VIDEO CAMERA 1999

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Digital camcorders and PCs are almost on speaking terms, now that the Miro DV200 has arrived…

 

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Having used the Miro DV200 PC based DV editing system for a while we can say with some confidence that it seems entirely possible that one day editing digital camcorder footage on an ordinary home computer might actually be a pleasurable experience. Unfortunately that day has not arrived, not quite. Impressive though the DV200 is, getting it to work on anything less than an exotically specified, and preferably 'virgin' PC can turn into a miserable experience…

 

Digital video is tricky stuff. It takes a great deal of PC processing power to handle it, plus a fast and highly efficient hard drive to store it on. The box containing the DV200 outfit optimistically lists a 266MHz Pentium with 64Mb RAM running Windows 95/98 or NT as the minimum specification for a suitable platform. That may well be possible in an ideal world but from our experience we'd take heed of the recommended spec and not put it anywhere near anything less than a speedy 350/366 MHz machine with at least 128Mb RAM. It'll also need a graphics card that supports 16-bit colour, 800 x 600 resolution and Direct Media 6, plus a big and fast Ultra wide SCSI hard disc drive (reckon on around 250 Mb per minute for recorded video). In other words the DV200 is probably not going to be able to turn your nearly-new multimedia PC into a super whizzo DV editing station. To get the most out of this system you really need to be thinking in terms of some substantial upgrades or starting again from scratch.

 

The good news is that suitable PCs no longer cost an arm and a leg, and the DV200 is a good deal cheaper than previous DV capture cards. The outfit has recently gone on sale for around £470 that includes the DV card and software and a copy of Adobe Premiere 5.1 LE (Light Edition) video editing software. Like its predecessor the DV300 (launched last year) the DV200 card only has IEEE 1394/FireWire input and output connections, so in order to download footage, and get it back out again and onto digital tape you will need a camcorder with an enabled FireWire input, or a DV VCR. It is possible to output recordings from the PC as analogue video, for recording onto VHS or S-VHS tape, but for that your PC will have to be fitted with a suitable processor card, Miro recommends its own DC30 Plus (currently £650….).

 

Assuming your PC hardware and video equipment meets the necessary criteria the first step is to prepare the computer by defragmenting the hard discs(s). Next install Adobe Premiere from the CD-ROM, after that you can switch off the PC and fit the card. It slots into a spare PCI 2.1 compliant socket on the motherboard and needs to be connected to the soundcard. The generally well-written manual makes it all sound fairly straightforward but even apparently trivial things like connecting the soundcard can turn into a real headache if you're not familiar with your machines innards, and have the necessary leads, so PC novices beware! On the other hand if you know your way around a PC it shouldn't take you more than a few minutes.

 

When the PC is booted up Windows detects the new card and fires up the New Hardware wizard. In theory all you have to do is follow the instructions and pop in the CD-ROM and load software and drivers when prompted. Unfortunately our installation ran into several very tedious and time-consuming hitches. In fairness to Miro/Pinnacle most of them were not the fault of the DV200 or its software. It goes back to what we said earlier about using a virgin PC. We are fairly sure that the various conflicts and 'hangs' were caused by interactions with legacy programs and other bits and pieces left behind on our well used testbed machine (Pentium 300MHz, 128Mb).  Eventually we did manage to get it going on that PC but it remained temperamental and would still freeze every so often.

 

Once the software has installed it is a good idea to test system performance (hard disc drive and FireWire connections) using the supplied DV Expert utility.  Providing it all checks out the DV200 is ready to run. The camcorder (or DV VCR) connects to the PC using the FireWire lead supplied, to view video footage the camcorder's video output needs to be connected to a TV or monitor.

 

There are two basic operating modes, footage can be scanned, or captured. Scanning is usually the best option since it uses up less disc space, but it takes a little longer. Click on Scan on he DV Tools menu and the software instructs the camcorder to rewind and replay the tape (or tapes) from the beginning, it then grabs a still from the start of each scene (picture icon or picon), and creates a storybook or 'tape gallery'. Clips can then be selected, replayed on the monitor or on a thumbnail window on the PC screen using the DV Device Control screen. This window has a full set of transport buttons, to drive the video deck, along with a timecode display and buttons to trim the scene to length, afterwards the modified scene is saved in the tape gallery. From there it can be dragged and dropped onto the 'capture gallery' or storyboard.

 

Once all of the scenes have been assembled the camcorder plays the tape and the clips are captured and stored on the PC hard disc. Alternatively, if space allows the whole sequence or movie can be captured to hard disc in one hit and then cut trimmed and edited.  

 

Licking the file or files into shape is the job of Adobe Premiere; it can add transitions and special effects, as well as titles and graphics. Premiere can be launched directly from a button on the Capture Gallery Window. Even though the version of Premiere is the 'light edition' it still has more than enough facilities to please the most adventurous video movie-maker, and really deserves a full review in its own right. Included in the basic options are 35 transitions, shown in a small selection window (they are animated, so you see what you are getting), Premiere can also manage and mix up to three soundtracks. All that remains is to output or print the finished video back to tape, assuming you have a DV enable camcorder of VCR (or a DC30 card).

 

PERFORMANCE

We tried the DV200 on two PCs, after a good deal of messing around it finally ran on an otherwise well behaved 266MHz Pentium but it wasn't very happy. The basic image quality of finished tapes was satisfactory but there were a lot of dropped frames and blocking, the results were not encouraging, even though the hard disc and memory were well inside the recommendations. Recordings looked a lot better on the 300MHz Pentium but even so there were still the occasional artefact and dropped frame that certainly wasn't on the original.

We certainly can't fault image quality; there is no perceptible increase in noise or change in colour accuracy from the original to the edited copy.

 

VERDICT

The real advantage in PC editing lies in the ease of editing and creating special effects and combining them with the video clips. With a suitable PC the DV200 makes it a quick, seamless process. It works well and in the scheme of things is reasonably good value for money, but we have to say this it is not for PC novices or those with older slower machines. Don't forget that you will also need a DV camcorder with a DV enabled input, or a DV VCR or deep enough pockets to buy the whole PC kit and caboodle.

 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                  Miro DV300

Guide Price                   £470

 

What is it?            DV editing system for the PC

 

Features            scan, capture, preview and print DV to/from tape, drag & drop scene positioning, scene edit & trim, 2 external & 1 internal l FireWire connectors, transitions, filters, special effects, titles and graphics, PAL: 720 x 576, YUV 4:2:0, 25 frames per second, DV link cable included

 

Software            Miro DV Tools, Instant Video and drivers, Adobe Premiere (light edition, free upgrade to 5.1), plug-ins, tools and utilities

 

Minimum System Requirements               

Pentium 266MHz or faster with one free PCI-2.1 slot, 64Mb RAM, 2Gb AV rated ultra wide SCSI hard drive, 50 Mb (minimum) free disc space, 16-bit graphics card with overlay support, Windows 95/98/NT

 

Contact             Pinnacle Systems, Grand Union Office Park, Packet Boat Lane, Uxbridge, Middx UB8 2GH, telephone (01189) 814230

 

Value for money            ********

Ease of use                   *******

Performance                  *********

Features                       ********

 

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ã R. Maybury 1999 2306

 

 

 

 


 

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