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Live Dog or Dead Lion?

Cost-effective editing: Do you need that new gizmo, or just want it? By Charlie White
Here on Digital Media Net, we like to keep you informed about all the latest technology. Reading through our pages, you might think I would recommend that you get rid of the digital video editing software and hardware you are now using and write a check for that newest, shiniest editing system, that speedy new computer or that spectacular new software package. Well, step back with me for a minute and get some perspective on this. Are you comfortable with what you're using now? Are you getting the job done? Are you earning money with it?

Now, the vendors who advertise on our sites may not like what I'm about to tell you. They want you to buy, buy, buy. Well, what I'm telling you now is don't, don't, don't! Actually, I'm not saying don't ever buy anything new, but I'm just suggesting that you carefully consider what you're now doing with your editing system, and what you will be able to do if you buy a new one. Your conclusion may be that you really don't need a new editing system after all.

I always like to remember that as human beings, we are notoriously inept at predicting our behavior. Keeping this in mind, I'd suggest using the same rule that you might use when cleaning out your garage: If you haven't used it or needed it in a year, throw it out, or in this case, don't include it on your wish list. Look at all those plug-ins, those 3D transition capabilities, those spectacular special effects, or whatever it is you're currently lusting after. Have you really had numerous occasions to use them? If you already have some of them, have they earned you any extra money, attracted additional clients, enhanced your prestige? If not, don't consider upgrading to a faster system that can edit your cuts just as fast but can render these thingamajigs four times faster. It's not going to help. If you haven't been using all that whiz-bang junk in the past year, now may not be the time to assume you're going to start. There is a spell that is cast by some super sales people that many people can't resist. Are you one of them? Are you a victim of the Demo Demon? You can always tell he's invaded your psyche by that giddy feeling you get when you fantasize about sitting down at your new edit station, whispering to yourself, "Oh, the things you'll do!" Or not.

But hey, again, I'm not saying never buy anything new. For example, if you have been editing an hour-long show with a few text keys, mostly cuts, nothing that needs real-time effects, but then all of a sudden your client says that from now on he wants a bug that sits at the lower right of the screen during the whole show and is only going to give you two hours to edit the thing each week, well, you're going to need real time output. Write the check (and raise your rates to pay for it). If you're still using Mac OS 7 or Windows 95, write the check. If you're spending more time re-booting than editing, write the check. If you have a client who wants lots of page curls and wants them now, and breathes down your neck while you're editing, (everybody say it with me) write the check. These decisions would be cost-effective. But deciding to use a nuclear weapon to kill a mosquito wouldn't be cost effective.

Sometimes, what seems to be a much better idea, isn't -- when you discover the costs involved. This concept reminds me of the fuel cell car. Sure, I would like to have a fuel cell car. It can turn tiny bits of fuel into enormous amounts of energy, leaving a by-product of distilled water. Its power plant has so much energy to spare, you could plug it into your home electrical system and run everything you have, and still sell power back to the electric company. But I don't want to pay $300,000 for a fuel cell car right now. The internal combustion engine I'm using now will have to do. Cost effectiveness is a daily fact of life, especially in the digital video editing and video production business.

Here's another example: At face value, Panasonic's solid state memory scheme for its upcoming line of new DVCPro camcorders seems like a spectacular idea. But then, there's Sony's Blue Laser disc camcorders that are competing with that. I'd say the advantage here goes to the Blue Laser, even though it has moving parts, compared to Panasonic's all-silicon storage medium. Why would that be? Well, those discs will end up costing pennies apiece and, like the solid state memory, can be re-used thousands of times. Meanwhile, the solid-state memory cards will cost hundreds of dollars apiece. Cost is a powerful argument. If you don't believe me, ask the anachronistic record companies, who are desperately trying to compete with free while suing the pants off their own customers, many of whom are children and old ladies. Note to record companies: Cost rules.

There's another cost, too, that you may not have taken into account: You. That's right, it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to learn how to do that editing thing you do so well, didn't it? How long will it take for you to learn how to use that new software or hardware you're contemplating? You might be better off sticking with what you have, rather than jumping ship, abandoning that system with which you are so familiar. There is a big emphasis on workflow these days, and for good reason -- all the processor speed in the world isn't going to help you if you aren't fast within your tools, or if your tools won't let you achieve that coveted state of Flow. If you keep tripping over yourself inside a nonlinear editing interface or operating system that's either poorly designed or unfamiliar to you, it'll cost you. Speed is money, but oftentimes that overall speed is not a result of the power you have under the hood, but how you steer the car.

So when you're reading our reviews, tutorials, editorials, interviews and features extolling the virtues (or sometimes trashing) various products, realize that the recommendations often included at the end are intended for people who really need these products. Figure out if you truly need that upgrade, or is it just that you want it? Will that new item make you stand up and roar over all your competitors, crushing all in your wake? Will it make you King of the Jungle? Or can you move along at a steady pace with what you have and not break the bank? As a wise reader once told me, "Remember, no matter what, it's better to be a live dog than a dead lion."

Charlie White, your humble storytellerDigital Media Net Executive Producer Charlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist since 1994, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor, broadcast industry consultant and shot-calling television director who has worked in broadcasting since 1974. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at cwhite@digitalmedianet.com.

Read more of Charlie White's editorials by clicking here.

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