Open a movie studio on your desktop

Well, I suppose it depends on how much money you have to spare. You can contract with Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) for your video project, or you can buy a standalone desktop computer system and do it yourself. Although having the letters ILM roll by in the credits looks really great, that alternative is not entirely cost effective.

More computer systems vendors are jumping into the video production market all the time. Manufacturers, such as Avid, Diva, Digital Processing Systems (DPS), and in:sync, primarily target the video editing market with software-only products (e.g., in:sync's Speed Razor Mach III and Avid's Real Impact) and hardware add-ons (e.g., the DPS Perception Video Recorder). Turnkey systems (starting as low as $12,000) are available from independent distributors but are on third-party platforms such as Dell Computer. The latest entry comes from Intergraph, the well-established NT-graphics giant. Since 1993, Intergraph has shipped NT-specific systems for the CAD and graphics production markets. Now, StudioZ combines Intergraph's outstanding graphics technology with video editing capabilities that rival traditional online editing systems.

In one Windows NT box, StudioZ mixes all this with one of the fastest (500,000 Gouraud-shaded triangles per second) OpenGL-accelerated 3D animation and rendering subsystems available (an upcoming review of Intergraph's TDZ-400 will provide details--so far, results are impressive).

This one system lets you go from concept through final production and output, without the delays and hassles of moving your project across multiple platforms for different operations. Even post-production work, such as sequencing and merging animation clips, is no problem with this system's full broadcast-quality component serial-digital (D1/SDI) inputs and outputs.

The Big Picture
For one machine, $39,000 is a lot. However, compared to the $50,000 to $200,000 alternatives in the UNIX market (notably, those from SGI), which don't offer the same out-of-the-box power, StudioZ is a "reel" bargain.

All Intergraph high-end systems (TD-400 and TDZ-400) and the StudioZ have one basic architecture. It includes all you expect in a studio-grade solution, such as completely integrated graphics and video subsystems. You can have a uni-, a dual-, or quad-processor configuration with 200-MHz Pentium Pro CPUs and up to 512MB of ECC RAM (either 2- or 4-way interleaved, depending on performance requirements and the size of your bankroll for additional SIMMs). Each CPU has an internal 256KB Level 2 cache. The CPU-to-memory bus has a data transfer bandwidth greater than 500MB per second (MBps), which comfortably accommodates the 270Mbit-per-second (Mbps) bandwidth of the serial-digital video inputs and outputs.

StudioZ's GLZ OpenGL-accelerated graphics subsystem rivals that of midrange SGIs, so you can simultaneously process animation, texture, and video data. Extras include 24-bit double buffering (to eliminate tearing), 10-bit gamma correction (for full control of brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation for video capture and playback), 1 or 2 megapixel resolution (depending on the model), and extended texture memory (8MB or 32MB).

When configuring your dream system, you can build anything from a powerful entry-level graphics processing system to the biggest, meanest, baddest boy on the block. In addition to choosing a one-, two-, or four-CPU configuration (the only quad-processor workstation on the market), you have three PCI graphics accelerator options: the GLZ1T (12MB of VRAM, 24-bit Z buffer, 92 image planes, 1152x864 pixel resolution, 8MB texture memory, 110-bit memory data bus), the GLZ2 (24MB of VRAM, 92 image planes, 8MB of texture memory, 1600x1280 pixel resolution, 220-bit memory bus), and the GLZ6 (34MB of VRAM, 32-bit Z buffer, 8-bit alpha channel, 8-bit double-buffered overlay, 126 image planes, 1600x1280 pixel resolution, geometry acceleration, 32MB of texture memory, 284-bit memory bus). The available options depend on the model (StudioZ Solo, Duo, or Quattro).

StudioZ's serial-digital PCI video subsystem is equally formidable. It can capture and play back CCIR 601 and square pixel sampled data (525 or 625 lines), 4:2:2 Component Video (ANSI/SMPTE 259M and CCIR 656 standards), and Betacam-quality Motion-JPEG video compression. The hardware provides full 270Mbps serial-digital input and output, with analog composite and S-Video outputs and Finite Impulse Response hardware filtering for offline editing.

A loopback video cable connects the standard SVGA output on the motherboard to the GLZ graphics accelerator card; the monitor plugs directly into the card. If you loose the cable, you can run the system by plugging the monitor into the system connector, booting the system, and then moving the monitor connection to the accelerator card.

An integrated Creative Labs Vibra-16 sound device provides audio. Speakers are built into the Altec-Lansing keyboard that ships with the system. The speakers are surprisingly loud for their 4" size. You also get stereo line-level input and output and a microphone input.

The Plot
So what else do you get for $39,000? Among other things, you get onboard PCI Ethernet (10 Base T and AUI connectors), PCI Fast SCSI-2 disk controllers, and external connector. Depending on the model, you get one controller, dual controllers (one for internal and one for external devices), or a RAID controller with three Fast and Wide SCSI-2 channels. The StudioZ has a full complement of I/O ports: two 9-pin serial, one enhanced parallel, and a PS/2-style keyboard and mouse.

Besides a standard combination 3.5" floppy drive/PC Card (formerly PCMCIA) bay (two Type I/II or one Type III) and a quad-speed CD-ROM, storage options include a 2GB or 4GB 3.5" internal system disk, a 2GB or 4GB internal audio/visual (A/V) drive, or a 9GB external drive. The A/V drives let you stream video data (in realtime) directly from disk to video tape.

You have a choice of chassis: either a standard desktop or a tower. The cost differential is about $2000, so base your purchase on what expansion features you'll need. The desktop model has only two half-length ISA slots, with two 3.5" and one 5.25" drive bays; the tower has five full-length PCI and four full-length ISA slots, with one 3.5" and six 5.25" drive bays. Power supplies match the system's needs: 300W on the desktop and 539W on the tower. Last, you can choose a 17" multisync, 21" 82-Hz, 21" 107-Hz display, or a 27" display.

The Final Credits
This one desktop machine can do it all. You can capture broadcast-quality video and audio in industry-standard formats (NTSC and PAL video, CD- or DAT-quality audio), edit it, add your own 2D and 3D animation sequences (rendered on this system), add audio and video sound and special effects, composite everything, and dump it to your BetacamSP video recorder in realtime for delivery.

And, of course, NT! NT! NT! The only way StudioZ ships is with NT Workstation installed, so multithreaded applications such as Kinetix's 3D Studio Max, in:sync's Speed Razor Mach III, North Coast Software's PhotoMorph 2.0, and Adobe Photoshop 3.0.5 can take advantage of any number of CPUs.

Besides the thousands of Intel-compiled 32-bit applications available for this system (from standard office automation to 3D animation and rendering), StudioZ ships with Intergraph's StudioZ Console for video capture, assembly, and playback; Adobe Premiere LE for video editing; Photoshop 3.0 LE for image processing; MacroMedia Sound Forge for audio editing; and Intergraph PC-NFS Windows NT/
UNIX for interoperability.

This is a beastly machine, designed from the ground up to be as good at 3D animation and rendering as at video editing. Professional video producers and corporate MIS managers need to look at the StudioZ line, because one extremely fast and capable system that can handle all aspects of multimedia production is cheaper and easier than multiple systems or outsourcing the same work.

Intergraph StudioZ Workstation
System Configuration: 128MB of RAM, 2GB and 4GB A/V Fast SCSI-2 drives, GLZs Graphics Accelerator, 21" Hitachi display
Intergraph * 800-763-0242
Price (list with display): As configured: $39,190; Base, uniprocessor, 64MB, GLZ1T: $27,095; High-end, quad-processor, 128MB, GLZ6: $71,995