REPLAY IT AGAIN SAM...
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...
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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,
Other features M-JPEG
recording (12 quality settings), multiple upgradable scene transitions and
effects, colour processing, audio editing, mixing and dubbing, titling,
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
Dimensions 110 x 350 x 120mm
Cut accuracy +/-0 frames
Value for money 7
Ease of use 9
R Maybury 1998 0901