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Old June 5th, 2003, 08:18 AM   #1
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Ultimate NLE Shootout Report

I attended the Washington, D.C. area "Ultimate NLE Shootout" this week, a much more valuable day than I expected. It was not full of sales pitches but rather a good exposition on each of the three products presented: Avid Express Pro 3.5, Pinnacle Edition 5.0, and Sonic Foundry Vegas+DVD. Late in the day, there was a presentation from SmartSound, which I found informative.

To put my report here into perspective, I am a novice. Seeing experts with each of the NLEs use their products helped me to better understand non-linear editing in general. Because I had settled on Vegas in advance, Sonic Foundry's presentation also became a tutorial for me, helping me to better grasp the program as a whole.

Other attendees spanned the video world, from indy to government video, most pros of considerable experience. Many were there because they were considering a switch. Quite a few came to see Avid Express 3.5 Pro because this tour has been one of the few ways to get a look.

Here are my impressions of each product, in the same order they were presented.

Avid Express
The demonstration consisted of the construction of a 60-second spot for the NHRA, giving the presenter the advantage of exciting footage and hot music. The speaker built the spot piece-by-piece, demonstrating features along the way. The result was very good.

I was immediately struck by the awkwardness of the user interface. There was a lot of back and forth with menus to accomplish what I thought were simple tasks. After having seen all three demos, there was no question in my mind that had Pinnacle and Sonic done the same demo with the same exposition, they would have used less time.

Avid FX is a major strong point, very evident from the demo.

Express includes no DVD capability at all. During Q&A the speaker said Avid has no immediate plans to integrate DVD, instead relying on its close partners (i.e., Sonic Solutions).

Pinnacle Edition
Edition's strong point is its user interface, taken from the Liquid Blue product. The speaker built his demo around that strong interface, drilling home its simplicity and power with every task completed. He particularly emphasized the custom keyboard feature, which allows the keyboard to be configured to match your favorite editor's keyboard.

I felt that Edition was weaker in audio and media management than either of the other two products. I thought it was the weakest of the three in FX, but not by much. Edition includes Pinnacle's HFX Plus product, but I think Pinnacle is making a mistake here by not including HFX Pro.

The DVD features were not significantly better than those in Pinnacle's $100 product, Studio 8. When pressed on this, the speaker said advanced features were in Pinnacle's Impression Pro product.

Edition's background rendering was impressive.

Sonic Vegas
Vegas, the least expensive product in the lineup, stood up very well against the two industry powerhouses. On my scoresheet, Vegas won 4 categories and tied in 4 more.

Vegas category wins: Audio (Vegas was far and away the best); Media Management, something of a surprise but clearly ahead of the pack; Keying (I'm not an expert here but it seemed like Vegas could key on anything and everything); and DVD.

The Vegas interface is just a Windows interface, but it is a dedicated Windows interface (because there is no Mac version) and it is done very well, clean and consistent. I don't think it is quite as intuitive as Sonic or its promoters would like us to believe, but I do believe that once learned, it is faster than the other two products.

Vegas' scripting feature is powerful and a significant advance over competing products.

The speaker talked to 25 points, each a major feature of Vegas. For each talking point, he had a Vegas project ready to go that demonstrated the feature. As a result, he covered more ground in the allotted time with the most powerful presentation of the day.

My Scoresheet

Category :: Winner
Capture :: Avid & Vegas (tie)
Color Correction :: Avid
Audio :: Vegas
Media Management :: Vegas
FX :: Avid
Keying :: Vegas
Interface :: Edition & Vegas (tie)
DVD :: Vegas
CG- Titling :: All
Misc. Features :: Avid & Vegas (tie)

I scored using points, 0-10 in each category. My final scores: Avid, 81; Edition, 80; Vegas, 94. Avid got 0 in the DVD category, the main reason for its low score.
Number of category wins or ties: Avid, 5; Edition, 2; Vegas, 8.
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Old June 5th, 2003, 09:00 AM   #2
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I wonder why Premiere wasn't asked out to play? Has it become completely obsolete? While I have not used Avid or Edition, I have used Vegas and Premiere. I am not going to badmouth Vegas, and just say it isn't right for me.

Premiere, on the other hand has some quirks. But as a compositing and editing tool, it feels good, and when it works, it works great. I have never really had it fail me, it just takes unscheduled breaks. Then again, so have I.
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Old June 5th, 2003, 09:28 AM   #3
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The primary sponsor of the shootout was DVLine. The host was DVLine's founder and president. He has apparently had a rough history with Adobe regarding Premiere and mentioned this in passing.

His comments were met with approval by the audience. I later asked around and discovered that the group as a whole had a low opinion of Premiere. Had Premiere been included, the audience may have included some Premiere users. Even the corporate users in attendance didn't use Premiere. It was pretty clear that this wasn't a condemnation of Adobe, as most of these folks used PhotoShop and/or After Effects.

Having used 6.5 myself, I'd have to say that if it had been included, it would have come off looking bad, especially in user interface and audio.
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Old June 5th, 2003, 09:35 AM   #4
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I guess there are two reasons for Premiere not being there. Firstly Adobe's notoriously shy, for whatever reason, when it comes to showdowns. Secondly, the other players have new versions that they want to advertise. Premiere 7 is not expected to be close to release until Q3 this year, although a development version was well received at NAB.
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Old June 5th, 2003, 09:42 AM   #5
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I must've been composing while Will was posting!
Quote:
Having used 6.5 myself, I'd have to say that if it had been included, it would have come off looking bad, especially in user interface and audio.
Particularly audio IMO, but the interface could do with some work. Apparently something has been done on that in v7, but I couldn't see anything in the screen grap that I saw from NAB.
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Old June 5th, 2003, 10:20 AM   #6
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Audio has always been quite weak on Premiere in my opinion.
For example. If I downconvert my audio from 48 khz to 22.050
khz or down to 44.1 khz it always has plops etc. in it. Very bad.

I haven't tried it on 6.5 yet, though. Any rumours on what will
be in 7?
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Old June 5th, 2003, 04:30 PM   #7
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Dallas shootout

I was at the Dallas shootout. Regarding Premiere, the DvLine spokesman said that it was not included because it was not considered "Industrial Strength". He didn't consider it on the level as Vegas, Avid, and Pinnacle. It may be included in future shootouts though. His comments drew a collective chuckle from the audience.
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Old June 5th, 2003, 05:49 PM   #8
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I seriously can't see how Vegas can be considered "Industrial strength", when Premiere had been out for years before.
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Old June 5th, 2003, 09:01 PM   #9
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Keith, I can't see why a product's longevity makes it industrial strength. Surely strength comes from a) capabilities, b) reliability, and c) fitness. You've said that Vegas doesn't fit you and that Premiere does, which is perfectly reasonable and beyond argument.

Vegas seems to be gaining ground. While Vegas 3.0 users are upgrading, most of the Vegas 4.0 users with whom I've communicated are switching from another product. I'm in that category.

I can't tell you what kind of outcome the shootout created, whether it made converts or not. I hung around afterwards and noticed that most of the one-on-one questions were directed towards the Sonic Foundry rep. The audience gave him the longest applause of the three. Must mean something.
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Old June 5th, 2003, 09:07 PM   #10
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Nigel, the user interface issue is interesting. Adobe has a long-standing promise to make its major apps consistent, a promise it kept with Illustrator, PhotoShop, and Pagemaker. That UI is now pervasive.

To make significant advances, I think Adobe has to break that promise because I think a product needs to be designed for its own functionality. I'm just not sure Adobe will be willing to make what it probably believes is a risky, radical departure.

I think Pinnacle, in particular, is counting on this. That's why I think the Pinnacle speaker emphasized the UI over everything else.
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Old June 6th, 2003, 12:42 AM   #11
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Was this just a PC-only shootout? Was there any mention of Final Cut Pro?
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Old June 6th, 2003, 01:39 AM   #12
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Will

While I agree with both the commonality of UI across apps, where applicable, and that this should be secondary to functionality, just look at how filters are applied and keyed in Premiere and AE. AE is quite elegant, whereas Premiere is fussy and overcomplicated.

Look at the zoom and crop in Premiere, outdated and clunky.

Filter prevews are tiny. The motion path dialogue is a mess and fiddly to work with.

These aren't issues about making Premiere look like Illustrator, they are about making Premiere easier to work with.

Then there's recording voiceovers to timeline...

and the audio issues that Rob mentioned. And audio foilters need to be strengthened.

I could go on... :-)

But, at the end of the day, I use Premiere primarily for getting cuts and edits made. It would be nice if some of the things that I have to turn to AE for could be done in Premiere, since AE is so slow!
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Old June 6th, 2003, 07:56 AM   #13
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Alex,

The Shoot Out was sponsored by DVLine, a turnkey reseller. (I bought my system from them last year after attending one). SInce they manufacture PC turnkeys... they don't do Final Cut Pro. (AVID of course, ships with cross-platform software. WHen you buy it, you get a copy for MAC and a copy for PC. You also get the filmscribe software for editing and cutting FILM, as well as the full BORIS package, and the DVD software from SONIC, so it's a full package indeed.)
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