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DRACO CASABLANCA, non-linear editing system, from £2600

VERDICT *****

 

Why’s it here: Editing camcorder footage is a real chore, Casablanca makes it fast, fun and the quality is up to broadcast standard. It’s a bit like a VCR, but there’s no tape, instead video is converted to a digital format and stored on a fast, high-capacity hard disc drive. Once there bits can be replayed, in any order, there’s no waiting for the tape to wind back and forth, this is known as non-linear editing. Special effects -- fades, wipes and scene transitions -- and titles can also be added. Once completed, the production can be re-recorded back onto tape.

 

Any unique features: The big selling point is ease of use, it’s a powerful computer, but there’s not a monitor in sight, it hooks up to an ordinary TV and everything is controlled using on-screen displays and a simple trackball. You can learn to use it in around five minutes! Casablanca works with any VCR and camcorder from basic family models up to professional  broadcast equipment. There only catch is the recording time. If you opt for basic VHS quality then it can store around an hour’s worth of video on it’s standard 4 gigabyte drive (bigger ones are available). DVC and U-Matic grade recordings only last for between 20 and 30 minutes.

 

How does it perform: Casablanca is more or less transparent to the video going in and coming out, so copies look almost as good the original, even after they’ve been re-recorded back onto tape. The real eye-opener is the range of special effects and scene transitions. There’s loads to choose from, including really fancy swirls, curls, whirls and page turns, where one image transforms into another. New effects can be added, they’re supplied on 3.5 inch floppy discs, which slots into a drive on the front of the machine. Titles are pretty impressive too, they can be made to scroll and roll, creep or crawl, just like on the telly.  They’re composed using a kind of virtual on-screen keyboard, a normal PC type keyboard can also be used. The quality of titles and effects are simply excellent, every bit as good as broadcast TV.

 

Our Verdict: Casablanca is a real breakthrough in video editing, and we suspect a taste of things to come. It’s a wee bit expensive for the average camcorder user at the moment but the cost of computer components and digital video processing is plummeting. In a year or two all video editors could be made this way...

 

Hama, telephone (01256) 708110

 

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Features                     non-linear editing studio, multiple special effect, transitions and titles. On-screen storyboard, audio mixing, trackball control

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

 

Picture Quality            *****

Sound Quality            *****

Build Quality              *****

Features                     *****

Ease of use                 *****

Overall value              ***

 

RIVAL BUYS

The BBC

Professional video editing studios

Ten grands worth of computer editing equipment

 

 

VIVANCO CYBERWAVE FMH 6800 Wireless FM Stereo Headphones, £80

VERDICT ***

 

Why’s it here: Cordless infra-red headphones have been around for a while but they only work in line-of-sight of the transmitter module, thus far the quality has tended to be a bit iffy. FM wireless headphones are the answer, but until September last year the only frequency band available in the UK limited sound quality, and had to be shared with baby alarms and garage door openers. Now we’ve got the EU wide 863-864 MHz band (analogue only) to play with; ranges of up to 100 yards are possible, with full audio bandwidth. Vivanco are first off the blocks with the Cyberwave FMH 6800.

 

Any unique features: The design is a bit unusual in that the transmitter has three selectable channels, whilst the receiver -- built into the left headphone -- has a manual tuning dial. This has to be twiddled until a red LED indicator turns green. It seems a bit old fashioned in these days of auto-seeking phase-lock-loop FM synthesiser tuners... They’re powered by a pair of rechargeable AA cells (supplied), that last for around six to seven hours. A charge lead connects the transmitter module to the phones. Again a rather quaint solution, docking chargers and stands have been all the rage for some time.  The transmitter can also be powered by battery, though there’s no mention of this in the instructions.

 

How does it perform: The self-adjusting headband and cushioned ear caps are very comfortable, they’re a secure fit too, so you can indulge in a little light bopping, without them falling off. Range depends on terrain, with nothing between the transmitter and the headphones -- in open ground -- 100 metres is just about possible. Realistically, in a normal brick-built house, range is down to between 20 to 30 metres, before background hiss becomes really intrusive. It’s actually there all the time but it’s possible to jiggle the input and headphone volume levels to minimise its impact. Overall quality is not too bad at all, treble and mid-range frequencies are quite solid, bass is a bit weedy, though again it pays to fiddle around with the input. We experienced some interference on a couple of channels at a South London location, the IBA transmitter at west Norwood -- around a mile away -- was the most likely source.

 

Our Verdict:      Wireless FM represents a definite improvement over cordless infra red, and we can look forward to some useful home cinema accessories (wireless speakers -- coming very soon...), but quality-wise and when it comes to background noise they still have some way to go before they’re a serious alternative to cabled cans. Roll on digital cordless!

 

Vivanco UK, telephone (01442) 403020

 

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Features                     transmission frequency 863-864MHz, 20Hz to 20kHz frequency range, 100-metre operating range, mains/battery power   

Sockets                       stereo line audio in (phono and minijack), DC power in, DC power out (mini jack)

           

Sound Quality            ***

Build Quality              ****

Features                     ***

Ease of use                 ****

Overall value              ****

 

Rival Buys

Philips SBC-HC480 £80

Philips SBC-HC610 £100

Sennheiser RS4-8, £80

 

 

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Ó R. Maybury 1998, 2001

 

 

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