VIDEO CAMERA 1998

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REPLAY IT AGAIN SAM...

 

STANDFIRST

After a bit of a false start the Casablanca non-linear digital editor has finally arrived. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship...

 

COPY

Casablanca seems an unlikely name for a piece of editing equipment, but remember it well. This is one of those very rare products, that is destined to become a milestone in the development of video movie making! It is quite unlike anything you will have seen before on these pages, and despite its sophistication and advanced features, you can learn to use it, to make broadcast-quality video productions, in less than five minutes.

 

So what exactly is it? Casablanca is a non-linear editing machine, complete with special effects titling and a host of post production facilities. The non-linear bit refers to the fact that it doesn’t use tape, instead raw video footage is recorded onto a fast computer hard disc drive as digital data. Once there scenes can be replayed in any order, virtually instantaneously. There’s no delay, waiting for a tape to shuttle backwards and forwards, to find scenes, as is the case with ‘linear’ tape-based editing systems.

 

Since Casablanca stores video digitally, it is a relatively simple matter to add sophisticated transitions and special effects, plus visual effects. For good measure it can also generate titles and mix audio, as well. Previously, the kind of tricks available on this machine would have required elaborate and expensive multi-VCR set-ups and room-fulls of computing power.

 

What Casablanca does is not exactly new, desktop and computer video systems have been around for some time, but there’s not a computer screen or Windows 95 icon to be seen. Casablanca is a fully self-contained system, housed in a plain-looking, VCR sized box. It works with ordinary camcorders, televisions and VCRs, there’s no need to worry about special facilities or sockets. All the PC gubbins live an work behind the scenes, out of sight of the user, so you can put that anorak back in the wardrobe. There are no new skills or techno jargon to learn, even the instruction book is written in something resembling plain English...   

 

Digital video processing is a rapidly advancing technology, that has come a long way in just a few short years, but there are still some limitations. The most obvious ones, clearly illustrated on Casablanca, are compression versus quality, and cost. Casablanca uses MJPEG compression to squeeze moving video on to its 4 gigabyte hard disc drive, (other sizes and external drives are also available). There are 12 levels of compression, that range in comparative quality from VHS long play up to broadcast quality U-Matic. At the lowest settings -- modes 1, 2 and 3 --  the 4 gigabyte drive holds up to 136 minutes of moving video and audio, but the quality is so poor that it is next to useless for serious editing work. The mid range settings -- modes 4 to 8 --  equate to VHS SP, though to S-VHS/Hi8, and last from 60 minutes, down to 30 minutes. Mode 9 is set aside for DVC and gives 23 minutes capacity, modes 10, 11 and 12 are for broadcast quality material and run for 22, 21 and 20 minutes respectively.

 

The cost? Well, hold on to your hats because the 4 gigabyte model we have been looking at, will set you back a cool £3000. A soon to be released FireWire interface for DVC equipment is expected to cost between £600 to £1000; versions with larger hard disc drives cost from £4000.  However, that needs to be viewed in context. Similarly capable PC-based desktop video system are not much cheaper and don’t forget this is a first generation product. The cost of key components are falling rapidly, so it could become more affordable quite quickly.

 

IN USE

It is so simple. The AV output from a camcorder goes to the AV inputs on the back (or front) of the Casablanca box. It has Y/C (S-Video) input sockets but it comes with an adaptor cable for a composite video feed. The AV output connects to a VCR -- absolutely any model will do -- and the VCR is connected to a TV or monitor. The only other connections of consequence are for a trackball controller (supplied) and a standard computer keyboard (optional).

 

After Casablanca has booted up the opening screen gives a number of options; normally you would use the trackball controlled pointer to select ‘Project Settings’ -- to choose the most appropriate compression mode -- then ‘Record’, to download raw footage from the camcorder. It can be in one chunk, or selected scenes, it doesn’t matter which. It makes sense to choose a setting that matches or exceeds the quality of the original, so that what comes out, and ends up on tape,  looks at least as good as the original.

 

Once the footage has been recorded, scenes -- represented by miniature ‘picons’ -- can be trimmed and placed onto the storyboard along the top of the desktop screen. Longer sequences can be split and re-ordered, and the iffy bits sliced out. Scenes can be arranged in any order, copied, moved or deleted and manipulated in any manner you choose. Cut in and out points can be modified to a single frame. Accuracy is not an issue, scenes begin and end at the exact frame specified!

 

After the storyboard is completed the transitions can be inserted. Casablanca comes with an extraordinary range of pro-quality whirls, swirls, pages turns, rolls, fades and wipes, as standard. Extra effects are optionally available for £50, they’re supplied on standard 3.5 floppy discs and loaded in to the machine using the disc drive, on the front of the machine.  

 

Titles can also be added at this stage, a useful set of fonts are included, others -- available for £35 per disc --  can be added. Titles are composed using a virtual on-screen keyboard. It’s simple enough to use, though a proper PC keyboard would be easier for longer title sequences.

 

Titles and transitions can be previewed on a miniature sub-screen; timings and running time are all clearly shown and there are indicators to show how much disc space remains, as scenes and effects are added.

 

At this stage the production can be previewed full screen, without effects; transitions and titles represented by a blank insert. If everything is okay the effects are then rendered. This takes a while, depending on their number and complexity, so there’s usually more than enough time to go away and have a cup of tea whilst it gets on with it. When it has finished the only thing left to do is record the production to tape.

 

PERFORMANCE

Compression modes 1 to 6 (VHS LP to VHS SP) can be ignored, the quality is simply not good enough to be of any practical use. Modes 7 and up limit recording times to around 30 minutes with a 4 gigabyte hard drive, which means most productions will have to be completed in sections. It’s not a problem, but it does slow thing down.

 

Actual video (and audio) output quality is excellent; using Modes 7 and above, with S-VHS-C and Hi8 source material, what goes in comes out, with no noticeable reduction in resolution, increase in noise or change in colour fidelity. Minor digital artefacts can occasionally be seen in areas of fast movement on mode 7 but the other compression settings are very clean indeed. The transitions are really smooth, so good in fact that’s tempting to over use them.... Titles are also very clean, and there’s enough options to keep the most ambitious movie-maker in raptures.  

 

SUMMARY

Casablanca is classic black box technology, making what is in reality an extraordinarily complicated process, child’s play. The really clever part is how simple they’ve made it to use and the fact that the repro quality is so good. Sadly the price puts it beyond the means of all but the most well-heeled camcorder users. It’s not going to have much impact on the domestic end of the editing market, but we can see it doing very well in semi-pro circles. Casablanca marks the start of a new era in non-linear editing, it’s not going to happen overnight but this is surely the beginning of the end for tape-based editing.

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/Model                  DraCo Casablanca 60

What is it?                    integrated, ‘one-box’ non linear digital video editing system

Guide price                    £3000 (4Gb model)

Scene memory            n/a

Control Systems            n/a

Edit features                  scene trim, split, copy, insert, delete

Other features            M-JPEG recording (12 quality settings), multiple upgradable scene transitions and effects, colour processing, audio editing, mixing and dubbing, titling, multi-speed replay

 

Sockets            rear: AV out (SCART), S-Video in/out (mini DIN), stereo line audio in/out (phono), PC keyboard (DIN),  mouse (9-pin D-Sub), DAT backup & external drive (25-pin D-Sub), DV in/out (see text) 

Power supply             240 volt AC mains

Dimensions            110  x 350 x 120mm

 

PERFORMANCE

Cut accuracy                 +/-0 frames

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            7

Ease of use                 9

Performance              9

Features                     9

 

---end---

R Maybury 1998 0901

 

 

 

 


 

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