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Media 100's Blood Secrets by John Molinari

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Media 100's Blood Secrets by John Molinari


A Creative Cow Editorial


Appeared originally in Videography magazine, June 1994. Reprinted here by kind permission.

John Molinari



Article
Focus:
In "Blood Secrets" the founder of Media 100 Inc., John Molinari, laid out the vision and the driving force that fuels Media 100. Even today in 2001, seven years after it was first published, it gives a clear and open window into the company that has changed the video industry so markedly.



We are a small band of engineers, joined by a growing circle of heretics, out to change the demographics of video forever. These are our blood secrets.

Our mission is to make video personal. Nonlinear systems emerged in the Eighties to simplify working with video -- however, these systems mainly benefit trained editors creating edit lists, not finished videos, at dedicated post facilities. Like the tape systems they replace, these systems are costly and dedicating one to a single individual is usually impractical.

Our purpose is to build nonlinear systems that empower the individual to compose finished videos, largely on their own, with small overhead costs. We call these people new users and see the individualism of their work leading to new forums of interest for video and altering how programs are "broadcast" to a target audience.

By "new," we mean new authors of video programs with creative backgrounds or communications jobs, creating new kinds of video programs, using the computer as a media source, and using new delivery systems, such as CD ROM and digital transmission over the internet. Not all new users are "new to video" or video inexperienced, but have found working with video to be difficult, limiting, and costly.

In the vanguard of this circle of heretics are longtime video sophisticates, drawn from high overhead facilities to the personal empowerment and productivity of working on their own. They are on the frontline leading the liberation, first to understand the epochal change represented by personal systems.

Yet it's no wonder people are confused. Video users and equipment manufacturers unfamiliar with the rapid evolution of computers see themselves under seige by new computer users and suppliers. Computer users and computer suppliers, in particular, see a world of opportunity in digital video, but faintly understand the origins and particulars of analog video. While many might jump to agree that the take over by nonlinear systems is imminent, real understanding of the motives behind the engineering of these systems is less sanguine.

The bulk of nonlinear systems shipping today were conceived in the Eighties for offline editing. The manufacturers primarily engineer computer software. This history is important: while software can manipulate video pictures and sound in real time for nonlinear editing, powerful hardware is required for higher quality. Since this hardware would only come later, and not from these companies, the idea of actually finishing a video program using a nonlinear system was not a part of their original plan. At best, the idea was fanciful -- something for the future. We were told, "that's not possible," when we proposed the idea.

Nonlinear systems architected as computer interfaces for editing may save time for professional editors, but they in effect preserve the status quo. Because finished programs are still assembled "online" with videotape equipment, these systems leave the video creation process as expensive and inaccessible as ever for the rest of us. This thinking motivated us in late 1989 to begin engineering hardware for a new kind of personal nonlinear system. Herein -- our blood secrets.

Our strategy is to create a new mold by making a video system which is simple -- a personal system for new users aspiring to have greater personal control over working with video. Technically, the means supporting this strategy is to provide output picture and sound quality which is unassailably broadcast quality -- in a nonlinear system built from a small, ubiquitous, and inexpensive computer. Matching or exceeding the video quality provided by broadcast videotape equipment eliminates the need to return to it for final -- program output. Quality becomes the path to finished results without complexity. Achieving quality naturally leads to simplicity and the means to creating new users and applications.

Likewise, the goal to meet broadcast standards is not tantamount to a goal to serve broadcasters. This point is often confused. Historically in video, manufacturers and users have suffered the worst inconveniences, technical difficulties, and high costs to get to high output quality -- adopting new, incompatible tape formats, bumping up, rerecording restrictions, multi-wire component hook ups, etc. have all been part of the complicated video culture to get to quality or avoid quality shortfalls; every facet of the process is a means to get to that end, quality. Since broadcasters seek the highest quality of all, they go to the most trouble and expense to get it. In our world, high quality is etched in digital stone upfront, so it is automatic and can even be varied by the user to meet the needs of new, digital applications, like CD ROM. With quality built in, the sole challenge in the process of creating programs is to be creative. While we may provide the quality that many broadcasters seek as we seek to meet their standards, serving them is not the end goal.

Quality cannot provide simplicity if its cost is impractically high. The other factors that ensure simplicity start with the economic: simplicity should mean the system is easy to buy -- it is not so expensive that business and creative users cannot afford to own it. Simplicity means the system is easy to set up. A measure of simplicity? Count the cables to be connected to assemble the system: you should find they are few. Yet, many self-described "desktop" systems have as many cable hook-ups as conventional A/B roll suite set ups. Simplicity means easy to boot. Easy to learn. Easy to use. Easy to maintain. Easy to upgrade. Easy to transport. Systems conceived for offline editing to serve broadcast-savvy facilities, same as the videotape systems before them, are simply not conceived to meet these criteria.

Simplicity means you can choose how to use the system, depending on your application. So programs can be output to display, tape, or air, as with tape-based systems, or they can be digitally exported as "movies" or played live to the target audience, directly from the system.

Simplicity also means you are always looking at video, not waiting to look at video, or interpretting a representation of video. Simplicity means locating scenes and sound tracks instantly from disk. Accessing video in real time is simply an easier way to work -- that is the reason for the original appeal of nonlinear systems to professional editors. Ironically, low cost computer video systems, purportedly easy to use, are often painful to use because decision making is held up by a computer choking on pictures and sound.

Video simplicity should also mean audio-for-video simplicity. If audio is digital and fully integrated, it can be simplified and high quality. Digital audio is digital media, just like the video, so audio controls can be equally direct, easy, and real time, just like the video.

The use of an open architecture simplifies locating and setting up system components, since they are common to personal computing. If every, single, required component, including computer, disk drives, and monitors, is off-the-shelf, then each represents the best its industry can produce, and improved components can be purchased and used as soon as they hit store shelves or the pages in mail order. Open architectures give the user a choice to run better and faster as personal computer power increases; the user can choose to use new, mass-storage disk drives, which keep improving to greatly increase storage capacity. Proprietary architectures, rationalized because they offer unique features or increased performance, ultimately become limiting and lead to higher and higher costs; in addition, they get surpassed in features and performance by open systems as their developers call upon a wider array of technology and talent to improve them at a faster rate. Nothing should be proprietary or even partially proprietary. Let the culture of costly equipment obsolescence change to continuing improvement at much lower cost. This evolution is a needed departure from the fearsome capital costs that put post-houses and resellers out of business and preclude individuals from owning equipment or using it solely as individuals.

The role of letting an individual create a finished program is a greatly expanded one for nonlinear systems. In addition to powerful, new hardware, the systems must provide new forms of software to support effects, character generation, compositing control of vertical layers of imagery, and multi-track audio mixing. The original emphasis of nonlinear systems on editing is greatly expanded. For personal systems that output finished programs directly, there is also the software requirement to improve performance, enabled by new board-level hardware and much faster computers, like Apple's Power Macintosh. Effects, for example, can run faster and ultimately run in real time, as more software is written to exploit the processing inherent in the system's host CPU and specialized board-level hardware. Count on any function that runs slowly in software to run faster, if not in real time, later in hardware. It is absolutely inevitable. The use of an open architecture invites change through software addition and improvement, and through interoperation with other applications. Standard file formats for video and audio and digital media interchanges like QuickTime essentially unbound creative work and recast the system as an assembly or authoring environment, affording interoperability with a limitless variety of media sources. This latitude gives the individual access to and control over program content that previously required a division of skilled labor.

Simplicity made possible by high quality and the use of open and completely digital architectures are our blood secrets. We believe we are at the start of a video future for many new users and new uses of video, engendered by a personal approach to working with video. Much of this future has little in common with the separate systems for nonlinear "offline" and tape-based "online" work that have defined how nonlinear systems have been used to create programs until now. Much of this future calls upon new technology and new technology creators with thinking that radically departs from the once-incontrovertable approaches defined by decades-old brand names. We observe a whole new landscape emerging.

-- John Molinari


Appeared originally in Videography magazine, June 1994. Reprinted here by permission.





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