VIDEO CAMERA 1996

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MIXED ECONOMY

 

INTRO

Video mixers are still the most expensive post production accessory, they’re also one of the most useful, so how does the new Vivanco VM-5000 shape up against the competition?

 

COPY

Panasonic were the first to develop a digital video mixer for home video movie-makers,  that was way back in 1988. It wasn’t until 1994 that they had any serious rivals, when Sony and Videonics weighed in with a pair of heavy-duty production mixers in the shape of the XV-D1000 and MX-1. Panasonic brought out a couple of new models in the meantime, now leading accessory company Vivanco have joined the fray with their VM-5000 2-channel video mixer and processor. Half a dozen products in eight years, we’ve not exactly been spoilt for choice...

 

The reason there are so few video mixers, compared with just about every other type of post production device, is the complexity of the technology needed to mix two free-running video signals. That’s also why they’re so expensive, you’re not going to seen much change out of £1500 with any of them, (Sony’s mixer cost £3000...), however, the VM-5000 brings the cost  of vision mixing down just a little, to £1200.

 

Digital synchronisation is what makes video mixing possible.  It works by using one of the input signals as a reference, then by applying a carefully controlled delay to the second signal, ensures that both inputs are in perfect step with one another. From that point onwards all manner of things are possible. In the case of the VM-5000 that includes basic mix, crossfade and dissolve, various wipes, moves and zoom transitions, plus picture-in-picture, mirror, freeze, strobe, chroma and luma keying.  We’ll take a close look at them in a moment. In addition to the eye-catching effects and transitions there’s a set of processing facilities (brightness, contrast and saturation), variable background colours, fades and a 3-channel stereo audio mixer. The VM-5000 is fully configured for S-Video operation and it can be connected to a PC for external control, via a serial interface socket. If you get into trouble there’s a simple on-line help facility, that displays short-form instructions.  

 

The VM-5000 is built inside the familiar sloping wedge-shaped console, used by Vivanco for their other stand-alone edit controllers and processors. Control layout is reasonably straightforward. On the left side of the panel there’s the input selectors and controls for adjusting background colours;  there’s two T-bars for manually controlling mix/fade and transition effects, or they can be set to automatic, the speed may be varied between zero and 10 seconds. The third T-bar is the master audio fader, which can be set manually, or tied in with video effects, (simultaneous or follow). At the top of the panel there’s a bank of effect selector and cursor control buttons, the output and monitor selectors are in the top right hand corner, and below that there’s a set of faders for the audio mixer.

 

Now for those digital goodies, which break down into two broad categories, dynamic transitions, and static effects. First the transitions. The fade/crossfade facility can mix between two inputs, one input and a background colour (infinitely variable), or the same input. The latter is useful if you’re working with one source machine and  combined with various transitions effects it can produce some very interesting effects. There are seven horizontal and vertical wipes, to or from the second source, a background colour or the same input;  again a single input is not necessarily a limitation. The move and zoom effects employ the same seven patterns. The selected pattern and effect number is displayed on the monitor output. Up to five selected wipe. move or zoom effects can be assigned to an ‘action’ key, so they can be called up quickly, without having to step through the selections.

 

The static effects include old favourites like freeze frame and strobe and the ever popular picture-in picture (the sub-screen can be moved to any part of the screen). The mirror facility inverts the picture, or it can be combined with a transition. Dissolve fades the image to or from areas of colour. Finally there’s chroma and luma keying, where effects and transitions can be applied to areas of selected colour or brightness. Nine colour and picture settings can be stored using the mixer’s program facility.

 

It looks a lot more complicated than it actually is, but for anyone daunted by the prospect of finding their way around the controls there’s a useful demo routine that runs through all of the transitions and effects one by one.

 

IN USE

Generally speaking it’s fairly easy to use, though there are a few points to watch out for. The effects select buttons are small and close together, it’s far too easy to press the wrong one. The two video T-bars are much too close to one another, they almost touch when the two controls are at their respective end-stops. The hefty external mains adaptor supplied with our sample run quite hot, almost too hot to touch in fact.

 

Vivanco have done the sensible thing and used phonos for the main AV inputs and outputs, but not for the TV/monitor output which uses a SCART. That’s fine if you don’t mind sacrificing picture quality, or your TV has an S-Video configured SCART, if it doesn’t you’re going to have to get hold of a comparatively rare SCART to S-Video/phono lead (fortunately Vivanco have one...).   

 

PERFORMANCE

There’s a quick way of telling how well a mixer or processor performs, just look closely at the edges of transitions as they slide across the screen.  A ragged wavy edge suggest compromises may have been made in the processing and synchronisation circuitry; the effects on the VM-5000 are so clean and straight you could cut yourself on them! Picture stability is excellent, even on slightly noisy signals, transitions are smooth and progressive. We tried the VM-5000 with a variety of sources and could find no extra noise or reduction in resolution. There is a very minor change in the texture of processed images, though this is almost certainly a side-effect of the digital circuitry, but it’s so slight as to be virtually inconsequential.

 

THE VERDICT

The VM-500 doesn’t bring anything spectacularly new or interesting to the digital video mixer market but it is a very well thought out package. It misses out on a couple of useful features, there’s no GPI trigger input, for example, which rules it out being used with some edit controllers, and the control layout could have been better. It may not be as sophisticated as some of the other mixers on the market, or have as many effects, but those it has got are the ones that will be used most often. On-screen performance is excellent and the price is reasonable.

 

THE RIVALS

On paper the VM-5000 looks like quite a good deal, but this is the real world and we have seen it’s closest competitor, the Videonics MX-1 selling for only £100 more. We have also seen the Panasonic WJ-AVE5 on sale for under £500, and  that’s the one we’d go for if we were just looking for basic mixing and processing facilities. Nevertheless, the VM-5000 has much to recommend it, but it’s going to have a tough job time in this  small and highly competitive market.

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model:                 Vivanco VM-5000 Digital Vision Mixer

Typical price:                 £1200

Features:                      2-channel vision mixer & 4-channel audio mixer, on-line help

Effects:             mix, 7-wipe, 7-move and 7-zoom effects to second channel or nominated background colour, mirror, picture in picture (PIP), freeze, strobe, dissolve, chroma & luma keying, effect program, auto take & mix (variable speed), audio mix/follow

Sockets:                       AV in (phono & S-Video), AV out (SCART, phono & S-Video), headphone & microphone (minijack), serial RS-232 (DIN), DC Power (DIN)

Dimensions:                  330 x 70 x 280 mm

Weight              2.8kg

 

PERFORMANCE

Effects definition         very good

Effect  stability         very good

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money         ****

Ease of use                      ***

Performance                     *****

Features                        *****

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Ó R. Maybury 1996 2201

 


 

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