Major Cost Benefits for Educational Programs


Desktop Video Makes Impact  

At first desktop video was easy to ignore. It started out being a kind of toy used by video amateurs who are continually trying to add "razzle-dazzle'' to their home videos. But then people working in institutional video discovered that even on their limited budgets they could use desktop video to make their productions rival those of "the big boys.''

Simply by installing editing software (and occasionally upgrading their computer), they could:

1. do production and postproduction switching,

2. create a full range of broadcast-quality visual effects and design elaborate graphics for productions,

3. key in written material (titles, credits, etc.) with a plethora of fonts and type faces to choose from, and even

4. do 2-D and 3-D animated sequences. Suddenly, production sequences that previously required an assemblage of specially-designed pieces of hardware could all be done in front of a single computer terminal. And, you can do all these things without having to sacrifice any of the computer's other capabilities.

We've come a long way since the early attempts to use desktop computers to simulate the capabilities of dedicated broadcast equipment. Today, desktop and even laptop computers can do just just about everything dedicated broadcast equipment (costing well into six figures) can do. Being familiar with at least one sophisticated computer program of this type will give you a definite advantage in planning the post-production phase of your production.

Apple and Windows Platforms 

Two major computer systems, or platforms, are being used for desktop video: Apple and Windows.

But first, there was an Amiga system. The Newtek Corp. invested five years in designing hardware and software for the Amiga system. which could replicate the functions of a video switcher, visual effects generator, character generator and graphics creation system. They dubbed their system the "Video Toaster.'' Although the initial configuration is limited to only four external video inputs (plus additional internal sources of video), this was found to be adequate for basic production and postproduction needs.

After Amiga faded, other companies joined Newtek in developing systems for the Windows and Apple operating systems.

In addition to a basic switching capability, these systems typically include the following video effects: luma (luminance) keyers, standard and animated wipes page turning, mosaic transitions, spray paint effects, etc.) and freeze-frame and frame store capabilities. The latter allows you to "grab'' (capture) selected still frames from a video source. These frames can then be used as background for titles, or modified in a variety of ways with a paint program to create elaborate visuals.

Typically, a chroma processor is also included. This allows you to modify video colors--all the way from subtle shifts in chroma (to restore the proper color balance in scenes) to transforming a basic video source into an unrecognizable piece of abstract art.

Like the Amiga, the Windows standard has an open architecture. This means it is possible for a wide range of companies to manufacture video-related plug-in boards--without having to go through Microsoft. In many cases adding or upgrading video hardware is a simple as opening the computer, plugging a new board into an empty slot and installing new software. The open architecture approach also spurs competition, which is generally reflected in lower prices. Apple has been more restrictive in hardware development. The primary advantage of this is that there is less confusion on standards and approaches.


One of the most valuable characteristics of the computer is its ability to do a wide variety of production-related (and even non-production related) jobs. The latest generation of computers can do several jobs simultaneously. This is called multitasking. Although computers are fast--and getting faster each year--occasionally you will find yourself waiting for your computer to finish a specific task before you can go on to the next one.

With multitasking you can start the computer on one task and while it's busy doing that you can pop up another task-related window of functions on the screen and start the computer working on something else. Meanwhile, in the background the computer will continue to work on the first assignment.

Assuming you can keep track of it all--and we very quickly learn about our human limitations here--you could conceivably have the computer working on several production-related tasks simultaneously. For example, you could readily switch back and forth between following a script in your word processing program and editing a related production.

With multitasking you can load all of the programs you need and then switch between them as the need arises.

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