VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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MONTAGE MEMORIES

 

INTRO

Montage 350 is one of a number of well-specified edit controllers now selling for less than £200. Rick Maybury checks out this interesting looking newcomer from Bandridge

 

COPY

If you’re a regular reader and you’re getting a strange feeling of Deja-vu then may we put your mind at rest. You have seen this edit controller -- or at least something very much like it -- at least once before. The Bandridge Montage 350 and its very close relatives are manufactured by a rather prolific Far Eastern company called Datavideo. They’ve also been responsible for quite a few other post-production products over the years. We’ve got no problem with that, the more the merrier as far as we’re concerned. This particular device has a very good track record and is well worth a second look. It has also done much to revitalise the budget end of the edit controller market, which has been overshadowed of late by fancy top-end systems, and the inevitable growth in PC-based editing systems.

 

First the basics, starting with the price. The Montage 350 has a recommended selling price of £180, which is competitive with rival products like Thumb’s Up, and in the same ball-park as other Datavideo clones. The edit memory can store up to 190 scenes: that’s more than enough for even the most ambitious home video movie-maker. It will control camcorders fitted with Control L/LANC or Panasonic 5-pin/RMC edit terminals, and pretty well any VCR with an infra-red remote control system, giving it the widest possible appeal amongst owners of suitably-equipped camcorders.

 

Traditionally budget edit controllers have had few features, they were mostly designed for licking holiday footage into shape, and as such lacked any real flexibility. That’s certainly not the case with the Montage 350; the on-screen display system creates a fully-fledged edit decision list (EDL) where scene order, edit in and out points and transition (fade) can all be changed.  There’s a variable enhancer effect, for sharpening edges or masking the worst effects of excessive picture noise, plus a battery-powered memory back-up, which retains the EDL when the power is switched off. In fact the only omission of consequence is the facility to read timecodes, though it will display RCTC information, it uses linear time data to carry out the actual edits. In terms of accuracy that means it’s not going to set any new records, but it’s no slouch either and compares very well indeed with the best non-timecode controllers.

 

The design and layout have both been very well thought out. On the left side of the top panel are two large ‘In’ and ‘out’ buttons, for marking the beginning and end of each scene. Along the bottom there are the two sets of tape transport keys, for the source and record decks; above that are two rows of function buttons, and on the right side is a slider control for the enhancer. The on-screen display operates in the background most of the time, but holding down the ‘program’ button brings up the set-up menu, or the EDL. Moving around within the EDL is simply a question or pressing one of four cursor keys, and using the in and out buttons to alter individual settings.

 

All of the input and output sockets are on the back panel; video is handled by two phonos and a pair of S-Video sockets. Miniature and sub-miniature jack sockets are for the IR control wand and edit control lead to the camcorder, and a DC socket carries power from the plug-in mains power supply. A small compartment on the back panel hold two AA sized pen cells, for the memory back-up.

 

The initial set-up takes about five minutes, most of that time is spent teaching the 350’s IR control system how to operate the record VCR via an IR receptor, built into the top of the console. The on-screen display prompts the user to teach each function in turn, once they’re learnt the display shows ‘OK’. The use of a learning IR system, as opposed to controllers which have libraries of commands, means that it’s more likely to work with older or more obscure makes of VCR. Nevertheless there are bound to be a few awkward machines about, so as usual our advice is to check first, especially if you’re planning to use it with something out of the ordinary.

 

The next step is to set the playback machine protocols, the instructions warn of various incompatibilities with older camcorders or decks. The installation menus contain timing adjustments, to compensate for differences in the characteristics of the two decks, another five minutes spent fiddling with these pays tremendous dividends with the accuracy of the finished production.

 

IN USE

Routine operation couldn’t be much simpler.  Set the source deck to play, and alternately press the in and out buttons to memorise each scene. No other action is required, the scene counter increments automatically, and this shown by the on-screen display. When all the scenes have been compiled call up the EDL and select scene transitions. There’s three options: straight cut, black fade and white fade. These may be combined so, for example, a scene could begin with a white fade and end with a straight cut. More drastic changes, like deleting a scene is no problem, though some functions, like swapping scenes around, can be a little time consuming. There’s a preview function, so you can check timings, these can be easily altered on the EDL. Finally the sequences are committed to tape by pressing the ‘edit’ button. The controller does everything, taking complete command of both decks, the only thing you can do at this stage is go and make a cup of tea, and let it get on with it.

 

PERFORMANCE

In spite of not being able to work with timecoded material the 350 still does a splendid job. We ran it through our usual set of test routines, one of which involves compiling an edit list of ten scenes, over a half-hour section of calibrated tape. This involves a fair amount of shuttling back and forth, in order to really put the controller to the test and expose cumulative timing errors. At the end of this quite severe ordeal the final edit out point was no more than 20 frames out.  That was the worse case, in fact we managed to get it down to less than +/- 10 frames without too much trouble, (using Sony source and record decks).  The scene transitions are okay, though some sort of variable timing control would have been useful. The enhancer? Well we left that on the minimum setting pretty well all of the time. There may well be circumstances when it may make an improvement to picture quality, we just never found any.

 

THE VERDICT

This edit controller and it’s very close relatives is rapidly becoming a firm favourite with us; the only negative thing you can say about it is that it lacks timecode facilities, but really and truly that’s no big deal. Accuracy is more than sufficient for the vast majority of editing jobs, up to and including serious large-scale productions. In any case camcorders that write timecodes are still very much in the minority.  Quite frankly, unless you’re one of the lucky few with a timecode machine, and you really need near frame-accurate precision, this little editing box is the one to go for, it’s easy to use, it works with the widest possible range of equipment, and that price is hard to beat.

 

THE RIVALS

The only real competition comes from other badged Datavideo controllers, and the venerable Videonics Thumbs Up. This currently sells for around £200 though a little bird tells us this may change soon, more details next month.

    

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                  Bandridge VA-350 Montage Edit Controller

Guide price                    £179.00

Scene memory            190

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

                                   learnt IR commands

Timecode systems            none

Edit features                  cut, fade (to/from black or white), preview, on-screen displays, modifiable edit decision list, battery back up

 

Sockets                        video in/out (phono & S-Video), edit control & IR wand (minijack), DC Power in

Power supply             12 volts DC (adapter supplied)

Dimensions                   270 x 170 x 50mm

 

PERFORMANCE

Cut accuracy                 +/-20  frames

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            9

Ease of use                 8

Performance              9 

Features                     9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1996 2003

 

 


 

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