VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

WORKSHOP PRACTICE

 

INTRO

Video editing on a PC takes another bold step forward with the arrival of Maze’s Video Workshop For Windows.

 

COPY

Video Workshop for Windows from Maze Technology could be a turning point for PC editing, bridging the gap between comparatively simple computer-based packages, like Video Director or Camlink’s Edit Mate, and high-end systems such as Video Machine, Video Station and Video Pilot. As the ‘Windows’ tag implies this product is designed for use with IBM PCs and compatibles, Maze say they have no immediate plans to produce versions for other platforms, recognising the format’s popularity and the significant support the PC now has at all levels of video post production.

 

Video Workshop for Windows (we’ll call it VWW from now on, to save paper and ink...)  is a modular system, based around two plug-in cards, connecting leads and operating software. The main board contains its own microprocessor, which goes a long way towards explaining the price, which we’ll come to in a moment. The dedicated processor speeds up graphic and image handling and allows true multi-tasking, enabling the computer to get on with other jobs, such as word-processing or titling, at the same time. However, many of VWW’s features can only be used in conjunction with a video capture board;  Maze include a Rombo Media Pro board in with VWW and both packages come to £822.44. (That’s the VAT inclusive price, it’s customary for computer hardware and software prices to exclude VAT, in which case the headline price is £699...).

 

Before we get around to explaining what it all does, a few words about system requirements, in other words what sort of computer you’re going to need, to use VWW. It will run on any moderately fast 386 (25MHz or above) though it is more at home on a 486; it needs at least 4Mb of RAM memory, 10Mb of free hard disc space and most importantly, a 1Mb display card and SVGA monitor. The PC will also need at least two spare ISA expansion slots; three if you add a genlock card at a later stage, to use the system’s titling and special effects facilities.

 

Installation is straightforward enough and it should be possible for most competent PC owners to do it themselves, though the instructions are not very well presented and do not really cater for absolute novices; some prior knowledge of the innards of a computer, system configuration and loading programs is assumed. Providing you get that right the only other hurdle is the nightmare lead from hell...

 

All of VWW’s inputs, outputs and control connections are routed via a single RS232 connector which branches out into 16 separate plugs, sockets and connectors. Maze say they’re thinking about a dedicated external switch/connector box -- like Fast have with the equally horrible Video Machine Lite lead -- the sooner the better we say! Even a simple two-deck set-up soon develops into a nasty tangle that can take ages to sort out if a problem develops.

 

BUT WHAT IS IT?

Yes, yes, but what does it do?  Essentially VWW is a sophisticated three-machine edit controller. It employs the most common edit control protocols, used on domestic camcorders and VCRs (LANC (Control L), Panasonic 5/11 pin), plus the RS232 and RS422 systems used on professional editing equipment. It also has a learning infra-red control facility, for record machines that do not have editing terminals. It supports all of the primary transport functions of two playback machines, and one record deck; the Windows based software is very easy to use, with all operations controlled by pointing and clicking with the mouse at on-screen buttons and icons.

 

VWW can read most commonly used timecodes (VITC, RCTC, LTC etc.), so with the right decks edit accuracy can be close to professional standards. It can also control a range of external devices via a GPI (general purpose interface) trigger or RS232 port. So far none of that is particularly unusual but where VWW differs from other PC based edit controllers is in its extraordinary flexibility, and the use of visuals and graphics, to help speed up and simplify the editing process.

 

Time for a quick guided tour. The Desktop is divided into five distinct areas; there’s a familiar-looking VCR control panel, and an edit control panel, for designating in and out points. However, what you won’t have seen before are a scaleable (you can alter it’s shape, size  and position) video input window, showing the currently selected video image, and two extra windows called ‘preview’ and ‘storyboard’. Storyboard is an alternative to an text-based edit decision list (EDL), which is also available. However, in the storyboard mode it will display a series of small frozen images or picons (picture icons) taken at the edit in points (and edit out points as well if desired), along with tape counter or timecode readouts, and a short description. Having this kind of visual prompt can be an enormous help when working with long or complicated productions. The ‘preview’ window works like a kind of electronic ‘flick-book’ skimming through the picons, giving an overview of the production.

 

Flexibility and upgradability are amongst the most important features of this system. The desktop can be easily rearranged and windows modified, to suit the user’s needs and working patterns. There’s a range of special effects including synchronised playback of computer generated or stored ‘WAV’ audio files, and automated playback of sound-effects from an internal or external CD deck. It can also be configured to operate with a wide range of external post-production systems, including AV mixers, like the Panasonic MX30 or MX50, Video X and Coriovision, as well as genlocks and other devices. In short that means VWW can be tailored to work with just a camcorder and VCR in a simple domestic editing system, or as part of a full blown professional edit suite.

 

Needless to say VWW will work in conjunction with other Maze video packages, including the highly acclaimed PC-Titler, and it can call up graphics, title or animation sequences during edits. It will also work with other graphic packages, including Autodesk Animator, 3D Studio and Animator Pro.

 

By adding a genlock to the system VWW can create a number of additional effects, including Soft FX. It’s a cunning visual trick that simulates a digital mixer by cross-fading between two scenes, though in fact both scenes can originate from just one tape. It’s elegantly simple, the last frame from the preceding scene is stored in memory and the next scene is faded in over the still, it happens smoothly and quickly, so that the eye hardly notices the last shot was actually frozen.

 

IN USE

Anyone familiar with PCs and Windows will feel instantly at home with VWW. Everything is controlled fromthe decktop, either by the mouse, or from the keyboard, should you so desire. Cut points can be marked on the fly, for a quick and dirty edit that can be tided up later, or by pausing the tape and stepping to the desired frame (on systems that support frame advance). Edit points are registered on the text EDL, or, if you prefer, on the storyboard, along with picons. In either case the cut points, effects and scene info can be changed prior to performing a preview, or committing the program to edit.

 

PERFORMANCE

At this point it is customary to tell you how well it worked. Unfortunately we had a few problems with our original evaluation sample, this was promptly replaced by Maze with another main board, which worked for a short while, before it too developed a strange fault. Fortunately the third board worked correctly, though we experienced one or two glitches with the software. All of these problems we put down to the fact that we were seeing very early samples, and we’re hopeful the production versions will have all the bugs ironed out.

 

If that’s the case then we’re in for a treat because it works very well indeed. Edit accuracy on timecode material is approaching that of professional systems, no more than a couple of frames either way, depending on the combination of equipment used. The timecode display was a little jumpy on our sample but that didn’t affect the operation or accuracy, and even if the edit point was out by a few frames it’s a simple matter to trim the edit in and out points independently, at the time on the edit control panel, or later, on the EDL.

 

Uncoded material fares quite well too, we managed to get to within +/- 20 frames without any problems at all, we’ve no doubt it could be even less than that, with the right decks, and careful alignment. We’re very impressed by the picon facility. Editing is by nature a visual activity, and a long text-based EDL can become cumbersome and difficult to comprehend; the picons serve as a useful aide-memoire and the flick-book facility gives a fast preview, that would not otherwise be possible without performing or rehearsing the production.

 

VERDICT

Leaving aside the reliability problems we encountered, we have two principle concerns. The first is the input and output connections. Hanging so many leads from the back of a PC card is asking for trouble. Apart from the fact that it looks a mess, it makes life very difficult and there’s an increased risk of failure. It desperately needs an external connector box; yes, it’s going to add to the cost, but it’s a price worth paying, and it would be more in line with the professional image Maze are hoping to cultivate for this product. Secondly, the instructions, they’re almost impenetrable, especially for newcomers to PCs and video editing; they badly need re-writing, with proper indexing, clearer diagrams and a more logical layout.

 

Apart from that it’s wonderful! The PC is coming of age as an editing tool and post-production too, not just for serious and semi-pro users. Video Workshop for Windows is another big step forward in that process, it’s one of those rare products that has the potential to cater to the needs of both home users and pros, even taking into account those rough edges.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                              The Video Workshop For Windows V2

Guide price                                £822.44 (inc. VAT)

System requirements                 IBM PC or compatible, 386/486 4Mb RAM, SVGA monitor, 1Mb graphics card (see text), two free ISA slots, MS DOS 3.3 or higher, Windows 3.1

Video input/output              Composite or S-Video

Camcorder/VCR Control    LANC, Panasonic 5/11-pin, RS232, RS422, learning infra red

Distributor                                 MAZE TECHNOLOGY, Zenith House, 210 Church Road, Leyton E10 7JQ Telephone 081-556 5620 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1994 0712

 

 


 

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