VIDEO CAMERA 2000

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ASK RICK – JUNE

 

UP TO SCRATCH?

I have a three-year old Canon UC9 Hi camcorder. It works excellently, thank goodness, but recently on a video I made by the Thames – the Millennium Wheel, trains etc., -- I noticed a horizontal line of distortion travelling slowly from the top of the frame downwards. It doesn’t happen often and is not noticeable in the black and white viewfinder. I recently videoed for over an hour indoors with no problems at all. Please, what is it?

 

Also, why aren’t video cameras made with single or double-spring clockwork motors to do, say, the mechanics of the camera, leaving the battery to do the electrical work – so it can last much longer?

K.F.Burrows, London SE1

 

The first thing to do is check to see if the line of distortion always occurs at the same point in a recording. If, as I suspect, it does then the symptoms you describe are characteristic of a fault on the tape, possibly a crease or a scratch, which also explains why it only happens occasionally. The time taken for the line to move down the screen is equivalent to the time the damaged portion of tape takes to pass around the spinning head drum; 8mm/Hi8 tape travels at the comparatively sedate speed of 2.01cm/sec. Scratches and creases can be due to manufacturing faults but in my experience that is quite rare it is usually caused by careless handling or the tape not being fully rewound into the cassette when the tape is ejected and it catches on the loading mechanism or shutter.

 

I really like your idea of a clockwork camcorder, however I can foresee several problems in directly driving a camcorder’s deck mechanism. The first would be the weight and bulk of the clockwork motor, and then there’s the difficulty of controlling the speed, which has to be very precise indeed. Battery running times used to be an issue but many recent camcorders – especially the digital models -- can record for up to an hour non-stop on a single charge, and that is usually more than enough for most people. In fact most models can manage half an hour or so, with all of the gadgets viewing screens and ‘toys’ switched off, in any case there are high capacity packs and even battery belts available for most models. But back to your idea, maybe this is something Trevor Bayliss of ‘Freeplay’ wind-up radio fame might like to have a look at. I understand he is working on clockwork and foot-operated generators for mobile phones and laptop PCs. How about a wind-up battery for camcorders?

 

ON THE CARDS

I have a Canon MV20 mini DV digital video camcorder and I would like to be able to download still images from the machine onto my laptop PC. I have installed Microsoft PhotoDraw, as part of Office 2000, so what else do I need in the way of connections and software? Canon makes a ‘capture kit’ (DK-1 DV), but this is expensive and involves fitting an interface board, which is obviously not possible with a notebook PC

Philip Burne

Norwich

 

Traditionally laptop PCs and video have made poor bedfellows, it’s getting better though and several recent top-end models have FireWire connections, for downloading DV data direct from the camcorder, giant hard discs and super fast processors, for editing DV footage. Obviously that’s not much consolation if you have a laptop without any video or DV connections, but now there is an alternative solution. Actually there are several, in the shape of video capture PC cards that slot into the PCs PCMCIA card slot. However, as you will doubtless already know nothing to do with laptops and digital video comes cheap… We haven’t actually tried one yet but on paper the Optex CardBus looks quite promising. It has a FireWire DV input, comes with download software and works with most image and video editing applications. CardBus costs around £346 (inc. VAT), you can get more details from Optex on 020 8441 2199 or the Optex web site at: www.optexint.com

 

Another video capture PC card that we are aware of (but haven’t got around to testing) is the VideoPort Professional from Visimetrics. This one is designed to work with analogue video only, but it is geared more towards capturing still images. It works with both PAL and NTSC signals, composite and S-Video, frame or field capture and it comes with it’s own capture and editing software. It’s also a little cheaper than CardBus as £314. More details can be obtained from Visimetrics UK on (01436) 677557 or visit the company’s web site at:http://www.visimetrics.com/vidport.htm

 

BITS AND PCS

I currently own a Sony TRV 110 Digital 8 camcorder, having upgraded from a Canon UC9 Hi8, with two Panasonic NV-HD660 NICAM VCRs. At present I have a small editing suite and titler and have managed to get quite good picture and sound quality (I have even had some shorts shown on TV). I am now hoping for even better results, with an easier method of editing.

 

I am looking into the idea of buying a computer, mainly for my use, but also for my husband, who is a keen stills photographer. He would use the PC with a scanner and printer to digitally enhance and manipulate images. Since we are novices we have sought advice and have been told that what we need is a Pentium III 500MHz PC with a motherboard that has plenty of expansion slots. It needs 128Mb of RAM a 20Gb hard drive, a CD writer, Matrox Marvel G200 video card with 16Mb and video in/out, Epson Stylus Photo 750 printer, Epson Perfection 1200 scanner, PaintShop Pro 6 and Adobe software, a large tower case and a 17-inch monitor. Is there anything other advice you can offer, especially regarding the video card, video editing software, software for still and the CD writer?

Flora and Barrie Cunningham

Darlington

 

Whoever drew up the spec seems to have a passing grasp of desktop video (DTV), but there are one or two gaps and a couple of shortfalls. The 500MHz Pentium III processor is just about right, though things move quickly in PC land and even that might be regarded as a little conservative nowadays with the latest processors nudging 1000Mhz, if you want to stay ahead of the game – or at least keep up with it for a while  – consider a faster 650MHz or even 750MHz CPU. The 128Mb RAM is a good starting point but the 20Gb hard drive is debatable. Drives get filled up quickly if you reckon on digital video swallowing around 4-gigabytes per minute. Many DTV users prefer to have two hard discs, one for the PCs operating system and software, the other exclusively for video. The Matrox card you mention was state of the art a few months ago but it’s only good for capturing analogue video, you might want to consider moving directly to DV editing with the new Pinnacle DV5000 dual-stream card, or the recently launched Matrox RT2000. A 17-inch monitor is about as small as you should go, a 19 or even 20-inch screen would be better, if you can afford it, and have the room. With all that power under the bonnet your husband’s still imaging requirements will be easily met, and the software and hardware you mention is all top-rated stuff.  

 

However, whilst there’s nothing wrong with putting together a shopping list of the best components and programs it’s probably not a good idea to actually assemble the machine and install all of the software yourself, especially as you are a self-confessed novice. I would suggest that you approach one of the specialist companies in this area, who can build a system to your requirements, or have a look at the many off-the-shelf systems available, it should also work out a bit cheaper than buying the hardware and software separately. The point is that getting the various bits to work together and configuring a system can be an absolute nightmare. If you pay someone else to do it you’ll have someone to show you the ropes, and complain to, if anything goes wrong. For a good selection of the latest DTV PC systems, and all of the latest product news you should have a look through our sister publication Computer Video.

 

LEFT TO YOUR OWN DEVICES…

Last December I purchased a new computer (my first) complete with Miro DC30 Plus and Adobe software installed. Up until now I have been editing using a Hama Video Center 230 together with a Sony EVC 2000, Canon EX2, Sony 3300 and a choice of Panasonic NV-FS200 F77, or NV-HD660, editing mainly in Super VHS using RCTC with LANC and 5-pin edit control, all of which the Hama 230 copes with well.

 

After attending a computer course at the local college (at 75 I was probably the oldest student) I have started to get to grips with the non-linear stuff but to my amazement there was nowhere to connect the LANC or 5-pin edit plugs on the back of my new computer.

 

A fax to the manufacturers only produced a leaflet on the DV500; a phone call fared no better, when I mentioned LANC the helpline assistant said he knew nothing of that and that I should contact the camera and VCR manufacturers. I wrote to Miro only to have my letter returned by Royal Mail marked "gone away".

 

The software handbook mentions ‘Device Control’; it says you require compatible plug-in software module that lets you control the tape deck directly from Premier. Why was this not included with the DC30 Plus package, along with the breakout box? Then through the letterbox came the April edition of What Camcorder and there on page 79 the magic words – ‘ a facility known as device control’, and on the bottom left of page a picture of KRP's Edit Plug Device Controller but alas the cable disappears into the spine of the magazine. What is on the end of this cable and where does it connect into the computer?

G.T. Griffiths, Cardigan

 

I fully sympathise, the change from linear editing -- from a camcorder to VCR – to non-linear editing on a PC can be quite a culture shock. The key feature of non-linear editing is that you don’t need camcorder or VCR control systems. The idea is you download raw footage or chunks of video onto the PC’s hard disc drive. Once there the editing software allows you to pick and choose the sequences you want then add effects and transitions with an easy to use desktop interface. The video on the disc is automatically timecoded and cuts and joins can be very precise. Hard discs process data so quickly that scenes from any part of the recording can be read and seamlessly joined together, so it can be very quick and efficient. However, adding complicated effects or transitions can slow things down, as these have to be ‘rendered’ by the computer, and this can take anything from a few seconds to several minutes, depending on the hardware and software. When you have composed the movie the sequences are read off the disc, and any transitions inserted, so that it can be recorded on a VCR. The bottom line is that you need to learn how to use your system, I know instruction manuals are not much fun but it’s the place to start, or maybe you could join a local video club or society where I’m sure you’ll find lots of willing tutors.

 

By the way, there’s nothing to stop you using a PC to control a camcorder and VCR, but this would be a return to linear editing, where the PC is merely acting as an edit controller. There are around a dozen PC editing packages on the market, costing from less than £40 to almost £1000 (see Computer Video for details) and most if not all of them come with a ‘device controller’. This is basically an interface between the PC and the video decks, with a LANC and/or 5-pin connection for the camcorder, and an infra-red wand, for controlling the record VCR. Device controllers usually plug into one of the PC’s free serial COM ports.

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2000, 1904

 

 


 

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