VIDEO CAMERA 1995

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REVIEW

 

HEAD

PILOT STUDY

 

INTRO

Back in 1991 Videopilot was the very first domestic PC-based editing system to reach the UK; it’s still going strong, though the latest version is a very different animal

 

COPY

Videopilot is one of those editing systems that seems to have been around forever. The first time we looked at one was in early ‘91. Back then Videopilot V310 was a dull-looking black box who’s main job was to act as an interface between a PC and video decks. Since then there have been a number of revisions and a complete redesign, culminating in this latest version which now works with Windows-compatible operating software. The distinctive V330 console first appeared in 1992, it shifted the main VCR transport control functions away from the computer to a set of keys and a jog dial on the top of the unit. This made the system look and feel far more user-friendly, and left the computer to do what it does best, namely manage the system, read timecodes and compile the edit decision list.

 

Videopilot has changed out of all recognition, it had to, to keep up with the changes that have been occurring in the computer market. The V310 ran on a IBM PC AT/XT, or a Commodore Amiga, and required a minimum of 512k of memory; those were the days... V330 is considerably more demanding. There are now three software options, two for PCs running DOS or Windows, and one for the Amiga, (the console is the same for all three). The PC Windows version we’re looking at here will only run on systems with 386, 486 or Pentium processors; 386 systems need a minimum of 6Mb of RAM, 486s can get away with 4Mb in extended mode; a megabytes or two of  spare hard disc space is also needed, though the operating software only takes up 800k bytes. The price is about the only thing that hasn’t changed, on paper at least. Back in 1990 Videopilot cost almost £1000, it has fluctuated since then but the V330 is now selling around the £1000 mark, though you’ll have to figure out what a thousand pounds of 1990 money would be worth today...

 

Surprisingly in view of re-design the system’s basic operating capabilities remain broadly the same; the V330, like the V310 can control up to three source machines and one record deck. It supports four of the most widely used control systems; the source machines are hard-wired to the console using LANC/Control L or Panasonic 5-pin edit terminals, the destination deck can also be controlled using LANC or 5-pin, or if it hasn’t got an edit terminal, via an infra-red link; JVC machines with a remote pause socket can also be used.

 

The original V310 could read VITC and linear time-codes (LTC), the 330 can also read RC timecodes written by some a couple of Sony camcorders, and the Canon EX2 Hi. Videopilot is fully compatible with Hi8 and S-VHS-C equipment, indeed the back-panel socketry is biased towards high-band operation with composite video inputs and outputs consigned to SCART connectors, whilst S-Video signals are handled by separate Y/C sockets. The PC interface is via a DB9 socket on the back panel which connects to one of the computer’s serial communication ports.

 

Videopilot doesn’t have any on-board video processing or mixing facilities of its own, though it can be used in conjunction with external post-production systems, or VCR effects  (slomo, fast motion etc.), if they’re supported by the source decks.

 

Installation is very straightforward. The software is loaded from within Windows where it generates its own program group and icon. Configuration takes a little while, and it’s worth taking some time over this as it will has a big influence on the system’s accuracy. The software automatically recognises which serial port is being used, but it does need to be told which make and type of VCRs are being used, and what timecodes, if any it can expect to receive. The source decks are chosen from a list of models, it also needs to know the tape format, type of AV cable, remote control system and timecode or tape counter system. The next job is to adjust the start and end inertia values, which define the characteristics of the VCRs, and ultimately the accuracy of the edits points. This is done largely by trial and error, though it is made easier by the use of time-coded tapes; the manufacturers claim that it is possible to get to within +/- 1-frame with the right equipment, and as we discovered, a lot of patience. A similar set-up routine has to be followed for the destination VCR, as well as any post-production accessories which may be connected to Videopilot. A pull-down menu includes the Panasonic AVE5 and AVE7 production mixers, doubtless other will follow.

 

Much space in the instruction book is devoted to linear time-code operation. LTC is a sort of poor man’s VITC but it has the advantage that it can be added retrospectively -- by Videopilot -- to existing recordings, without necessarily affecting picture quality. Unlike the other coding systems, though, it cannot be read whilst the tape is stationery. There are a few more ifs and buts. LTC code is written on one of the tape’s soundtracks (mono linear soundtrack in the case of VHS equipment) or the digital PCM tracks on a couple of top-end Hi8 camcorders and VCRs. LTC operation is quite demanding on the type of equipment that can be used and needless to say, the original mono soundtrack on the master tape will be lost, though the stereo hi-fi tracks on VHS equipment can be recovered

 

IN USE

Operation is refreshingly simple. From the main screen select ‘mark’ from the edit menu, or press the F4 key on the keyboard. The display changes to ‘shot mark’ mode with an edit decision list (EDL). Select the source machine (A, B or C) from the edit console, then, using the transport controls and jog dial locate the beginning of the first scene, mark the point using the large ‘enter’ button; repeat the procedure to mark the edit out point. The EDL displays line number, scene number, effect, deck and tape ID, edit in and out points, scene duration and space for a 30-character description of each scene. Once all of the scenes have been identified the PC synergy comes into its own as virtually every item on the EDL can be modified, including edit in and out points, scene order, scene cut, copy or move. When the changes have been made the edit can be saved to disc, and/or printed out.

 

The final edit can be previewed, or you can go straight to tape by selecting Assemble from the edit menu. From that point on the system takes over, controlling both the source machines and the record deck, and the only thing to do is to let it get on with it and have a cup of tea.

 

PERFORMANCE

Once the Videopilot is up and running it is very easy to use, but putting a full system together is not the sort of thing you’d want to do very often. We’re prepared to believe accuracy of +/- 1 frame is just about possible under some circumstances though in practice we were never able to do better than +/- 5 frames, using timecoded recordings on high-end domestic equipment, using what we assume to be an ideal blend of Sony and Panasonic equipment. Nevertheless the results were most impressive, rarely bettered this side of a professional editing suite. However, accuracy and consistence are only part of the story, flexibility is just as important and in this respect Videopilot excels, giving the user the kind of access to the EDL that is rarely seen on domestic editing equipment.

 

VERDICT

Videopilot is one of just a small handful of systems that can control up to three source machines, so it is particularly well suited to semi-pro and small studio applications. It’s a highly practical integration of computer and video hardware, the designers haven’t made the mistake of trying to make the computer do too much. Videopilot V330, like its predecessors is a serious piece of kit, best suited to a dedicated or semi-permanent installation. About the only negative thing we can say about it is the price, sadly at just under £1000 (plus the cost of a PC) puts it out of reach of all but the most ambitious home video movie-makers.

 

PS...

We were hoping to feature a test report on the Maze Video Workshop this month but we’ve experienced a couple of glitches with review systems; we’re hopeful they will all be sorted out in time for the next issue.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                 Videopilot V330 for Windows

Guide price                  £998.75 (inc. VAT)

System requirement  IBM PC or compatible, 386 or higher with 6Mb RAM (4Mb on 486

System control         3 x source decks, one record deck

Control Systems            Source deck: LANC/Control L, Panasonic 5-pin. 

                                   Record deck: LANC/Control L, Panasonic 5-pin, Learning infra red

Timecode systems            VITC, RCTC, LTC

Power supply             240VAC 50Hz

Dimensions                  308 x 235 x 80mm

 

PERFORMANCE

Cut accuracy                +/- 5 frames (timecode); +/- 12 frames (uncoded)

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money 7

Ease of use                  9

Performance               9

Features                     8

 

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R Maybury 1994 2911

 

 


 

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