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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Make/Model Hama Video Centre 230
Guide price £900
Scene memory 200
Control Systems Source deck: LANC/Control L, Panasonic 5-pin, programmed
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 supply 12
volts DC (adapter supplied)
Dimensions 382 x 260 x 60 mm
Cut accuracy +/-2 frames (RC-timecode), +/- 10
Value for money 9
Ease of use 9
R Maybury 1996 1906