VIDEO CAMERA 1993

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MINITESTS

 

ACTING ON IMPULSE

Post production systems designed for the home video movie-maker are starting to look more like miniature versions of their professional and studio-bound counterparts, but when it comes down to it those fancy-looking T-bars, sliders and winking lights are mostly cosmetic, and have little or no impact on performance. ACT Electronics clearly endorse that view; their mixers and processors are built inside plain black instrument cases, instead of sliders they use knobs, and there's few, if any, frills.

 

The VE4 is a good example; it's a video processor, just that, no audio facilities at all. From left to right the six knobs control picture brightness, contrast, colour saturation, detail enhancement, fade and split-line. They work well and come in very handy when copying or editing material from a camcorder to a VCR, correcting small errors in the original recording, or brightening up dull shots with a little extra brightness and contrast. The detail enhancer control works by changing the video signal's high-frequency cut-off point, sharpening or softening the picture. It's potentially useful when making copies but we found picture quality in the neutral position to be most satisfactory. The fader is smooth and progressive, and there's a choice of fading to and from back or white. The splitline control divides the screen into two parts, the left side shows the effects of any adjustments, the right part is supposed to be the original unprocessed picture. In practice the controls affect both sides of the picture to some extent. Incidentally it took us a while to get used to this arrangement, most other processors with the facility have it the other way around, with before and after on the left and right sides of the screen. There's a bypass switch on the back, so the video signal passes through the unit, but on our sample there was a clear vestige of the splitline, however, it can be moved to one side of the screen, so it's out of view.

 

ACT say the VE4 has full S-Video compatibility, an important point as quite a few post production devices that purport to work with Hi8 and S-VHS-C equipment do not actually process S-Video signals, they merely convert them to composite video, fiddle about with the signal and then convert it back to S-Video; this knocks a hole in the resolution figure, so the processed picture  is often little better than standard VHS-C or 8mm. The VE4 boasts full Y/C  (brightness and colour) processing throughout, enabling it to pass a full 500-lines without any reduction in quality. We tried it with a variety of test signals, including S-Video and yes, it would appear to be reasonably transparent to just about anything it's likely to encounter in domestic and semi-pro video. The VE4 will convert composite to S-Video, and vice-versa, though obviously there is no increase in picture resolution when changing a normal VHS-C or 8mm signal to S-Video.

 

So did we miss the sliders and T-bars? Just a little. It doesn't matter at all with the main picture controls, but the fader knob is quite awkward to use, and the box needs to be held down with the other hand, when using it. ACT's reasons for using such basic construction methods are to be applauded, the VE4 is very good value for money, it works well too, but maybe they should allow themselves just a little touch of luxury and make that fader knob a bit bigger, and move it away from the other controls.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model           ACT VE4 Video Image Processor      

Guide Price         99.00

Features              Brightness, contrast, saturation, detail enhancement, fader (black or white), split-line display, by-pass, S-Video compatible

Sockets                video in/out (2 x phono), S-Video in/out (mini DIN), DC in

Dimensions         175 x 150 x 60mm

Distributor           ACT ELECTRONICS, PO BOX 4, St Columb Major, Cornwall TR9 6SX. Telephone (0637) 881319

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   9

No-frills processing

 

AHEAD ON POINTS

Most people tend to buy tape head cleaners when the picture quality on their VCRs is so bad that even the best cleaners cannot do much to help. The Vivanco VRC100 is not going to be much use in those circumstances either, but if used, as the instructions suggest, after every 20 hours or so of operation, it should prevent the build-up of dirt and grime on the tape head drum. Normally we wouldn't recommend using a head cleaner quite so often but this one has a very soft brush, and works in a similar way to the auto head cleaning systems fitted to a good number of VCRs these days. Actually this is a wet cleaning system, and it comes with a small bottle of cleaning fluid. It's very simple to use. First turn the rotary control on the top of the cassette so that a green indicator appears in a small window. Next moisten the brush with fluid, pop the cassette in the machine and press the play button. After about half a minute it makes a clicking sound, indicating that the cleaning cycle has finished.

 

Most head cleaners have a limited life, this one can be re-used over and again as the brush can be removed for cleaning, Vivanco suggest it's washed in luke-warm soapy water after every ten cycles. We suspect there's enough fluid to last for at least a hundred cleaning sessions. All very well, but does it work? As we've already said, this type of cleaner is not much use as a first-aid measure, it only works on the head drum, ignoring the rest of the tape path, which includes the capstans, audio, erase and control track heads so it's not going to do much for a badly contaminated machine. On the other hand the gentle and repetitive cleaning action is well suited to maintaining machines that play a lot of rental tapes, which can carry extra dirt and dust into the machine with them. The price, at just under 12, is very reasonable.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model        VIVANCO VRC100 VHS HEAD CLEANER

Guide Price         11.99

System                 wet brush type cleaner

Cleaning agent    isopropyl alcohol             

Cleaning cycle     40-50 seconds

No. cycles            10, brush can be washed and re-used

Distributor           VIVANCO, Unit C, ATA House, Boundary  Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SS Telephone (0442) 231616

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   9

Clean and green

 

 

TITLE ROLE

Stand-alone title generators first appeared on the accessory market a little over two years ago, and the very first one, the Screenwriter, was made by Sima. Since then just about every other accessory company has brought out title generators of their own, and by comparison the old Screenwriter now looks rather basic. Colourwriter Magic is obviously intended to put Sima back on top once again, and the feature list does indeed look most impressive. It has a 12 page memory with a choice of four character sizes, with 12 or 24 characters per line. Each character can be assigned one of 8 colours, or shown in outline, in a box, reversed or against a coloured background. There's a choice of effects, including zoom, where the display toggles through the four character sizes, fade, vertical scroll and crawl, the last two in one of four speeds, and pages can be sequenced together. In addition there are six special title effects, designated A to F. A is a horizontal scroll; B brings in alternate lines from opposite sides of the screen; C slides the title in from the right, line by line; D is a line by line vertical scroll; E is a teletype effect, composing the title one character at a time, and F is a line by line scroll, starting at the bottom of the screen.

 

In spite of only having one fairly blocky character style, finished titles can look quite impressive, the special effects are definitely eye-catching, but there are a few problems. The most obvious one is the rather cumbersome control system, and getting a title on to the screen can involve up to four button presses, in strict sequence. It doesn't sound too arduous, except that the buttons lack feel, and there's no way of telling if the first three presses were successful, often they're not, and nothing happens. Composing on the 'dead-flesh' rubber keyboard is similarly fraught, it's hard work, especially for anyone used to a conventional typewriter or word processor, with commonly used keys missing, or in the wrong place. Speaking of missing keys, there's no pound sign. The fade facility is rather abrupt, and several times we noticed a flash of apparently random characters as the title disappeared. Lastly, the memory backup system didn't work properly on our sample and titles were 'forgotten' a short while after the unit was switched off. This could this be due to the polarity markings moulded in the battery compartment being the opposite way around to those shown in the instruction book.

 

Colourwriter Magic has a number of impressive features, and it compares very well with the current crop of title generators, but a few things need still need tidying up. Even so we're still going to give it a good rating because if nothing else its sets new standards in terms of price and facilities.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model       SIMA COLOURWRITER MAGIC

Guide Price         350

Memory              12 pages

Lines/chars         10 x 24, 5 x 24, 10 x 12, 5 x 12 (max 20 lines, pages 1 & 2 only)

Colours                8

Variables            colour characters, outline, border, box and background              

Display options  fade, zoom in/out, vertical scroll (4-speeds), crawl (4-speeds), special effects (see text)

Dimensions         355 x 220 x 70mm                     

Distributor           PRISMA Europe Ltd, Priory House, Pitsford Street, Birmingham B18 6LX Telephone 021 554 5540

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

clever but cumbersome

 

 

VIVANCO SWITCHBACK

If  the Vivanco VCR-3068 looks a little familiar that's because we mini-tested its elder brother, the VCR-3046 last Summer. It's an unusual combination of facilities, there's a 3-channel stereo audio mixer, a video processor with adjustments for colour saturation, contrast, brightness, sharpness, noise-reduction, and an AV switchbox; just what you need if you have a TV with one AV socket, and a VCR, satellite tuner, disc player etc., all vying to use it.

 

But back to that earlier encounter, at first glance the 3046 and 3068 appear almost identical, but what's this, phono sockets? That's right, Vivanco, long-time champions of the dreaded SCART connector have finally got around to fitting phono sockets to one of their processors. Could it be that they've finally listened to everyone who told them that SCARTs are expensive, unwieldy and unreliable, which could be why pretty well everyone else uses phonos? Actually no, the phonos are there because the 3068 is S-Video compatible, and they accompany the two mini DIN sockets that carry Y/C video signals in and out of the box. Ho hum. So apart from that are the two units the same? Well, not quite, there's a couple of other differences; the auto fader facilty has disappeared, (manual audio and video fades are controlled from a pair of T-bars), and the price, which has jumped to just under 300 (the 3048 sold for 210). 

 

Everything else seems to be pretty much as we remember it. The mixer section works well and audio passes cleanly through the unit with no extra noise on the output. The video adjustments are smooth and precise, though this time S-Video signals pass through unhindered, in fact Vivanco claims it has a video bandwidth of up to 8MHz, which corresponds to a resolution figure of around 600-lines. The 3068 fills a very small hole in Vivanco's extensive range of post-production equipment, the price isn't as enticing as the 3048 but if you've got high-band equipment you're already used to paying extra for everything anyway, in this case it's just about worth it.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model       VIVANCO 3068

Guide Price         299

Features              3-channel audio mixer, audio monitor, audio and video faders, split-screen preview, colour, saturation, contrast, brightness, sharpness, noise reduction, RGB conversion

Sockets                4 x SCART, S-Video in/out (mini DIN), stereo audio in/out (6 x phono), microphone, headphone (minijack), external; edit control (7-pin DIN)

Dimensions         70 x 330 x 280

Weight                1.5kg

Distributor           VIVANCO, Unit C, ATA House, Boundary  Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SS. Telephone (0442) 231616

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

Switched on processor

 

TAKING THE MIC

Camcorder microphones mostly fall into one of two categories, awful, or horrible! Things weren't so bad in the olden days, before palmcorders, when camcorders had their mikes mounted on little stalks, well away from whining motors and fumbling fingers. Not any more. These days they're usually built-in, often so close to the machines noisy innards that designers have to go to extraordinary lengths to isolate unwanted sounds, which normally entails some loss of performance or added expense or both; or they simply don't bother, which is even worse. That, in a nutshell is one of several very good excuses for buying an accessory microphone, and where the Sima SCM-1 comes in. It's a fairly straightforward stereo microphone that clips on to the machine's accessory shoe and plugs into the external mic socket (if it has them, but that's another story...). The shape is familiar; Sima use the same casing for a number of their other mics, and that's confirmed by the largely unpopulated PCB inside which clearly has other lives. The two electret capsules are mounted on a second PCB, facing outwards, at an angle of around 45 degrees; they're suspended by a pair of rubber rings at either end of the protruding snout.

 

Sound quality is fair to middling, a little light on the bass frequencies but that helps reduce handling noises. Right-left separation and the stereo image are both reasonable. Is it worth 30?  We think so, but almost any accessory microphone is usually improvement and mounting it a couple of centimetres further away from the machine and itchy fingers, makes a tremendous difference. The SCM-1 won't make a huge amount of difference to actual sound quality, and for a few pounds more you can get mics with all sorts of extra facilities, some of them actually useful,  but even with a mic as basic as this one the soundtrack will be a lot cleaner, and the stereo effect a little more convincing.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model       SIMA SCM-1 STEREO CAM MIKE

Guide Price         30.00

Response            200Hz  - 15kHz

Impedance          600 ohms             

Connections        curly lead, terminated stereo minijack

Accessories         mono monitor earpiece               

Power source       1 x AA type battery

Fitting                  standard accessory shoe      

Weight                75g

Distributor           PRISMA Europe Ltd, Priory House, Pitsford Street, Birmingham B18 6LX Telephone 021 554 5540

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

affordable audio upgrade

 

SEVEN VOLT SIX-PACK

No, it's not a mis-print, this is a 7.2 volt nicad battery pack, designed to be used with camcorders that run off a 6-volt supply. Confused? Well it's really quite simple, are you sitting comfortably? The Millennium CCM4060A multi-fit nicad pack contains six cells, each one with an output of 1.2 volts; normally NP-style batteries are made up from five cells, which gives the nominal 6-volts we're familiar with. However, the problem is that most camcorders shut down far too early, claiming the battery is flat when actually there's still a fair amount of charge remaining. That's so there's always enough energy left to unlace and eject the tape, but apart from the waste it leads indirectly to the dreaded memory and cell-imbalance effects we've heard so much about. That happens when a partially discharged battery is repeatedly given top-up charges; eventually the battery gets used to shallow charge-discharge cycles and its capacity is reduced. This battery gets around that by having that extra cell, which fools the camcorder's voltage sensor into delaying shut-down until the battery is more thoroughly discharged, though there's still enough energy left to power-down safely.

 

That's the theory. To find out if there's anything in it we put a CCM4060A high capacity pack through our standard battery test routine, and compared the results with the data we collected from last year's mega-battery test. This is what we discovered. By dividing the stated capacity by the price we get a figure for pounds per ampere-hour, in this case it works out at 20 per Ah, that's just a little above average. Next, charge time from flat, after a couple of controlled charge-discharge cycles. At just 98 minutes it was a little quicker than comparable 2Ah batteries. Finally, running time, whilst powering a big 12watt camcorder. Our sample lasted for an average of  XX minutes

, which compares with 

 

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model       MILENNIUM CCM4060A NICAD BATTERY PACK

Guide Price         40

Output voltage    7.2 (for 6 volt machines)

Capacity              2Ah

To fit                   JVC, Panasonic,  Sanyo, Sharp and Sony machines

Distributor           MILLENNIUM BATTERIES, Tarrant House, Christchurch Road, Virginia Water, Surrey GU25 4BE. Telephone 071-224 0994

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   X

 

 

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(c) R.Maybury 1993 1911

 

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