Computer Video

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Dubious about digital, puzzled by processors, in a muddle over MPEG?  Our resident desktop doctor is here to soothe your troubled brows




Can I use  my laptop computer for camcorder editing? By current standards it's quite ancient. I brought it about fours years old, itís made by Digital (PC 325SL) with a 386/25 processor 4Mb of RAM, an 80 megabyte hard disc and a black and white LCD screen. Are there any simple programs that will work with this type of machine, or will I have to get something a bit more up to date? Incidentally, my camcorder is a Sony TR330, which is also getting on a bit, but picture and sound quality are both still excellent.

Mike Deeley, Rochester


If all you want to do is edit camcorder footage, then your present laptop should be perfectly adequate. Software packages like Video Director and the Data Video PE100 will run quite happily on a 386 PC. Your machine has the necessary serial port, for the 'smart cable' controller lead and IR wand, though you may need to buy a 9 to 25-pin D socket adaptor. The graphics on these software packages are fairly simple, so the mono display won't be a problem either. The only glitch I can foresee is a lack of hard-disc space, the program swallows up around 10 megabytes, which would be a fair chunk of your available hard disc space. Iiís probably a good idea to power the PC using the mains adaptor. A battery failure halfway through a long or complex editing job can be a real nuisance.


You will need to upgrade to a more powerful machine, however, if you want to do anything more elaborate. Moreover, laptops, even top-of-the-line models, are large unsuitable for desktop systems that rely on plug-in expansion cards, and any applications that require a moving video display can look a bit rough on colour LCD screens.



I have been offered an Amiga A500 PC at a ridiculously low price, around half as much as a low-end PC. It sounds as though it would be ideal for editing and titling applications, but Iím concerned about things like spares and repairs, should it go wrong. What do you think?

Geoff Miller, Norwich


Thatís a difficult one. A sane and rational person would advise you to steer clear of Amigas, but who needs sanity? Firstly reliability is not a major issue with these machines, though parts can and will wear out eventually. Support and backup can still be found, from the many loyal enthusiasts and specialist companies still supporting the marque, though donít expect anything from the original manufacturers. The Commodore brand may resurface again on desktop IBM PC compatibles, though itís highly unlikely the new owners will want to have anything to do with previous model ranges. In spite of its somewhat chequered history, the Amiga still has a lot going for it, with many useful facilities that PCs still canít easily match. If the spec is juicy, you can get hold of software, the price low enough, and youíre feeling lucky then go on, take a chance.



I canít seem to find any technical information relating to the Control L system and protocols used on Sony camcorders. Do you know if Sony publish any data or applications manuals, that I could get hold of. Iím particularly interested to find out more about the basic data structure, and how camcorders and VCRs can communicate with PCs.

James Dupre, Telford


This kind of information is normally only available to manufacturers and other interested parties, but since you ask, we can tell you a few things about it, that might prove useful. (Best skip this bit if you donít like teccy stuff...) Control L is a open collector type bi-directional serial bus. It uses an a 7-word frame, 20 milliseconds long, with separate start and stop bits. Each word consists of 8 bits, the data transfer rate is 9600 baud (104 uS per bit). Words 1, 2, 3 and 4 deal with command, mode and status functions. Words 5, 6 and 7 carry housekeeping functions, counter and timecode data. And thatís about as much as we have room and stamina for; you could try pestering Sonyís technical people for more info but on balance weíd suggest there are many more interesting things you should be doing with your life. If you just want to use your PC to control camcorders and VCRs, get hold of one of the many PC editing packages.



I have to admit that as far as hands-on experience is concerned, Iím a real video virgin, but Iíve been an avid reader of your sister publications for some years, and have built up a good deal of theoretical knowledge. However, the time has now come to put this to the test, and my first critical decision is to decide between a high band analogue, or low-end digital camcorder. I am mainly interested in making family movies, but I would like to think that I might progress to bigger and better things. If I huff and puff I can just about scrape together £2,000. Help!

Douglas Mayhew, Ilford


No doubt about it, it has to be high-band analogue. You could buy a pocket-size digital machine, but that would leave you with almost nothing for editing and post production equipment, which by the sound of it, you will quickly aspire to. There are plenty of excellent Hi 8, and one or two very useful S-VHS-C camcorders currently selling for between £700 to £900. You will then have more than enough left over for some high-end accessories, that should stand you in good stead, if and when you upgrade to digital. You may even be able to include exotic devices,  like a digital video mixer, in your budget. Getting hold of one of those will give you a head start, and put you a rung or two up on the movie-making ladder.



R. Maybury 1997 2503



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