VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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TWO-THIRTY WINNER

 

INTRO

Thereís been a fair few budget edit controllers recently, but what about the serious stuff? Hama have just put that to rights with a real stonker, called the Video Centre 230

 

COPY

If you could gather together a couple of dozen video movie-makers, of varying ambition and expertise, and asked them what they wanted from an edit controller, we suspect the end result wouldnít be a million miles away from the new Hama Video Centre 230.

 

Hama have clearly done their homework, and whatís more the 230 appears to have been designed by people who actually understand the ins and outs of video movie-making. This is a formidable piece of equipment -- the £900 price ticket confirms that -- so itís a good idea to run through what it can do first, then weíll look at how well it does it.

 

The core component is the 3-machine edit controller. It has a 200 scene memory and can control two source decks and one recorder VCR via LANC/Control L, Panasonic 5-pin and JVC remote protocols, or learning/programmed infra-red commands. It can read RCTC, VITC and GSE-Rapid time codes, write VITC codes and it generates a fully accessible edit decision list (EDL) where scene information can be changed, copied, moved and deleted. The EDL is protected by a non-volatile memory and can be saved to video tape or PC.

 

Tied in with the edit controller thereís video effect and title generators. The video effects consist of fades and 30 wipe patterns that can be assigned to the edit in and out points of any scene. Thereís a choice of 8 background colours and variable duration, between 0.5 and 3.2 seconds. The title generator can be controlled from the 230 console, or by an optional external QWERTY keyboard. Up to 20 pages can be created from a set of 240 characters and symbols, available in 4 font sizes, 8 text colours, plus various effects, including flashing characters outline and key.       

 

Finally thereís a range of video processing and audio mixing facilities. The video processor works on two levels; the first enables pictures from the two source machines to be matched, and the settings saved, to avoid repeated adjustment. The options include variable RGB colour levels, brightness, saturation and contrast, with pre-sets for definition, picture level, noise reduction and colour transient improvement (edge definition, on colour changes). Secondly, thereís a similar set of picture adjustments for the output image, alterations can be monitored using a split-screen display, showing the before and after effects of any processing. The audio mixer has two stereo line-level and one microphone inputs; levels are controlled from a bank of three sliders on the left side of the console.

 

The rest of the controls are arranged into three fairly distinct areas. The edit functions are on the right of the panel, with the buttons grouped around a jog/shuttle dial; edit points are defined with a single red-coloured Ďcutí button. The six picture control knobs are located in the middle of the sloping panel. All of the input and output connections are on a horizontal shelf, at the back of the console. Theyíve used a rather odd combination of sockets: for example,  player 1 (deck A) is SCART only, player 2 (deck B) uses phono and S-Video sockets, whilst the VCR and monitor outputs both use SCARTs. Itís not a huge problem, but it does mean most users will probably end up having to buy one or more AV leads.

 

OPERATION

The first task is to configure the 230, to recognise and operate the video decks itís going to be used with. Virtually everything is controlled from a simple menu-driven on-screen display. Options are chosen using a moving cursor, controlled by the jog dial, and selected using the enter button, itís very easy to follow. The choice of edit control protocols takes only a minute or so, the VCR IR codes have to be chosen from a long and comprehensive list of makes and models, that Hama tell us will be continually updated. For VCRs not included thereís a learning IR facility, that takes just a few minutes to train.

 

The controller has an optimisation routine, that checks the operation of the decks; pre and post-roll times can also be automatically set, with the option to manually trim settings, if required. Once thatís done the only thing left to do is to start making video movies. By the way, you can ignore the Ďhelpí button, it doesnít do anything, at least it didnít work on our early pre-production sample.

 

EDITING

The edit control functions are all quite logical. Step one is to select the define scene option from the main menu and press enter. This brings up the selected VCR input on the TV/monitor screen, with superimposed data showing scene number, timecode or counter readings for the current position,  edit in and out points, tape number and deck number. Tape transport is controlled from the jog/shuttle dial, itís a little idiosyncratic in that it defaults to still frame; in order to engage play or picture search the spring-loaded outer dial has to be turned and held in position, the control mode can be locked, by pressing the enter button. Itís a little bit awkward at first, but it soon becomes second nature.

 

When the edit-in point has been reached press the red cut button to store the timecode or counter setting.  The tape can be moving, or stepped, a frame at a time or in slomo, using the jog dial (assuming the deck supports this function). On a timecoded tape it is reasonably easy to specify the cut to a single frame. Entering the edit-out point is exactly the same, and the counter automatically increments to the next scene on the stored edit decision list .

 

When all of the edit points have been entered effects, fades and titles can be added to the edit decision list. A useful demo mode shows the chosen wipe or fade in action.  All of the settings can be changed, including the edit in and out points. However, alterations have to be made on-line, in real-time, with the tape winding to the selected position, so the cut can be re-made. This can be a somewhat long-winded process, though it does eliminate any opportunity for error as you see, on screen and as it happens, the effects of any modification. The EDL can also store any changes to the picture settings. When the EDL is complete the program can be previewed, either in full, or just part of it, before itís finally committed to tape.

 

PERFORMANCE

Using our standard ten-scene test sequence the 230 managed an average cut accuracy of +/- 2 frames on time-coded recordings, and +/-10 frames on non-timecode material. Both results are very good and comparable with other semi-pro systems. The wipe effects are all a bit blocky but the transitions are reasonably smooth and if used sparingly, can look quite effective. The titler is a welcome bonus, itís possible to compose professional-looking graphics, though without the keyboard it can be rather tedious, especially if thereís a lot of them.

 

The AV processor works well too, the only slight quibble concerns the manual adjustments, which are quite coarse, with only a relatively small number of Ďstepsí between maximum and minimum settings.

 

THE VERDICT

Thereís no doubt a lot of thought has gone into the design of the 230. Itís one of the very few edit controllers weíve can recall in the past few years, that works intuitively. Once youíre past the initial set-up you hardly need to refer to the instructions at all. The video effects and AV processing functions are pretty straightforward too. Taken individually theyíre nothing special -- there are plenty of AV processors, mixers and titlers around with similar or better facilities --  but combined together into this one easy to use package they make a formidable movie-making tool.

 

Composite and S-Video signals pass cleanly through the machine, and there is some improvement in the stability of noisy recordings. The ĎTRECí image stabiliser appears to do a partial reconstruction job on lost or missing synch pulses, though it doesnít seem to go quite as far as a conventional timebase corrector. The instructions point out that the system strips out teletext, VITC data and copy protection signals. Thereís no additional noise on the soundtrack, the faders are smooth and progressive.

 

Sooner or later we had to get to the price, and yes, £900 is a lot of money but look at it this way. Half decent 3-machine time-code edit controllers with the kind of facilities this one has will set you back between £250 and £400. An AV processor costs about as much again, title generators start at around £200, so already youíre in the same ballpark as the 230, and thatís without the convenience of having them all together in one box. Viewed from that perspective the 230 actually starts to look like quite good value for money. It is, and we reckon itís well worth considering if youíre looking for some serious editing and post production equipment.

 

THE RIVALS

A few months ago, when we reviewed the Vivanco VCR5034 edit controller/video processor, we said it was in a class of itís own. Not any longer. The £500 VCR5034 is the closest thing to the 230 in terms of basic functions, but the Hama product goes much further, with 2-source machine control, the wipe-effects and the more sophisticated title generator, to name but a few.  

 

The Sony XV-AL100 shares a few features with the 230, it has RC-timecode edit control, a built-in audio mixer and a title generator, all for £600, but itís not compatible with Panasonic equipment. Thereís a simple 23-scene edit controller made by Sima, with an audio mixer and simple video effects, and it only costs £300, but once again it canít be used with Panasonic machines.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                  Hama Video Centre 230

Guide price                    £900

Scene memory            200

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

                                   programmed/learnt IR commands

Timecode systems            RCTC, VITC, GSE-Rapid

Edit features                  2-machine control, scene modify/copy/delete/move, preview, full or partial perform, title/effect insert, EDL save to VCR or PC

System features            2-channel audio mixer, video processor (brightness, contrast, saturation, RGB levels, definition, noise suppression, enhancer) split-screen preview, title generator (240 euro character set, 20 pages, 8 background and character colours, key effect & outline, scroll, typewriter & fade effects), TREC image stabilisation

 

Sockets                        video in/out (SCART, phono & S-Video), edit control & IR wand (min IN), headphone, microphone (jack), DC power in

Power supply             12 volts DC (adapter supplied)

Dimensions                   382 x 260 x 60 mm

 

PERFORMANCE

Cut accuracy                 +/-2 frames (RC-timecode), +/- 10 frame (non-timecode)

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            9

Ease of use                 9

Performance              9 

Features                     9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1996 1906

 

 


 

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