VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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MINITESTS

 

SECRET SONY

The HVR-500 is a solution seeking a problem, and thereís no shortage of takers. Itís a remotely-controlled pan/tilt head that will tip a camcorder (weighing up to 2 kilograms) though 30 degrees, and turn it through 260 degrees. It can be free-standing, using the supplied base-plate, or mounted atop a tripod. The motorised head connects to a small handset, linked to the main unit by a 5-metre multi-core cable. This is all fairly routine stuff, motorised and remote controlled pan/tilt heads have been around for yonks, but the HVR 500 is somewhat different. It has two important extras; firstly the camcorderís main functions (record stop/start, zoom and standby) can be controlled from the handset, provided it has a Control L/LANC terminal. Naturally Sony designed it with their own models in mind, though it can still be used with other machines, using their own remote control facilities if necessary. The second unusual feature is an 0.7-inch colour LCD monitor, built into the handset. As well as carrying power and control signals to the head, the cable carries video back to the monitor, so you can see precisely where the machine is pointing, and whatís being recorded.

 

In addition to manual control the handset also has an automatic panning facility that can be set to sweep the camcorder through 60, 120, 180 or 240 degrees, the pan speed can be adjusted, to track at 4, 5 or 6 degrees per second. The handset contains the power source for the head, this comprises four AA batteries, though it has an external DC socket, for use with an optional mains adaptor. The monitor screen has its own brightness control, and it can be switched off to save power.

 

Itís not exactly a new idea, Sharp demonstrated a similar system, albeit in prototype form as long ago as 1989, and a similar set up is possible with an optio nal remote pan/tilt head available for the Sanyo EX33 -- the HVR-500 is a lot neater, and far more adaptable. The only limitations we can see are the price -- £500 is a bit hefty -- the length of the cable -- five metres doesnít go very far these days -- and it would have been handy to have an audio take-off as well. Nevertheless it works superbly well, the pan/tilt action is very smooth (with smaller machines, it get a bit jerky with bigger models), the image on the LCD screen is good enough for aiming and framing and it comes with a detachable sunshield, so it can be seen in bright daylight (or hidden from view at night...). Thereís almost no end of applications, from wildlife videography to surveillance, and doubtless a few more youíve already thought up for yourselves....

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model        Sony HVR-500

Guide Price         £500

What is it?            remote-controlled, motorised pan/tilt head with LCD monitor           

Features              auto or manual operation, remote control of camcorder functions, tripod fixing or free-standing, adjustable and detachable mounting bracket

Compatibility     head control & video universal, camcorder functions via Control L/LANC interface               

Pan/tilt angles     280 degrees/30 degrees

Pan/tilt speed      3-5 degs sec/4-6 degs sec

Max load             2.0kg

Dimensions         main unit: 85 x 80 x 100mm, remote commander: 70 x 50 x 180mm

Distributor         SONY UK LTD The Heights, Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 0XW Telephone (0932) 816000

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

A head of the game

 

PACKING ĎEM IN

Itís the sight all camcorder owners dread, the blinking low-battery warning indicator. Sodds law dictates it happens when youíre halfway through an important, unrepeatable, once-in-a-lifetime recording, whatís more you forgot to pack a spare battery and the nearest mains outlet is half a mile away... If only you had an IQ AA NP55, you could easily keep on recording for a little while longer. Itís an emergency camcorder battery pack, a holder for six AA cells, that clips onto the back of any machine that takes Sony-fit NP style batteries. The mathematicians amongst you may have worked out that the combined output from six AA cells comes to 9 volts, not 6, but this is within the tolerance range of most machines, even so, if youíre concerned  we suggest you check first with the manufacturer. The packaging suggests it can be used to power video lights as well, though there was a sticker on the back of our sample advising against it, presumably due to the increased voltage, you have been warned.

 

So does it work? We gritted our teeth and tried it on a couple of Sony and Sanyo models and they both lived to tell the tale. Camcorders are hardy little beggars, they all have over-voltage protection circuits, which is just as well, freshly charged nicads and mains power adaptors can rise well above the nominal 6 volts. Theyíre not so clever when it comes to reverse polarity connections, though, so be sure to put the batteries in the pack the right way round! At just under £8.00 itís worth having one for insurance and keeping it in your pocket, or gadget bag, just in case. You donít have to fill it with batteries, theyíre available just about everywhere, and in a real emergency you could always borrow half a dozen cells from other peopleís cameras or personal stereos 

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model       IQ AA NP55

Guide Price         £8.00

What is it?          emergency 6 volt battery pack

Features              holder for six AA batteries

Sockets                standard Sony fit

Distributor         JESSOPS, Jessops House, Scudamore Road, Leicester LE3 1TZ

Telephone (0533) 320033

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   9

Effective emergency energiser

 

MINI MONO MIXER MYSTERY

Mono audio mixers are a bit thin on the ground these days, so the arrival of the Tech-Link MX100 was a bit of a surprise. Itís not being billed as a camcorder accessory so we canít be too fussy; the specification sheet talks about dubbing music and narration onto VCR soundtracks. In that context mono sound is appropriate, and it is well suited to the task. It has four inputs, two of them for line-audio signals, the other two are microphone inputs, fed by a pair 3.5 and 6.5mm jack sockets; thatís a strange mixture of sizes but itís a simple enough matter to fit an adaptor if itís a problem.

 

Power comes from a 9 volt battery, which fits into a compartment on the underside of the unit, or from an external mains adaptor, thereís a standard power connector socket on the back of the unit. The layout has been well planned, and it is very easy to use, the sucker feet on the base are a good idea, it stops it slipping about on smooth surfaces.

 

It works well, the sliders have a good range of travel, the action is smooth and noiseless. The other plus point is the price, if all youíre looking for is a basic mono mixer, and have no need for stereo then itís £18 reasonably well spent.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model        Tech-Link MX100

Guide Price         £18.00

Features              mono audio mixer

Inputs                    2 x line audio, 2 x microphone

Output       1 x line audio

Controls              4 x sliders       

Sockets                inputs: 2 x phono, 1 x 3.5mm minijack, 1 x 6.5mm jack,

                            output: 1 x phono. DC input

Power source      9 volt battery or optional DC mains adaptor

Distributor         Tech-Link,  Units 1 & 2 76a Farnley Road, London SE25 6NX. 0181-771 8388  

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

An odd mix, but good value...

 

CONSOLE YOURSELF

Video post production and editing has reached the stage where itís now possible to achieve near professional results using relatively low-cost accessories. Thatís all very well but as things stand at the moment movie-makers have little choice but to assemble their own systems. Itís not too bad if you stick with one manufacturer, several of them have taken the modular approach, with matching units, designed to work with one another, but that still means lots of boxes, and even more cables; wouldnít it be great if one day all the key ingredients -- edit controller, video processor, effects generator and audio mixer -- were housed together, in one box?

 

Of course it would, and one day it might happen, but until then weíll just have to make do with the Video Tech VEC2070. It gets quite close to our ideal, though itís still a couple of scenes short of an edit controller... The video processing side looks quite familiar, and you can see elements of other Video Tech products past (and future..); thereís a full set of variable analogue picture controls, including brightness, contrast, saturation and detail enhancement, the effects of any of these can be applied directly to the output, or viewed in split-screen mode, with the right and left sides of the screen showing the before and after effects processing.

 

The effects generator provides a choice of no less than 60 geometric wipe patterns and basic fades; the range of wipes isnít that large but thereís enough variations to make it interesting. Fades and wipes can be controlled manually, using the main fader slider in the middle of the top panel, or automatically, with a range of speeds, lasting from 1 to 8 seconds. The edges of the wipe can be softened, (4 stages), and thereís a choice of no less than 32 background colours to wipe to, or from, with names like Air Force Blue, Shocking Pink and Sea Green. Selecting a colour or wipe pattern is a little tedious as the appropriate number has to be selected by a pair of up/down buttons, fortunately the console comes with a crib sheet detailing all of the effects, which helps. The 2070 has two independent video outputs, one showing all of the effects, the other one is unprocessed.

 

The right side of the console is taken up by the audio processor and mixer. The processor comprises a set of input selector buttons, and three tone controls, covering bass, mid-range and treble frequencies. The input selector is particularly useful as it allows input channels one or two to be controlled independently; alternatively all channels can be processed together. Below the processor is the mixer section, thereís four stereo input channels, three for line-audio inputs,  the fourth one is for a microphone. Levels are controlled from a bank of five sliders, and a master output fader, and shown on a winking bargraph display on the top of the front panel. It also has a variable headphone output, the socket is with all the others, on the back panel.

 

Talking of sockets, the two video inputs and outputs have both composite video and S-Video connectors, input and output formats can be mixed so, for example you could have a composite video in and S-Video out, though there will be no improvement in resolution. An S-Video signal in will suffer a reduction in resolution if the output is composite video. The instructions refer to a cross-fade facility between the two inputs, though as the 2070 has no mixing facilities this is a tad optimistic. One input can be faded out, and the other faded up, but there is a slight glitch at the changeover point due to a brief loss of synchronisation. Switching between inputs, with a fade, also results in a momentary loss of lock.

 

Finally we come to the editing facilities. Itís fairly obvious Video Tech are putting a toe in the water with the 2070. The edit control facilities are quite basic, it will control the copying of a single scene from a camcorder to a VCR -- itís a sophisticated syncro-edit system --  but the fact that it can control equipment via proprietary edit interfaces such as Control L and Panasonic 5-pin, as well as programmed and learning infra-red, means theyíre only a small step away from a full-blown controller with multi-scene memory; later this year maybe? IR control codes are selected from a library of commands stored in the 2070ís memory, machines not covered can still be controlled using a learning IR system, a receptor window in built into the top panel.

 

Editing with the 2070 is a bit long winded, though itís reasonably simple to use, once the unit has been programmed with the control protocols for the source and record decks, and the appropriate connections made. The first step is to find the edit in point on the source tape, the machine is then put into play-pause mode. Next the destination deck is put into record-pause, and the appropriate wipe or fade effect selected. Pressing the start button on the 2070 sets off a sequence of events; first it releases pause on the source deck, then it triggers the fader or wipe generator and after another preset delay, releases pause on the record deck. At the end of the scene press the stop button and the picture fades or wipes back to the chosen background colour, and after another short delay the record deck goes back into pause. All of the timings can be altered, to take into account different characteristics of the record and replay decks; the instructions go into some detail to help improve consistency. Accuracy isnít an issue, it has no memory and cuts have to be made manually, so no, itís not an edit controller in the accepted sense but with practice itís possible to get some very good results.

 

Weíre almost there, just a few more points to cover, including the external control trigger, so the fade and wipe effects can be controlled by another piece of equipment. Video Tech call it XCON but the protocols look a lot like the industry standard  GPI (general purpose interface), used on a number of automated edit controllers. The same socket also has an optional serial interface, details are very sketchy and the instructions advise users to contact the manufacturer for more information. Finally a word or two about cables. Normally with these things youíre obliged to buy extra leads, not with the 2070. It comes supplied with two triple phono cables, a SCART adaptor, two S-Video leads, four control leads (including LANC and Panasonic 5-pin) and two infra-red wands. But what about the price? Itís good value when you think about it, try putting together a similarly specified modular system for less than £500! Admittedly the edit control side is a tad lightweight but the rest of it works very well indeed. It has just about everything you need to produce slick-looking video movies. Itís easy to use, even the instructions are written in English. Recommended!

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model        Video Tech VEC2070

Guide Price         £400

Features              60 wipe/mask patterns, 32 background colours, 2 video inputs, video processor (brightness, contrast, saturation detail enhancement), split-line display, 4-channel stereo audio mixer, audio processor (bass, mid-range, treble), LED bargraph level display, AV fader, single-scene edit controller, external trigger control, variable headphone output

Sockets                AV inputs/outputs (phono and S-Video) headphone & microphone (jack), VCR/camcorder control (minijack), external control (mini DIN) DC input               

Dimensions         415 x 270 x 75mm

Weight                3.5kg

Distributor         VIDEOTECH DESIGNS, Unit 2 Kilnbridge Works, Lower Road, East Farleigh, Maidstone, Kent ME15 OHP. Telephone (0622) 729872 

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   9

Box of delights...

 

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R.Maybury 1994 1512

 


 

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