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The latest addition to the Video Tech range provides low-cost, non-nonsense digital video mixing



It really does look as though someone at Video Tech took a saw to their VMX-410 and chopped off the audio mixer section.  The bit left over theyíve called the VMX-400, two-channel digital video mixer. With all of the audio facilities out of the way the price has been cut down to size as well, to around £550, which makes it one of the cheapest vision mixers on the market.


There have been a few minor changes. The GPI trigger has disappeared, which is a bit of a surprise, considering how useful it can be when used with other devices. The controls have been simplified too, but the core functions remain the same. They include a selection of 60 wipe patterns, mixes and cuts, with four grades of edge sharpness.  Effects can also be combined, to create even more eye-catching variations, including some wacky multiple PIP-based mixes that any budding sci-fi movie producer will be proud of.


Transitions can be manual or automatic (0.5 to 9 seconds), it has chroma and luminance keying, picture-in-picture, with five different sizes of sub screen, still frame, pos/neg switching, colour re-registration and picture adjustments for brightness, contrast, saturation and detail.


Other features from the 410 live on, such as the two LED display panels, that show mode and status functions. Itís a little bit crude, compared with some of the fancy on-screen displays and computer-style menu systems weíve become accustomed to, and cycling through the various options requires some patience, but itís something you can learn to live with.


Video Tech have wisely resisted the temptation to meddle with the video processing circuitry. Composite and S-Video (Y/C) signals pass cleanly through; the upper frequency limit is 5.5 MHz. That equates to around 500-lines, which puts it into the pro-video ballpark. Very few vestiges of the digital processing make it on to the screen, thereís no noticeable increase in noise either, and all transitions are smooth and clean. Chroma key is as slick as before, itís still one of the best weíve seen this side of a pro set-up. We were impressed with the 410. The 400 has done little to change our opinion -- the missing GPI trigger is a shame though -- but if youíve already got the audio side of your post production system sewn up, and youíre looking for a top-grade video mixer, make sure you see this one first.



Make/model:                 Video Tech VMX400

Typical price:            £550

Features:                      2-channel vision mixer,

Sockets:                       video in/out (phono & S-Video),

Dimensions:                  322 x 270 x 75 mm

Weight              2.5kg

Distributor                     Video Tech Designs, Units 2 & 3 Kilnbridge Works, Lower Road, East Farleigh, Maidstone Kent, ME15 OHD, telephone (01622) 729872.




Solid spec, functional and value for money









For some time thereís been a bit of a gap in Sonyís edit controller range. Theyíve got the high-end domestic and pro sectors covered, and the XV-AL100 caters for family users, but thereís nothing in between, for absolute beginners or occasional users, who donít want to mess around with boxes and cables. Theyíve plugged the gap now, at least as far as owners of recent Handycam machines are concerned.


The HSA-EC1 only works with Sony camcorders that have the Ďdocking stationí contacts on the underside. It greatly simplifies installation and set-up, just slide the machine into the slot and plug in the DC supply. The only one other leads are for the AV output to the recording VCR, and the IR wand. There are no controls on the unit, instead everything has been moved onto a remote handset; control signals can be sent by IR link, or an optional Control S cable, that plugs into the handset. The system needs to know which VCR itís being used with; the command library covers most popular brands, though itís probably a good idea to check, especially if youíre using it with an older, or less well-known model.


There are four basic functions: auto copy dubs an entire tape; auto scene editing copies the first few seconds of each scene; auto interval editing transfers short segments of a recording at regular intervals and thereís the 16-scene assemble edit mode. Itís easy to define the cut points, the controller generates an on-screen edit decision list. Cut points cannot be amended, though they can be linked to a black or white fade function and scenes can be deleted. Timings can be adjusted by around 2 to 3 frames at a time, the controller can read RC-timecodes but Sony make no great claims for accuracy. Our best efforts yielded a cut-accuracy of around twenty frames, or just under a second, which isnít too bad. The HSA-EC1 isnít especially flexible, but it should sell on convenience and ease of use, to loyal Sony fans.



Make/model                  Sony HSA-EC1

Guide Price                   £200

Features                       Edit controller for use with selected Sony Handycam machines, 16-scene memory, multi-brand VCR compatibility, interval recording, fader 

Sockets                        AV out (phono), S-Video out (mini DIN), IR wand, LANC & Control S (minijack), DC power and AV in (proprietary)

Dimensions                   170 x 110 x 43mm

Weight              180g

Distributor                  Sony UK Ltd The Heights, Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 0XW, telephone (0181-784 1144



Worth considering if youíve got the equipment






Importing high quality video stills into your PC has never been easier, with this elegantly simple plug and play frame grabber



Thereís no shortage of PC frame grabbers on the market but most of them take the form of plug-in cards; if youíve ever tangled with crowded expansion slots, interrupts and port addresses youíll understand the need for a simple plug and play solution like Snappy.


Snappy is built inside a neat-looking module, that also contains a 9 volt battery, that is reckoned to be good for around 1000 grabs ( a couple of hundred is nearer the mark, if our sample was anything to go by...). The module plugs into the PCís parallel expansion port; itís designed to work with Windows PCs with a 486 processor, preferably a fast one, or a Pentium. There are only two sockets, one for composite video in, the other is a video bypass, for a TV or monitor. Pop in the CD ROM and settle back for a couple of minutes as it loads the software, and sorts out the configuration. Snappy is bundled with Power Goo, Morph and PhotoDeluxe, powerful image manipulation packages.


Despite the simple appearance Snappy uses state of the art digital processing and timebase correction to produce some of the sharpest video captures weíve seem. It was quite slow on our 75MHz Pentium, in one case taking around two minutes to generate a picture. Most other grabbers weíve tried produce fairly coarse images from low-band sources but this one looks very clean, with reasonably natural looking colours. The maximum screen resolution is 1500 x 1125 with 16.8 million colours, and that is stretching it a bit but we were suitably impressed with standard displays of 640 x 480, which still managed to show a lot of fine detail.


Frame grabbers are an essential tool in desktop video and thereís a huge variety of fun applications springing up around these devices, including producing greeting cards, tee-shirts, as well as the more serious stuff, like newsletters, advertising leaflets and photo identity cards. Snappy simplifies the whole business and the quality is really rather good, provided youíre not in a hurry. There are cheaper frame grabbers around, but when you take ease of use, and the excellent bundled software into account, itís not a bad deal.  



Make/model                  Play Snappy from Logitech

Guide Price                   £200

Features                       frame grabber module with image Adobe PhotoDeluxe, Kai Power Goo and Gryphon Morph image manipulation software (CD ROM or 3.5-inch floppy)   

Sockets                        25 pin D-sub (PC parallel port), composite video in/out (phono)

Dimensions                   130 x 25 x 70mm

Distributor                     Logitech, telephone  (01306) 734300, (US Web site)



Convenience, and quality stills, at a price




R. Maybury 1997 0204




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