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Do-It-Yourself Professional Videos

By Richard Baguley Want to make professional-looking videos for a fraction of what you'd pay a production company? Take a look at NewTek's Video Toaster 2, billed as a TV studio in a box. In my tests of a shipping unit, the system managed to make good on that ambitious claim, although it does demand significant PC processing power.

The Video Toaster 2, which consists of a PCI card and software, requires a PC with at least a 1.5-GHz Pentium 4 processor, 512MB of RAM, and Windows 2000. NewTek recommends that you use 10,000-rpm SCSI drives in a striped RAID array. With the Toaster 2 itself costing $2995, you'd need to spend about $3000 more on PC hardware (if you don't have it already) to get a complete package up and running. However, this is one robust and capable product.

Among its many features are a program for editing prerecorded video; over 300 digital video effects; a video painting program for special effects; a character generator (for making captions, credits, and the like); a digital disk recorder; and a 3D rendering program for creating your own animated logos. Teamed with NewTek's optional SX-8 Switcher ($1995), the Video Toaster 2 can switch between live video from up to 24 different cameras, and audio from any of nine different sources, with the click of a mouse.

Cheaper video editing programs such as Pinnacle Systems' $99 System Studio 7 can do some of the things that the Video Toaster can do--for example, create transitions (such as fades) between clips. But adding a transition using only software can be time.consuming--from a few seconds to many minutes--and if you don't like the result, you have to start over. The Toaster 2 performs transitions in real time, which is helpful if you're working on a long video.

The system also can create transitions and effects on live video (or a combination of live and recorded video), which none of the software-only products can do. This capability makes it a good choice for an event where, for example, you'd like to show live video with captions on a big screen and then transition to a prerecorded video of a new-product demo or a speech from someone who can't be there (as is done at the Oscars).

The software does take a bit of getting used to. Its interface is designed to look more like a TV studio than a computer program, which can be confusing for users without TV video-editing experience. Fortunately, it comes with an excellent set of manuals and tutorials. And the program is modular: You can set it up so that you have only the components you need on screen, and you can save different layouts for different tasks. My tests weren't entirely problem-free, however. The character generator, for instance, crashed on me on several occasions.

It's definitely not a program for novices. But for individuals or businesses who want to produce professional-quality videos of conferences and events, the sophistication of the NewTek Video Toaster 2 makes it well worth the price. From the May 2002 issue of PC World magazine

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