VIDEO CAMERA 1998

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MIXED BLESSING

 

STANDFIRST

Finally, a video mixer and processor worth of digital video, we take a close look at the all-new and truly wonderful Videonics MXPro

 

COPY

The badge on the Videonics MXPro front panel modestly describes it as a digital video mixer and timebase corrector but that only begins to scratch the surface. The bit about it being a video mixer doesn't tell you that it actually has four input channels and a fifth internally generated channel, and any two channels can be cut or mixed together using a range of 500 transitions and effects. It's an audio mixer as well and there are more effects and options than you can shake a stick at. Sophisticated stuff, you can get an idea of the kind of application it is aimed at from the £1600 price ticket!

 

The MXPro is clearly a notch up from the kind of video post-production accessory we're used to seeing on these pages, and a big step up from its predecessor, the venerable MX1. However, that's a merely a reflection of the way the market is going, and the demand from video movie-makers for more sophisticated equipment, to compliment the kind of performance we've now come to expect from digital camcorders. Incidentally, the MXPro is currently configured for analogue inputs, work is underway on a DV input board as we speak; this should be available on new models, and as a retrofittable upgrade for existing units, hopefully by Spring next year. More details when we have it.

 

It certainly looks like it means business. The top panel is functional and neatly laid out with a good-sized T-bar fader on the right. There's a row of input selector button along the top and a joystick in the top right hand corner. That’s used for RGB colour correction -- amongst other things -- to ensure colour matching between sources and to create custom colours for effects and transitions. Below that is a bank of buttons for calling up various input effects and in the middle are the controls for selecting and controlling the huge range of facilities. 

 

Apart from a handful of indicator lights there's nothing much in the way of front-panel displays, that's because all of the unit's functions rely on a set of comprehensive on-screen displays. They consist of groups of icons, which occupy the bottom half of the screen; selections are made using a set of cursor keys and numeric keypad on the front panel. The top half of the screen contains the preview screens, which show the active source(s) and the other input channels on a row of sub screens, along with a colour selector panel that shows the current choices for background and border colours and border style.   

 

The rear panel is also quite straightforward. Video inputs are handled by four phono sockets (for composite video) and four mini DIN connectors for S-Video signals; the stereo audio inputs (one pair for each channel) also use phonos. The same types of socket are used for video and audio outputs, in fact there are five video outputs (three composite, two S-Video). The most important one is called preview and this contains the menu and preview screens. The other video outputs carry the processed video output to a VCR, either directly, or via other post-production devices, such as a title generator. Finally, there's a GPI trigger socket, to link the MXPro to an edit controller or external manual trigger.

 

IN USE

Getting the mixer up and running is easy and Videonics deserve a pat on the back for the clear and concise instruction manual. It's packed with good illustrations and written in an easy to follow style; other manufacturers take note.  It is possible to work with just one preview monitor but you might find it easier with a second monitor, connected to the VCR, so you can see what is actually going on to the tape.  

 

Basic operations like cutting between source inputs, mixing and transitions are handled on the main user menus. This contains all of the mix and wipe patterns. They're accessed using the cursor -- over 400 of them -- so many in fact that you're really spoilt for choice. If anything there's too many options and you can waste a lot of time trying them out, when you should be getting on with the job, it's addictive!

 

Wiping and mixing are just the beginning; there's an enormous range of effects and creative functions to get to know. They include single and multiple picture in picture, freeze frame, strobe, chroma key, mosaic, posterise, image flip, colour invert and compose, to name just a few. The compose facility allows you to create a composite screen of up to 16 different elements, they could be frozen and moving inset screens, blocks of solid colours, lines and background patterns. Unfortunately there's no facility to store a composition, so it has to be downloaded to tape as soon as it is finished. Flexibility is crucial with so many options and to assist with complicated effects or routines MXPro has a learning function that creates 'scripts'. A script contains details of input effects, video effects colour settings, signal routing and transitions. Up to 8 scripts can be created but there's no save facility so they're lost when MXPro is switched off. Some means of editing a script would be useful too, as once created a script cannot be modified.

 

The audio mixer also makes extensive uses of the on-screen display, it creates a set of virtual level sliders, one for each input channel. The only obvious omission is a microphone input. The instruction book talks vaguely about using some kind of adaptor but this is a bit of a cop-out and it really could do with a proper mike socket.    

 

PERFORMANCE

Timebase connection is applied to both processed video channels so the output image is very stable indeed. In spite of all the digital processing that is going on there's very little in the way of motion or colour artefacts on the output signal. There's also no change in noise levels and colour accuracy is excellent. Videonics quote a bandwidth of 480 lines, confirmed by out tests. That means it is virtually transparent to all types of domestic and semi-pro video sources, up to and including DVC.

 

The transitions are all very smooth and stable with no visible disturbance on hard cuts, or along the edge of the transition. The only small performance quibble we have concerns the stability of the preview display, which on our sample was marred by a small but perceptible jitter; this could become a little annoying after prolonged viewing. Otherwise picture and sound performance is very good indeed and what goes in comes out -- along with any effects you have chosen to add.   

 

THE VERDICT

Sadly the price puts the MXPro beyond the reach of many camcorder owners but from our very brief tour of the features list you can see that this is probably not the sort of thing you would get out a couple of times a year to tidy up holiday videos. We can't fault it on performance or flexibility but it's worth reiterating a couple of niggles, namely the lack of a microphone input and the preview screen jitter on our sample. It is a serious semi professional tool, the sort of thing that's going to find a home in a small studio or production suite. We suspect it's going to attract a lot of interest from wedding videographers; in addition to all the straightforward wipes and mixes it has more than it's fair share of cheesy effects and patterns…

 

SPECIFICATION

Make/Model                  Videonics MXPro                     

What is it?                    4-input/2-channel video mixer/processor

Guide price                    £1600

Features                       2-channel/4-input video mixer, picture-in-picture, effects generator (transitions & wipes, flip, mosaic, strobe, chroma key etc.), timebase corrector, video 'paint' facility, 4-channel audio mixer, colour correction, colour bars

 

Sockets            AV in/out (phono), S-Video in/out (mini DIN), headphone & GPI trigger (minijack), DC power in (DIN)

Power supply plug-in mains adaptor

Dimensions            422 x 241 x 76mm

 

 

VC RATINGS

Value for money            7

Ease of use                 8

Performance              9

Features                     9

 

 

 

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R Maybury 1998 2210

 

 

 


 

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