VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

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INTRO

PC editing packages can appear intimidating, but here’s one designed specifically for non-expert users, based on the highly successful Video Director from Gold Disk

 

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Gold Disk’s Video Director was one of the earliest computer-based video editing packages, the Amiga version appeared back in 1992, with software written for IBM PCs and compatibles following a year later. Since then it has gone through several revisions, including the newly-released Video Director Suite, (review next month), but the package we’re looking at here -- Video Director Home -- represents the most radical departure from what has turned out to be a highly successful format.  

 

Video Director Home is the cheapest package so far, costing just under £50, yet it retains many of the features of the original program, which sold for £180! However Video Director was, and still is pretty much an enthusiasts product, aimed at experienced camcorder users and those who know their way around computers; Home is targeted at a much wider audience, and opens up computer editing to those with camcorders not fitted with editing terminals (though it will still need to have an infra-red control facility).

 

The main changes are:

* friendlier, easier to user interface

* ‘getting started’ tutorial

* automatic configuration

* IR control for source and record decks

* tape label printer

 

The way it works is largely unchanged though. The computer controls the source deck (camcorder) and record deck (VCR) with a ‘smart cable’. This connects to the PC’s serial port, the cable has both 9 and 25-pin D-Connectors, so it will fit the vast majority of machines without any trouble. At the other end of the cable there’s a small box containing infra-red emitter and receiver diodes, and a further length of cable that terminates in a 2.5mm minijack plug, this connects to the camcorder’s Control L/LANC socket,  on those that have them.

 

There’s still no interface for machines fitted with Panasonic 5-pin edit terminals, Gold Disk tell us they’re working on it, but they’ve been saying that for the past couple of years, so don’t hold your breath...

 

Almost any reasonably recent PC can be used; system requirements call for a 386 or faster processor, with at least 2MB of RAM (preferably 4MB) and Windows 3.1 or higher; the software occupies just under 4.5MB of hard disc space.

 

Installation is largely automatic, the software comes on two 1.4MB floppies, and once the name of the root directory has been confirmed loading takes place, after which it automatically seeks out the relevant Com port and tests the LANC driver.

The only manual tasks are to select the infra-red drivers for the VCR (and non LANC camcorder)  from the library, or create new ones, using the system’s learning IR facilities. Once installation is complete the software creates a program group and icons.

 

Home is launched like any other Windows application, by double-clicking on the icon, this produces an intro screen followed by the main desktop, but it’s quite unlike any normal Windows desktop. In fact it’s much more like the sort of thing you see on an interactive CD ROM. Instead of the familiar menu bar and dialogue boxes there a cartoon-like graphics, with a picture of a camcorder at the top,  two blank notepads at the bottom, and a strip of graphics at the side. There’s a book, for ‘help’, a toolbox for configuration commands, a printer, and a trash can. Moving the mouse pointer to any button brings up a Help ‘balloon’, this can be disabled once you get to know the system.

 

The camcorder is shown side-on, with its counter display and transport controls clearly represented. Pointing and clicking the mouse on the ‘make tape’ label on the script notebook makes a VCR graphic slide in from the left side of the screen. The other surprise is sound, almost all commands involve some kind of wacky sound effect, that we’re relieved to say can be switched off. By the way, you’ll only hear them if you’ve got a Soundblaster compatible sound card.

 

EDITING FOR BEGINNERS

When Home is used for the first time there’s the option to work through a short tutorial, this is well worth doing, especially for those new to video editing. It gives a good overview of the system, along with coloured hypertext links to other, relevant subjects or in-depth explanations, it all feels very relaxed and easy to follow.

 

There’s no preliminaries to worry about, and once everything is connected up you can begin editing right away. The first step is to give the tape a name, then set the camcorder to play, by clicking on the transport control button. When the beginning of the first scene appears click on the ‘start of clip’ button, and the relevant counter display is shown, at the edit out point click on ‘end of clip’, the deck goes into pause mode and a dialogue box appears. This gives the user the option to name the clip, and amend the counter settings with the keyboard up/down arrows. Normally the counter increments in seconds, but if the source machine has RC timecode facilities the counter display shows frame numbers as well.

 

Press the ‘OK’ button and the clip is entered into the Camcorder Tape notebook on the left side of the page, along with duration, time and date (if the clip hasn’t been named). Clips are sorted into a linear time sequence. After all the clips have been entered they have to be transferred to the Scripts page. This is  done by dragging and dropping each clip, from the Camcorder Tape page. At this stage clips can be placed into any desired order, or re-arranged by the same method. Once again the length and edit in/out points of each clip can be changed by double-clicking on the relevant line.

 

When the Script or event list is complete the finished tape can be recorded by clicking on the make tape button at the bottom of the page. A VCR graphic slides in from the side, click on the ‘make tape now’ button and the system begins playback and recording the designated clips.

 

So far we haven’t said much about set-ups that use IR control for both source and record machines, that’s because the method of operation is basically the same. It works by creating a ‘virtual’ camcorder, that carries out the same operations as the one in the real world. In theory it will have the same response times, so although the computer has no way of reading the camcorder’s tape counter, the one on the virtual camcorder will shadow the real one. In practice the two machines will drift apart; Home has a simple calibration facility, to prevent the drift from growing too large, this can be used on both hard-wired and IR linked set-ups.

 

The only other facility we haven’t mentioned is the label printer. This is a great idea, and it can be used to create tape labels for 8mm, VHS and VHS-C cassettes. These can be for the spine, top or case inserts. It automatically works out the shape, design and layout of labels and inserts, configures the printer and allows the user to choose fonts and typefaces from those installed on the PC.

 

PERFORMANCE

For such an inexpensive package Video Director Home does exceptionally well. Using the Control L hard-wire link to edit non-timecode material, cuts were consistently to within +/- 10 frames, using our standard edit test sequence that spans a  30-minute calibrated recording. Using time codes accuracy improved to +/- 1 frames, and it doesn’t get much better than that.

 

We tried the system with IR control for both decks, without too many expectations, but we were very pleasantly surprised. Using the same test sequence cuts were to within +/- 2 seconds (50 frames) which is actually very good. Simpler edit sequences, made over a shorter length of tape, should be even better.

 

It’s not all sweetness and light though; it’s missing one or two facilities and we experience a couple of problems. There’s no cumulative time display, for instance, that shows how long the finished tape will be, and a ‘zero counter’ facility would come in handy. The IR emitter is not that wonderful and has to be placed quite close to the VCR’s control window. It’s quite directional too and could do with some sort of stand, to stop it moving around. This may or may not have been the cause of several failed edits, where the record VCR appeared to miss a pause command halfway through, with the result that the second half of the tape consists of search and pre-roll sequences. The software crashed twice, causing mysterious General Protection faults. This happened early on, and after that it behaved itself, we put that down to the general cussedness of Windows software. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to try it with Windows 95 before publication. It should be okay but if there’s a hitch we’ll let you know.

 

VERDICT

In a word excellent! Video Director Home de-mystifies PC editing, the price is going to take some beating (though remember you do need a suitable PC), and facilities like the label printer are just wonderful. The user interface can appear a little patronising, especially to anyone used to other systems, but that’s missing the point. Home is designed for those unfamiliar with the workings of camcorders and PCs, who want to edit their recordings with a minimum fuss and bother, and don’t want to be confronted with masses of complicated looking displays. That doesn’t mean sacrificing accuracy or flexibility. It sets new benchmarks for ease of use and value for money, and performs as well, if not better than some packages costing several hundred pounds more. In fact we’ll stick our necks out and say that Video Director Home is the best PC editing package we’ve seen so far this year, possibly to date. Highly recommended!

 

THE RIVALS

As far as price is concerned nothing even comes close (apart from old discounted versions of Video Director...). The nearest is Camlink’s Edit mate, at just under £100, and very good it is too (it also has Panasonic 5-pin compatibility), but it’s nowhere near as easy to set up and use. After that there’s the more advanced enthusiast and semi-pro systems, with price tags to match.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                             Video Director Home

Guide price                              £49.95 (inc. VAT)

System requirements               IBM PC or compatible, 386SX or better, 2Mb of RAM, DOS 3.3 or higher and Windows 3.1 or higher

Video input/output              none

Camcorder/VCR Control    ‘smart cable’ Control L/LANC,   pre-programmed or learning infra red

Timecode facilities                       RCTC

Other facilities             on-line help, label printing

Distributor                                Gold Disk, Castle Hill House, Windsor SL4 1PD. Telephone (01753) 832383

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money 10

Ease of use                  10 

Performance                  9

Features                      9

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1995 2908

 


 

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