to learn and use. 2. "All-in-one" solution geared toward those who need to acquire and edit high quality content and repurpose for Web delivery.3. "Lossless" codec delivers excellent image quality while conserving disc space.

Cons:1. Only two tracks of video plus one graphic in real time makes reliance on plug-ins (such as Boris) a necessity for all but the simplest editing tasks.2. We did encounter a few minor bug-like anomalies during testing3. Buying an iFinish turnkey solution may not be justified in light of faster computers, better operating systems, and powerful new software editors.

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