Avid ePublisher; Consumers and pros alike can ePublish with ease
Avid’s ePublisher is a unique combination of hardware and software that claims to be “the first digital publishing system for creating and distributing high-quality synchronized multimedia presentations.” Sounds pretty fancy, but what exactly does ePublisher do?
Think of it as PowerPoint for video and multimedia producers. Essentially, the program allows you to set up a layout and add multimedia elements such as video, audio, HTML, and images. The final result is an interactive webpage that “plays” with video, audio, and graphics triggered at specific times. All the programming and HTML coding remains behind the scenes, and the user focuses just on importing and arranging content. Publish the end result to a website, CD-ROM, or DVD (a copy of Sonic Solutions’ DVDit! LE is included). We’ll take a look at its feature set and see if the program is important enough for video producers to include in their toolkit.
Avid ePublisher comes in two varieties: a software-only version and another that includes a USB video/audio capture device. I tested the latter option, bypassing my DV FireWire card. The USB unit captured M-JPEG quarter-screen video with no problem. When you install the software and hardware, the program goes through extensive testing to see if your machine meets the requirements. It checks everything from audio and video inputs to display-card speed for playback. If any element of your system needs upgrading, ePublisher is not shy about saying so.
Once testing is done, you are ready to create your first presentation. The program has many built-in templates, so pick one of the stock varieties and dive right in. Once you have a format for your presentation, jump in and start to capture with the My Capture II USB device.
Capturing with the USB device is handy but a little limiting. While it does a good job of capturing quarter-screen video for presentations, there are no settings or adjustments for the quality or compression rate. It is certainly cool to have many hours of storage space – the video is small compared to DV – but deck control is lost.
However, Avid ePublisher supports DV devices, but your device must be Microsoft OHCI IEEE 1394-compliant to work. Mine unfortunately was not, so USB was the only way to go. To use your own DV card, check with the card’s manufacturer to see if OHCI drivers are available.
A library screen shows where all your captured video, imported video, graphics, and webpages are stored. Imported elements can either be brought in and copied to your project folder or just referenced to save space. The main video editing screen resembles a basic version of most nonlinear editors: two audio tracks, a video track, and a track for titles. The tabbed interface of Avid ePublisher has options for superimposing titles and sound effects as well as a large assortment of transitional effects. The effects cover a wide range of dissolves and wipes (more than 50), and most render pretty quickly.
After capturing and editing video, the next tab to explore is the Link and Sync section. Here the program really kicks into high gear. On the timeline is a track for markers that trigger specific events that tie into your multimedia presentation. For example, graphic elements pop up in the window next to the video at the exact time specified. Narration on an audio clip could talk about different websites, with sites loading automatically as they’re mentioned.
To make an animated GIF pop up under a video halfway through, move the timeline marker halfway through the movie, and simply drag and drop the animation into the timeline. The program creates an event-marker trigger that you can slide around for fine-tuning. The possibilities are endless and the creation process is certainly easy.
After creating the elements for a multimedia program, move on to the publish tab to create a final presentation, as well as encode video to Real or Windows Media. Avid also offers a streaming server where you can upload your presentations for free for testing, in case your ISP does not support web video.
The manual that comes with the package is nicely put together, very concise, and offers numerous tips and ideas, getting the user up to speed on the fast track.
When I first began testing the program, it worked flawlessly under Windows 98, but my audio capture card ceased working within the ePublisher program after upgrading to Windows Millennium Edition. I intended to test under Windows 2000, but the only officially supported operating system for the product is Windows 98 and Windows 98SE. This is fine; ePublisher is aimed at a consumer-level market, but be warned that ePublisher 1.0 may not work under all flavors of Windows.
In record time, Avid FedExed me version 1.1, which indeed includes support for Windows ME. Avid intends to broaden its support but first is focusing on the Windows 98 crowd.
Working with ePublisher is a lot of fun. It’s great for online presentations that involve video and would be perfect for projects like CD-based training. The possibilities don’t really become apparent until you sit down with the program and start dropping in different elements.
One addition I would like to see is the ability to incorporate native Flash animation. You can do this now by linking to websites that include Flash content, but it would certainly be very cool to drag and drop Flash animations into the mix. Other than that the program covers most of the major multimedia file formats.
The only downside for some video professionals is the lack of parameters to tweak. The program is intended to make it very easy for anyone to jump in and create these productions, so it doesn’t offer the options of, say, Macromedia Director. But for synchronized presentations that involve web video, graphics, HTML, and sound, Avid ePublisher does an amazing job of making it all come together effortlessly.
Frank McMahon is a media artist specializing in directing, editing, animation, and graphic design. He can be reached via his media company at www.fmstudio.com or via Portland Media Artists at www.mediaartist.com.
Company: Avid Tewksbury, Mass.; 978-640-6789
Product: ePublisher 1.0/1.1
Features: Simple tab interface lets users add event- and time-triggered video, HTML, audio, and images to multimedia presentations
Price: Software-only edition, $550; USB capture edition, $625
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