Videography March 1999
Things are Heating Up for
By Sheldon Liebman
The November 1995, issue of Videography had one of the industry's first stories about FireWire, a new way of connecting peripherals to computers. For that article, we spoke with Michael Teener, Apple's unofficial "FireWire Guru." Teener predicted that FireWire would be "a major factor in consumer electronics" by the end of 1996 and that by the end of 1997, there would be a "FireWire connector on the back of virtually every computer built."
It's been over three years since we wrote that story and it finally looks like FireWire is heating up, not just for video professionals, but for the prosumer and consumer markets as well. In this article, we'll look at some of the recent developments in FireWire technology and a few of the companies that are committed (or committing) to this technology.
One of the reasons for this delay is that FireWire didn't become an "open" standard until the middle of last year. That's when the IEEE 1394 standard was formalized, and most computer manufacturers didn't want to commit to the technology until that standard was officially adopted.
FireWire, which is an Apple trademark, is still used to describe their product line. IEEE 1394 is the formal designation of the standard, and is used by many companies to describe their products. In other instances, new names are being introduced to describe products that are based on this standard, like Sony's i.LINK designation. At this point, it looks like all these products will work together, regardless of how the companies choose to refer to them. Of course, it's always a good idea to ask.
The developer of FireWire has finally joined the bandwagon. At Macworld San Francisco in January, Apple announced the newest Power Macintosh G3 computers, which now include two FireWire ports that operate at up to 400 Megabits per second (Mbps). At these speeds, FireWire definitely qualifies as a "fast networking" technology, although people probably won't be using it to replace Ethernet any time soon.
Instead, this speed and power is best used to transfer digital video information between computers and video devices like camcorders and VCRs, which already exist as FireWire peripherals. According to Apple, more than 50 FireWire peripherals are already shipping and 20 new FireWire products were announced by third parties at Macworld. In addition to video peripherals, this list also includes storage devices.
Apple may be the inventor of FireWire, but Adaptec is one of the most active companies getting it to the market. Moving forward, IEEE 1394 support will be provided by chips on computer motherboards. For now, however, add-on cards are used to bring this capability to a wide variety of computer systems.
In most cases, Adaptec is supplying this technology. On the camera side, the company is working with Canon and Kodak. Third party products like the DPS Spark DV-2000 and Pinnacle/MiroVIDEO DV30 use Adaptec products as part of the solution. Computer makers like Compaq, Epson and NEC also purchase product from Adaptec for their 1394 solutions.
If you want to get a PC with built-in 1394 capability, you don't have to look any further than your local CompUSA. Six months ago, Compaq introduced the Presario 5600 line of computers that include the "Digital Creativity Imaging Center," which includes an IEEE 1394 port on the lower front panel of the computer and software to capture, edit and publish high quality video images. Although this wasn't the main reason he bought the computer, Videography Editor Brian McKernan can be counted among the thousands (millions?) of people who now have FireWire compatible computers.
Just because you have this port, of course, doesn't mean you're using it. But, the longer it stares at you from the front of your computer, the more likely you are to look for something that you can plug into it. When that happens, FireWire computing will definitely be a mass-market phenomenon.
Radius was one of the first companies to make a big bet on FireWire. Their EditDV and MotoDV products, available for both Macintosh and Windows computers, are inexpensive to purchase, easy to install and straightforward to use. Recently, the company was reborn as Digital Origin and the only products they sell are the EditDV and MotoDV. This is clearly a vote in favor of IEEE 1394 as the computer to video interface of choice.
Digital Origin is also working closely with camera manufacturer Canon to help people with computers understand how DV can be used to edit video, whether those people have access to a FireWire port or not. On February 4, Canon introduced the Elura MiniDV Camcorder, which offers three shooting modes: Video, Photo and Progressive Scan Digital Motor Drive, which records progressive scanned images at 30 frames per second.
This full-featured, high-end consumer product carries a suggested list price of $1799 and is bundled with Digital Origin's EditDV Unplugged software. This software bundle includes two CD-ROMs. The first is the standard software package to edit video sequences. The second contains actual video footage captured by the Elura and transferred to CD-ROM. Using this CD, Elura owners can discover the joys of editing DV style footage, which will (hopefully) encourage them to purchase an IEEE 1394 add-on card.
There are a lot of companies that sell digital video products as either add-ons or turnkey systems. Matrox is one of the latest to add DV capability. They recently began offering a $995 DV option for their DigiSuite and DigiSuite LE platforms. The company considers DV a great acquisition format, but not necessarily appropriate for editing.
DigiSuite converts incoming DV streams to Motion-JPEG and then makes the converted data available for every function available in the DigiSuite platform. This allows DV streams to be combined with other analog and digital video formats in a seamless environment.
Many other non-linear editing suppliers already offer DV capability or plan to offer it soon, so Matrox is not unique in this arena. We've simply chosen to include them as one example of what's available.
Late last year, SGI announced that their O2 workstation could be configured for IEEE 1394 video by purchasing an option called DVLink. Using this hardware and software product, the O2 can handle multiple digital video streams simultaneously at up to 400 Mbps. More recently, SGI announced that one of their Windows NT workstations would also support DV streams. This product, however, is not yet shipping - the current version of Windows NT does not support 1394 data.
Apple has FireWire, everyone has IEEE 1394, but only Sony and its partners have i.LINK. Since FireWire belongs to Apple and IEEE 1394 doesn't belong to anyone, Sony developed the i.LINK name to identify their brand of 13-94-compliant digital video. Consumers are assured that all i.LINK products are designed to work easily together whether they carry the Sony name or not.
A few well-known video companies have already jumped on the i.LINK bandwagon, including FAST, Pinnacle and Radius (now Digital Origin). Other companies are sure to follow as Sony attempts to make i.LINK synonymous with the DV format. In addition, Sony has put an i.LINK port on some of its VAIO notebook and desktop computers, which are sold alongside Compaq's machines at many computer outlets around the world (including CompUSA).
Sony's development of i.LINK goes beyond full motion video. On its VAIO notebooks, the i.LINK port is designed to transfer still images only, positioning i.LINK as a general purpose imaging interface. It will be interesting to see how Sony fares in getting this new brand to catch on.
FireWire support by companies like Matrox and SGI indicates that FireWire is a hot technology at all levels of video production. O2 workstations are used in state-of-the-art video and film production, which can now easily integrate DV format video streams. Professional editing platforms like DigiSuite reach the entire spectrum of production companies. And mass market offerings like those from Compaq and Sony ensure that the home video market will also be penetrated.
In addition, a new Home Audio-Video interoperability architecture has been developed (HAVi). This proposed standard has the support of a diverse set of companies including Sun Microsystems, Philips, Sony, Hitachi, Sharp and others who want to link digital electronics appliances in the home with services offered over a network using Sun's Jini technology. HAVi is designed to use the IEEE 1394 interface for high-speed, secure transmission of data. It also allows products to reserve bandwidth and other resources, making it suitable for uninterrupted transmission of real-time video.
What's In a
As mentioned above, the name FireWire is an Apple trademark and the IEEE 1394 standard originated at Apple. However, the computer maker angered many companies in the computer and video industries after Macworld by announcing that it would seek royalties of $1 per port from chip and system makers using the 1394 interface.
Although Compaq, Sony and other companies already using 1394 didn't change their plans after hearing this announcement, other companies that were considering 1394 products appear to have backed off until the dust settles. One company that could be greatly affected is Texas Instruments, who previously secured a flat-fee license to 1394 and hopes to ship up to 10 million 1394 chips in 1999. Lawyers from Apple and TI immediately began meeting to determine what, if any, additional royalty TI will need to pay.
As we went to press, it was announced that Apple, Compaq, Matsushita (Panasonic), Philips. Sony and Toshiba intend to form a patent pool to efficiently license patents required to implement the IEEE 1394 standard. The six companies have pledged to work together to create a joint licensing program and promote the industry-wide adoption of IEEE 1394. Although many of the details must still be worked out, this surprising development should appease the initial critics of Apple's royalty plan.
As FireWire, IEEE 1394, and i.LINK heat up, it's easy to assume that since they're all based on the same thing, all of the products using these names will work together. However, that assumes you can connect them together to begin with.
If you've been using DV camcorders or other DV devices, you know that the digital interface port is small and practically square. If you've purchased a computer with a 1394 port or a card from Adaptec, you also know that the connector on these devices is significantly larger than the one on video products.
You would think that as a new standard, IEEE 1394 would specify a single type of connector, but you'd be wrong. The history of the computer industry is full of multiple types of connectors for a single purpose. Old PC keyboards used a large round connector, newer ones use a smaller one. Old serial ports had 25 pins, newer ones have 9 pins. Well, you can add IEEE 1394 to this list.
The formal IEEE 1394 standard specifies a 12mm connector that uses 6 wires, two of which route power between components. However, there is another connector that was specified in an earlier version of the specification that leaves out the power connections and uses only four pins. Except for Sony, it appears that all the computer makers are using 6 pin ports, leaving the unassuming user to figure out how to plug a square peg into a round hole (or something like that).
For thousands of Compaq computer buyers, this is a real problem, as Compaq only offers a 6 pin to 6 pin cable. However, there are a number of other companies that can supply an adapter that converts between the 6-pin and 4-pin formats. So, don't be surprised if you can't plug computer A into camcorder B. Just drop me a line and I'll help you get the cable you need.
Michael Teener was a little late with his dates, but it appears that FireWire is finally heating up. For those of us who've been waiting to create a digital studio, it looks like the time is right to build a really "smoking" facility.
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