VIDEO CAMERA 1999

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COMPUTER EDITING

 

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STUDIO FLAT?

 

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Put together a PC presentation, Internet video or an interactive CD-ROM, it's a breeze with this new digital video package from Pinnacle. Rick Maybury and his trusty PC get creative with the Studio MP10

 

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If you own a multimedia PC you'll know that with the right software it can be a powerful and compelling communications tool, unfortunately few of us ever get around to putting that power to use. Part of the reason for that is until recently getting moving video and sound into and out of a PC was rather difficult. Even when the technical resources are available creating a professional-looking video can be a complicated business the sort of job best left to an expert…

 

That appears to have been the starting point for the Studio MP10 from Pinnacle. It is designed to help PC owners with without a background in video production, to create an eye-catching AV presentation on a modestly specified PC. The MP10 package is primarily aimed at business and commercial users; suggested applications include making training and demonstration videos, licking recordings of company meetings and events into shape, creating interactive CDs enhancing Internet web sites and producing video e-mails.

 

Don't be put off, the MP10 may well be of interest to a lot of home video movie makers. To begin with, at less than £250 it's not expensive, as PC peripherals go and these days just about everyone has access to several megabytes of free Internet web space. You could, for example, set up a site with your home movies, for relatives around the world to download. Nevertheless, it's important to say right away that this is not a desktop video editing system in the usual sense. The MP10 uses MPEG 1 and AVI compression schemes, which are fine for displaying moving video (with sound) in a window on a PC screen, but when downloaded to tape and shown on a normal TV the results can be a bit, well, disappointing.

 

MP10 works with any reasonably up to date PC, the minimum system requirements call for a 100MHz or faster Pentium (or Pentium class) CPU, 32Mb of RAM and at least 100Mb of free hard disc space. Ideally you should have a lot more, or a second hard drive since video files gobble up to 300Mb of storage for every 10 minutes of a recording. A gigabyte at least is required if you want to do anything meaningful. The software runs under Windows 95 and 98 and you can take it as read that the PC will need a CD-ROM drive a sound card and a Direct-X video card capable of displaying at least 256-colours. Inside the box you get the MP10 module, a parallel connecting lead, software on CD-ROM, mains power adaptor and a fat little instruction manual.

 

INSTALLATION

The external interface module, which is about the same size as a VHS cassette, has a parallel through port so it can be connected to the PCs printer socket, and the printer can remain connected (though you won't be able to use it a the same time as the MP10). There are two phono sockets for composite video in and out, two 9-pin mini DINs for S-Video and stereo audio in/out, and a DC input socket. Setting up the hardware is very straightforward, simply plug the unit into the printer cable, connect the video and audio cables and it's almost ready to go. Installing the software from the CD-ROM takes around five minutes and it should go smoothly, though it took two attempts to get everything to work on our testbed PC. We'll give the MP10 the benefit of the doubt since the PC in question (233MHz Pentium) is horribly cluttered with previous DTV installations, not to mention all manner of other non-video related software. The fact that it only took two attempts on such a wonky machine is actually quite an encouraging sign and it indicates that the software must be reasonably stable.

 

There are a few preliminaries prior to running the program for the first time. It goes through an automated diagnostic routine every time it starts to check the hardware and software is properly configured. Again our sample stumbled once or twice at this stage and once more we will be charitable and blame it on the PC, rather than the application.

 

OPERATION

Studio MP10 opens with a busy-looking window ready to use in the Edit mode, this contains a filmstrip/storyboard graphic in the bottom half of the display and a preview screen in the top right hand corner. The upper left quadrant of the window is taken up with various 'tabbed' functions, designed to look like the pages of a book. If you think the display looks familiar you're right, it is basically the same interface as the one used by the Studio DC10 system, right down to the supplied sample video for users to practice on. This family resemblance is basically a good thing since like its stablemate the MP10 is very easy to use.

 

The process of creating a video is divided into three stages, stage 1 is capture, stage 2 is editing, and stage 3 is recording and saving the finished video to disc, tape, CD-ROM or uploading it to a web site. Clicking the Capture button changes the main display to show a control panel in the bottom half of the window, the TV shaped preview screen in the top right corner remains. Video footage can come from any source with a composite or S-Video output (camcorder, VCR, TV tuner, DVD player etc). During capture mode the image is shown on preview screen along with a time counter, the display is quite jerky since it is shown at between 5 and 10 frames per second. At the same time a pie chart indicator gives an idea about how much free disc space remaining and a picon (picture icon) showing a still from the start of each scene recorded is pasted into the open 'storybook'. Stills can grabbed from scenes and added to the scene list.

 

The next step is to select the Edit mode. This brings together the storybook containing the clips and the empty storyboard. The video is built up in stages, a scene at a time by dragging and dropping clips and stills onto the storyboard. Scenes can be split into convenient sized chunks. The length and in/out points on each clip is easily changed when the scene is on the storyboard timeline by using simple mouse controls, called 'time callipers', they appear just below the preview screen. Once all of the scenes are safely in place it's time to add the transitions and effects, and this is where the fun really begins. There are literally hundreds of them, every type of wipe, fade dissolve and slide you can imagine, plus quite a few more besides, just click on the one you want in the selection book and drag it onto the storyboard. Transition times are adjustable using a set of trimming tools. You can preview the transition straight away since rendering is done in real time.

 

Titles and captions can be added at this point and again you are spoilt for choice. The MP10 comes with an integrated title generator/editor program called TitleDeko. The possibilities are almost endless, you can use any of the fonts on the PC, numerous graphic effects, and transitions are available, all controlled from a simple to use interface window. If you're feeling lazy there are more than 30 ready prepared titles, there's something for every occasion.

 

You can stick with the original soundtrack allied to each clip, or you can edit and create your own. Clicking on the sound tab brings up a selection of 17 animal .wav files, the program contains a further 12 categories of sound effect with scores of clips (bells, explosions, gunshots, electronic sounds and so on), and then there's the music files. These are stored on the CD-ROM and are not installed by default but they're easily accessible, and like video clips, edited to size and dragged and dropped onto the storyboard. The MP10 includes a sound recorder facility, so you can create you own sound files (narration, music etc.) without leaving the desktop.

 

Describing how to use the MP10 is a lot harder than actually using it and we suspect that most PC users will feel comfortable driving it after just a few minutes practice. The user interface is intuitive and well presented, help is on hand if you need it, but its one of those rare programs you can use without first wading through half a ton of instruction manuals. Mind you, the book is well worth perusing as there are many hidden facilities and options that can be easily missed.

 

When your movie is finished – and it takes an iron will to stop fiddling with it – it can be recorded for posterity. There are several options; it can be saved as an AVI or MPEG file on disc or output as a video signal, for recording on tape. There is one more possibility and that's to create an interactive CD-ROM (assuming your PC has a CD-ROM writer drive), using another bundled software application called Impression for CD.

 

Impression adds interactive elements to MPEG movies. These include 'hot-spots' and buttons in the picture, creating on-screen menus and enabling the user to navigate their way around the movie or skip to other clips on the disc. This is where things can get a little complicated and it's not the sort of thing novices will want to jump straight into. Even so the instruction manual assumes no prior experience, we reckon most PC users will be able to get to grips with it fairly quickly.

 

PERFORMANCE

It's worth repeating that the MP10 is not really suitable for making or editing home video movies, unless the intention is to show them on a PC screen used on Internet web pages or CD-ROM. That said picture quality is actually quite good, on a fast PC the image has reasonable colour depth and there's a fair amount of detail. Inevitably the heavy-duty compression systems do have quite an impact on movement and backgrounds and it's a good idea to choose your material carefully. We found it worked best when the scenes contained simple bold shapes and plain backgrounds. It also prefers clean first-generation footage; the coding software regards noise and fuzz as detail and this can stretch the system to its limits, resulting in poorer quality recordings, blocking and artefacts.

 

Audio performance is pretty good too, well within the home video and PC audio ballparks, in other words provided you're not expecting top-grade hi-fi quality sound you probably won't be disappointed.

 

THE VERDICT

MP10's big selling points are ease of use – no experience necessary – the amazing range of video and audio effects and the titling facility, which – used judiciously – will give can give a movie a really professional feel. As a tool for creating PC presentations it has few if any rivals, certainly there's nothing to touch it for the price. The addition of CD-ROM authoring tools extends it capabilities and widens its appeal significantly. Whilst the packaging and presentation are designed to appeal to a consumer market, make no mistake this is an industrial-strength business tool. 

 

SPECIFICATIONS

Make/model                  Studio MP10

Guide Price                   £249

 

What is it?                    PC video capture & editing system

Features                       parallel port connection, MPEG 1 compression, audio time-stamp, 300-title effects, 100-scene transitions, non-linear editing

 

Software                        Pinnacle Studio with SmartCapture, TitleDeko, Sonic Desktop, SmartSound, Video SpiceRack, Minerva Impression

 

Minimum System Requirements               

Pentium 133MHz or faster, 32Mb RAM, VGA 256 colours, 100 Mb (minimum) free disc space, Windows 95/98

 

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 1305

 

 

 

 


 

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