Using the Right Hardware for a Great Video Editing Experience

Jason Dunn

Your computer is a lot like your car—when you buy it, you have certain ideas about what you want to do with it. You buy a car to get to and from work, run errands, and travel. You buy a computer to write letters, check e-mail, browse the Web, and perhaps play games. But the analogy stops there. Unlike your car, which more or

less stays the same from the day you buy it, your computer can be changed with hardware and software. As your needs grow, so can your computer.

Since you’re reading this article, you must be interested in editing digital video on your Microsoft Windows XP-based computer. I guarantee that you’ll have more fun with video editing than you do just writing e-mail. But just as you wouldn’t take a compact car off-roading, your computer might not be up to the task of heavy video editing.

“What kind of system do I need?” is one of the most common questions about video editing in the Windows XP newsgroups, chats, and other community forums. This column is the first in a series that helps you assess your computer hardware so you’ll have the best experience with Windows Movie Maker.

Movie Maker 2 is an upgrade to the video editing accessory that comes with Windows XP. Check Windows Movie Maker 2 Download for system requirements and the free download. Windows Movie Maker 2 is an ambitious program and is much more advanced that the previous version. For more information about Movie Maker 2, see two Expert Zone columns, Moviemaking 101 and Moviemaking 202. The Focus On Windows Movie Maker page has links to digital video communities, as well as how-to information. To learn more about working with digital video, read my book, Faster Smarter Digital Video (Microsoft Press, 2002).

In future columns, you’ll learn how to upgrade or replace your system to can handle the performance demands of video editing. My goal isn’t to encourage you to spend more money. On the contrary, if you’re informed about the kind of hardware upgrades you need for video editing, you might be able to perform a minor upgrade instead of buying a new system.

Powerful Computer Saves Time

If there’s one thing that will bring a computer to its knees, it’s video editing. Pushing around huge, multi-gigabyte video files is a strain on any system. And when a computer is busy working away at something, usually you’re left staring at the screen waiting for your machine to catch up. The most arduous point in this process is the video’s final rendering time. Rendering time is the time it takes for video-editing effects to be applied to your video and output into the final format (like a DVD or file to be sent via email).

Depending on how many effects you use in your video and on your computer’s speed, you could be looking at an hour or more of rendering time per minute of video. That’s right, per minute. So if your production is 30 minutes long, your computer will be rendering a very, very long time if it’s underpowered. This is an extreme case, but I’ve seen more than one newsgroup posting from someone editing video on a computer several years old and running at 300 MHz. Understandably, those posts complained about the 25-hour project rendering time.

Ultimately, the question you have to ask yourself as you start to edit your videos is, “What is my time worth?” If you’re adding intense effects to every video clip, your rendering time will shoot up. If you don’t mind leaving your computer churning away at a video project for 24 hours and you don’t need to use your machine for anything else, you may be just fine with the 300 MHz computer. For most of us, though, that’s not the case. Having our computers inaccessible for an entire day isn’t an option. As you read through this series and discover how each hardware element will affect your computer, decide whether the money you’ll spend is worth the time you’ll save. As you can probably guess, I believe that a powerful computer is a must if you want to have an enjoyable video-editing experience that’s free of frustration. Computers should wait for humans, not the other way around!

Computer hardware also has an impact on the speed of the video-editing application that extends beyond rendering. Previewing effects, applying filters, even moving clips around all require major computer horsepower. An underpowered machine will slow your use of any video-editing application, turning a simple video edit into a 30-minute procedure of click, wait, click.The advancements in Movie Maker 2 require some fairly serious horsepower—your optimal experience will be with a 1.5 GHz or faster CPU. That’s not to say that you can’t use the application on a slower machine, but everything from importing video clips to previewing effects will take more time. It’s hard to be creative when you’re waiting for your computer to catch up to you.

Take Stock of Your Computer Assets

Your computer is an amazing tool—hundreds of parts, all working in concert, capable of some impressive feats. Some pieces of hardware have a significant effect on video-editing performance, and others have very little. It’s important to understand what each piece does and how it affects your digital video-editing experience so that you know what upgrades you may need. But before we get into that, let’s figure out what assets you currently have on your computer—there’s no sense in upgrading if you have sufficient power.

Three basic elements make up the core of your computer, and they’re tightly related: the CPU (processor), RAM, and the hard drive. The CPU transfers information to and from the hard drive (permanent storage) and RAM (temporary storage for whatever you’re currently working on). There are some simple steps you can follow to discover what’s inside your computer. The rest of the articles in this series will detail how each of these elements impacts your video-editing experience. Before diving into them, it’s important to figure out exactly what you have.

Discovering RAM and CPU speed is a straightforward process that was greatly improved in Microsoft Windows XP. Prior to Windows XP, you’d have to reboot your computer to see how fast your CPU was. Microsoft has since simplified this process, integrating it into the operating system.

To obtain RAM and CPU information on a Windows XP computer

Click Start, click My Computer, and under System Tasks, click View system information.

The System Properties dialog box opens, as shown in Figure 1. The first line shows the type of processor, and on some newer processors (such as the Pentium 4), it shows the rated processor speed. The next line shows the processor’s current speed in MHz or GHz (remember 1 GHz = 1000 MHz).

The System Properties dialog box shows your CPU speed and RAM

Figure 1: The System Properties dialog box shows your CPU speed and RAM.

Why show the processor’s rated speed and the current speed? Because processors don’t always run at the speed they’re supposed to. For example, on a computer I built, the actual CPU speed was 1.9 GHz instead of the 2.54 GHz that the processor was capable of. Until I changed the processor speed by altering a few settings, I was getting far less speed than I was supposed to. The last line shows the amount of RAM installed on the system. Unfortunately, this doesn’t show the type of speed of the RAM.

Check Your Storage Situation

Next, you should check your storage situation. The best way to do this is to go into the Computer Management Console. This tool offers the easiest way to view your drives and space situation and allows you to see this information in one place.

To check storage

1. Click Start, click Run, and type compmgmt.msc. The Computer Management Console opens.
2. Under Storage, click Disk Management.

This view tells you a great deal about your hard drives and how they’re divided. You should be able to see how many physical hard drives you have, how they’re divided, and how much storage space you have to work with. Your computer will be different from mine, but here’s what you can learn by looking at Figure 2:

There’s only one physical hard drive inside this computer, and it’s 120 GB in size.
This hard drive is divided into four partitions: 15 GB, 15 GB, 40 GB, and 40 GB. All the partitions are in the NTFS format. A partition is a virtual divider set up to segment a single hard drive into multiple drives. Although physically, there’s only one hard drive, Windows will see each partition as a separate hard drive and treat it as such.
One removable hard drive is attached to the computer, and it has two partitions, each with 80 GB of space.

What’s Next?

Now that you know what you have inside your computer, the next step is to decide what to upgrade (if anything), how to best spend your money, and which components will give you the most enhancement for the least investment. I hope this series will both educate you and give you some new ideas about what’s possible. Digital video editing with Windows Movie Maker 2 and Windows XP is a lot of fun, but having the right kind of computer hardware makes a huge difference in how much you’ll enjoy the experience.

Jason Dunn is an avid digital media enthusiast who also writes about mobile technology. He’s the author of several books, including PhotoImpact 7 Power, Short Order Microsoft PhotoDraw 2000, and Faster Smarter Digital Video. Jason also runs Kensai, which focuses on helping companies successfully navigate the online world.

Source : www.microfot.com

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