Hitachi VM-H835LA Hi8 CamcorderVideonics Personal TitlemakerJVC HR-S9400U S-VHS Editing VCRHewlett Packard SureStore 7100 CD-Writer PlusMedea VideoRaid EIDE Disk Array
- Hitachi VM-H835LA Hi8 Camcorder
- Videonics Personal Titlemaker
- JVC HR-S9400U S-VHS Editing VCR
- Hewlett Packard SureStore 7100 CD-Writer Plus
- Medea VideoRaid EIDE Disk Array
VM-H835LA Hi8 Camcorder
Hitachi Home America
3890 Steve Reynolds Blvd.
Norcross, GA 30093
One of the more promising recent developments in camcorder design is the built-in editor--a feature that allows you to select, right in the camera, the exact footage you want to copy to your home VCR. With their latest top-of-the-line Hi8 camcorder, the VM-H835LA, Hitachi has taken a step in this direction, offering a simple way (via optional remote control) to copy up to four selected scenes from the camcorder to any home VCR with infrared control. When you combine this feature with a built-in 3-inch LCD monitor and the ability to record high-quality picture and sound, you'll find that the VM-H835LA is a pretty good choice for home videographers who want to shoot good video and perform simple edits on a budget.
Styling of the VM-H835LA is very sleek and handsome. Though it isn't very compact by today's standards, it does fit well in the palm and offer easy access to all camera controls while shooting. The overall design of the camcorder has some flaws, however. In order to insert or remove a tape from the VM-H835LA, you have to open the LCD monitor first. This is more of a pain in the neck than it might seem, and it puts undue wear on the LCD's locking mechanism. The tiny focus controls, located on the lower left side of the screen, are also evidence of poor design. They're too small to operate without difficulty, and they're not placed in a way that makes them easy to access. (Whatever happened to those good old mechanical focus rings?)
The zoom control, which is operated by the index finger of the right hand, offers only a single slow zoom speed--not good for those who want the ability to quickly zoom in and capture a fleeting moment on tape.
The Hitachi VM-H835LA lists Rapid Reflex 16-bit D.S.P (digital signal processing) as one of its features. This refers to the circuitry that controls automatic exposure, automatic focus and other electronic functions. Indeed, the camcorder did have rapid reflexes: it was quick to respond to changing conditions, shifting smoothly between exposure and focus settings in a fraction of a second. Even so, this is no substitute for a true manual exposure control. Many camcorders with no manual iris controls have pre-programmed exposure settings for various conditions, but the VM-H835LA lacks even these, leaving the videographer at the mercy of the camera's automatic systems.
On playback, images recorded with this camera looked good. Resolution was
about average for Hi8 camcorders on the market today, and bright colors
were reproduced accurately with only minimal bleeding. When shooting complex
patterns, however, such as a wide shot of a brick wall, the image had a
tendency to crawl and become jagged around the edges.
Audio quality produced by the VM-H835LA was adequate, but not outstanding.
Like most camcorders, the on-camera mike did a decent job once you got it
close enough to the source of the audio. However, with no microphone or
headphone jacks, videographers may find it difficult to record good audio
in many situations.
While we're talking about playback, we should mention the VM-H835LA's proprietary audio and video output connector, which carries composite video, S-video and stereo audio through a single square 7-pin connector. Although it might seem convenient to place all of these outputs on a single cable, there is a drawback to this kind of system: if you lose the cable, you won't be able to get stereo audio or S-video until you buy another one just like it. There is a set of standard outputs on the VM-H835LA to complement the proprietary cable, but it consists of a single composite jack and a single monaural audio jack (both RCA-style)--hardly adequate for quality work.
An optional remote control available for the VM-H835LA (model number VM-RM20EDA, $80) allows you to perform simple editing tasks with the camcorder and any home VCR. This remote has both a standard infrared emitter and a wired connection that plugs into the same proprietary input on the camera that carries S-video, composite video and stereo audio (the audio/video connector rides piggyback on the remote connector). Once you've trained the remote to emulate the commands of your VCR, you can watch your tape and select up to four sets of in and out points to copy from the camcorder to the record deck. You can't rearrange the order of the shots once you've selected them however, so you'll have to preview the tape to determine the edit sequence. When you've selected your shots, you can hit the Copy Start button on the remote and go grab yourself a soda while the edits are completed. Both the real-time counter on the camcorder and the infrared connection to the record VCR limits accuracy with this system, so it's difficult to get better than 6-10 frames accuracy. Even so, it's a good way for home videographers to cut out all unwanted material from their videos.
In summary: the VM-H835LA does have a few annoying features--the lack of a microphone or headphone jack chief among them--but all in all, it's a decent camcorder at a decent price. The video it records is sharp and colorful, and its built-in editing features are undoubtedly a step in the right direction for Hitachi.
Videonics' Titlemaker series of video character generators has had a pretty
successful run in the prosumer video market. The original Titlemaker has
spawned two upgrades--the Titlemaker 2000 and Titlemaker 3000, the latter
of which shipped in early 1997--and all three products have had a significant
impact on prosumer-level videography.
Now, instead of offering another upgrade, Videonics is looking at that section
of the home videography market that doesn't want to make any money shooting
video, but does want to produce quality work. This section of the market
should be very happy with the Personal Titlemaker. It compares very favorably
with video titlers in the same price range. It's also easy to use, easy
to type on, very compact and capable of producing high-quality video titles.
In fact, the user interface is identical in many respects to the other members
of the Titlemaker family, with the chief difference being a considerably
shorter list of fonts (7 versus 51 in the Titlemaker 3000). Though 7 fonts
may not seem like much to offer, the fonts included in the Personal Titlemaker
are quite an improvement over the font choices available on other titlers
in the sub-$500 range.
Plugs `n Such
We were glad to see that Videonics included a GPI (general purpose interface) trigger input for the Personal Titlemaker. This means it'll be possible to trigger it from many existing edit controllers. While we're on the subject of the GPI trigger, we should point out an interesting section that appears in the back of the manual. Videonics has included a set of plans that shows you how to build your own wired remote control with the GPI input on the Personal Titlemaker, using parts that are inexpensive and available at any electronics store.
As stated above, the on-screen interface that drives the Personal Titlemaker
is all but identical to the interface that appears on previous incarnations
of the product. Though it isn't the most intuitive one we've ever worked
with, it is fairly easy to learn. Some graphical elements, such as a pair
of scissors used to indicate a simple cut transition, are included to make
things easier. Other functions are impossible to operate without looking
up the required set of commands. The Mark In and Mark Out buttons, for example,
are used as scrolling keys to access various operations that appear on the
screen--a task that's usually assigned to buttons with arrows or other graphical
emblems on them. If Videonics' intent was to reach a wider audience with
a simpler character generator, perhaps they should have spent a little more
time improving the interface.
Turn It On
Our evaluation unit had a tendency to freeze up once in a while. The entire keyboard would become useless, and even the on/off switch would cease to operate. Unplugging the power source and re-plugging it in seemed to provide a short-term fix for this problem, but it would recur about once every hour or so. Luckily, none of the title data was lost when it crashed, so it wasn't necessary to re-make any title pages. Hopefully, this was just a fault in our test unit, but the fact that it happened at all is worth noting.
One of the best things about the Personal Titlemaker is the keyboard. Its
big keys offer good tactile response, making the typing of text as simple
as it would be on a computer keyboard or electric typewriter. Low-cost video
titlers often have very poorly designed keyboards that make typing long
titles a real chore, but the Personal Titlemaker's keyboard is a joy to
If you're looking for a stand-alone titler that offers the maximum amount of quality at a low price, the Personal Titlemaker is probably just what you're looking for. Considering its excellent price-to-performance ratio, we have a feeling that Videonics is going to sell a lot of them in the years to come.
JVC--the inventor of VHS--has struck gold with its latest top-of-the-line
S-VHS VCR, the HR-S9400U. Though it incorporates a number of standard features
that the home video editor will find very appealing, its chief selling point
is a new technology called TimeScan. TimeScan is essentially a way to watch
your video without noise or breakup while you fast-forward or rewind through
your tape; it also allows you to hear brief snippets of your audio track
at regular speed as you shuttle through the tape. What's more, when you
hear the audio as you rewind, you hear it forwards, not backwards. Not content
to sell the VCR on fancy new technologies alone, JVC has also made the HR-S9400U
an excellent working deck that makes great copies, integrates easily within
a home entertainment environment and performs essential editing tasks like
audio dubs and insert edits. All in all, it fulfills the requirements of
both the edit bay and the living room quite well.
The styling of the HR-S9400U is different from many home VCRs; in fact, it looks more like furniture than a serious editing deck. Don't let its looks fool you, though; underneath those pretty looks is a VCR with a healthy dose of editing muscle for serious home videographers. A flip-down panel on the VCR's face hides controls for most of the deck's editing functions, including front-loading inputs for S-video, composite video and stereo audio; insert edit controls; audio/video dub; index controls; a JLIP (Joint-Level Interface Protocol) jack; and JVC's proprietary Random Assemble Edit controls. In a nutshell, these controls provide all you need to perform simple assemble or insert edits from a camcorder to the VCR. If the camcorder happens to be a JVC model with JLIP or Random Assemble Editing, so much the better, because these are technologies that are exclusive to JVC products.
The real test of an editing deck, however, is not in the array of buttons
it offers, but in the way in which it operates while you're performing serious
editing chores. In this respect, the HR-S9400U scores high marks. Most of
the editing systems on the deck operate easily and flawlessly; the buttons
give good tactile response and are easy to access. A specific exception
to the deck's general ease of use is the TimeScan tape shuttle system, which
requires a little bit of time with the manual to learn how to operate properly.
The shuttle knob, for example, doesn't operate the way most standard jog/shuttles
do. There's no central jog disc to allow frame-by-frame movement through
your video. Also, instead of containing a spring-loaded mechanism that always
returns the knob to a central pause position, the shuttle knob keeps turning
in small increments whichever way you turn it. A quick check of the manual
reveals the mysteries of its operation: when you move the knob slowly in
either direction, you'll step through each of the deck's 14 speeds (-7x,
-5x, -3x, -1x, -1/6x, -1/18x, still, 1/18x, 1/6x, 1x, 2x, 3x, 5x, 7x). At
each speed, the picture you see on the screen remains sharp and clearly
viewable; in fact, you could even record video at any of these speeds without
horizontal noise bars breaking up the picture. The Pause button controls
frame-by-frame movement, and all TimeScan functions are also available on
the remote control. If you have the TimeScan Audio feature engaged, you'll
even hear little bits of your audio track as you race forward or backward
through your tapes. Furthermore, these little bits of audio will come through
at normal speed and in the proper direction (forwards for reverse TimeScan
searches). Once you learn the intricacies of its operation, the TimeScan
system is an excellent way to move around through your video and find exactly
the shot you're looking for. The presence of a full video picture while
you're shuttling around is very helpful for locating the exact shots you
seek. The audio portion of the TimeScan system is of questionable usefulness,
however, since the audio is never played back in synchronization with the
picture. Sometimes, in fact, it's way off--especially when you zip around
at 7x speed.
The HR-S9400U has many features that apply mainly to watching home videos and time-shifting programs from broadcast television. While features such as Commercial Advance (which recognizes and skips the commercials when you playback a time-shifted TV broadcast) are interesting, this and other similar features are not covered in detail here because they don't apply to the making of home video. Nonetheless, they are very nice features in their own right, and worth checking out if you're looking for a home VCR that does double-duty as an editing deck.
One feature listed in the HR-S9400U's specs is the Video Stabilizer. While
some may see this and interpret it as a built-in time base corrector or
something similar, it is of limited usefulness for home videographers. Its
primary function is to clean up the playback of tapes recorded in the EP
(extended play) mode--something that most serious home videographers wouldn't
touch with a ten-foot pole, except for archiving purposes.
All in all, the HR-S9400U is an excellent deck that excels at the task of
copying high-quality audio and video from a camcorder or another VCR. Any
home video editor will appreciate the inclusion of TimeScan and other built-in
editing features; in fact, all it really needs to complete the package is
some form of time code to keep your edits accurate. Can you say CTL for
One of the biggest problems with nonlinear editing has been the lack of
an inexpensive, reliable way to archive those huge digital video files that
this form of editing requires. Decent-quality digital video takes up hard
drive space at a rate that would fill several 3.5-inch floppies per second,
and while some mass-storage methods (such as DAT tape or magneto-optical
drives) have been around for a while, their speed and reliability often
leave something to be desired.
Likewise, the development of home multimedia-creation systems have suffered
from the lack of an inexpensive way to get your multimedia projects off
your home computer and into the hands of your audience. In other words,
what good does it do you to be able to create a multimedia documentary of
your trip to Yosemite if you can't find a standard medium of storage to
deliver it to family and friends?
Luckily for the home multimedia creators of the world, a relatively new
technology--CD-R (the R stands for recordable) has recently become available
at prices that are attractive to home PC users. With a CD-R drive, you can
make your own non-erasable CD-ROMs that are playable in most of the CD-ROM
drives of the world--including those of your family and friends.
Now, with the introduction of their SureStore 7100 CD-Writer Plus, home
multimedia enthusiasts have a convenient and inexpensive way to both a)
store those huge digital video files used in nonlinear editing, and b) create
their own personal multimedia CD-ROMs similar to those found on the shelves
in software stores. To this already powerful mix, the SureStore 7100 CD-Writer
Plus adds one more feature that should make any home computer enthusiast
take note. Along with the ability to create write-once, read-only compact
discs, it has the ability to create re-writable CD-ROMS (called CD-RWs)
that you can use over and over again, just like a 650MB floppy disk.
Burn, Baby, Burn
In our tests, we looked at the portable version of the SureStore, which plugs easily into the parallel port of any PC running Microsoft Windows 95 or NT 4.0. Installation was fairly easy, but not a breeze. Though the device plugs into the parallel port and doesn't require you to remove your computer's case, it might require you to spend a little bit of time tweaking your system BIOS settings. This can be scary if you've never been there before, and if you haphazardly change settings, it's quite possible to cause crucial parts of your computer - like the hard drive - to cease functioning. If you have problems during installation, by all means call someone in who knows what they're doing, or try Hewlett-Packard's tech support line.
Once you've plugged it in and installed the drivers, a new suite of software
applications appears on your operating system's Start menu. Included in
this folder are all of the software programs you'll need to create, copy,
erase or initialize your CD-R or CD-RW media. Also included in the portable
version of the SureStore is a Connect/Disconnect application, used for telling
the computer when the device is plugged into the parallel port and when
it's been removed for transportation to another computer.
Using the SureStore couldn't be simpler. In fact, to operate most of the
basic functions of the drive, all you have to know is how to work within
the Windows interface. This means you can treat your CD-RW disk just like
any other storage disk on your computer, dragging and dropping files and
folders into the SureStore's window.
Using the SureStore 7100 CD-Writer Plus to back up large video files turns out to be a remarkably simple and inexpensive operation, but not a very speedy one. Writing a full 650MB to either a CD-R or a CD-RW disk takes about 45 minutes with the portable version that plugs into your parallel port. This 650MB of video is equivalent to just over ten minutes of video recorded at 1MB per second. If you want DV-quality video, however, you'll only get somewhere between two and three minutes onto a single disk.
Luckily, the CD-R disks themselves aren't very expensive. Though they list
for about $5 a piece, a recent trip to a wholesale warehouse distributor
turned up a 10-pack of CD-R blanks for $30; the $20 manufacturer's rebate
brought the price down to just $1 per disk. This means that your hour's
worth of DV-quality source footage would occupy roughly 30 CDs, and probably
cost between $30 and $100 to store. Bottom line: this method of archiving
is probably not practical for professional-quality work.
Home videographers, however, who are willing to put up with VHS-quality
digital video will find the SureStore 7100 CD-Writer Plus to be a godsend--especially
those who rarely create videos that are longer than ten minutes.
CD-RW media, on the other hand, is not so cheap. Blanks currently have a
manufacturer's suggested retail price of $30, with discount store prices
hovering at $25 or so. If the format gains acceptance, however, we can expect
the price to drop rapidly in coming months.
If you have a desire to make your own multimedia CD-ROMs on the cheap, then an inexpensive MPEG digitizer would be a perfect companion for the SureStore 7100 CD-Writer Plus. If you plan to buy an MPEG digitizer that plugs into your parallel port, however, and you want to use the portable version of the SureStore, you may have problems. Even though the SureStore has a parallel port input in the back of it (designed for attaching a printer cable), you probably won't be able to use this connection with your MPEG digitizer; these devices are usually quite picky about where you plug them in. You could swap devices on the parallel port as needed, but this could wear out the connectors in quick order if you're not careful.
In short, the SureStore 7100 CD-Writer Plus is an excellent solution for consumer-level nonlinear enthusiasts and those who would like to create their own multimedia CD-ROMs. It won't be a great archiving solution for professional video editors, but even the pros might like to create a CD-ROM full of MPEGS of their kids to distribute to family and friends.
The Golden Fleece
Disk arrays, those high-priced digital storage
devices that achieve many times the capacity and speed of individual drives,
are the mythical end of the rainbow for nonlinear editors. They represent
the best way to store and manipulate those huge, demanding video and audio
data files that nonlinear editors must put up with in order to gain the
convenience and power that digital editing affords. Unfortunately, because
they make use of two or more hard drives operating in parallel to achieve
their phenomenal speed, disk arrays tend to be rather expensive, a fact
which puts them in the realm of the legendary for most prosumer nonlinear
Medea Corporation seeks to change all of that with their VideoRaid series
of EIDE disk arrays. Because they utilize EIDE (Enhanced IDE, also known
as ATA-3) drives and technology, Medea's VideoRaid drives are cheaper than
most SCSI disk arrays. They're also more convenient; unlike a SCSI drive,
installing a VideoRaid into a PC requires no extra hardware. On top of it
all, the VideoRaid delivers blazing performance: our test unit delivered
a continuous data rate of over 10 megabytes per second consistentlymore
than enough to handle any prosumer-level video capture card.
To test the VideoRaid, we installed it into the secondary IDE port on our 133MHz Pentium test computer (32MB RAM). Installation was fairly simple, identical, in fact, to the process of installing a secondary EIDE drive onto your motherboard. If you've never done this before, beware: you'll be entering into the nether realm of your computer's BIOS settings to configure the drive.
To help you along, Medea has automated most of the software installation
procedure. Included with the VideoRaid is a bootable 3.5-inch installation
disk, which you place into your floppy drive after installing the hardware.
With the installation disk in your floppy drive and the necessary connectors
firmly plugged in, all you have left to do is turn on the computer and let
the installation disk do its thing, following the prompts when necessary.
These prompts will eventually direct you to go into your computer's BIOS
settings and auto-configure the drive; explicit instructions are provided
for those who have never done so before. Even though they've made it as
simple as possible, computer beginners might still wish to pay a professional
to install the VideoRaid for them, because delving into a computer's BIOS
settings just isn't for everybody.
Once installed, the VideoRaid functions like any other disk drive in Windows
95 or NT. You can partition, format, erase and otherwise manipulate the
drive any way you like. In fact, the only difference you'll notice in the
VideoRaid is its huge capacity and incredible speed when compared to ordinary
Plenty of Overhead
After subjecting the VideoRaid to every form of video torture we could muster (including straight transfers of DV footage via FireWire), we concluded that it was up to the task of recording video at any data rate achievable by today's prosumer video capture cards. (Note: some frames may drop while using a prosumer-level capture card together with the VideoRaid, but you can be sure that when it happens, it isn't the VideoRaid's fault.) Rendering was fairly speedy with the VideoRaid as well; rendering times were cut by an average of around 10 percent when compared to a single fast and wide SCSI-2 drive (the Seagate Cheetah, in our test).
So is it a waste to have such phenomenal speed available, especially when
you're achieving 4 or 5 megabytes per second more than what's required by
your video capture card? Well, it depends. Those unused bursts of speed
really come in handy in all situations where you hit the hard drive heavily,
including rendering, previewing, transferring and playing back your captured
videos. They also provide a nice buffer between what's needed and what the
drive can perform; so that you'll never, ever have to worry about sudden
drops in performance that might result in dropped frames. If you're a professional
who wants assured quality at all times, then it's a good idea to invest
in a little overhead.
Prosumers who must edit large amounts of video will especially like the
VideoRaid's ability to expand. Here's how it works: if you've already purchased
a VideoRaid, and you want to add on another storage unit, you can buy an
expansion model from Medea at $200 off the suggested list price for a base
unit. The expansion modules come with a proprietary cable that easily connects
the two drives.
One final note about the VideoRaid: because it uses Medea's new Zone Stripe
Technology, it will record digital video at a stable 10 megabytes per second
all the way across the disk, from start to finish. Typical hard drives and
arrays offer high performance at the outset, but less and less as the data
gets written to the inner tracks of the drive. Zone Stripe Technology solves
this problem simply: when one drive is writing to the outer track, the other
drive is writing to the inner track. This makes for an even data rate all
the way across the drive.
Though they are somewhat pricey by consumer standards, Medea's VideoRaid drives are a real bargain compared to most SCSI arrays. For prosumer videographers who have always wanted to go nonlinear but couldn't afford it, they represent a significant step in the direction of the promised land: cheap, massive, fast, easy-to-install digital storage.
16:1 optical zoom, 130:1 digital zoom, single-speed power zoom, f/1.4, inner focus, wide macro, 46mm filter diameter
-inch CCD, 410,000 pixels
3-inch color LCD, .5 inch black-and-white CRT
Auto, inner manual
Maximum shutter speed
Negative/positive conversion, half-mirror, mosaic, vertical wipe, fade, black-and-white fade
S-video, composite video, stereo audio (via proprietary connector)
S-video, composite video, stereo audio (via proprietary connector); composite video, mono audio
Infrared editing (via optional editing remote), 16:9 recording, lens cover, built-in playback speaker, electronic image stabilization, instant zoom
4.2 (width) by 4.5 (height) by 9.5 (depth) inches
Weight (sans tape and battery)
Video Performance (approx.)
Horizontal resolution (camera)
Horizontal resolution (playback)
Pause to Record
Power-up to Record
Fast-forward/Rewind (30 min. tape)
1 minute 35 seconds
- Low cost
- Infrared editing option
- Autofocus and autoexposure systems respond quickly
- No mike or headphone jacks
- No manual exposure control
- Slow power zoom
A bargain, to be sure, but experienced videographers will want more manual control
Special character features
Outline, spacing, boxes, lines, special and foreign characters
Scroll, crawl (8 speeds)
Cut, fade, slide, 18 wipe patterns
720 by 480 pixels (70 nanoseconds)
S-video, composite video (RCA-style), GPI trigger
S-video, composite video (RCA-style)
12.75 (width) by 1.75 (height) by 6.4 (depth) inches
- Low cost
- Good resolution
- Backgrounds tend to crawl
- Test unit froze up occasionally
Videonics quality at a price home videographers can afford
S-video (x2), composite video (x2)
S-video, composite video, RF
Stereo audio (x2)
Edit control protocol
TimeScan forward/reverse playback, audio/video dub, audio level meters, index search, Commercial Advance, video stabilizer, insert edit, Random Assemble Edit
18.9 (width) by 4.3 (height) by 13.9 (depth) inches
- TimeScan search allows high-speed playback without picture breakup
- Makes excellent copies
- No time code
A beautiful home S-VHS editing deck, inside and out
Maximum write speed
300k per second
Mean time between failures
Minimum System Requirements
Windows95 or NT 4.0
High-speed ECC or EPP (for external model only)
15MB free space for system software
7.1 (width) by 11.2 (depth) by 2.6 (height) inches
- Cheap, reliable long-term archiving of digital video files
- Easy creation of personal multimedia disks
- Not a good solution for professional-quality video archiving
- Parallel port connection is very slow
A great storage device for consumer-level digital video enthusiasts
5GB, 8GB, 10GB, 14GB
Sustained data transfer rate
10 megabytes per second
Minimum System Requirement
Pentium 133MHz with EIDE controller built-in
Windows 95 or NT
Zone Stripe Technology, EZ-IDE setup disk, expansion slot for increasing storage capacity
- Fairly easy to install
- Very fast
- Easy to expand
- Still expensive by consumer standards
Look out, SCSI; EIDE is sneaki