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Avid Users Lured by Black Lace Teddy

Final Cut Pro: Transition babe or perfect replacement? By Charlie White
Avid is running scared from Final Cut Pro. The long-term marriage between Avid and its huge corps of customers is getting stale, and those users are getting roving eyes. Final Cut Pro is like that floozy who lures bored men from secure marriages with the seductive temptation of a black lace teddy straining against its fleshy cargo. Alas, she's just the transition babe. There are many fish in the sea, and they're spawning all around Avid. And they all cost a fraction of what Avid is asking its loyal army of users to pay.

A couple of weeks ago I talked with a high-ranking Avid official face-to-face about this pricing conundrum, and believe me, Avid is no loser company that will just sit there and watch the world go by while it continues to collect big bucks for its industry-standard systems. When I posited that its prices were too high, the official surprised me with his response: He agreed. In fact, that same day we saw the first movement of the gigantic company that changes direction like a cruise ship -- it takes a while to turn one of those big boats around -- Avid announced it was selling a somewhat-crippled version of its HD editing and compositing system, Avid DS|HD, for $85K. That's a big improvement over the previous price for the full version of DS|HD, the cheapest of which was running way over $200K just a few months ago. Expect more price cuts from Avid, some of which are already happening at the reseller level. Meanwhile, other attractive editing systems beckon.

Aiding and abetting this adultery of NLEs are freefalling computer prices, where Moore's Law is starting to look overly conservative. Yes, computers are speeding up (duh), but even more than before. Intel just released its 2.4GHz P4, based on new architecture that's produced using a .13 micron process. It's not only faster, the new chip is ultimately cheaper, too. Making it less costly to produce is Intel's use of 300mm wafers instead of 200mm wafer technology, allowing the company to produce five times as many of the newest P4 chips per wafer as they could when the P4 was first cooked up on the 200mm size. Beyond this new development, expect to see 3GHz P4 chips by the end of the year. The chips have a lot of headroom, too -- Intel has already demonstrated P4s running faster than 4GHz, and that's not even near the top speed of just this most current line of chips.


As far as computer pricing goes, remember when the box you really wanted, with all the bells and whistles always cost $5000? Now, that sweet-spot computer costs around $3000. The highest price once brought the highest technology, and still does, but the top-price bar is inching lower. Relating that to digital video editing, where that sweet spot high-end editing system you really wanted once cost $100,000, it's now going to slide down to about maybe $60K. And if you're thinking Final Cut Pro or one of its low-ball competitors, that figure is down to $10K or less. My, how things change. With the advertising market in a major depression, media-related businesses are getting smarter. Where once they would go ahead, for example, and pay the full fare for an airline ticket, now they're looking for bargains. Where once they were married to the idea of shelling out $100K to edit video, now they're leering at that cheap babe in the black lace teddy.

But it's not just the low-ball products that are nipping at Avid's heels, either -- the company's being assaulted from above, too. I was talking with a Midwestern production facility owner the other day, who told me he thinks Sony is, as he put it, "out-Aviding Avid." This production company proprietor's Sony Xpri HD system can import and export timelines and OMF information to and from his Avid Symphony, and now he's going to be installing new Sony hardware in the Xpri system that will allow him to create dual-stream HD effects in real time, with two graphics on top of that. That's four streams of HDCam (that's compressed, but just a little) effects, in real time. Avid can't do that yet.

The red flag for me is, uh, Sony? Beating Avid with hardware, I could see that, but software, too? Sony? That company has made a name for itself, in my book, as the poster child for awful Japanese software. But the times, they are a-changin', friends. Take a look at Sony Xpri's user interface if you get a chance, and you'll see that the Great Imitators have done just that -- imitated the best of Avid's UI, taken a bit of the late FAST's beautiful and easy to use Fast Studio (now Pinnacle Liquid Studio), and sprinkled in a touch of Final Cut Pro to come up with a winner. After spending some time with the system, I almost agree with my Avid-eschewing buddy -- it's possible Sony's getting close to out-Aviding Avid. And I predict they are only the first in a long line that will be doing just that in the months and years to come.

But Sony's gig is up, too. The problem? Unbelievable, gouging, bank-robbing profit margins. The clincher here is, if you're charging upwards of $100,000 for an editing system ($200,000+ for HD) that costs you $4000 to build, you'd better be using that huge profit windfall to cook up some products that no one else can touch, because the low end is gaining on these fat cats.

So, if I were to put on my wiz hat and stare into the old crystal ball, I'd have to say short-term, Final Cut Pro eats Avid for lunch. Mid-term, Moore's law says computers will be four times as powerful as they are now in about three-and-a-half years, and HDTV has four times the data as standard definition, so figure that one out. Meanwhile, I'm not counting Avid out. After laying off a few hundred employees, it will show us what a cool cat it is, using up another of its nine lives to come roaring back with something none of us even thought of. Long term, we'll be editing uncompressed holographic media on our wristwatches.


Charlie White, your humble storytellerCharlie White has been writing about new media and digital video since it was the laughingstock of the television industry. A technology journalist and columnist for the past eight years, White is also an Emmy-winning producer, video editor and shot-calling PBS TV director with 27 years broadcast experience. Talk back -- Send Chazz a note at cwhite@digitalmedianet.com.

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