During the past year, I've spent a lot of time working with low-end, consumer-grade video-editing software and hardware, so I'd like to tackle a product that nicely bridges the gap between consumer and professional-level video editing. Such products typically offer a hardware/software combination that adds realtime video effects—dramatically reducing the amount of time it takes to edit video—and provides more professional video-editing software than consumer-level packages. The trade-off, of course, is price. Although you can buy consumer-grade video-editing packages for less than $100, the higher-end systems often approach $1000. Whether you want to pay that price depends on your needs.

Pinnacle Systems' DV500 PLUS is a standout product in this category. The DV500 PLUS features an internal hardware card for your PC, as well as an external Blue Box breakout box that connects to your PC with a long, thick cable. The product provides analog video and audio connections, both incoming and outgoing. The internal card also features two FireWire/IEEE-1394 ports for digital-camera compatibility.

With this setup you get realtime video editing and 3-D special effects expressed through several software bundles, including the award-winning Adobe Systems' Adobe Premiere 6.0 nonlinear video editor, a low-end version of Pinnacle Systems' Hollywood FX that adds professional-grade 3-D video effects, and various Pinnacle Systems tools.

The DV500 PLUS system is so complete and so complex that I'll cover it in two parts. This first part focuses on the hardware and OS; part two will cover Premiere and the other software tools.

Installation
The DV500 PLUS installs easily, and if you're familiar with the breakout-box approach similar packages use, you won't find anything surprising. As noted above, the hardware package consists of a PCI card with two FireWire connections and the Blue Box breakout box, which provides analog video/audio in and out connections. The rationale behind the breakout box is well established: Using an external box such as this makes it easier to plug and unplug connections at will. And because you can place the box on your desktop, it's always handy.

If you're running Windows 2000, Windows Me, or Windows 98, installation should be painless. Windows XP users, however, must upgrade just about everything, including a 130MB CD-ROM upgrade download, Premiere, Hollywood FX, and just about every other piece of software that comes in the box. Presumably, future releases will include XP compatibility out of the box, but the version I have didn't, so I prepared for the installation by downloading all the required updates.

OS Compatibility and Driver Upgrades
After I installed the proper drivers and software, the rest of the installation went smoothly. That is, the supplied hardware and software worked well together. But when I spend this much money on a video-editing package, I expect the hardware to work with a wider range of software solutions. For example, I often use Windows Movie Maker (WMM) to import digital and analog video, but WMM can't even see the DV500 PLUS hardware. And although I can deal with the breakout box being incompatible, I find it unacceptable that I can't use the two FireWire ports elsewhere in XP. I have a FireWire-based hard disk that won't work through these ports, and when I plug in a camcorder, the disk works only with Premiere and the other Pinnacle Systems applications. I had to reinstall a Firewire PCI card I had uninstalled when the Pinnacle Systems system arrived.

I think this approach is old-school, although—arguably—Pinnacle's complete solution includes everything you need. But people who are creative enough to use the DV500 PLUS will want choices and access to their favorite tools. This type of functionality would be easy to add, and I think Pinnacle made a big mistake by not doing so.

That said, the hardware is incredible. However, to fully understand why, you need to look at the software bundle and the way it interacts with the underlying hardware. I'll do that next time around.