VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

MIRO IMAGE

 

INTRO

Turn your PC into a video recorder and production studio! Thatís the promise but how well does the Mirovideo DC1 TV package work out in reality?

 

COPY

The problem with Mirovideo DC1 TV is that itís too clever by half. Weíre used to video equipment fitting into neat pigeon holes; so where do you start with something that purports to combine the functions of a video recorder, edit controller, AV processor and special effects generator? 

 

First we should point out that itís not a stand-alone device, itís a PC expansion card plus software, and it needs to fitted into an IBM compatible computer. Thereís some disagreement in the literature about precisely what sort of computer it can be used with; the instruction book suggests an IBM PC-AT, 386, 486 or PS/2 with 4Mb of RAM, 2Mb free space on a hard disc, and MS Windows 3.1 or higher. However, the most recent information sheet published by Mirovideo indicates that it needs a 486 machine, 8Mb of RAM and 10Mb free hard disc space, and preferably Windows for Workgroups. That neatly illustrates the uncomfortably fast pace of development in computing, and it puts a quite different complexion on the product. We suspect it probably will work on older, slower machines but itís clearly at its best on the most recent PCs.

 

Assuming youíve got the right computer what precisely can it do? First it can record and playback moving video using the PCís hard disc drive, and thatís no mean feat. This it does by first converting analogue video into a digital format, them compressing the data using the M-JPEG (motion-joint photographic experts group) system. Mirovideo claim the playback is ĎVHSí quality, thatís an issue weíll come to in  moment, suffice it to say that computer discs are not the most economical way of recording video and a ten second sequence can consume between 5 and 7 megabytes of space, so even the largest hard disc drives can hold only a few minutes worth of pictures and sound.  Once on disc recordings can be handled in a variety of ways, including video processing, special effects and image manipulation. Finally, moving and still sequences can be edited together for re-recording on a VCR.

 

PACKAGE DEAL

The outfit includes a single full length expansion card, designed to fit into one of the PCís free ISA sockets, four 3.5-inch floppy discs containing operating software plus video editing and effects programs, and a couple of manuals. That little lot will set you back around £820; for another £120 you can have copy of Adobe Premiere digital video editing software as well.

 

Installation should be reasonably straightforward, however, we encountered a number of annoying hardware and software conflicts on one of our office PCs, which has been used as a test bed for various PC and multi-media packages during the past year. As a consequence many of the computerís system files have become cluttered with remnants of other programs and it took quite a while to get the board to work properly.

 

By the way, we found the card needs to be carefully located on the motherboard, especially in mini tower cases as it may come into contact with adjacent boards. The board is configured by the driver and operating software, so thereís no jumpers to worry about. All of the software is launched from within Windows, following the familiar point and click conventions using a mouse.

 

The card has four sockets, two phonos for composite video in and out, and two S-Video input and output connectors. A minimum system would comprise a video source, such as a camcorder, a VCR for recording the output, and a TV or monitor to review the final output. A single VCR could be used as both the source and record deck if necessary.

 

IN USE

The most basic operations are video capture and playback, where the PC functions like a VCR. The display presents a series of options and a viewing window, with graphic representations of VCR transport controls. It is reasonably easy to use, just preset the length of the clip length and click on the record button. The sequence can be played back just as easily, by clicking on the appropriate tape transport icon. Because the data is recorded on disc you can skip from one end of the recording to the other in fraction of a second, and step forwards or backwards through the recording as fast or as slowly as you want. The computerís monitor displays a rather jerky and none too accurate image whilst the cleaned up PAL image appears on the output.

 

Itís also an AV processor, all of the main picture output parameters can be adjusted, including colour saturation, contrast and brightness, as well as colour balance. The Video Editor utility generates a score or more transition effects, to or from a static image or computer generated graphic; they include wipes and fades, dissolves, reversal, blocks and chroma key. The basic package also includes iPhoto Plus, a powerful paintbox program, for manipulating images at pixel level.

 

Adobe Premiere, available as an option, is a powerful digital video editing package, designed primarily to help create sophisticated AV presentations. It covers a lot of the ground occupied by Video Editor and iPhoto Plus but additionally includes a range of 35 transitions, some very fancy special effects, animation facilities and the wherewithal to string pictures and sound sequences or clips together using a simple linear editing function.

 

PERFORMANCE

The first point to consider is that claim for ĎVHSí quality recordings from hard disc. Thatís being incredibly optimistic, at best the picture contains a lot of digital artefacts, colour graduations are crude, contrast is poor and resolution takes a hammering; quite honestly itís not as good as the cheapest, nastiest VHS VCR on a bad day, and re-recording it on a VCR only makes it look worse. Recording and replaying from disc is time-consuming, and the short duration of clips -- due to restrictions on hard disc space -- is a major limiting factor. Digital video recording, in this instance at least, has a very long way to go before it can rival the performance and economics of old-fashioned analogue technologies. The best you can say is that itís fast and being able to access any part of the recording quickly is impressive.

 

That puts a bit of a blight over the rest of the package, which is unfortunate because itís rather better at image manipulation than recording or editing. However, anyone used to the reasonably simple and clear-cut world of video processing and special effects will be appalled by the convolutions the various software packages go through. Itís a real mish-mash that tries to do far too much, weíd guess that whoever designed it has had probably never used a camcorder or post production equipment.

 

VERDICT

Mirovideo is a powerful and sophisticated AV presentation tool,  for creating short eye-catching clips but itís way out of its depth in video movie-making. The two fundamental problems are picture quality and recording time. Itís simply not good enough, but even if it were, to be of any use in video editing it needs to be able to handle clips of several minutes duration, which it canít, not without an unfeasibly large hard disc drive. The AV processing facilities are quite impressive, but not very well implemented. As it stands there are better and cheaper ways of doing what Mirovideo sets out to do, including PC-based options, but the germ of an idea is there and weíre fairly sure this is but a foretaste of better things to come.

 

SPECS

Make/model                 Mirovideo DC1 TV

Guide price                  £820 (£940 with Adobe Premiere)

System             video capture and compression plus playback, processing and editing on IBM compatible PC

System requirement            486 CPU, 8Mb RAM, 10Mb hard disc free space. MS Windows 3.1, 1 free ISA slot

Distributor                    Miro Computer Products, Buckingham House, 20 Rugby Street, London WC1 3QZ. Telephone  071-831 0467

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATINGS

Ease of installation            7

Ease of use                  8

Performance                7

Value for money 8

Picture quality            8

 

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R.Maybury 1994 2806

 

 


 

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