Warp Speed, Mr. Sulu
Boris FX has solved this conundrum with its new 3D compositing and motion graphics software package, Boris Blue ($1,995). It renders to the GPU, but only for a narrow set of cards. They currently include NVIDIA GeForce 6800, 7800 and 7900-based cards, as well as the NVIDIA Quadro FX 1500, 3450, 3500, 4000 and 4500. The software also requires specific sets of drivers, so you may not be able to upgrade to the latest drivers and still run Blue.
Blue uses OpenGL for its hardware-assisted 2D and 3D graphics rendering. It requires more than 256MB of texture memory, though a portion of that can be drawn from system memory. I tested the software using an NVIDIA Quadro FX 3500 with 256MB of onboard video RAM, yet Blue’s built-in OpenGL test indicated I had 512MB available for texture memory. Because it relies on hardware-accelerated rendering, Blue lets you adjust parameters in real-time, even when playing back video. Not all of Blue’s features are hardware-accelerated. Third-party After Effects filters that aren’t OpenGL optimized, as well as media-based animations (such as animated gradients and text on a path), are handed to the CPU.
You can preview to OpenGL or to RAM. Why not always preview to OpenGL in real time? It turns out that previewing to RAM can be more accurate. It offers an improved display and timing and lets you hear the accompanying audio (an OpenGL preview doesn’t support audio, while RAM preview does). Fortunately, Blue renders to RAM relatively quickly. Here it helps to have 2GB or more of system memory. The two draft playback modes are labeled as Frame Accurate and Time Accurate. The Time Accurate mode is the one that allows you to stream the accompanying audio.
The biggest downside-apart from the limited selection of supported cards-is the interface. It will be familiar to fans of Boris FX products, but it may confuse other users. For example, drag a video track onto the timeline, and it won’t show up in the composite window as expected. A search through the manual will reveal the video should be placed in a “3D container.” If you want to use the built-in light and camera controls, you’re encouraged to place any object, whether it’s 2D or 3D, into a 3D container. This may seem cumbersome if you’re accustomed to the simplicity of most video editing programs. The documentation is detailed and easy to follow, but expect to spend time sorting out a few interface peculiarities.
Boris FX is an evolutionary step forward for video professionals who want to add 3D and 2D graphics to their projects. It offers true 3D workstation performance for a relatively low price, particularly if you already own a supported NVIDIA graphics card. A trial version of the software is available on the Boris FX website, but be warned, the demo-as well as the program-will function only with a compatible card.