Are you in the market for a video editing workstation? Have you finally realized you’re ready to ditch that laptop and move into a more expandable workstation? If your old video editor just died or you’re new to the world of video editing this buyer’s guide will help you make an informed choice.
Are you a beginner? Maybe you’re a professional that needs all the bells and whistles? Whatever the case may be it’s time. There are plenty of options out there for all skill levels. And since we’ll be talking about workstations, should you decide to move up to the next level, there’s plenty of opportunity to upgrade in the future. One of the best features of a workstation is the ability to upgrade.
If you’ve had that old computer for longer than you would like to admit. It may be just the right time for a new one. Even if it’s not the exact time for a new one, at some point in time, it will be. Why wait for a disaster, sell the old cow before it dies!
We’re going to look at three levels of performance for your new video editing workstation. First we’ll take a look at beginner’s with smaller expectations and probably a smaller budget. Next we’ll examine the intermediate user who has more money to spend and higher expectations, but not quite as much as a pro has. Lastly we’ll take a look at what a pro might want in a workstation.
A typical beginner is someone who shoots video with a smartphone or consumer video camera. Then the footage will need digitizing, editing, and distribution. As a beginner you’re often not making movies for anyone but yourself. Your need for the best camera or the best computer simply isn’t there. You may be someone who has never edited before or someone who is buying a computer for the first time. Uploading some videos to Facebook or YouTube is likely going to be your first method of distribution.
The software that comes with your new computer may be just what you’re looking for. It has one video track and two audio tracks. For Mac users that’s iMovie. For Windows users that is probably Movie Maker.
As a beginner you may need to spend up to $2,000 for a video editing workstation and software. It’s a good idea to be a little conservative if it’s your first time out. At this point you may not really know if this new toy is going to be what you’re looking for or just another box that sits in the corner and collects dust. But it is a substantial investment, so choose wisely.
The Beginner’s Hardware
As a beginner you don’t need all the bells and whistles just yet. It’s best to figure out which ones you might actually want as you go along. Then when the time is right you can do an upgrade. You don’t have to buy everything now. That’s the advantage of buying a workstation instead of a laptop, you can upgrade at a later date. But for now you will need a computer that’s capable of handling the job.
Even at the beginner’s level you need to buy a computer with a little more horsepower than an average computer user. Video editing takes more (processing) horsepower than surfing the Web or writing your thesis. And it can be processor intensive for your video card as well.
At a minimum Intel’s Core i5 processor with 4GB of memory will get the job done at this level. And don’t forget the external storage or additional internal drive to edit with. You don’t want to digitize footage to the system drive, so a second drive is highly recommended. The larger the better, whatever your budget will tolerate. For less than $600 here’s a nice beginner’s workstation with lots of memory and room for expansion from ASUS; the CM1745. And don’t forget to pick out a nice monitor, keyboard, and mouse to get the job done.
In addition to the computer, you’ll need some software to get started. At this level the basic video editing software that came with your computer is a good place to start. If it does everything you need it to do then you’re all set. Most, if not all, brand new video editing workstations will come with video editing software. These basic tools will give you a basic set of features.
Apple’s iMovie and Microsoft’s Movie Maker may be limited but can satisfy your needs for many projects. If you need more than two audio tracks and one video track you will have to invest in a better video editing software package. And there are plenty of choices out there to choose from. For the money, Adobe’s Premiere Elements and Photoshop Elements are a good investment. Take a look here for some more choices.
The intermediate user is someone who shoots video with a consumer, prosumer or professional video camera. He or she will definitely need a way to edit it. And an intermediate is probably making a movie for someone else. Again, they don’t need the best camera or the best computer, but in this case the advanced features will see a lot of use. The increased processing power will speed up rendering and output of movie files. And a better camera will capture higher quality images so you can create higher quality videos in the end.
The intermediate user will be investing in a more expensive video editing software package. He or she will need the capability to use multiple audio and video tracks. He or she will be utilizing some of the audio and video effects that come with the software package. They may even invest in some additional effects.
As an intermediate you’ll likely spend $2,000 to $5,000 for a video editing workstation and software. This is someone who has edited before. If he or she has the budget, it’s a good idea to spend a little more for better performance. At this point you know exactly how you will be putting this new toy to work. This is a very substantial investment that can earn money in return.
The Intermediate Computer
The intermediate’s computer can aim for great value out of the fullest extent of it’s features. You can benefit from some of the bells and whistles right now. More memory, a faster processor, and high-speed drives will all pay off in the end. The intermediate computer is definitely capable of handling the job.
The intermediate’s computer has more horsepower than the beginner. Intel’s Core i7 processor with 8GB of memory is a good place to start to get the job done. The intermediate might also invest in an upgraded graphics card, beyond what comes as standard, to help with processing and screen rendering.
The advantage of buying a workstation instead of a laptop is that you can upgrade at a later date.
Beginner or intermediate, don’t forget the external storage or additional internal drive to edit with. You don’t want to digitize to the system drive, and with an intermediate’s computer, the second drive may belong to a client. At this level the second drive is not only highly recommended -- it’s a requirement. Again the larger the better, whatever your budget will tolerate.
For the intermediate, the Dell XPS 8500 desktop at $1,750 has an i7 processor, 24GB of memory, and a 2TB hard drive.
At this level the software is more expensive because it can do more. You will probably be using one of the three larger video editing software programs out there today like Avid’s Media Composer, Apple’s Final Cut Pro, or Adobe Premiere Pro.
Media Composer and Premiere Pro are both available for Windows and Mac. Final Cut Pro is only found on Macs. These video editing packages will all give you more than enough features. At this point you may also be looking for Adobe Photoshop to create graphics for your projects. But keep in mind; the greater price of the software at this level is closely tied to the demands from your clients. You may also have the need to invest in additional software such as a 3D drawing package, third party plug-ins or stock elements to satisfy client requests. Having both the software and hardware that can be the platform for these is worth considering.
You can use the Videomaker search tool to find out more about the editing software you’re interested in here.
The pro is someone who is making a living shooting and editing video. His or her equipment has to be widely capable and efficient. He or she uses professional or broadcast-quality cameras and equipment. It may or may not be the most expensive but it gets the job done fast.
When quality and speed are the most important factors you need the best available. Most if not all of your clients are looking for results in HD, or better. Your software and hardware must be up to the task. At this level, increased processing power is a necessity and rendering and outputting are your bread and butter.
The pro’s price range is from $5,000 on up for a workstation and software. Also important at this performance level is workflow. This is an important factor to the pro. Good workflow can save time when moving from the camera to the edit suite, and from the computer to the finished product.
The Professional’s Computer
The pro computer is going to be impressive. It will have that extra memory and hard drive capacity that a beginner can only dream of. There may be more than one additional bell or whistle. And multiple cores will be the norm, not the exception. The pro is looking for a dedicated workstation that has all the necessary horsepower. A dedicated workstation is built with heavy usage in mind and can handle hours and hours of editing and rendering without overheating.
Your pro computer processor will be at least an i7 with multiple cores. It may also have 8GB of memory or more, and there will probably be an upgraded graphics card installed as well. In this price range the HP Z820 Workstation at $3,575 has an 8-core Xeon processor, expandable memory up to 512GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive.
On the Mac side there is the Mac Pro 12-Core for $3,800 with two 6-core Xeon processors, 12GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive.
Keep in mind that although it’s possible to upgrade to a higher-end graphics card during the purchasing process, you may not have the option to upgrade to the exact type of card you need. For example, editors using Sony Creative Software’s Vegas Pro 12 who want to take advantage of GPU acceleration will need a computer with a CUDA-enabled NVIDIA card or a OpenCL-enabled AMD card. Whatever computer you decide on, be sure to double check your specifics to make sure the card it comes with is compatible with your editing software of choice. If not, you may find yourself spending additional cash on a card that works.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that many high-end workstations only allow upgrades to a specific brand: more often than not, NVIDIA Quadro. If you need or prefer a high-end AMD card, like the FirePro, you have two choices: accept the fact that you have limited options for computers that ship with your favorite AMD card, or purchase the computer you want, replace the card, and put other on eBay.
As a pro you’re going to be depending on the software to deliver quality HD products on a daily basis. At this level you’ll need all the tools for video production, audio production graphics, and editing. An expansive subscription of tools is Adobe’s Creative Cloud. You get all the tools you need to create a professional product.
Avid Media Composer, or higher, with a networked environment is very common at the pro level. Avid’s ISIS 7000 networked storage provides a place where the camera operator, editors, and graphic designers can all work together. They can share project files and graphics and get work done from any connected workstation.
Once you have settled on your software you can get to work on some cool effects. There are lots to choose from but don’t overuse any one of them. Heck, there will be lots of effects to choose from at the beginner level, and those shouldn’t be overused either.
Bells and Whistles
Here are a few items that you may find desirable at any level. Again, the beauty of a workstation is that you can upgrade on your time.
- Additional hard drive storage – required for editing and can be internal or external.
- Media card reader – for all those flash memory cards that your new HD cameras use. This is an important part of workflow.
- DVD/Blu-ray burner – to output quality projects. Also good for backup storage.
- Additional drive bay – can hold different types of drives or other accessories.
- Second video monitor – not a necessity for the beginner, a nice option for the intermediate, but a must have for the professional.
- Upgraded video card – will help with rendering, accommodating your second monitor, and overall speed of your workstation.
- Additional RAM – will benefit the user at any level. Programs will load faster and run better with more space to do so.
- Shared storage – various products and services allow others access to the network, especially useful for collaboration.
- Networked Attached Storage – Exactly how it sounds, anyone attached to your network has access to your storage.
- Wireless mouse and keyboard – are nice because they reduce the number of wires on your desk.
The process of choosing a new workstation is predominantly defined by your budget. Even if you are a pro, you still need to have the funds to buy what you need. But as you can see there is a workstation out there for everyone at any level of expertise.
Still can’t decide which way to go; Windows or Mac? Try out both if you can, it may take a visit to a local college or library, which are sometimes great resources for media equipment in general. You can find really good for both platforms.
Once you have made your choice don’t worry. Get to work with your current hardware and software until it can no longer handle what you throw at it. And, if you find yourself wanting more, upgrades are always being developed!
The All-in-one Beginner’s Solution
If you’re a beginner and you like to keep your actual desktop clean and uncluttered then you might want to look into an all-in-one computer. These computers are typically less powerful than their workstation brothers and sisters. And they have limited upgrade options. If they can be upgraded it may cost slightly more to upgrade than a standard tower configuration. But they do have a nice modern look.
- For the beginner who likes the Windows all-in-one style of computer you can get a Lenovo 20-inch ThinkCentre for $970. This model comes with an Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of memory, and a 500GB hard drive.
- For the Mac enthusiast you can get the 21.5-inch iMac with an Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory, and a 1TB hard drive for $1,300.
- Toshiba has the LX835-D3340, a 23-inch all-in-one computer with an i7 processor that comes with 6GB of memory and a 1TB hard drive for $1,000.
Some of the major differences here are the media card reader is an upgrade on the Lenovo ThinkCentre. And there is no DVD drive on the Apple iMac. But the iMac gives you the latest technology with Intel’s new Thunderbolt I/O. And the Toshiba LX835-D3340 gives you a beefier processor with a slightly larger screen.
All three come in at less than $2,000. Each would make a fine beginner’s home computer that can do some basic video editing. And with the extra money don’t forget to buy an external drive to edit with.
George F. Young is an audio/video producer who works for a government agency in the Washington D.C. area.