VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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VIRTUALLY READY

Looking back through the archives itís amazing how many times 3-D television has been re-invented. On average new systems appear about twice a year, but how many went into production? The simple answer is none, not yet anyway, and the reason is equally simple, there is little or no suitable software, unless you count a handful of cheesy sci-fi B-movies made in the 1950ís and 60ís, but the situation is changing. Computer and video game programmers are becoming quite good at creating 3-D software, spurred on by the growing interest in virtual reality, where the player is immersed in a three dimensional world of computer graphics.

 

The illusion of 3-D and virtual reality depends on re-creating the stereoscopic images we see through our own eyes, to give a sensation of depth and solidity to the images they display. It can be done using specially designed viewing screens, but to date all of the systems weíve seen have considerable limitations, that include the wearing of glasses or having to keep their head still, and the effect can usually only be seen by a handful of people at once. Virtual reality systems get around this problem with individual headsets, fitted with a pair of LCD screens, displaying a different image for each eye. So far theyíve been large, expensive, often uncomfortable and usually heavy. i-Glasses from Virtual Vision addresses most of those concerns: itís light, weighing only 240 grams in its basic configuration, itís small and reasonably comfortable to wear for prolonged periods, and itís relatively cheap, compared with other headsets, though be warned that Ďcheapí in this case means around £600, and thatís for the basic outfit, weíll come to the £300 upgrade in a moment...

 

However, itís the basic outfit that interests us the most, as itís the one that can be used with an ordinary camcorder and VCR. The outfit comes with a SCART AV lead, mains power supply, black eye shield for Ďimmersiveí viewing, a cleaning cloth and a demo tape The headset looks a bit like one of those magnifying viewers jewellers and those doing fine intricate work sometimes wear. Itís in the form of a large pair of spectacles, with an adjustable head band at the back, on the sides there are a pair of stereo headphones. Up front, at the business-end, thereís two 180k pixel colour LCD screens, each measuring 0.7-inches across. Theyíre mounted horizontally, above the wearers eyes, the images are turned through 90 degrees by a pair of prisms with half-silvered, semi-transparent faces, that allow the viewer to see ahead of them. The effect is to project what appears to be a screen, approximately 2-metres across, some distance in front of the viewer. Incidentally, spectacle wearers can use i-Glasses, thereís enough room between the wearerís eyes and the viewing prisms.

 

The headset connects to a small AV interface box, that also powers the headset. There are three display settings, normal 2-D -- i.e. the same image goes to each eye -- and two 3-D settings, that conform to different types of software. Now hereís the clever bit, you donít need special 3D software to get a three-dimensional effect. Ordinary 2-D material, including home video-movies, appears to have added depth when viewed through i-Glasses.

 

With regular material the LCD screens produce a surprisingly crisp image, obviously the resolution is not up to the standard of a CRT screen, but it is good, with bright, well defined colours; watch the specially prepared demo tape and be prepared to be amazed! It features a succession of clips with just about every 3-D trick in the book, from computer graphics, to live action footage, with things being shoved in your face all the time, to the accompaniment of a pounding techno soundtrack. Itís impressive, but £600 for a gadget that depends so heavily on such a limited supply of pre-recorded software? Well maybe not, unless youíre a real games freak.

 

But what about that £300 upgrade?  Surprisingly that makes a bit more sense as it allows i-Glasses to be used with a personal computer -- versions are available for IBM PC and compatibles, Macs and Amigas --  there are already ten 3-D capable PC games available, with more to follow, you could even write your own, if youíre that way inclined. The upgrade package contains several items, including a VGA to PAL converter module that fits between the PC and monitor, and a clever widget called a head tracker. This clips on to the back of the i-Glasses, in place of the adjustable head band. Inside thereís a small liquid-filled capsule that detects and responds to movement of the wearerís head; these it translates into joystick or mouse commands, that can be used to control movement or actions within specially written games.

 

Image quality is good, though itís really only suitable for graphics, the resolution on the LCD screens is not sharp enough to read small text, menu commends etc., so itís necessary to keep the PCís monitor connected, for executing text-based commands, and so on.

 

Head Tracker is very sensitive, the software that comes with the head tracker gives precise adjustment over the pitch, yaw and roll signals the Head Tracker generates, so itís possible to filter out small or involuntary movement. The upgrade also includes several demo games, that show whatís possible, and once again theyíre all very impressive but in the end i-Glasses and Head Tracker will depend on an as yet unknown supply of software. It works well with video material, and it scores well as a personal viewing system, it might even catch on as a way of watching movies in bed, without disturbing others. It deserves to be succeed, but weíd want to have a somewhat wider choice of 3-D material to use with it, before spending our £900!

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model                  Virtual i-Glasses           

Guide Price                   £600, £900 with Head Tracker

Features                       twin 180k pixel, 0.7-inch LCD panels, adjustable headband with stereo headphones; head Tracker with VGA computer interface  

Sockets                        AV input (phono), serial com port

Weight              240g (380g with Tracker module)                        

Distributor                     Amiga Technologies, No 6 Bridge Avenue, Maidenhead, Berks, (01628) 770041

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

Great idea, but somewhat reliant on special software

 

 

TITLE HOLDER

Whilst PC based editing systems are a comparatively recent innovation, computers and video movie-making go back a long way, to the days before camcorders in fact. The first generation of home computers, like those from Atari, Commodore, Dragon, Oric and Sincliar had PAL format RF outputs so they could be used with domestic TVs and VCRs. Simple title generator programs quickly emerged, the first ones were fairly crude, with blocky graphics and a very limited choice of colours and typefaces but that can actually be an advantage. It was possible to create some very professional looking results on those early machines, with minimal effort and cost.

 

Todayís computers are several thousand times faster and more powerful, so you would have thought video titling would have become a lot simpler. Wrong. The most popular computer system, the IBM PC (and compatibles) have great difficulty communicating with domestic video equipment, so whilst itís possible to create stunning graphics and dazelling effects, you need some fairly expensive peripherals or plug-in cards in order to get the titles from the computer on to video.

 

It just so happens that the necessary components are included in Vivancoís Movie Box system, which now includes itís own PC title generator program, called Movie Titler.

 

The software will run on almost any PC with  video output or mixing facilities, though some functions are optimised to work with Vivancoís Movie Box system. Nevertheless it has more than enough scope and flexibility to be considered as a stand-alone product. It has been designed to work on a wide range of systems, from a basic 386 with 4 megabytes of RAM and 4 megs of free hard disc space, up to the latest Pentium machines. The program loads easily from Windows Program Manager, along with the related help files and Movie Titler Runtime, that allows the titler to work with PC based productions.

 

The opening screen contains three windows, for composing text,  previewing the title, and creating the script. Along the top thereís a menu and toolbar, with icons for all of the most frequently used options. They include font, effect and action, that open up further sub-menus. Movie Titler is a Windowís based program so it can use all of the computerís installed fonts, along with a choice of bold, or italic faces, plus half a dozen shadow effects and colours. The effects menu contains a couple of dozen scroll, wipe, zoom and curtain transitions, with variable speed and position options. The action menu is used to set jumps and loops, to specified pages or sequences.

 

To make a start simply type in the text of the first page, it appears in the text and preview windows simultaneously. Click on the font and effect windows to make the necessarly changes then click on run and the display changes to show the title sequence. The graphics are very smooth, some movements have a slight jitter but it is very fast, and incredibly simple to use, moreover itís possible to put together amazingly complex routines with a few mouse-clicks. That, if anything, is its Achillieís heel, itís a little too easy to make elaborate titles and thereís a tremendous temptation to go way over the top.

 

We have a couple of niggles.  We hope our sample was an early version as there was still quite a few bits and pieces of German hanging around some of the menus, and the translation and spelling left a lot to be desired in places. The program also crashed a couple of times when we did intentionally daft things, like trying to place text outside of the screen area. Bugs like that should have been sorted out by now.

 

A touch pricey but itís capable of stunning results and although there are more sophisticated title programs around, this one is definitely one of the easiest and most capable systems weíve seen in a very long time.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/model                  Vivanco PC Video Titler

Guide Price                   £100

Features                       ĎWindowsí title software, multiple font, effect, colour and background, multiple trasnition effects, variable transition speed, compatible with Movie Box system

System                         IBM PC or compatible with 386 processor or above, Windows 3.1 or above, 4MB RAM, 4 MB free hard disc space, VGA graphics

Media                           one 3.5 inch diskette                 

Distributor                     VIVANCO, Unit C, ATA House, Boundary  Way, Hemel Hempstead HP2 7SS. Telephone (01442) 231616

 

VIDEO CAMERA RATING   8

Slick eye-catching titles with minimal effort

 

 

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R.Maybury 1995 2012

 


 

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