VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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INTRO

As post production technology advances thereís a need for ever more sophisticated edit control systems. Videonics have heeded the call with a new four machine controller, designed to partner the MX-1

 

COPY

The Videonics MX-1 digital vision mixer -- launched in mid 1994 -- was a major step forward in video post production, but part of itís formidable potential has never been fully realised. Videonics hope theyíve now put that right with the AB-1 Edit Suite. Itís an advanced 4-machine controller, that combined with an MX-1, becomes a complete video production system. The key feature is undoubtedly the facility to do A/B or even A/B/C/D rolls, where sequences from two source machines can be smoothly mixed or combined with a range of over 200 effects.

 

Like the MX-1 itís taken a while to actually arrive, we first mentioned it in Video Camera almost a year ago, but itís here now, so has the wait been worthwhile? The specs certainly look promising: it can operate any VCR or camcorder with a Control L/LANC, Panasonic 5-pin/RMC or RS-232/422 edit terminal, it supports the three most widely-used timecode formats, namely RCTC, VITC and LTC, it has a 250-scene-event memory and thereís a computer interface, enabling edit decision lists to be exported in industry-standard CMX format, so it can be used to control professional editing systems. The price? Well, itís not cheap; it costs £800, but to put that in context, the next cheapest 4-machine controller will cost you over three grand!

 

The controller is housed in a sloping case thatís virtually identical to the one used for the MX1. All of the input and output connections are on the back panel. Thereís a bank of 5 phono sockets for video inputs containing VITC data. Next to that thereís a row of five mini DIN sockets, for the deck control cables (four source, one replay). A 9-pin D connector handles the PC serial interface, two 3.5mm jack sockets are used for GPI (general purpose interface) triggers for controlling external devices, including the Videonics MX-1 and third-party products, like titlers, or any other compatible devices. Finally thereís a jack socket for an infra-red VCR control wand, and the power supply socket. The mixer is supplied with a full set of leads and a mains adaptor.

 

The top panel is dominated by a large jog/shuttle dial and backlit LCD panel. Below that thereís the source deck selectors, in/out edit keys and various function buttons, and on the left side thereís a multi-purpose numeric/cursor control keypad.

 

One of the more unusual aspects of the AB-1 is that video signals do not pass through the unit; there are video inputs, but these are only used to carry VITC information. Whilst that may not seem terribly important it does have one very significant implication, and that is thereís no on-screen display. Weíd guess Videonics would have dearly loved to have given it one, but that would have made it very difficult, if not impossible for it to work with an MX1, which depends on at least one monitor screen (ideally it uses two) for its own functions; adding a second or third monitor to the system would have made it unwieldy, and wholly impractical for the home video movie-making market itís targeted at.

 

The upshot of all this is the poor little LCD screen has an awful lot to do, from configuring the system to displaying the edit decision list (EDL). In fact the two-line display can show only the bare-bones details of one scene at a time. We consider to be a major disadvantage; weíve become accustomed to edit controllers presenting us with a lot of information -- almost too much in some cases -- but on this one all you get is numerical data relating to scene number, timecode/counter readouts for the edit in and out points and the deck ident. The screen has to be scrolled to show any effects or transitions associated with that scene, in short the only way to identify scenes and get an overall view of the edit list  -- vitally important on productions with more than a dozen or so scenes -- is to write it down on a piece of paper...

 

The LCD makes some operations a lot more difficult that they would otherwise be, compared with controllers that use an on-screen display. Itís not helped by the awkward and at times illogical control system and quite dreadful instructions, which are almost as difficult to use as the controller.

 

Configuration can be a slow process, and itís not that easy to see the flashing cursor on the screen, or remember to press the Ďchangeí button every time you want to do something. Setting up the source decks isnít too bad; the record deck is easy too, provided it has an edit terminal, if not thereís the option of IR control, using a built-in library of commands. Itís quite extensive, but if your machine isnít included you could be stuck as it doesnít have a learning facility. Instead Videonics have come up with a way of updating to the library, called ĎNew VCRí. This requires the user to enter lines of code, supplied by Videonics, into the keypad, or by downloading data from a PC; in either case itís not a quick-fix solution, particularly if the VCR is a new or obscure model.  

 

SOME GOOD NEWS

Now for a bit of good news. The controllers configuration menus contain extensive deck timing adjustments, to compensate for the characteristics of the record deck and errors that accumulate when using non timecoded material. This can be particularly important when carrying out A/B rolls, where accuracy is vital. Still on an upbeat note, the degree of control the AB-1 has over external devices is quite impressive, these come under the general heading of ĎEventsí. Naturally itís at its best with an MX-1, which can be programmed to create A/B rolls, specify transition effects between selected sources or nominated colour, and A/A rolls, where a single source machine is used, and the scene transition is from a frozen image of the last shot. Third-party post-production products, such as mixers and title generators can be controlled using the GPI trigger, and the system can operate a range of specialised editing functions, when used with suitably-equipped decks. They include video and/or audio insert and split insert, where the audio leads the video, or vice versa, during an insert edit.

 

Once youíve got used to the display and mastered the control routines itís time to get started. Thereís basically two options, assemble editing, and auto-assemble editing. Assemble editing is used to make a quick rough cut. Pressing the ĎRECí button at the beginning of each scene sets the VCR recording, the ĎOUTí button puts it back to record-pause mode, each action is logged on the EDL. Auto-assemble editing is for more elaborate productions which include Ďeventsí that involve external devices like the MX-1. The end result in both cases is an edit decision list that can be modified, either by re-running the scene,  going into the list and changing the data, or by moving, copying, pasting or deleting scenes, singly or in groups. When the EDL is finished the production can be previewed, or committed to tape.  Alternatively the EDL can be downloaded to a PC for archiving or exported as a CMX file.

 

PERFORMANCE

The facility to fine-tune VCR timings, and the extensive scene editing facilities means accuracy can be excellent, to within a single frame if both source and record decks are under hard-wire control. The more usual IR control of the record deck puts the edit in and out points to within a couple of frames on time-coded material, and plus or minus 10 to 15 frames on uncoded recordings, though a lot depends on the care taken during the initial set-up.  

 

SUMMARY

If youíve got an MX-1, and have been looking for a serious controller that can make use of itís formidable range of mixing facilities then by all means put the AB-1 is on your short list. Accuracy can be good, with time-coded footage, with the right combination of equipment itís comparable with professional systems.  Away from the MX-1 it doesnít stack up quite so well, unless you really, truly need the 4-machine control functions and have alternative (and compatible) video mixing systems. We consider the very limited display is a big drawback, especially if youíre involved in lengthy productions. Itís not so intuitively easy to use as most other stand-alone controllers and the instructions are a nightmare. Unless you have a PC thereís no means of saving EDLs, other than the one currently in the controllers memory. Itís not expensive for what it is, but itís a lot to pay unless youíre actually going to make full use of it.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/Model                  Videonics AB-1 Edit Suite

Guide price                    £800

Scene memory            250 scenes

Control Systems            Source decks: LANC/Control L, Panasonic 5-Pin/Control M, RS232, RS-422 

                                   Record deck: programmed infra-red, LANC/Control L, Panasonic 5-Pin/Control M, RS232, RS-422

Timecode systems            RCTC, VITC & LTC

Edit features                  4-machine control, jog/shuttle, PC interface (EDL export in CMX format), audio-only, video-only, combined insert, split audio/video (with suitable VCRs) GPI trigger control, A/B roll (with suitable GPI compatible mixer), scene cut, paste, copy, move and delete, scene re-number,

 

Sockets                        VITC video in (phono), deck control (mini-DIN), GPI & IR wand (minijack)

Supplied accessories      

Power supply             12 volts AC (adapter supplied)

Dimensions                   300 x 245 x 99 mm

 

PERFORMANCE

Cut accuracy                 +/- 3 frame (RCTC), +/- 15 frames (uncoded)

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            ***       

Ease of use                   **

Performance                  *****

Features                       ***

 

---end---

R. Maybury 1996 1701

 

 


 

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