June 11, 2006

Curious George: Video editing PC system? Asking for guidance to windows-based pixel monkeys: what would be an acceptable, basic system for digital video editing?

Motherboard, card, processor? Prospective user has a Panasonic DVX100A and has finished a few projects on Sony's Vegas NLE. The idea is to build the system from scratch, for basic, low-end video editing. Budget is about US$1200, including display. No, right now, going Apple is not an option; being a Machead this is quite... stressing, that's why I'm asking for help on specs.

  • Ugh, I feel sorry for you not getting a response, but it's been years since I've done any editing work. I think you'll find good solid answers at forum.videohelp.com or ask.metafilter.com (the latter you'll have to wait a week before it lets you ask questions).
  • Not many people read MoFi on weekends. Things should get more active during the week.
  • I think squidranch would possibly be able to help with this one. Maybe send him an email? Medusa and her husband also do a lot of film-making stuff.
  • Squid uses Apple, IIRC, but he may know of good Windows options. The director of our 48 Hour Film Project film is using Vegas 6.0, and he seems to like it. His hardware is a fast but nothing-fancy P4 laptop, though he mentioned Thursday night that Core Duo systems render DV like motherfuckers compared to the P4, several times faster. Only $1200 bucks may limit you.
  • As stated above, I am a Mac user and am more or less lost on what one would need for a PC based system. There is a resource that you might take advantage of though. Try posting your question on the "cml-post" discussion list on http://www.cinematography.net/CINEFILE.HTM. You have to sign up, but I have found their discussion lists invaluable for all sorts of things. As far as capture cards, if Vegas, Premier or whatever you are using can capture off the camera via firewire, you don't need the capture card. It will make things like rendering or real time preview of effects/filters/titles go zoom-zoom, but you don't need it if the software supports capture via firewire. You'll only need it if you are capturing off an unsupported deck like something non-digital or non supported (in final cut) formats like 24fps 720p. I would also see what the minimum requirements of the software that you are using is and building your system to match that. Another resource would be to go to Pro Max http://www.promax.com/ and see what sort of machines they are selling for the software that you want to use, then try and build one yourself by buying the components and putting it together yourself. As you know, eBay is a great resource for used gear. Also, check mandy.com in their classified ads to see if someone has a used machine that would work for you. I've found some great deals there. Try to buy used where ever you can (i.e. the monitor). It seems to me that $1200 is awfully low. Remember that when you build to the minimum requirements of the software, that the computer won't perform as well as it could and will probably be outmoded on the next software upgrade. You get what you pay for. Good luck. If you have any other questions that I can help you with don't hesitate to write.
  • PS - Hi everybody!!!
  • *waves to squid* *wishes squid would de-lurk more*
  • Been a while since I thought about this topic, so I have to plunder the memory a bit here, but here's a slightly more layman translation of Squid's expert synopis above. You might very well be already familiar with some/all of the following info... Video used to be an analogue field, just like old LP music albums, taped music, etc. Computers are digital, not analogue. Getting the video into the computer required a 'capture card' that did exactly that - capturing the video by tranlating it from analogue to digital, allowing you to save it to your hard disk and edit. There were/are all sorts of headaches associated with capture cards, mostly having to do with dropped frames, out of sync video/audio, and incompatibilities. Luckily, there have now been for several years consumer-level digital video cameras that record video in digital, not analogue. These digital vid-cameras usually have FireWire (also called IEEE-1394) ports that let you run a cable to your computer dump the digital video directly to your computer hard drive, just like having two computers networked together. You get the digital video file in pristine condition without the need for a whole 'capture' process. However, that means you need to get a PC system with a FireWire port to plug the transfer cable into. FireWire is not a standard feature in the IBM-compat world. Some motherboards have it, some don't. You can buy FireWire add-in cards for motherboards that lack FireWire. This is where it gets slightly tricky again. Some PC video editing software, even if it understands FireWire, won't talk to every FireWire add-in card out there (or FireWire MB port, if it's built into the motherboard). Similarly, the software won't necessarily understand every digital vid-cam out there. Both those compatibilities have to be checked before you settle on the software/FireWire port/vid-cam combination. It sounds like you already have the vidcam picked out, so you'll have to work back from there. Preferably finding feedback somewhere on the net from someone who's actually using the combination of components you settle on.
  • There is one other benefit to dedicated video capture cards, which is the reason they're still being sold, even to FireWire users. Specialized vid-cap systems, so called because they're usually paired with specialized proprietary editing software, will also speed up the video editing process. The result is that when you add special effects, fades, titles, etc to your video-edit you don't have to wait for the computer to 'render' the video before you can actually see it. The special card accelerates the render so you can see the results in real time. Other general factors... I think the going rate is 4GB per half hour of high quality video. Keep that in mind when buying hard drive space - luckily not much of a problem in today's world of huge HDs. You'll need at least two hard drives, preferably three. One hard drive to keep you Windows software and video editing software on, and a second hard drive to keep the video on while you're working on it. Preferably two different hard drives for video - one for source files, one for rendered files. All hard drives should be SATA and all should be at least 7200rpm (again not usually a problem these days). Hope all that wasn't too simplistic to be useful.
  • I second using Vegas (I use 5.0) - quite simply, it rocks. I used to be a Premiere fan until it bluescreened several times within about 10 minutes. I bummed a copy of Vegas and have never looked back. It's a great package for audio AND video editing, btw.
  • Third on Vegas - the workflow makes much more sense to me than Premiere ever did, meaning I actually get things done using Vegas instead of reading manuals and tearing my hair out in Premiere. I'm still on Vegas 4, but it does everything I've needed to do... the only thing I wish it had is an adapter for my Premiere plugins! also suggest downloading Virtualdub and VirtualdubMod - they're the swiss-army-knife of video editing, the original is made for .avi formats, while the mod will accept .mpg inputs as well. and they are freeware.
  • Well, I consider what I do to be "low-end" - I take home movies from my DV camera, edit them, author DVD menus and burn them to disc. My system is over 3 years old and does an acceptable job: AMD 1.6Ghz 512 MB Ram 4 x 160 GB 7200 RPM ATA-133 Hard Drives 16x DVD/RW Drive Adaptec 1394 Card (Most new motherboards have it integrated.) The only thing I would like it to do faster is render video. That's an "overnight" task for me, as it takes around 4 hours hours to render 120 minutes of video. If you want to maximize your performance and your budget is $1200 (not including software I hope), I would suggest a balance of: - A fairly high-end processor - for rendering video. - At least 1.5 - 2 GB of RAM - Fast Hard drives - 7200 RPM Serial ATA with at least 8MB cache on them. 10k SATA drives would be better, but are far more costly. I'd start out with about 500 GB. Otherwise, if your budget were, say, $2800, I would suggest taking it, in cash, to your local Apple store and saying: "I want a Mac with video editing software that costs this much." You would be set... ;-)
  • Sorry about the wankery up above, fellow primates. I was tired and felt like a brain dump.
  • Thanks for all the responses. Definitely unclogged my brain for all the issues, after the 'no Mac...' condition stunted it.
  • If only they would port Final Cut to the PC! Life would be so much easier (not better maybe but easier)....