VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

EASY PCSs

 

INTRO

Desktop video editing has been advancing in leaps and bounds, this month we look at two new PC edit control packages, from Vivanco and Camlink

 

COPY

Wonderful things statistics; research carried out for the personal computer industry suggests that over 16 million PCs will be sold to home users world-wide this year, 4.5 million of them in Europe. Another survey doing the rounds, this time for software companies, estimates that over 80% of UK households will have a PC by the year 2000, and the latest figures from the video industry indicate that one in six households now have a camcorder. A think-tank, put together by Video Camera down the pub last Thursday lunch time, reckons that if all these figures are true a goodly proportion of camcorder owners have, or soon will have access to a computer, and it seems weíre not alone, judging by the number of new desktop video (DTV) products coming on to the market.

 

DTV, in case you havenít been paying attention over the past couple of years, is the coming together of video and computer technologies. Now that computers are so (relatively) cheap, and user-friendly it has become a particularly fruitful union, especially in the areas of editing and more recently, processing and special effects.

 

This month weíre looking at two PC-based editing packages, from Camlink and Vivanco. Camlinkís Edit Mate has actually been around for a while, but this latest version is substantially cheaper and incorporates some new features. Vivancoís Movie Cut Box is brand spanking new, so new in fact that weíve been reviewing one of the very earliest pre-production samples, but weíll kick off with Edit Mate.

 

EDIT MATE

Edit Mate first appeared early last year, back then the package included a Camlink MX800 mixer outfit and it sold for just under £200. This latest version now costs only half as much, just £99.99. The mixer has disappeared, some of the components have been redesigned and the software has been updated, though it looks and feels pretty much like the original.

 

Like its predecessor it will work with both IBM PC and Amiga computers, connecting leads and software for both systems are supplied. PC system requirements are fairly modest, they call for a 386SX 16Mhz or better with at least 2Mb of RAM, DOS 3.3 or higher and Windows 3.1 or higher. The Amiga version will run on a A500/600/1200/1500/2000 or B2000 with at least 1Mb of memory. On the video side the playback machine must have a Control L/Lanc or Panasonic 5-pin edit terminal; the record VCR is controlled by a learning infra-red system. In addition to the two 3.5-inch floppy discs containing the operating software, the outfit includes a pair of PC splitter cables, that connect to the computerís parallel output socket, two LANC cables, two 5-pin cables and an infra-red wand.

 

The PC software operates under Windows. It is loaded in the usual way from Program Manager; installation is largely automatic and takes around five minutes. For some unaccountable reason the software in our review outfit refused point blank to recognise playback decks when loaded on one clone 486/25 PC, though it didnít have any problems with two other machines (DEC 386/25 laptop and clone 486/33) we tried it on. Once the program is up and running the first job is to configure it to the video hardware, this only takes a moment or two. Learning the IR commands from the VCRs handset is also very straightforward, and thereís full provision for the differing control methods, used by various manufacturers, so it should work with almost any make or model of VCR. Variations in the timing characteristics of the VCR and camcorder can be compensated for, using variable pre and post-roll adjustments. 

 

If the set-up goes smoothly itís a delight, thanks to unusually clear and concise step-by-step instructions. If anything goes wrong thereís a fairly rudimentary troubleshooting guide in the manual and help files on the disk; if the worst comes to the worst Camlink operate a technical helpline, though be warned itís an 0891 number, which is charged at premium rates.

 

Once the installation has been completed itís time to start editing. The main screen is very easy to understand, itís divided into four sections: transport control for the playback and record decks are at the top; edit control and the edit decision list (EDL) selection buttons are on the bottom half of the screen. Everything is controlled by clicking the mouse pointer, itís fast and intuitive. When all of the cut points have been entered they can be displayed on the edit decision list screen. Each scene can be amended if necessary; the EDL screen uses standard Windows menu/mouse commands to alter the length of scenes, change the order, copy paste and delete any line. The edit can then be performed, or rehearsed (by blocking the IR link), the EDL screen keeps the user fully informed about what itís doing, and periodically asks for confirmation that an action has been completed. Itís all very civilised and anyone used to working with Windows-based software  will take to it immediately.

 

There are a few points to watch, though. The system uses linear time counter data to designate the edit in and out points; thereís no provision to read timecode, or interpolate counter data, so cut points are incremented in seconds. That basically means that at best edit accuracy is plus or minus half a second of the cut points, though in practice itís likely to be closer to a second or so over a few scenes; the manual warns that errors of tens of seconds can accumulate during a long production! Thatís not a major problem for most home video movie-makers but itís not really up to serious work, where cut accuracy needs to be consistent and within a few frames.

 

To sum up, itís a slick, well-presented package, and the price is reasonable, though it seems a bit wasteful to have to pay for the Amiga bits, if youíve got a PC, and vice-versa; maybe it works out cheaper that way? Itís very easy to set-up and use, though bear in mind that it wouldnít work on one out of the three PCs we tried it on, and telephone help could prove expensive. Edit accuracy is fairly average, itís fine for short home productions but a little out of its depth on anything more complicated. Its main rival is Gold Diskís Video Director II, which is very accurate and boasts a number of advanced features, though itís dearer, and at the time of going to press, we were still waiting for the Panasonic 5-pin version.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                             Camlink Edit Mate

Guide price                              £99.99

System requirements               IBM PC or compatible, 386SX 16Mhz or better, 2Mb of RAM, DOS 3.3 or higher and Windows 3.1 or higher. Amiga A500/600/1200/1500/2000 or B2000 with at least 1Mb of memory

Video input/output              none

Camcorder/VCR Control    LANC, Panasonic 5/11-pin,  learning infra red

Distributor                                APEX RETAIL DISTRIBUTION (CAMLINK & VOCALL) 4 Apex Point, Travellers Lane, Welham Green, Hatfield, Herts AL9 7HB

Telephone (01707) 266222 

 

VIVANCO MOVIE CUT BOX

Movie Cut Box is Vivancoís first PC-based edit controller, though itís significant for several other reasons. Itís one of only a small handful of controllers than can operate two source machines, and itís part of an integrated DTV system that includes a video mixer (Movie Mix Box) and genlock (Movie Gen Box). Cut Box can be used on its own, though, the other parts of the system can be added on at any time.

 

As it stands Cut Box costs just under £500, (Mix Box costs £1000 and Gen Box £500...) it sounds a lot for a PC edit controller, though this one has special talents, but first some background information regarding system requirements. It will run on any IBM PC or compatible with a 386/33 processor or faster. It needs a minimum of 4Mb of RAM, 5MB of free hard disc space and Windows 3.1 or higher, so there should be quite happy on the majority of home PCs, built in the past three or four years.

 

The video source decks need to have edit terminals, they can be either Panasonic 5-pin, Control L/LANC or PC-VCR (used on professional edit decks); the recorder VCR can be hard-wire controlled or, if it hasnít got an edit terminal, by stored or learnt infra-red commands.

 

The outfit includes the operating software, black box interface, serial cable and adaptor, mains power supply, IR wand and a set of LANC/5-pin connector leads. The black box is the heart of the system, not only does it handle the machine control signals, it carries video information as well. This is necessary for two reasons, firstly the controller can read and write VITC timecodes, which are contained within the video signal, (it can read RC time codes as well, though these are carried by the LANC cable), and secondly, it acts as the video  interface for the other parts of the Movie Box system.

 

Software installation appears fairly straightforward but the instructions are not very helpful, and assume some familiarity with Windows operations. Configuring the software to work with the video decks is a minor nightmare. Once again the problem lies with the manual, which has been literally translated from the German original, and is decidedly un-friendly. The worst bit concerns selecting the VCR drivers, which is not explained at all well, and at one point invites the user to delete files, a procedure guaranteed to strike fear into any novice PC user. In short too much stiffly-written text and not enough diagrams! Some of the configuration dialogue boxes are rather abrupt as well, though Vivanco tell us that our sample was a very early version and changes are being made.

 

Once the program is up and running it doesnít look too bad, the main desktop is divided up into five Ďtimelinesí. Two of them show scene data from both source decks; the other three show the position and duration of video and sound effects, plus graphics when the Cut Box is used to control external devices (via a GPI trigger) or the other modules in the Movie Box system. The advantages of a timeline graphical display like this one, as opposed to the traditional text-based edit decision list (EDL), it that it supports the familiar Windows drag and drop control interface. Each scene effectively becomes an Ďobjectí, that can be moved around the desktop and itís position on the timeline can be easily changed simply by clicking and moving with the mouse pointer. Icons from the control bar, representing various video and audio effects can also be dragged from the toolbar onto the timeline.

 

Itís fast, and once youíve got used to it, accurate as well, though not everyone likes to work with a timeline display, even though it is fast becoming a standard on DTV systems. Movie Box generates a more conventional-looking edit decision list, though parameters cannot be altered without returning to the VCR control window, which is a bit of a bind, and slows things down somewhat. 

 

The system betrays its teutonic origins, itís incredibly fussy and demanding. It keeps throwing up warning messages until you learn that some actions are barred until all of the task fields have been filled in. Save and open dialogue boxes keep popping, probably for good reasons but the point is , the program doesnít always keep the user very well informed. The actual editing screen is easy to follow and compiling the cut list makes good use of the mouse and keyboard, but transferring that information to the timeline involves several more actions, in short this is not a system for someone in a hurry. Our review software lacked any help files, though presumably later version will have on-line assistance.

 

On the other hand accuracy is good, in theory itís possible to achieve frame-accurate cuts, with timecoded source material and hardwire-controlled record decks. With IR control of the record deck we managed to get cuts to within +/- 5 frames without any difficulty at all. 

 

Two machine control is a comparative rarity on edit controllers at this end of the market, though in order to realise its full potential it needs to used with the Movie Mix Box,  which will allow the two sources to be mixed or cross-faded. Itís nearest rivals are the Videopilot V330 for £999, and the Maze Video Workshop for £822. Of these Video Workshop gives the most bangs for your buck,  though if you can live without the pretty storyboard feature Movie Cut Box begins to looks like quite a rather good deal, and because itís based on external modules, rather than plug-in cards -- as is the case with Video Workshop -- then it should work with a wider range of PCs. Itís not a beginners product, you need to know your way around PCs, and the finer points of video editing to get the most out of it. It should appeal to enthusiasts and possibly semi-pro users as well, and used in conjunction with the other Movie Box modules, it has the makings of a well appointed video production system.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                             Vivanco Movie Cut Box

Guide price                              £499.99

System requirements               IBM PC or compatible, 386/486 4Mb RAM, 5Mb free disc space, DOS 3.3 or higher, Windows 3.1

Video input/output              Composite or S-Video

Camcorder/VCR Control    LANC, Panasonic 5/11-pin, PC-VCR, stored and  learning infra red

Distributor                                VIVANCO, Unit C, ATA House, Boundary  Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SS. Telephone (01442) 231616

 

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R. Maybury 1995 1606

 


 

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