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The NewTek Video Toaster is a combination of hardware and software for the editing and production of standard-definition and high-definition video in NTSC, PAL, and resolution independent formats on personal computers running the Windows operating system. It comprises various tools for video switching, chroma keying, character generation, animation, and image manipulation. It was the Emmy Award winning product that led to the desktop video revolution.

Contents

First generation systems

The Video Toaster was designed by NewTek founder Tim Jenison in Topeka, Kansas. Engineer Brad Carvey (brother of American actor/comedian Dana Carvey)[1] built the first wire wrap prototype, and Steve Kell wrote the software for the prototype. Many other people worked on the Toaster as it developed.

The Toaster was released as a commercial product in December 1990[2] for the Commodore Amiga 2000 computer system, taking advantage of the video-friendly aspects of that system's hardware to deliver the product at an unusually low cost ($2399)[3]. The Amiga was unique among personal computers in that its system clock (7.16MHz) was precisely double that of the NTSC color carrier frequency, 3.579MHz, allowing for simple syncronization of the video signal. The hardware component was a full-sized card which went into the Amiga 2000's unique single video expansion slot rather than the standard bus slots, and therefore could not be used with the A500 and A1000 models. The card had several BNC connectors in the rear, which accepted four video input sources and provided two outputs (preview and program). This initial generation system was essentially a real-time four-channel video switcher. A user still needed three VTRs to perform A/B roll as the Toaster was not a non-linear editor (NLE). An NLE would be added later, with the invention of the Video Toaster Flyer.

One feature of the Video Toaster was the inclusion of LightWave 3D, a 3D modeling, rendering, and animation program. This program became so popular and useful in its own right that in 1994 it was made available as standalone product separate from the Toaster systems.[4]

Aside from simple fades and cuts, it had a large variety of character generation, overlays, and complex animated switching effects. These effects were in large part performed with the help of the native Amiga graphics chipset which were synchronized to the NTSC video signals; the result being that while the Toaster was rendering a switching animation the computer desktop display would not be visible. The Toaster hardware also relied on having very stable input signals, and therefore was often used along with a separate video sync time base corrector to stabilize the video sources. Third-party low-cost time base correctors (TBCs) specifically designed to work with the Toaster quickly came to market, most of which were designed as standard ISA bus cards, taking advantage of the typically-unused Bridgeboard slots (although they only used the bus to draw power and nothing more).

Like all video switchers that use a frame buffer to create DVEs (Digital Video Effects), the video path through the Toaster hardware introduced delays in the signals when the signal was in 'digital' mode. Depending on the video setup of the user, this delay could be quite noticeable when viewed along with the corresponding audio, and so some users installed audio delay circuits which would match the Toaster's video delay lag, as is common practice in video switching studios. There was no video delay when the Video Toaster was in 'analog' mode.

Although initially offered as just an add-on to an Amiga, it was soon available as a complete turn-key system which included the Toaster, Amiga, and sync generator. These Toaster systems became very popular, primarily because at a cost of around $5,000 US, they could do much of what a $100,000 professional video switcher could do at that time. The Toaster was also the first such video device designed around a general purpose personal computer that was capable of delivering NTSC broadcast quality signals.

As such, during the early 1990s the Toaster was used quite widely by many Amiga, desktop video enthusiasts and local television studios and was even used during The Tonight Show regularly to produce special effects for comedy skits. It was often easy to detect a studio that used the Toaster by the unique and recognizable special switching effects. Also all of the external submarine shots in the TV series seaQuest DSV were created using Lightwave 3D, as were the outer space scenes in the TV series Babylon 5 (although Amiga hardware was only used for the first season). Interestingly, due to the heavy use of dark blues and greens (where the NTSC television standard is weak), the external submarine shots in seaQuest DSV could not have made it to air without the use of the ASDG Abekas driver (written by Aaron Avery at ASDG - later Elastic Reality, Inc.), written specifically to solve this problem.

An updated version, Video Toaster 4000, was later released. It used the Amiga 4000's video slot.[1]

Video Toaster Flyer

For the second generation NewTek introduced the Video Toaster Flyer. The Flyer was a much more capable non-linear editing system. In addition to just processing live video signals, the Flyer made use of hard drives to store video clips as well as audio and allow complex scripted playback. The Flyer was capable of simultaneous dual-channel playback, which allowed the Toaster's Video switcher to perform transitions and other effects on Video clips without the need for rendering.

The hardware component was again a card designed for the Amiga's Zorro II expansion slot, and was primarily designed by Charles Steinkuehler. The Flyer portion of the Video Toaster/Flyer combination was a complete computer of its own, having its own microprocessor and embedded software, which was written by Marty Flickinger. Its hardware included three embedded SCSI controllers. Two of these SCSI buses were used to store video data, and the third to store audio. The hard drives were thus connected to the Flyer directly and used a proprietary filesystem layout, rather than being connected to the Amiga's buses and were available as regular devices using the included DOS driver. The Flyer used a proprietary Wavelet compression algorithm known as VTASC, which was well regarded at the time for offering better visual quality than comparable Motion JPEG based non-linear editing systems.

Video Toaster Screamer

In 1993, NewTek released the Video Toaster Screamer, a parallel extension to the Toaster, with four MIPS R4400 CPUs running at 150 MHz. Based On the Amiga hardware and software/OS. The Screamer accelerated the rendering of animations developed using the Toaster's bundled Lightwave 3-D software.

Later generations

Later generations of the product run on Windows PCs. In 2004, the source code for the Amiga version was publicly released. With the additions of packages such as DiscreetFX's Millennium and thousands of wipes and backgrounds added over the years you can still find the Video Toaster system in use today in professional systems. NewTek renamed the VideoToaster to "VideoToaster[2]", and later, "VT[3]" for the PC version and is now at version 5. Since VT[4] version 4.6, SDI switching is supported through an add-on called SX-SDI.

A spin-off product was released by NewTek known as the TriCaster, a portable live production, live projection, live streaming and NLE system. The TriCaster packages the VT system as a turnkey solution in a custom-designed portable PC case with video, audio and remote computer inputs and outputs on the front and back of the case. As of April 2008, four versions are in production: the basic TriCaster 2.0, TriCaster PRO 2.0, TriCaster STUDIO 2.0 and the new TriCaster BROADCAST, the latter of which adds SDI and AES-EBU connectivity plus a preview output capability. The TriCasterPRO FX, a model that was situated in the line between the original TriCaster PRO and TriCaster STUDIO was introduced in early 2008, and has now been discontinued. Its feature set has been added to the new TriCaster PRO 2.0. TriCaster STUDIO 2.0 and TriCaster BROADCAST use successively larger cases than the base model TriCaster 2.0. The units within the product line above the base-model TriCaster 2.0 enables use of LiveSet 3D Live Virtual Set technology developed by NewTek, that replaces tens of thousands of dollars worth of conventional 3D virtual set equipment alone, and is also found in NewTek's venerable VT[5] Integrated Production Suite, the modern-day successor to the original VideoToaster.

At NAB 2009, NewTek released the first information for a high definition version of the TriCaster called the TriCaster XD300. Currently, they say it will have the ability to accept 3 formats (NTSC, 720p or 1080i) which can be mixed, two downstream keys (one still and one motion), a positionable DVE and enhanced chroma keyer. It is slated for a Q4 2009 release.

Subprograms

  • ToasterCG is the character generation program inside Video Toaster.
  • ToasterEdit is a video editing subprogram inside of Video Toaster.

References

  1. ^ Wired Magazine profile of Newtek
  2. ^ Wired Magazine profile of Newtek
  3. ^ Wired Magazine profile of Newtek
  4. ^ Lightwave Wiki history page

External links

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