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Tim Wilson
Re: Laughably OT: Can you ID an old graphics system?
on Jun 28, 2018 at 8:30:09 pm
Last Edited By Tim Wilson on Jun 28, 2018 at 9:24:43 pm

[Scott Witthaus] "[Bob Zelin] "It's hard to believe that a Quantel Painbox was $250,000."

....Hell, $15,000 + [to wine/dine/golf us] was small change for the amount of gear we were buying. "


It's not hard to believe at all. It has always been the case that rigorously-compliant gear that could quickly move enormous amounts of data always cost plenty. That said, Paintbox's price was considered a shocking breakthrough, because one person could now do in more or less real time what had taken a team weeks to do -- if it could be done at all. Let's not forget that the REAL revolution of Paintbox is that it allowed people to do what had previously not been practical at any scale of time and money otherwise. That's why everybody HAD to have one.

And billing at $1000/hr or more as was common well into the 21st century for rooms like this, you were in pure profit mode in a matter of months, . There'd never been an ROI even vaguely like it --- not just because of what it cost, but because of how much you could MAKE with it.

Here's a great launch video for the 1990 iteration of Paintbox. It's 5 minutes long, and worth every second of your time. The first 2 minutes or so takes you through the 80s, and what a breakthrough it was, and how ubiquitous it was.

You can look at this and laugh now (as indeed I did just now), but don't forget that as late as 1998, After Effects still had one undo, no editable text, pretty much every operation was destructive, no 3D space, no paint, no roto, on and on and on. People could do miracles with it, yes, but it wasn't necessarily easy. (Easy to start? Yes. Easy to master? No.) And at the end of it, miracle in hand, you couldn't charge more than a fraction for it as something similar but even less sophisticated that someone completed in a fraction of the time with a Paintbox.

Where the math started to change was when you could do things in AE that were impossible in hardware, similar to what Paintbox had done 20 years earlier.

Anyway, this is a trip. Watch it all. You'll dig it.



It's worth remembering that Quantel is still around, albeit under the SAM banner, but they're still getting high-five figures into six figures for boxes for the same reason they always have: you can do cool stuff fast. We don't hear about 'em much because they wisely got out of the stock market so nobody would yap about irrelevant nonsense like how many of 'em were sold. Wall St. doesn't know what to do with a company that only sells a couple of hundred (or less) really expensive things, so they wisely stopped trying to teach Wall St. the basics of business. You only need to make more than you spend and have happy customers.

That's not enough for the market anymore, so Quantel / SAM wisely walked away to focus on doing what they do. Very quietly serving their mature niche market, selling to people who are still billing enough to make this stuff a bargain.

Another observation about price along these lines. I spent 2003-2006 at Avid sitting next to the product manager for Avid DS. I'd say 10% of his calls were from people who wanted Avid to get on the stick with development (we need more features! we need more marketing support!), but 90% of his calls were people SCREAMING that $145,000 (including storage) was TOO LOW A PRICE. When I say "screaming", I'm not kidding. "Our clients read trade magazines, they go to NAB, they know how much this stuff costs, and I'm having to cut my prices by two-thirds because you want to come in so much cheaper than Flame -- it's KILLING us."

THAT's why that product failed. I saw how much development and marketing effort it got. PLENTY. But it got eaten from below by After Effects and DaVinci Resolve, got eaten from above by Discreet (who's also doing just fine, thanks), and its target customer couldn't monetize a product that cost so little.

That's always going to be the yin and yang of graphics hardware market dynamics. Buy something cheap, make a little. Buy something expensive, make a lot.


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