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Nonlinear Video Editors for Streaming Postproduction

Probably the farthest-reaching new feature in the Premiere Pro is an audio-to-text function. In my tests with good mic’d audio, accuracy was in the 90%–95% range. Certainly accurate enough to help you search for and find video sections while editing and a great start for transcriptions. Editing the text in Premiere Pro is painful; you have to edit a word at a time to preserve the link between the text and the underlying audio. Of course, you can copy and paste the entire transcription into a word processor to create a full transcript, but then you can’t match the text back to the audio.

If you’re an ActionScript programmer, you can create a Flash presentation that includes the video, audio, and text and let the viewer search for portions of the video based on the text. For nonprogrammers, Adobe promises to make this task easier going forward. However you get there, the ability to convert audio to text—and then link it to video in a player—is a killer feature that could transform news, entertainment, and knowledge-based applications.

For those interested in enhanced ingest, Adobe ported OnLocation to the Mac, so now it runs natively on both operating systems—no more Boot Camp or Parallels. Adobe also upgraded OnLocation’s graphical interface, changing from CS3’s painfully clunky faux-hardware look to that of a traditional software program—a lovely upgrade.

Other new additions include the ability to input a shot list and add and store shot-related metadata. For example, you can mark a shot as good or bad and add descriptive information, to which OnLocation will add all discernable camera-related information. When you open the clips in Premiere Pro, you can search by the entered data and use a new metadata panel to edit or expand this information.

Overall, with Premiere Pro CS4, Adobe focused on the workflow hurdles that slow the production process and seemed to minimize or eliminate virtually all of them. It also upgraded AME to a worthy stand-alone product, enhanced OnLocation significantly, and added significant functionality to Premiere Pro. Unless you’re a totally casual producer, it’s as close to a no-brainer upgrade as I’ve ever seen.

Apple Final Cut Studio
Apple had a great year as well. The company sold 1 million iPhone 3Gs in its first weekend on the market, announced that iTunes was "Number Two Music Retailer" in the U.S., and shipped the MacBook Air—"The World’s Thinnest Notebook." Oh, yeah, this is supposed to be about editing. Not much positive product-related news on that front, I’m sorry to report.

By way of background, Apple announced and shipped Final Cut Studio 2 in 2007. Notable new features included intermediate format ProRes, color-grading tool Color, the Open Format Timeline, and a revamped Compressor. Surprisingly, Apple stayed pat with DVD Studio Pro, which still doesn’t support Blu-ray Disc authoring, a critical deficit for many HD producers.

The biggest video editing-related news from Apple in 2008 came when the company confirmed rumors that they would not have a booth at the National Association of Broadcasting show, the industry’s annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas. According to Apple spokesman Anuj Nayar, "Apple is participating in fewer trade shows every year, because often there are better ways for us to reach our customers. The increasing popularity of Apple’s retail stores and Apple.com website enable us to directly reach more than 100 million customers around the world in innovative new ways."

Figure 3
Final Cut Pro converts AVCHD to ProRes during ingest, which is a bit time-consuming but efficient.

Reaction to Apple’s announcement has run the gamut from claims that Apple is abandoning its pro applications or positioning them for sale to acknowledgement that it’s a valid business decision given its current mind share, that there are other avenues for reaching target customers, and—perhaps—that it simply doesn’t have significant new features to announce. The only addition to the suite in 2008 was Final Cut Server, a workflow automation tool that Apple announced in 2007 and shipped in Q3 2008.

Since there’s little hard news, and Apple simply ain’t talking, it’s instructive to review how the strategic importance of the pro applications has changed over the past few years. Back in the pre-iPod, pre-iTunes, and pre-iPhone days, Apple’s key target customer was the creative professional, more to drive high-end desktop computer sales ($2.3 billion in 2004) than to sell software itself, which generated an unknown cut of $500 million for all software sales in 2004, not just pro apps. The success of Final Cut Pro was essential to complete Apple’s offerings to these creative professionals, and Apple executed and succeeded brilliantly.

Since 2004, much has happened. Apple launched Intel-based Macs, providing horsepower parity with Windows computers and letting the two operating systems compete on their merits, which became lots easier once Microsoft shipped Vista. More importantly, Apple achieved mind- blowing success in the consumer electronics space with $17.2 billion, or 71% of fiscal year 2007 revenue, coming from portables, iPods, iTunes, and iPhones. No wonder Apple dropped "Computer" from its name.

Apple no longer breaks out software sales, but sales of software, service, and other sales totaled $1.5 billion in 2007, less than double the company’s total from 2004. Since 2004, desktop computer sales have increased from $2.4 to $4.0 billion, while iPod sales jumped from $1.3 to $8.3 billion. Clearly, the strategic value of serving the creative professional has changed.

What’s also changed is that all competing video editing products, particularly Premiere Pro on the Mac, have become so advanced as to become functionally generic—they capture, they trim, they color-correct, they render—and most producers use only a fraction of the advanced tools available in each. It’s like Microsoft Word: Raise your hand if you use more than 5% of its capabilities. Sure, there’s an advanced group of video producers that really push the feature/function envelope, but the vast majority of them could use any editor to produce their videos.

To an increasing degree, video editors have become a brand that editors choose to help define themselves and their work. DASANI or evian, Johnnie Walker or Macallan, Levi’s or Gucci? Hey, they quench your thirst, get you buzzed, and cover your butt—is there any consequential, truly meaningful difference between them? Software video editors produce video; they don’t turn you into Spielberg or the Coen brothers, and there’s a clear distinction between justifiable, commercial necessity and simple brand preference.

Ultimately, for an increasing number of users, it will come down to value. And by using Photoshop and After Effects as anchor tenants in its product suite, Adobe can almost throw Premiere Pro in for free, plus implement intersuite integration that no other vendor can come close to matching. So if you were the $1,000 per hour consultant advising Steve Jobs where to allocate his wonderfully talented engineering resources, would you advise him to invest in a unique monopoly such as iTunes and the iDevice franchise or Final Cut Studio?

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