Camcorders and computers make uneasy
bedfellows but increasingly the two technologies are being combined, as these
three new products demonstrate
Until recently camcorders and personal
computers have had little in common, but gradually the two technologies are
coming together in what is turning out to be a very fruitful partnership.
Computers have much to offer the video movie-maker, and most recently attention
has focused on their ability to generate high-quality text and graphics, which
can be used in home video productions in a variety of ways, from titling to
Unfortunately many computers have great
difficulty in communicating with video equipment, though there are honourable
exceptions, including a number of home computers such as the Commodore Amiga,
Atari ST and Sinclair Spectrum, all of which have PAL compatible video outputs.
These models -- especially the Amiga -- have established a sizeable following
amongst home movie-makers users. More recently interest has turned towards the
dominant business and commercial computer systems -- IBM PC/PC compatibles and
Apple Macintosh -- which are now making significant inroads into the home
computer market. This follows a dramatic fall in prices over the past three
years and now extremely powerful desktop computers, supported by a wealth of
widely-available and easy to use software, need cost no more than fairly basic
(by comparison) home computers.
When these systems were designed there was
thought to be no need for them to be able to interface with video equipment, so
their visual displays have evolved along quite different paths to domestic TV.
This has made it difficult to convert their video outputs to PAL, and even
harder to mix computer graphics with PAL (or NTSC) video signals. It has been
estimated that there are around 60 million PCs and clones in use around the
world, so it should come as no surprise to learn that the technical hurdles
have been quickly overcome in order to tap this highly lucrative market.
The first signs that the IBM PC had a future
in video production was in 1991, following the launch of a number of
professional PC-based editing systems that utilise the PC's formidable control
and storage abilities, domestic versions quickly followed, none of them
involved any video processing. More
recently a number of video output converters have appeared on the market, that
enable the computer's video output to viewed and recorded on domestic TV and
video equipment, in turn these have spawned a variety of title and presentation
software packages. However, the holy grail of computer post production is the
genlock, a device which allows the computers video output to be mixed or
overlaid with an external video signal, usually from a camcorder or VCR.
Genlocks for PC (and Apple Macs) are themselves small computers, such is the
complexity of the conversion and mixing process, which is one of the reasons
why they have been such a long time coming, and until now, very expensive, but
that is all about to change with the arrival of a new generation of PC and Mac
compatible converters and genlocks.
We've been looking at three of them, and the signs are they're just a
taste of what is to come!
GVP G-LOCK VGA+
The G-Lock is aimed at the top end of the
market, and that is reflected in the selling price which with VAT comes to well
over £1,000! That's getting on for twice the price of some of the computers
it's designed to be used with, so it should be something special. And so it is,
G-Lock fits inside the computer, replacing the existing VGA (video graphics
array) display card.
G-Lock can be used with any IBM PC AT
computer with at least 640k bytes of memory, running MS-DOS 3.1 or above. It
works best with a multi-sync monitor, normal VGA monitors will not work as they
are incapable of locking onto the re-configured display, in which case you will
have to rely on the TV monitor screen to operate the system; it can be done but
it makes life much easier if you can use the computer's own screen.
It's a DIY installation and requires no
specialist tools or knowledge, the accompanying manual contains fairly detailed fitting
instructions but if you're at all worried any competent computer buff should be
able to do it for you in a few minutes.
The computer's monitor connects to the board
in the normal way, and there are two additional mini-DIN S-Video sockets for
the video input and output. A pair of S-Video to phono leads are supplied for
composite video signals. The only external adjustment is a switch for setting
S-Video or composite video mode. To get the board up and running it is
necessary to load in some software utilities, this takes just a few minutes,
though be warned the manual assumes a certain amount of familiarity with DOS
commands, and some of the more advanced operations, such as setting up and
modifying AUTOEXEC. BAT and SYSTEM. INI
files require some specialist knowledge.
Our sample worked well, though once or twice
the computer failed to boot correctly. This was apparently caused by the G-Lock
card as the problem disappeared as soon as the original card was replaced.
Switching the machine off and on again always cured the problem and it never
glitched once when it was operating.
There are several display options, (including pre-loaded graphics and
test patterns) with standard graphic and video mixing, and colour-keying, where
a designated colour in the computer generated graphic is replaced by genlocked
video. The latter has enormous potential for special effects and titling, and
with patience, a little creativity and good titling software the results can be
to professional standards.
Make/model GVP G-LOCK VGA+
Guide Price £1173
System SVGA graphics card and genlock
System compatibility IBM PC AT and compatibles (286 or higher)
Video in/out S-Video (S-Video to phono conv. leads supplied),
Features fade and mix, key and transparent colours,
software utilities and drivers inc. Windows,
Lotus 123, WordPerfect; graphics and
Dimensions full-size expansion card, (16-bit ISA bus),
replaces existing VGA card
Distributor SILICA SHOP
1-4 The Mews, Hatherley Road,
Sidcup, Kent DA14 4DX. Telephone 081-309 1111
VIDEO CAMERA RATING 8
Top-end PC genlock for serious users
ROMBO VGA-TV BUSTER
Genlocks are the only way to go if you want
to mix video and graphics together but if you just want to be able to view or
record graphics from your PC on a normal TV or VCR then the VGA-TV Buster from
Rombo might be just what you're looking for. Depending on the software used it
can be used for titling on home video recordings, or to create displays and
presentations which can be shown on TVs or projectors.
VGA-TV Buster is available as a stand-alone
unit, or an internal fitting card, which plugs into one of the computer's
expansion sockets, we've been looking at the internal version. It's
comparatively easy to fit, thought the instructions are misleadingly worded
about the fitting of a flying lead, which plugs into the machine's monitor
socket. Driver software and utilities for Buster, as we'll call it from now on,
are supplied on a 3.5-inch disk and has to be installed from a DOS prompt; some
knowledge of the workings of a PC is an advantage. Users will also need to know
which type of VGA adaptor their machine has, in order to configure the unit,
but the instruction book is fairly easy to follow from this point onwards, and
there's a technical support line for anyone who gets into difficulties.
Buster can be installed as a Windows
accessory, so it can be switched in and out very easily, this enables the
composite/S-video output, so it can be viewed on a PAL TV, when this happens
the normal VGA monitors looses lock and displays a confused image.
The output image can be moved around the TV
screen area using cursor keys or mouse control (from a Windows installation);
it is reasonably stable, and there are some adjustments to minimise colour
smearing and patterning. On the whole, though, Buster works well, it's fairly
basic but it is realistically priced and adds another new string to the PC's
bow, making it a whole lot friendlier towards domestic video.
Make/model Rombo VGA-TV Buster
Guide Price £175.07
VGA-PAL (composite or S-Video) converter
System compatibility IBM PC or compatible
Video in/out composite, S-Video and RGB output
Features positionable graphic display
Dimensions expansion card
Distributor Rombo Productions Ltd., Baird Road,
Kirkton Campus, Livingston, EH54 7AZ. Telephone (0506) 414631.
VIDEO CAMERA RATING 8
Video versatility for the PC
This simple, no-nonsense external genlock is
the first budget model we've seen that is
compatible with a range of computers, including IBM PC, Apple Mac and
Archimedes. At just £299 (plus VAT) it represents excellent value for money.
Features include mix computer graphics to black or external video input, and an
underscan/overscan option which ensures the edges of the computer display are
not lost on the video output.
Installation is fast and simple, Multigen is
supplied with a PC compatible lead which plugs into the computer's monitor
output socket; the displaced monitor
lead plugs into a socket on the back of the Multigen, various lead options are
available for other makes of PC, and a lead for the Apple Mac, for example,
costs an extra £8.80. Video input and output are handled by two phono and two
S-Video sockets, there is also an RGB monitor output. In this arrangement the
computer monitor operates normally, the
genlocked display is only visible on the composite and S-Video outputs.
There are few preliminaries, just connect it
up to its (optional) external mains power supply, check the positions of the
DIP switches on the back panel, (these select the video system and fade speed).
Once it is operating it may be necessary to adjust the display key level or
transparency, there is a small preset control on the back panel. The
front-panel controls are equally simple and to the point; push buttons select
over or underscan modes, source signal format (composite or S-Video) ,
operating mode (overlay or mix ), fade, and freeze (computer graphic).
Multigen supports all of the standard
resolutions, up to 640 x 480 pixels/256,000 colours, so the quality of output
is quite good, some instability is evident, despite the use of flicker
reduction circuitry, though much depends on the design, position and colour of
the graphics and in some circumstances it is hardly noticeable. The video
signal appears to pass cleanly through the unit, with no perceptible increase
in noise or loss of resolution.
We have just a couple of quibbles, the power
supply is sold as an optional extra, Vine say this is because many of their
customers already have mains adaptors and will want to use their own, that's a
recipe for trouble as the only reference to the units power requirements are on
a small sticky label on the polystyrene packaging. The second concerns the
additional cost for Mac users, who will have to pay an extra £8.00 for a lead,
the PC lead is supplied as standard.
Multigen is simply a means to an end and the
end results will ultimately depend on the scope of the graphics software used.
Vine recommend the PC Titler program from Maze, which they can also supply,
they are still evaluating suitable software for the Mac.
The Multigen is what PC owners have been
waiting for, a good quality, fuss-free genlock at a sensible price.
Make/model Vine Multigen
Guide Price £358 (Apple Mac lead £8.80)
System External genlock
System compatibility IBM PC, Apple Mac, Atari ST, Archimedes
Video in/out PAL/NTSC, S-Video, composite video, RGB out
Features under/over scan, variable-speed fade, mix, freeze, flicker
Dimensions 150 x 45 x 94mm
Distributor Vine Micros Ltd., Vine House, Cowper Road,
Margate, Kent CT9 1SX. Telephone (0843) 225741
VIDEO CAMERA RATING 9
The one to beat!
R.Maybury 1993 2807