844/X and the Genesis Engine were planned as the basis of a family of products and now there are two: 844/Xe and 844/Xi. 844/Xe is the product that has been on sale since February 2002 with one important difference -- Media 100 have unbundled the 844/X from the host PC and storage. 844/Xi is a new, low cost option with all the features of 844/X only limited to 4 real-time streams (2 video, 2 key) instead of the 8 of its big brother. 844/Xi also comes with the flexibility to select your own host computer and storage.
The new entry point that 844/Xi gives Media 100 will certainly let more people who could benefit from 844/X to afford one, but most importantly it removes the "price barrier" mindset. Of course, a useful 844/Xi is still going to be closer to $40,000 than the list of $25,000 but in the all-important mind of the customer it sounds a whole lot more affordable than "...priced from $65,000."
Most importantly, it might get people to come and look at 844/X. One of the real issues with this system is that it performs much better in practice than it does "on paper" but many people who would look at the specifications and price point would not take the time to see the demonstration. With a lower starting point, perhaps that barrier will be overcome.
Although 844/Xi has only two real time video tracks and two realtime key tracks, it performs far better than that limitation sounds. 844/Xi shares all the Intelligent rendering smarts and Visual Voicing of its' sibling with all the same effects, transfer modes etc, and will benefit from all the enhancements planned for the "Finishing Release" (a.k.a. version 2) targeted for NAB.
Media 100 make the distinction between the two models as "fast" and "very fast." Where 844/Xe would process a 12 second section of a program with 10 layers in 36 seconds, 844/Xi would take 108 seconds (under 2 minutes) -- not even time to get to the restroom and back.
However, make a change to any layer and you see the result in real time -- 12 seconds with either 844/Xe or 844/Xi thanks to Intelligent Rendering. This approach actively encourages experimenting where other editing systems penalize it. (While I haven't tested it, Media 100 claim that Final Cut Pro would take 5 minutes to render the same effect which sounds about right, and another 5 minutes to render a single layer change, and that's where the 844/X advantage lies.)
Media 100 always made it clear, at least to journalists, that eventually they would allow individual users and dealers to configure their own systems. The initial restriction to turn-key systems was important to make sure that the initial 844/X customers had an good user experience, something that could really only be guaranteed with a very restrictive qualification. In practice, there was little difference between qualifying only a very limited range of processors and storage and packaging it as a turn-key except that Media 100 could pre-test and insure every system was performing to specification before it left the factory.
As they've gained more field experience with 844/X and have the opportunity to test more hosts and drive systems, the time has come to allow some flexibility.
In practice there will only going to be a limited range of host PCs and the systems will still have to be configured by Media 100's specialist 844/X resellers, but it does open up storage to more options, particularly as the 1.5 Interoperability release provides many more storage options for 844/X.
Media 100 reiterated their HD Strategy and indicated that Phase One would be ready early in 2003. Phase One uses the existing 844/X Genesis Engine to downsample HD source (including 24 P) to standard definitions 10-bit video, edited with 844/Xe or 844/Xi and then output to Standard Definition for regular distribution or upsampled to HD for HD distribution. In other words, pretty much what's happening for most of the "HD" product on-air at the moment.
Phase Two implements the same 844/X algorithms in a DSP configuration for post-processing HD in HD. All edit and compositing decisions are made in the 844/X real-time environment and the final HD conform is made in a single pass from the HD source. These are exactly the same algorithms -- part of the Media 100 844/X Intellectual Property -- but implemented on DSP hardware. If PC hardware ever became fast enough, the algorithms could be implemented on the host platform -- although there are no plans to do so at the moment.
As well as the HD planning, Media 100 have also announced, some months back, version 1.5 with the OMF integration, that will ship with 844/Xe and 844/Xi and looking ahead to around NAB, version 2, the Finishing release. The 'big ticket' items in the Finishing release are color correction, 24P/3:2 pulldown and the "missing" audio features: track based gain and pan, audio submixers (a lá Media 100i Version 8) and clip based EQ. The Matte tool gains the planned animatable splines and there are other enhancements throughout the interface.
In all honesty, I think Version 2 of most products are what the developer really hoped to release but "reality" got in the way. And besides, no-one gets any benefit from a product until it ships. The 120 plus customers wouldn't be turning out quality work if version one didn't ship last February 2002. I have always said, and Media 100 has acknowledged, that while Version 1 was important, version 2 of 844/X was the one that the product would sink or swim on. I think the development team would be happy with what they've got planned and the product is what everyone hoped it would become. I think 844/X is fulfilling its potential.
One of the questions I asked when I first saw 844/X back in February, was why Media 100 were downplaying the editing features. 844/X not only has much better editing tools than their traditional dual stream product but you would almost think the dual stream customer base had designed the editing specifications.
At that time the Media 100 explained that 844/X wasn't being positioned as an editing system because it did not have any form of compressed media. I think Media 100 were wrong in thinking that uncompressed 10-bit media would be "scary" for the potential user base, when in practice indeed it is not a problem.
Media 100 got the message from the customer base and "gets" that uncompressed 10-bit is not that uncommon (of course, no other system does 10-bit uncompressed at 60P internally but that's a different story). 844/X's editing features are now allowed to be part of the 844/X story, instead of remaining a "secret." (I have read at least one online post that said they would "expect at least the editing features they enjoyed in Media 100i" believing that 844/X didn't have these editing features.)
This is probably the smartest change in the 844/X story: 844/X is an editing system with exceptional compositing capability. It is not the be-all and end-all in compositing -- but for people creating rich-visual media on edited programming, 844/X provides a unique alternative. For those who want to go beyond the capabilities of 844/X, there is very tight integration with Adobe After Effects -- open an 844/X timeline directly into After Effects with all layers intact, or render After Effects format plug-ins ahead of the real-time features. (Another part of the story that doesn't always get explained outside of a demonstration.)
I should point out that I believe that these rich visual looks are the direction of the high-mid to high end of the industry. Sure they can be done in Final Cut Pro and probably for the majority the rendering time can be tolerated. Where the same rich visual looks need to be created over short- to mid-form programming and need to be created within time constraints, then an editing system with exceptional layering capability. This is the marketing story that makes 844/X unique and interesting. And it was high time that Media 100 told their own story much more openly.
In my last story on 844/X I finished with something I strongly believed
"All they need to do now is offer a promotional incentive to bring more of their dual stream customers into the 844/X fold!"
844/X is incredibly suitable for a large section of the Media 100i or iFinish customer base -- those who used it in close association with After Effects.
Media 100 are in the process of sending out letters to existing Media 100 customers offering a discount on a buy-in to the 844/X family. A most welcome move.
With 844/X Media 100 seems to be making all the right moves. Product development is moving forward at an appropriate pace for a new product, particularly one this complex. Now that the marketing story has found a more solid positioning Media 100 are positioned to take advantage of a strengthening economy, and stronger industry with a solid product, customer support that is getting, I can only say, rave reviews in the online community and product options that should open new markets.
844/X reminds me of my early Media 100 dual stream days when the product was new, exciting and leading the market. I paid premium to be part of Media 100's original product early on and I never regretted it. It was the single smartest business move I ever made: getting in at the start of a product wave. 844/X makes me wish I was still involved in production on a daily basis.
--- Philip Hodgetts
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