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THE START OF A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP...

 

STANDFIRST

If youíre one of those people who thinks desktop video and non-linear editing is a really neat idea, but itís all just too damn complicated, pay a visit to Casablanca...

 

COPY

Every so often we come across a new product that can be summed up with just one word. The product is Casablanca, and the word is, wow! Casablanca is a real milestone in video movie-making technology. Itís a black box, roughly the size of a largish video recorder. You put your video recordings in one end and out of the other end comes a polished video production. Admittedly a few things have to happen in between, but hereís the really good bit, you donít need a PC, a degree in rocket science, any other fancy equipment -- apart from a bog-standard camcorder, VCR and TV -- and you can learn to use it in two minutes flat!

 

Now for the not so good bit, the price. The mid-range version weíve been using costs a cool £3,000; the top-end model is priced at four grand and thereís one coming down the pipeline with a six-grand price-tag. Future add-ons can easily add another £1000 to the cost! The price is a reflection of the cutting-edge technology inside the box, and what appears to be a rather inflated cost for one component in particular, the hard disc drive. Itís used to store compressed video and audio as digital data, vast amounts of it. Our sample was fitted with a fast four gigabyte drive, at the lowest quality setting it can hold up to 136 minutes of audio and video, though in practice 4 gigs is only good for around 40 minutes of VHS-ish quality video, falling to 20 minutes or so for high-band to broadcast-quality material. Forget the price for a moment and just take a look at what it can do.

 

A pointless front panel display shows the Casablanca name and the time; thereís a single on/off button and behind a hinged front panel is a 3.5-inch floppy disc drive and a set of input sockets. The floppy drive is used to load software upgrades

 

Hooking up Casablanca to the outside world couldnít be easier. The AV output goes to the recording VCR, connected to a TV, which acts as the main monitor. The AV output from the source machine -- normally a camcorder -- goes to one of two AV inputs (on the front and back). Casablanca works with both composite and S-Video inputs, thereís also a socket marked Ďmini DVí, thatís a future option for a FireWire IEEE 1394 interface. (The necessary add-on module will cost somewhere between £600 and  £1000, when itís launched in February).

 

Step one is to set the appropriate quality mode, which in turn determines the amount of video that can be recorded/edited on the hard disc. Casablanca uses M-JPEG compression, thereís twelve settings, split into four groups. Modes 1 to 3 are equivalent to VHS LP, with a frame rate of 25fps, minimal colour depth and limited horizontal resolution. In other words it looks quite rough. Modes 4 to 6 are a bit better, theyíre in the VHS SP ball-park, just, with a normal 50Hz frame rate, but colour and resolution are still compromised. Resolution gets a big lift in modes 7 and 8 they give S-VHS/Hi8 performance, mode 9 is set aside for Mini DV. Modes 10 to 12 use the least compression, equating to near broadcast quality.

 

Video sequences can be downloaded into Casablanca as-is or scene by scene, either way will do, longer scenes can be split and trimmed later on. Each sequence or scene is automatically numbered, or it can be given a name, using a virtual on-screen keyboard. A standard PC keyboard can also be used. All actions are controlled using a simple to follow, menu-driven on-screen displays, and a nifty trackball, supplied with the unit.

 

Once all the scenes are in the box they can be trimmed to size -- to within a single frame -- and pasted onto the storyboard at the top of the screen. Thereís over 20 pre-programmed transitions, including some funky swirls, page-turns, spheres, funnels, and explosions. Thereís also fast forward, reverse, and slomo replay, plus an enormous range of special effects and video processing options. Extra optional effects are available at £50 per disc, additional font discs for for the titler cost £35 each).

 

Each action is checked on a small inset preview screen. Once the storyboard has been assembled it can be viewed in real time, full screen, with gaps where the trasnisiotns and effects will be. Audio can be edited and mixed with similar ease. When youíre happy with it, the effects have to be rendered, and this can take a while; a 10-scene production lasting two minutes took almost ten minutes to process. When itís finished the completed video can be output to tape

 

PERFORMANCE

We neednít dwell on recording compression modes 1 to 6, except to say that they all produce results inferior to the cheapest camcorders and VCRs. From mode 7 upwards you can be reasonably sure that what goes in will not come out looking any worse that the original. Unfortunately this only gives you 20 to 30 minutes of recording time to play with, but that should be more than enough for most productions, even if it means assembling in chunks. The range, quality and flexibility of the transitions and effects are all very impressive, certainly good enough for pro users.

 

CONCLUSION

The instruction book could do with an overhaul, itís a bit too chirpy, not enough diagrams and itís difficult to find specific information. We would like to have seen some way of storing an edit decision list; an expensive DAT interface is promised, that should do the job, but thereís a floppy drive sitting there, why not use that? The DV interface should be very interesting but itís going to be an expensive upgrade. 

 

Casablanca represents a quantum leap forward for video editing, but the price puts it out of reach of most camcorder owners; knowledgeable desktop video fans will opt for cheaper PC-based solutions. Will it get any cheaper? In the wider world the cost of big, fast hard disc drives, memory and video processing chips have been tumbling, so there is hope. Behind us in the queue!

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model            DraCo Casablanca 60

How much?            £3000 (4Gb model)

System            integrated, Ďone-boxí  digital editing system

 

Main Features            digital video and audio capture, non-linear editing and replay,  M-JPEG recording (12 quality settings), colour processing, multiple upgradable scene transitions and effects, audio editing, mixing and dubbing, titling

 

 

Edit Features                 scene trim, inset, delete copy, split, insert

 

General

Sockets            rear: AV out (SCART), S-Video in/out (mini DIN), stereo line audio in/out (phono), PC keyboard (DIN),  mouse (9-pin D-Sub), DAT backup & external drive (25-pin D-Sub), DV in/out (see text) 

Dimensions            110  x 350 x 120mm

Weight  6.5kg

 

CV RATINGS

Video quality                 5

Audio quality                 4

Copy quality                  5

Edit facilities                  5

Build quality                  5

Ease of use                   4

Value for money            4

 

Overall rating            93%

 

---end---

R. Maybury 1997 2711

 

 


 

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