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CASABLANCA II

 

STRAP

Traditional wisdom has it that non-linear editing requires a computer, and a powerful one at that! Not so, there's an alternative and not only is the DraCo Casablanca a lot smaller than a PC, it's a helluva lot easier to use…

 

COPY

Casablanca mark one was always going to be a hard act to follow but almost a year on from its launch and with the benefit of some useful feedback from a lot of satisfied customers, the mark two version is even better. DraCo Systems have wisely stuck to the original concept, namely a one-box digital non-linear video editing system that's capable of broadcast quality results. It is an absolute doddle to use and there's not a PC in sight, though this time around you there is an option to hook it up to a computer, but more about that in just a moment.

 

The key additions are automatic insert editing with transition effects. The titler has been uprated, with improved composing facilities, larger font sizes and more colour options. There are new effects, a wider range of audio options and faster video and audio rendering. It now has automatic scene splitting and an undo function that can step back through the previous ten actions. Scene marking is a lot easier, there's 5-second intro and outro scene previews, transition and image effects can be overlapped and we're very pleased to see the manual has been given a much-needed overhaul.  

 

The launch of the mark two also coincides with the arrival of the eagerly awaited FireWire interface and three new software options. They are Akaba which is a video effects and paint package, Video SpiceRack adds to the already extensive repertoire of picture effects and PC Link enables two-way data transfer between Casablanca and a PC. The latter allows images and video to be moved back and forth between the PC and Casablanca, and Casablanca can be used to convert analogue footage into to digital data, for downloading to a PC. 

 

Operationally and functionally little has changed. All you need to get Casablanca up and running is a TV and a video source, such as camcorder or VCR. If it's a DVC camcorder or VCR so much the better as an FireWire-equipped Casablanca can control the machine's deck main functions. Better still if the source deck has a two-way FireWire interface, finished recordings can be copied or edited back to tape without loss or having to touch the deck. For the record the DV option, which is available for all mark one and two models, costs an extra £1400.

 

The first step in a 'project' is to download raw video onto Casablanca's fast SCSI hard disc. The amount of video it can process depends on the quality setting and the size of the hard drive. There are twelve compression modes, 1 to 7 are for low band analogue and the quality is such that they need trouble us no more...

 

Modes 8 and 9 are equivalent to high-band S-VHS-C, Hi8 and DVC. Modes 9 and 10 are also suitable for DVC and low-band Beta SP, 11 and 12 are reserved for high-band Beta SP. Our top of the range sample, with all the extra bells and whistles came with an 18Gb drive. This can hold almost 92 minutes of mode 9 digital video or over 7 hours of high quality audio. Incidentally, an entry level Casablanca with a 4Gb drive costs £2100, our sample with the 18Gb drive, FireWire and all of the optional software packages would set you back £6000. Hama, the UK distributor, tells us they can't get enough of them, wedding videographers are queuing up!

 

Depending how much room you have to play with (the capacity display is constantly updated), you can download a whole movie, or just the essential bits, longer clips can be spit or trimmed as required. Scenes can be joined together, with a mind-boggling assortment of effects and transitions (even more if you have SpiceRack). Just about everything you've seen on TV or video Casablanca can do!

 

All operations are controlled from a simple set of on-screen displays, via a trackball. Once you've familiarised yourself with the controls things can be made to happen very quickly indeed, it is very intuitive and although you need to give the instructions a once-over, it's possible to start using Casablanca to edit movies with just a few minutes practice.

 

Scenes are assembled one by one on a storyboard along the top of the main edit screen. In and out points are designated to the exact frame, the display shows scene number or name, edit point counters and scene length. Once all of the scenes are in place the fun begins.  Effects and transitions can be previewed on the fly on a thumbnail screen. Brightness, saturation, contrast and gamma correction can also be set for each scene. Rendering can be done on a scene by scene basis, or left until the end, either way you should allow an average of a couple of minutes per scene.

 

After that you can tackle the audio, Casablanca has three stereo soundtracks, set to one of three quality levels at the start of the project. The lowest is 'VCR', equivalent to standard VHS mono edge track (20Hz to 9kHz). Level 2 is suitable for VHS/8mm hi-fi stereo sources (20Hz to 14kHz) and level 3 is CD quality with a bandwidth of 20Hz to 20kHz. Needless to say the higher the quality, the more hard disc space is used up. Each track can be individually mixed or dubbed. Mark two software includes a facility to temporarily reduce background level during commentary sequences.  Titles and credits can be added at any point, Casablanca has an extensive range of titling effects -- more than sufficient for most purposes -- extra fonts are available if needed.

 

SpiceRack adds a further 20 'operators' to the already long list of video transitions, each one contains several different textures or effects, plus its own set of variables or adjustments. Akaba really deserves a review in its own right, essentially it allows you to add effects, draw on or touch-up moving video. It looks and feels a bit like a PC graphics package, but instead of working on a single static image, the many and various brushes, colours fills, draw patterns and effects can be applied to a moving sequence. Effects are locked to the video or movement using key frames. This allows you to do all sorts of clever tricks, like blurring people faces, create backgrounds and animation or insert objects into a scene. Its scope is limited only by the user's creativity and patience. 

 

PERFORMANCE

Providing you use the appropriate video and audio quality setting, what goes in comes out. Digital video is no exception and despite some considerable time spent gazing at test patterns and sequences we could detect no significant change in resolution, noise levels or colour accuracy between original footage and finished recordings. Casablanca's standard selection of effects and transitions are next to flawless and we have to say more than enough, even for the most demanding and adventurous movie maker. SpiceRack and Akaba are both very impressive but you can have too much of a good thing. Certainly in our eager hands encouraged over-use and early efforts ended up looking like a dog's dinner. Obviously that won't be a problem for all you serious-minded video movie-makers and professionals…

 

CONCLUSION

You could argue that Casablanca does nothing that can't be achieved on a decent PC-based DTV system, but that's not the point. This is non-linear editing without tears, and absolutely no compromises, which is one reason why Casablanca has made so many friends, so quickly. This new version builds on that success and paves the way for a fully-specced broadcast version (due out later in the year). The bottom line is that anyone can use Casablanca and be fairly confident of producing a professional-looking results -- technically at least -- within a few minutes. Yes, to some extent you're paying for the privilege, and no, it doesn't do anything else, but if your main interest or concern is movie-making, and learning to drive a PC comes some way down the list, this has to be money well spent.  

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Casablanca, integrated, ‘one-box’  digital editing system

 

HOW MUCH?   

From £2000 to £6000

 

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, optional video effects and PC control software. SCSI hard disc storage from 4 to 18 Gb

 

EDIT FEATURES                  

scene trim, insert, delete copy, split, insert, audio mix and dub

           

SOCKETS        

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

Dimensions: 110  x 350 x 120mm, weight            6.5kg

 

Hama UK, telephone (01256) 374700

 

CV RATINGS

Video quality                 5

Audio quality                 5

Copy quality                  5

Edit facilities                  5

Build quality                  5

Ease of use                   4

Value for money            4

 

Overall rating            88%

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1999 0709

 


 

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