editing and video processing takes one step forward and another sideways with
Como's Video X and Control X PC-based
systems. Rick Maybury wheels out his trusty 486 to see what's what...
all this time there's still something slightly disconcerting about hooking up a
camcorder up to a personal computer. Admittedly computers used as edit
controllers make a lot of sense, it's something they're very good at, as it
involves them taking control of another device, handling lots of data -- in the form of edit decision lists -- as
well as providing a clear and easy to use visual interface.
video and computers still do not mix all that well. IBM compatible PCs and
Apple Macs use an entirely different video standard to domestic TVs, camcorders
and VCRs. A lot of heavy-duty hardware and software processing is needed to get
good quality PAL-standard video in and out of a PC. True, there are plenty of
inexpensive digital compression systems around, that can record and playback
jerky postage stamp-sized video clips into a form a PC can work with, but in
general the quality is not sufficient for serious post-production work and high
quality compression systems are prohibitively expensive.
tended to limit the PCs role in home movie-making to edit control and maybe
some audio processing, but the cost of video hardware for PCs is falling all
the time. We've now reached the point where the PC is becoming a viable
alternative to stand-alone mixers and video processors.
looking at two products that clearly illustrate the progress being made in the
desktop video market. They both come from the German company Como and are
distributed in this country by Vine Micros. They are Control X, a sophisticated
three-machine, (two replay, one record) edit controller, and Video X, a
two-channel video and three-channel stereo audio mixer, processor and special
Control X outfit sells for £465, we've
also been looking at the optional desktop jog/shuttle control unit which costs
a further £200. There is also a 'Lite' version of Control X, with two machine
control for £200. The Video X mixer/processor is priced at £765.
forget you'll also need a computer, fortunately it doesn't have to be
particularly fast or high-powered; any IBM compatible with a 386 (or higher)
processor will do, preferably with 4 megabytes of RAM, a few megs of hard disc
space, Windows 3.1 or higher, a spare serial comms port, and a free expansion
slot. Control X works with camcorders or other source machines that have
Control L, Panasonic/RMC 5-pin or PC-VCR
edit terminals. It will also work with the Panasonic AG-5700 edit deck.
Record VCR control is via learning/stored infra-red commands, or the same
selection of hard-wire systems as the source machines.
has an impressive list of features, it can operate two source machines, it can
read both VITC and RC time-codes, and it has a simple video processor with
adjustments for brightness, saturation and contrast, plus red, green and blue
colour balance. If it's used in conjunction with Video X or other PC-based
hardware (genlock etc.) it can control a wide range of effects and transitions;
there's also a range of audio facilities, though many of them are dependent on
Video X, and/or the PC's own audio capabilities (CD ROM, sound card, midi
consists of a black box that acts as the interface between the PC and the
camcorder, it also handles VCR control via an infra-red wand; a set of Control
L and 5-pin leads are also supplied. Software installation takes a couple of
minutes, using the normal 'run' Windows routine. The hardware side of things is
not so simple, in fact to put it bluntly, the instructions are bloody awful.
There is a connection diagram but it is almost impossible to work out what goes
where, and the control box sockets are ambiguously labelled; two sockets are
marked 'player 1' and 'player 2', but what are they for?. Even if you are
familiar with PCs and camcorders you'll probably still find it very hard going.
The instructions are awful full stop; it's clear whoever wrote them might know
a thing or two about computers but seems to have had little to do with camcorders
and video editing.
lucky and manage to overcome that hurdle, and get it up and running, there's a
few configuration duties to perform, such as telling the system what camcorders
and VCRs it is connected to. We experienced a slight hiccough with our set-up,
and we couldn't find a reliable driver in the IR command library for an oldish
Sony VCR; in the end we resorted to using the learning IR facility after that
everything went without a hitch.
mentioned earlier we used our system with the optional jog/shuttle controller.
This plugs between the control box and the PC, the necessary extra lead is
supplied. It's a good idea, though we have to say that at £200 it's
extraordinarily expensive for what it is. Inside the box there's just three
chips, a handful of components, the jog/shuttle knob and a few buttons; you can
buy a VCR for less than that! However,
price aside it works well with source machines that support all of the
trick-play features and it reduces the strain of controlling everything from
the computer screen, using the mouse.
uses a timeline editing system, which is significantly different from the way
most stand-alone, (and many simple PC-based) edit controllers work. It's takes
some getting used to but it is actually a lot easier to manage, and a lot more
intuitive as video and audio clips, effects and transitions are shown
graphically, rather than as rows of numbers. It's not necessarily faster
though, and with so many extra possibilities it can actually take quite a long
time to even relatively simple tasks.
line is divided into five streams, two for the source decks, there's one for
video effects, such as fades and wipes, though these will only work if the PC
is fitted with a Video X board and software;, there's another for
computer-generated effects, these too rely on additional hardware, such as a
genlock and titling software. The bottom stream is for the audio mixer, and
this too is dependent on Video X.
will generate a library list and edit decision list, but they're not especially
well laid out, nor is it possible to directly modify cut points; to do that it
is necessary to return to the VCR control panel, used to designate the edit
points, and manually change the digits in the counter or timecode fields.
can be very good with timecoded material, to within a frame or two, though it
will depend on the characteristics of the record VCR, and how much time and
trouble is taken to calibrate the system. It is possible to use Control X
record a VITC timecode on second-generation recordings, though this will result
in a noticeable reduction in picture quality as the final edit will be a third
generation copy. Accuracy on non-timecode material is a bit variable, we managed
to get to within a second or 25 frames of cut points without too much trouble,
it's possible we could have shaved a few frames off that under ideal
is a bit if a mixed bag. On the one hand it's a highly proficient semi-pro
three-machine controller, and we suspect that anyone coming to it from a studio
background, already used to timeline editing, and well versed in computer and
multi-media systems, should find it reasonably easy to work with. On the other
hand, home video movie makers looking for a quick and simple way to assemble
their productions, or tidy up holiday footage, will probably find it an
absolute nightmare. Compared with the majority of stand-alone controllers, and
most other PC edit packages, it is difficult to set-up, slow and relatively
inflexible. It's rather expensive too, particularly if you add on the cost of
the jog/shuttle box.
much more like it. Video X is an excellent two-channel digital mixer, that
could finally provide some serious competition for the Panasonic and Videonics
production mixers, even when you take into account the cost of the PC it needs
to run on.
Video X is
a full-length plug-in PC card, accompanied by a single 3.5-inch disc of
operating software. It also comes with a set of connecting leads, and this
time, some reasonably easy to follow instructions. The card fits into one of
the PC's spare expansion slots. It's a fairly easy job, but if you don't feel
completely happy about taking the lid off your computer and burrowing around
inside, get someone to do it for you.
board in place the software has to be loaded, it's another Windows program that
runs from Program Manager, ours installed without any problems and it ran
happily from the defaults. On the back of the card there's four sockets: a
single phono for composite video output; three S-Video mini DINs, one for
S-Video out, the others are for the two video input. Composite video inputs are
handled by a pair of S-Video-to-phono adaptor leads, doing it this way makes a
lot of sense as there's precious little space on the back of a PC card for
sockets. All of the audio inputs and outputs are carried by a 15-pin D
connector; the kit comes with a D-plug wired to a small forest of flying phono
cables. It's horrible, but it's the only way of doing it, other than using a
separate interface box, and inevitably that would add to the cost, which is
quite enough to begin with...
desktop screen is a model of clarity, simply presented and easy to use. There's
a series of windows, two (one for each input channel) for adjusting basic video
parameters (brightness, saturation, contrast, red, blue and green intensity).
The audio window contains two banks of 'sliders', one for setting input channel
levels, the other for adjusting bass, treble, output level and balance. The
main fader window has a large T-bar slider that's used to control fades, wipes
and transitions, they're chosen from a menu bar that runs down the left side of
the screen. From top to bottom the choices are:
manual, auto variable speed and cross-fade from one channel to the other
twenty wipe pattern to choose from
* move: six
ways of shifting the other channel into the picture
chroma-key: adjust key colour, second channel appears superimposed on chosen
* luma key:
adjust key level, second channel appears superimposed on areas of chosen
jerky stop action applied to chosen channel
image frozen from chosen channel
frozen image stored as bitmap file
loads bitmap file from disc
and transitions can be controlled manually or automatically, or triggered by
Control X, and there's plenty of additional options, far too many to detail
here. One of the most interesting, though, is the 'bump' function, which can be
used with move effects. It literally introduces a bounce into the transition,
very simple, very effective. The chroma and luma key effects are used to
superimpose selected parts of one image on the other. These are the kind of
effects used to create classic Superman-type flying sequences or superimpose
weather forecasters and news readers against background graphics. Both of them
have very precise colour and brightness intensity controls, so the effect can
look very clean, with none (or at least not so much) of the whiskery edges
associated with simpler systems.
piece of software, called Edit X, is included. This can be used to create
custom wipes of up to 64 steps. It's very impressive, but it can be very
time-consuming. In addition to the normal audio mixing facilities the system
can store two general settings, to save having to keep resetting the controls
for each input.
The mix and
fade functions are very clean. Video signals pass cleanly through Video X, with
no noticeable increase in noise. The transitions themselves are a little jerky
at higher speeds but it is by no means serious. Audio performance is good, we
tried the card on three computers, on two the audio quality was very good, on
the third there were a number of high-frequency interactions, and an annoying
intermittent buzz on the soundtrack for which, no cause could be found.
Most of our
reservations about Control X centre on the instruction manual, which turns a
powerful and sophisticated 2-machine editing system into an absolute nightmare.
We would suggest that anyone not
completely familiar with computers and a working knowledge of multi-media gives
it a wide berth. It's a high end product, with enormous scope and potential,
and the price for the basic Control X outfit seems reasonable, but to charge an
extra £200 for the jog/shuttle box is simply ludicrous, if it's going to be
taken seriously in the enthusiast market.
Video X is
a complete contrast, even when you add on the cost of a modest 486 PC it's
still not much more than a stand-alone digital mixer, plus you have all the
additional facilities offered by the PC, including editing and graphics
handling. Some of the transitions are a little lumpy but they're still good enough
for serious and semi-pro users.
together make a formidable team, in fact between them there's the makings of a
highly proficient, compact and cost-effect post-production system, particularly
if the manufacturers can do something about the instruction manual and the
price of that jog/shuttle box.
Make/model Como Control X
Guide price £465
requirements IBM PC or compatible with 386/40 processor or better, 5MB
free hard disc space, free serial port. Windows 3.1
source machines, 1 record VCR
control Control L, Panasonic
5-pin , PC-VCR; learning/programmed IR (record VCR only)
Edit system liner timeline
Edit memory more than 200 scenes
Make/model Como Video X
Guide Price £765
requirements IBM PC or compatible with 386 or higher processor, free
serial port, Windows 3.1 or higher
functions 2-channel video mixer/processor, 3-channel audio mixer
input/output PAL S-Video or composite
Features Video: brightness, saturation,
contrast, RGB intensity, fade, wipe, move, chroma/luma keying, strobe, freeze,
digitise. Audio: fader, bass, treble, balance
Distributor Vine Micros Ltd., Vine House, Cowper
Road, Margate, Kent CT9 1SX. Telephone (01843) 225714.
money 8 (6 with optional jog/shuttle)
Ease of use 7
Ease of use 9