VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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ON THE GREAT VINE

Frustrating, isnít it? Youíve got all this sophisticated video equipment, and a  powerful PC, capable of producing stunning graphics, but try getting them to work together and what happens? Zilch! PCs use an entirely different video system to your camcorder, VCR and TV, and getting them to talk the same language requires some pretty sophisticated technology. Until recently itís been far too expensive for most users, but itís gradually getting cheaper. The Vine MultiGen Pro is one of a number of products that are bringing PC-Video integration to a wider market.

 

The MultiGen Pro is the big brother of the MultiGen 2, adding high, near broadcast-quality resolution, zoom, pan and external cross-fading facilities to an already extensive feature list. Needless to say this bumps up the price, to just under £440, but as we shall see, this is really rather good value.

 

Itís an external device, so thereís no need to go messing around inside your PC. It connects between the monitor and the systems unit, with the lead from the PC going to the back of the MultiGen; the monitor plugs into a standard D-sub socket on the rear of the unit. There are five other sockets, two for composite video in put and output, two mini DINs for S-Video in/out, and a DC socket, for the plug-in mains adaptor. Thereís no software installation to worry about, though it does come with a control utility, that can be used instead of the infra-red remote handset, supplied with the MultiGen. The PC continues to function normally, though with our sample the monitor display did look a little Ďsoftí with it connected. It needs to be powered up, even if youíre not using it, as the PC monitor display looses lock when itís turned off.

 

MultiGen has three operating modes: it will convert the VGA output from the PC to PAL video; overlay PC graphics on to the video image by Ďkeyingí to a specified luminance (brightness level); and it can cross-fade between video and PC inputs. ( A more advanced version, with uprated mixing facilities is due out soon). There are a number of adjustments and variables; fade/mix time can be set from 0.5 to 4 seconds, the key level can be altered in 32 steps, and the PC image can be moved around the screen, and made larger or smaller. A filter mode switches between frame and field displays, the latter being more stable, though with reduced resolution. Thereís a freeze facility on the VGA input, and two presets built into the side of the case, for adjusting VGA image brightness and colour saturation.

 

The system operates at a resolution of 1600 x 1200, so PC image quality on the video output can be very good. PC colour saturation on our sample was a tad high, a little more control would have been useful as colours tended to look rather garish. Although it can handle both composite and S-Video formatted signals, it cannot convert between them, however video signals pass cleanly through the device, with no extra noise or significant change in colour or brightness levels.

 

How you put MultiGen to use is up to you. MultiGens have a wide variety of applications outside video movie-making. Theyíre being used in video surveillance systems, and in hospitals to overlay graphics information from heart monitors onto video displays of patients. For commercial, business and educational users thereís no end of possibilities for producing mixed-media AV presentations, itís a very versatile little gadget.

 

You can easily produce professional-looking titles and graphics with basic Windows utilities, like Write and Paintbrush, but it really comes into itís own with specialised titling software. Thereís some very good programmes on the market, including low-cost shareware. It seems a bit of a shame something wasnít included in this otherwise excellent little package, which helps bring PCs and video movie-making another big step closer together.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model                  Vine Multigen Pro

Guide Price                   £440

Features                       Genlocked overlay of PC graphics onto video, S-Video compatible, flicker reduction, zoom, variable key level, variable-speed fader 

Sockets                        VGA in (8-pin mini DIN), VGA out (15-way D-Sub), composite video in/out (phono), S-Video in/out (min DIN), DC socket

Dimensions                   155 x 100 x 30mm

Distributor                     Vine Micros Ltd., (01843) 225714

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   9

Put that PC to good use!

 

DATA, MAKE IT SO...

Datavideo is a name you may not be familiar with, but theyíve actually been around for quite a while, working undercover, in a manner of speaking. In the video accessory industry theyíre well-known as a major OEM company (original equipment manufacturer), responsible for a good proportion of the editing and post production devices currently on sale, though their products are generally Ďbadgedí  with other companyís logos.

 

Theyíre using their own name on the SE-300 Digital Video Illustrator, now being distributed in the UK by Bandridge Ltd and selling for just under £500. Itís quite a difficult product to pigeon-hole; broadly speaking itís a title generator, but that hardly does it justice and itís quite unlike anything weíve seen before.

 

In addition to creating text-based titles, it features a Ďpaint-boxí, with free-hand and clip-art graphics facilities. Thereís a frame-grabber for creating Ďdigitisedí images, that can be mixed with text; up to 64 pages can be strung together for simple animation effects, and images can be luma-keyed, superimposed or mixed with live video, using the built-in genlock. Itís compatible with both composite and S-Video inputs, effects can be triggered using its GPI interface, extra fonts and clip art can be downloaded using specialist memory cartridges, which can also be used to store newly-created images.

 

The SE-300 is built into a compact keyboard unit, with a single T-bar mix/fade control. The plug-in cartridges live under a hinged flap on the top edge of the console; all of the input and output sockets are on the back. They include audio inputs and output, though the SE-300 has no audio facilities, and they pass straight through. The only external component, apart from the plug-in mains adaptor, is a 2-button mouse. The mouse is used for making selections from the one-screen menus and displays, and as a freehand drawing tool, in a way familiar to PC users.

 

Basic title facilities include a choice of 3 variable-size fonts, with a palette of 256 colours for character, background, border and outline. Titles can be scrolled, wiped and faded at different speeds, and mixed or superimposed with graphics and video. The same colour palette is available in the paint-box mode, along with a number of drawing tools and clip-art. The frame grabber is a bit like the title-superimposes that many camcorders used to have, enabling digitised images to be stored, and added to text and graphics.

 

Up to this point everything sounds fairly straightforward, but it all goes horribly wrong, as soon as you open the instruction book. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time, but we suspect that presenting it as a long tutorial, will be an instant turn-off for many users. Itís also no help whatsoever, if you want to quickly refer to a particular function. It desperately needs a chapter or two covering basic operations, or some sort of quick start guide.

 

If you persevere thereís plenty to discover, not least the quality of the graphics. Definition is very good, edges are very sharp, colours are clean and the wide choice of colours and effects means itís possible to produce some really eye-catching designs, comparable with some of the better PC-based title packages. The paint box is great fun; you can easily produce all kinds of wacky-looking doodles, and more, if youíve got any drawing skills, though changing settings and waiting for screen updates can be a little tedious.

 

The animation facility is also rather long winded, and itís not helped by the instructions, but again, itís worth the effort, especially if youíre patient, and good at drawing. Having spent so much time creating a long animation sequence, thereís no easy way of preserving it -- other than recording it on tape.  The memory is wiped clean when a data cart is inserted, or the power is switched off. Moreover they have only limited capacity and depending on the complexity of the animation, cannot store more than a few frames.

 

The SE-300 is badly let down by the instruction book, we understand that Bandridge are working on a new one; it canít come too soon! The data cartridge system seems like a good idea, but itís a proprietary format, that depends on the availability of blank cartridges, at a sensible price. Weíre still trying to find out what they will cost; we can only say that just before we went to press Bandridge assured us they will be available shortly. The SE-300 has a lot of potential, and the quality of the graphics are excellent. If youíre looking for an alternative to a PC based system, this could be well worth a look.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model                  Datavideo Digital Video Illustrator, SE-300

Guide Price                   £600

Features                       Titler with 156 characters, 3 variable-sized fonts (three available using plug-in cartridges), 256 colours (background and effects), unlimited backdrop patterns, effects (outlines, borders, 3D, scroll, line-shift, wipe & fade etc.); paint-box freehand and preset graphics, 256 colours, effects (wipe, fade & scroll, colour fill, graduations, clip-art); frame-grabber, animator (up to 64 frames), luma-keying; GPI trigger, S-Video compatibility; mouse control

Sockets                        AV in/out (phono), S-Video in/out (mini DIN), mouse (mini DIN), DC power

Dimensions                   380 x 252 x 80mm     

Weight              2.0kg

Distributor                     Bandridge Ltd., telephone  0181-543 3633

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

Hard work, but worth the effort

 

BITS AND PCs

Wouldnít it be great if you could use a PC to edit your video movies, add titles and create animation clips? You can of course, thereís nothing new in the idea, the only trouble is, until now itís all been horrendously expensive. VideoEditor brings the cost of desktop video down with a bump. To get the most from it youíll need a reasonably competent multimedia PC (it will run on a fast 386 but a 486 or above is better) preferably with a CD ROM drive, and a spare £469. It sounds a lot but compared with the cost of many previous desktop systems, thatís peanuts!

 

So how have they managed to do it? Without wishing to be unkind, VideoEditor is a bit of a mongrel. Editing, titling and animation is taken care of by Gold Diskís Video Director Suite. This collection of programs includes the excellent Video Director 2.5 PC edit controller software, a title composer, animation package, and sound editor. Camcorder and VCR control is handled by a ĎSmart Cable connected to the PC; it can only control camcorders with LANC/Control L editing terminals, but you can use almost any VCR for the record deck, as along as it has infra-red remote control.

 

We reviewed Video Director Suite last December. We thought it was very good but the main criticism centred on the fact that unless the PC had some form of video input and output capability, the title and animation programs were useless. Someone must have been listening!

 

That someone was Mi-Tech Peripherals, who have bundled Video Director Suite in with an AVer VideoEditor genlock/video capture device. Itís housed inside a small box, not much larger than a VHS video cassette. Thereís two connections to the PC, one to a spare serial port, the other is for the computerís VGA output; the monitor lead plugs into the back of the unit. Video inputs (only one can be used at a time) and the serial connection for the Video Director Smart Cable are carried by a set of flying leads, that also plug into the back of the VideoEditor box. All those plugs and sockets means the back panel is pretty crowded, which may explain why the power lead is on the front. Itís a daft place to have it as itís easily knocked out; ironically there is room on the back panel, an unused socket mysteriously labelled  ĎFor Future Useí could have been put somewhere else. 

 

Software installation follows the usual Windows routines. Ideally everything would have been on the CD ROM, however, the video capture and editing software are on floppy discs, so it takes a few minutes to load everything up. The instructions are rather disjointed too, a single book covering all of the applications would definitely be a good idea.

 

VideoEditor basically has three operating modes. In normal use it converts the PC  monitor display to a composite or S-Video output, that can be recorded, or shown on TV. If a video input is present it superimposes the PC display on to the video output, though thereís no way of controlling it. When Video Director is running it takes control of VideoEditor, the source and record decks, plus the title and animation software. Weíve covered the editing part before, suffice it to say this is a fully featured controller, able to read RC-timecode and with fully editable clip. Editing is now made a lot easier with the facility to capture picture icons or Ďpiconsí from the source video, to identify each clip. Thatís in addition to a large library of picons, included with the software. The video input is displayed on the desktop, in a small window. It is also possible to monitor the VCR output on the PC monitor, in a larger window. 

 

The animation package is great fun, and very easy to use. There are scores ready to use animations or Ďactorsí on the CD ROM, or -- of youíve got plenty of patience -- you could create your own. Adding sound is no problem either, though it has to be said that combining all these elements, to create a polished video movie, can be very time-consuming, but who said it was meant to be easy?

 

What goes in comes out, as far as processed video is concerned. Thereís no noticeable reduction in picture quality as it passes through the box, so no problems there. PC video is okay, the system doesnít support the highest resolution modes, and there is some flicker on the video output, but itís not intrusive on simple graphical images. The lack of control over the genlock is a bit of a shame, it would be useful to be able to mix, fade or key the graphics, as it stands the video overlay (titles graphics etc.) are either there, or theyíre not. However, the main selling point has to be the integration of the various components. Video Director Suite sells on its own for £100, so youíre paying a very for price for a genlock and TV to PC converter plus the luxury of having everything you need to make slick-looking video movies together in one box.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model                  AVer Media Video Editor

Guide Price                   £469

Features                       PC to TV conversion, video and audio editing, titling and animation 

Sockets                        Composite & S-Video in/out (phono & min DIN), LANC (minijack), PC in/out (9 & 15 D-sub)

Dimensions                   115 x 210 x 25mm

Distributor                     Mi-Tech Peripherals, 0181-830 1777

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   9

A couple of features short of a system, but weíre getting there

 

SLING THING

Of all the many weird and wonderful devices weíve seen for supporting camcorders -- and weíve seen plenty -- this has to be the weirdest. CamSling is basically a length of alloy tubing, some padded foam, a couple of clamps, a simple camera mount a nylon bum bag and a lump of metal. The tube is formed in to a sort of J-shape. It sits on the users shoulders; at the front thereís an adjustable mounting arm and handgrip, on the back, behind the userís shoulders hangs the bag. This holds the counterweight, or extra batteries.

 

Itís set-up to be front heavy, so the support and camcorder hangs down, when not in use. It can be easily swung up to the shooting position, with most of the weight transferred to the userís shoulders. Itís as stable as you are, which for most healthy people should be pretty good. Itís obviously not as steady as a tripod, but it is mobile; with care the results compare favourably with products like Steadycam Junior. It makes carrying a camcorder and extra batteries a lot easier, and the load is more evenly distributed, though it will still make its presence felt after an hour or two.

 

So far it all sounds fairly reasonable, but we have a few doubts. You need some nerve to wear it in public. You also need a fairly thick skin, it attracts a lot of witty comments and wisecracks. Itís quite a lump to cart about, not the sort of thing you could pack easily in your holiday luggage. The sliding camera mount adaptor or bracket can get in the way of the handgrip on a lot of compact camcorders; itís uncomfortable and pokes into the users hand. The detachable camera mount is devilishly tight, and a swine to remove or put back, and lastly thereís the price. Ninety five quid for a bit of ally tube and foam padding, come on!

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model                  CamSling

Guide Price                   £95

Features                       adjustable camcorder mount, counterbalance bag, for weight or battery, Allen-key adjusting tool supplied

Distributor                     CamSling Company Ltd. (01737) 370950

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   5

Good idea, bad price...

 

 

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R.Maybury 1996 2309

 


 

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