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Fast Blue inputs
Software Upgrade

Fast Slowly Turns Blue

by David Fox

FAST's flagship editing system, blue, finally turned up as a working product at IBC 2001, little more than four years after its first introduction. The technology in the "Anything In, Everything Out" digital non-linear editor has been slowly released since then, in the form of FAST's other editing systems. Sony's ES-3 (based on the FASTstudio software) and its own purple contained the DV element of blue. The MPEG side came from silver (which also did uncompressed, but as many potential buyers didn't realise this, FAST brought out the slow-selling ivory, to emphasise that it could do uncompressed too). All three technologies are combined in blue.

Fast Blue inputs

"It has taken four years to get it working, but a lot has changed since then," says Steve Wise, general manager, FAST UK (now part of Pinnacle). Whereas the original blue was to be based on a Pinnacle Genie card, almost everything (except a hardware codec for MPEG) is now done in software, and Wise believes that, ultimately, FAST will become purely a software company.

Any uncompressed, MPEG-2, or DV format can be digitised at its native codec in blue and placed on the timeline in that codec, staying native throughout, but if users mix formats, they have to choose at the beginning which output is required. They may also need to choose which format to have a rendered effect done in (as a default all rendering takes place in baseband).

It has a total of six inputs. It can control two RS-422 VCRs, unlike silver which can only control one, and has two 1394 inputs (but can only control one VCR at a time). It can also have another input, such as a live source. It has one SDTI/QSDI input, which allows encoding at two or four times speed. Users can also fit an analogue input, but it can do analogue output for monitoring only. It can take various rates of MPEG (5, 10, 15, 25, 33 and 50Mbps), DV, DVCPRO and uncompressed. It can batch digitise to convert any or all of the clips to the resolution required.

The system will cost about 50,000 Euros, excluding storage, but including a dual 1GHz Pentium III, with 512 MB RAM, and a jog/shuttle controller.

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Software Upgrade

The FASTstudio software has also been upgraded significantly, to version 4.0.

Its interface is cleaner and less busy than previous systems, although it is customisable so users can set it up as they like. The only visual change most people will notice in everyday operation is that navigation within individual clips is a bit easier.

The logging tool is a lot more sophisticated, now very similar to the effects editor. It allows users to alter colour or audio levels on the fly, during digitisation, without destroying the original media.

There is also updated media management, "which was desperately required," admits Rob Jones, FAST UK's technical support manager. Previously, users could only do media management in FASTstudio, but they can now also use Windows Explorer too, which makes it easier to move media between projects. It also works a lot better with shared networking, as any user can now view any material. There is also a neat "tags" tool that allows users see how many times they've used a particular clip in a project.

Speed control has been changed radically. It now has dynamic speed control, called "Time Warp", which is keyframeable for speed and direction, and can do fit-to-fill. Although it does need to be rendered.

It has also enhanced its 16:9/4:3 support, so the two are more compatible with each other. It can use both aspect ratios on the same timeline and then output to whichever or both.

It has introduced circular wipes and a Gaussian blur which gives a much softer edge to wipes and borders. "It's a small feature, but one what people were often asking for," says Jones.

A new colour correction facility allows primary, secondary, tertiary and above colour correction. It is a standard feature on blue, but will probably be an option on the other systems. The primary colour correction is in real time, the rest need to be rendered.

The colour editor has vector scope, waveform monitor, histogram, lightning and cube monitor (a 3D representation), so users can use their favourite ways of representing the colour mix. It can also do selective colour, picking it off the picture. It also includes a "legalizer" to keep the signal within the parameters of the 601 standard.

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Beyond NLEs, FAST also gave rise in 2001 to a new company, FAST TV Server AG, which is aimed at setting up a network of customisable interactive programme guides, which are available free to users on the Web. It is already in place in Germany (www.tvtv.de), Finland, Italy, France, Greece and the UK, and was not included in the sale to Pinnacle.

TV Server is now moving in to its second phase, which is to set up deals with third party manufacturers of MPEG-based digital video (DVB) capture cards for PCs. Users will be able to go on the Web, click on the programmes they want to watch, and the software/card combination will record them on their PC - normally at any of three levels of compression up to almost DVD quality (at 8Mbps). It is also doing deals with TV set manufacturers who will be building hard drives into their sets, so that viewers don't have to have more set top boxes.

FEB 2002

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David Fox