VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

OF MICE AND CAMCORDERS

 

INTRO

They say there’s nothing new under the sun, and Video Mouse proves it, with an novel twist on an idea that goes back to the beginnings of desktop editing

 

COPY

It seems a lot longer but it is only five years since the first ‘domestic’ PC editing system appeared on the UK market. That first PC editor was the Video Pilot, a ground-breaking fusion of technologies. Sadly it was way ahead of its time, it cost a small fortune, and was really only of interest to the relatively small number of enthusiasts and semi-pro movie-makers with access to an expensive personal computer.

 

Camcorders and computers have come a long way since then, and so has PC editing. There are now more than a dozen systems on the market, costing from around £50 to several thousand pounds, moreover computers have become much easier to use, and the cost has plummeted.

 

PC edit control systems fall into two three fairly broad categories; the simplest (and cheapest) ones comprise the editing software plus a set of control leads -- usually with an IR wand -- to operate the source deck or camcorder and recording VCR. Everything centres on the PC screen, using the mouse or keyboard commands to operate the two decks. The second type uses the computer to manage the edit list and do the number crunching, but has outboard deck controls, for faster and more flexible operation. The third group comprise the so-called ‘multi-media’ systems, where the PC actually processes the video signal, as well as controlling external devices. These rely on plug-in cards that digitise the analogue video information, into a form the computer can handle.

 

Video Mouse from GSE falls into the second group, it’s a similar concept to the original Video Pilot, with a separate control unit -- the ‘mouse’ -- operating the replay (or record) decks, and acting as an interface for video and control leads.. This arrangement will be familiar to any used to professional DTV systems.  It’s the most logical division of labour; PCs are extremely good at handling data, but on-screen or ‘virtual’ controls leave a lot to be desired, especially for something as complicated as video decks, where clicking and pointing a mouse is simply too cumbersome. That’s where the Video Mouse scores, the outboard controls are fast and responsive (though much depends on the video deck’s own capabilities), and it frees the user to concentrate on what’s happening on the monitor and PC screens. It has been keenly priced, Video Mouse sells for around £350, that’s compares very favourably with the other hybrid controllers on the market and it’s just over a third as much as the latest version of the Video Pilot.

 

The mouse in question is a neat-looking box with a large jog-shuttle dial in the middle, plus two groups of keys, one set for the transport functions, the other for designating (or cancelling) edit points. On the back of the box there’s a cable that goes to one of the PC’s serial interfaces (usually COM 2), and a set of sockets, for video in and out, monitor out, and the two control leads, for the camcorder and VCR. Video Mouse follows normal convention with hardwire control for camcorders with Control L/LANC or Panasonic 5-pin edit terminals, and learning/programmed infra-red commands for the VCR. The controller supports all of the most common timecode systems, including RCTC, VITC plus GSE’s own RAPID TC, as well as normal real-time counter info.

 

PC system requirements are relatively modest, it will run on any IBM compatible with a 386/33 processor or higher with 4Mb of RAM and 5Mb free hard disc space. The supplied operating software is called WinEdit, which as the name implies runs under Windows, 3.1 or higher.

 

Hardware connections are simple to follow, though slightly unusual. The Mouse needs to ‘read’ the video signals from both the source and record decks, which isn’t a problem on 8mm and VHS/C equipment that has a normal composite video outputs, but on connections between Hi8 and S-VHS decks the video signal from the source machine is split into two paths containing the brightness (Y or luma) and colour (chroma or C) components. The synchronisation pluses and timecode data (in the case of VITC coded recordings) is contained within the luma signal, but the Mouse doesn’t have an S-Video input, instead it comes with a pair of S-Video to phono leads, and it has to be wired so only the luma (Y) part of the signal passes through the Mouse.

 

Software installation is reasonably straightforward, it follows normal Windows conventions, with the set-up routine loaded from the Run command in Program Manager. We had a little trouble with the first early version we tried but Aico speedily replaced the errant discs and we managed to solve most of the problems, though we did experience some conflicts when the program was run with Word for Windows. The program contains the on-line manual, the supplied instructions are very brief, and do not even explain how to connect the Mouse to the PC.

 

Once loaded WinEdit prompts the user to configure the hardware by specifying the COM port, type of camcorder control and IR codes for the record VCR. If they’re not stored in the WinEdit command library the system has a learning IR facility. The system has to go through its own configuration routine, so that it can familiarise itself with the characteristics of the two video decks. This takes around 15 minutes

 

The main screen also includes a separate set of functions to control a digitiser, the manual suggests it supports a variety of cards, including those from Miro and Fast but our software told us that the facility had not been incorporated. When it does work this will enable Video Mouse to include digitised clips or stills, in the form of AVI files, into the edit decision list, effectively making this a three machine system, with the PC acting as the second source deck.

 

The opening window screen has three main elements, two control panels, with counter displays and status indicators, for the record and source deck, and the edit decision list (EDL). This is actually a model of clarity, with all scene information logically presented a single line, starting with scene number, tape ident, cut-in point, cut out point, scene duration and a space for a short comment.

 

The controls are very easy to use, once you’ve got used to the position of the keys there’s no need to keep looking at it. Edit points are designated using the cut in/out button on the Mouse. How accurate this process is largely depends on the capabilities of the source deck’s transport system. If it’s one of the few machines that support a jog/shuttle control, with forward and reverse frame stepping, then it can be very accurate indeed. Unfortunately most camcorders have only a jittery pause and rapid picture search controls, which makes finding a single specific frame rather difficult, in which case most edits will have to be carried out on the fly, with the tape in motion. The cut points can be amended later on, on the EDL.

 

Scenes are added to the EDL incrementally, there are no other actions required, so the system is very fast. Once the EDL has been compiled it is possible to modify any or all of the elements contained within each scene by simply clicking on the line. The numerical data then appears in a separate display line and can be changed using normal Windows conventions, though the data fields do not have the familiar up/down action buttons, which slows things down a little. Scenes can be just as easily cut, copied or moved.

 

There’s little to add, apart from saying that it’s one of the clearest, and most logically implemented systems we’ve seen. It has few presentational quirks, it’s all very obvious and simple to use.  When the EDL has been finalised it can be previewed, or committed to tape by selecting the perform function

 

PERFORMANCE

Video Mouse has the potential to be very accurate indeed, possibly to within a single frame. We ran a series of tests using both coded and uncoded recordings, following our standardised editing routines. Using the camcorder’s linear time counter cuts were to within +/- 20 frames over a 10-scene sequence lasting ten minutes. With RCTC source material the cuts were to within +/- 3 frames. Oddly enough VITC material was not so reliable, +/- 10 frames was the best we got.

 

THE VERDICT

Video Mouse looks very promising indeed, but we did experience a few difficulties getting it up and running. We believe this was most due to the early software which Aico tell us has since been updated. We’re not very impressed with the supplied instructions, the on-line manual is very good, once you can get to it, though it’s not much use to anyone who can’t get past the first hurdle, of actually installing the software. A proper printed manual with a comprehensive trouble-shooting guide is needed. However, that said Video Mouse proves once again that computers and camcorders make a potent combination and this system should appeal to anyone looking for a flexible, accurate editing and cost effective system.   

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                             GSE Video Mouse/WinEdit 1.2

Guide price                              £350

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 video

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

Timecode systems                        RCTC, VITC,

Edit features                            scene cut, erase, move, copy, scene capture (with digitiser card)

Power supply               via PC serial port

Distributor                                AICO INTERNATIONAL, Aico House, Faraday Rd, London Road Ind Est, Newbury, Berks RG13 2AD. Telephone  (01635) 49797

 

PERFORMANCE

Cut accuracy                +/- 3 frames (RCTC) +/- 20 frame (real time counter)

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money 8

Ease of use                 8

Performance              9 

Features                     8

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1995 0512

 

 


 

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