VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

FAST AND LOOSE

 

INTRO

Video Machine Lite is the affordable re-incarnation of one of the leading desktop video editing systems, we take another look at this highly versatile package

 

COPY

We first came across Video Machine last year, and very good it was too, but at £4000 -- all but -- it was way beyond the reach of most non-professional video movie-makers. Since then Fast Electronics have developed a slightly simplified version, called Video Machine Lite. Theyíve managed to shave over £1500 off the price but even at £2300 it is still expensive, and that doesnít take into account the cost of a suitable computer, nevertheless you might feel thatís a price worth paying when you see what itís capable of...

 

But what exactly does it do? Good question, time for a quick guided tour.  Amongst other things -- which weíll come to in a moment -- itís a an edit controller, but quite unlike the kind of hardware or stand-alone  controllers weíre used to; this one uses a technique known as Ďtimelineí editing, where edits are represented graphically on a calibrated scale, instead of a list of timed cut points. This method also shows more clearly effects and transitions and once youíve grasped the concept itís far easier to use than a conventional text-based edit decision list, (though Video Machine uses those as well). Editing is only part of the story though, itís also a vision mixer/processor with sophisticated special effects, title generator and multi-channel audio mixer as well. In fact itís a complete video production system, with the kind of facilities you would expect to find in any reasonably well-equipped professional video studio, except that everything is house in one PC-sized box.

 

Does that mean it is difficult to use? Not a bit of it, the computer display or Ďdesktopí is divided into two parts. The upper half of the VDU screen is taken up by the timeline editor, the lower half , called the project manager, looks after all the clips and generates the special effects. In both instances everything is controlled in the familiar Windows fashion, by a mouse, to point and click on pull-down menus and icons. Anyone who has ever used Windows-based software will feel at home right away, though it takes a little while to actually find your way around.

 

But weíre getting ahead of ourselves, what do you actually get for £2300? The basic version of Video Machine consists of a full-length PC expansion card, five floppy discs containing the operating software, the most frightening lead set youíre ever likely to encounter, and a manual thatís almost one and a half inches thick! You will also need a IBM PC or compatible with a 386 processor, but a 486 is recommended. It will need at least 8Mb of main memory, 16Mb is better, VGA graphics with 256 colours but again treat that only as a starting point, a 1024 x 768 pixel resolution display card is preferred; a couple of megs of free space on the hard disc, DOS 3.3 or higher and Windows 3.1 will come in handy too. In addition to the video sources you will also need at least one video monitor or TV to watch what youíre doing, but to really keep tabs on what is going on itís advisable to have three monitors.

 

Installation is a doddle, the card fits into a spare 16-bit ISA slot on the computer motherboard; load the installation disc and follow the on-screen prompts. It only takes around ten minutes, we used the auto set-up routine which handled the system configuration without any problems; you can elect to carry out a custom installation, should you feel so inclined.

 

All video and audio inputs are routed via one fearsome-looking lead set with a 62-pin connector that mates with a socket on the backside of the PC card, and no less than 17 cables emerging from the back. There are 6 video inputs, split between two video channels. That breaks down as one dedicated S-Video input per channel, two switchable S-Video inputs and two switchable composite video inputs. There two video outputs (composite and S-Video), 3 edit control outputs (two player and one record deck), external synch, four audio inputs, split between 8 channels, and one stereo audio output.

 

A rather more elegant, not to say tidier wiring solution is to use the Studio Control Box, a standard rack-mount sized case with all of the connections handled by standard sockets. This plugs into the PC card in place of the supplied lead set. Control operations can also be simplified with an optional jog/shuttle control box, rather than relying upon mouse and keyboard commands. These two items add £1840 and £885 (ex VAT) respectively, to the price.

 

Video Machine can control up to three video decks (two replay, one record) from the desktop, the software needs to know what types of deck are being used; an extensive list of domestic and professional VCRs and camcorders are included in the setup software, which includes Control L, Panasonic 5/11-pin and professional RS232 protocols. Video Machine is designed to work most efficiently with timecoded material, it reads standard VITC and LTC codes, and RC timecode which is contained in Control L data. Non timecoded material can be copy-coded, though this will result in a reduction of quality as it involves loosing a generation.

 

IN USE

It takes every one of the 800 or so pages in the operating manual to detail what Video Machine Lite can do and how it does it, this is the abridged version... Raw footage has to be catalogued and given a project name. After that itís time to start defining clips. Each edit in and edit out point generates a small picture icon (picon) -- a small frozen frame of the first and last shot, these provide a quick visual reference on the timeline, and can be used to build up a storyboard of the movie.

 

Transitions between clips, and special effects are selected from the groups of icons on the Project Manager screen, and shown on the FX (effects) layer of the timeline, between the two video channels. Thereís around 300 preset effects, and an infinite variety of user-definable options, far too many to list here, but to whet your appetite hereís a few of the tastier items on the menu. They includes: A/B roll, with the software co-ordinating the playback from two video machines, mixing the two signals in a variety of ways including hard cuts plus dozens of different slides, fades, dissolves and wipes. Thereís several dozen squeeze, tumble, strobe, mosaic and zoom effects, plus special DVCís (digital video effects) including Ďhawks, Ďcubesí intrails and would you believe outrails as well? All that plus countless user-definable custom effects.

 

Other facilities which we must mention, if only in passing, are luminance and video keying, border and background generators, a title generator that can use text imported from a word processor program; colour bar generator, PAL/NTSC operation and basic video processing, to name but a few.

 

The audio facilities are almost dull by comparison, Video Machine generates a virtual 8-channel mixing desk with a bank of graphical sliders, moved by the mouse pointer. Options include cut, fade and mix, which can all be added to the audio timelines, that run parallel with the video timelines.

 

PERFORMANCE

The effects and transitions are almost flawless, smooth, clean well defined, certainly as good as any stand-alone processor weíve seen in this price-bracket, and definitely capable of professional-looking results, though obviously that depends on the skill, patience and creativity of the operator. The accuracy of the edit control facilities depend entirely on the characteristics of the record and replay decks it is to be used with; it can vary from a few frames either way to true frame-accurate editing using professional edit decks. Timeline editing is fast and flexible, once youíve got used to it, and this implementation is as good as any weíve seen.

 

Operationally itís a bit of a curateís egg, it favours the computer literate user, and for that reason we suspect those used to more conventional forms of editing and post-production could find themselves on rather steep learning curve. The keyboard and mouse could be a bit daunting for some, though the optional jog/shuttle control box would be a familiar point of reference for those who prefer twiddling knobs and pressing buttons. The supplied lead set is far from satisfactory but again, you donít have to live with it if you can afford the optional control box.

 

VERDICT

The first and most obvious point to make is that itís a professional system, not the sort of thing most family camcorder owners would have much use for. Itís also expensive,  costing anything from £3,000 upwards when you add on the cost of a PC, but you have to look at that in context. Itís not beyond the reach of determined enthusiasts, clubs or societies, and weighed against the cost of comparable pro-quality editing and post production equipment, itís cheap! Definitely another taste of things to come, and if prices continue to fall at the present rate Video Machine Lite and its ilk might soon be competing with conventional systems.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                              Video Machine Lite

Guide price                                £2300(inc. VAT)

System requirements                 IBM PC or compatible, 386/486 8Mb RAM, colour VGA card (see text), MS DOS 3.3 or higher, Windows 3.1

Display                         800 x 600 (PAL)

Video input/output              Composite or S-Video, PAL/NTSC

VCR Control                        A/B Roll

Control systems                    Panasonic 5/11 pin, Control L, RS232

Distributor                            FAST Electronic (UK) Ltd., 235-239 Walmer Road, London W11 4EY. Telephone 071-221 8024

 

 

VC VERDICT

AV Performance            10

Ease of use                   8

Value for money            8

---end---

R. Maybury 1994 2507

 

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