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Hi8 Camcorder Delivers Good Features for Price

Hi8 on the Go and in Control


CCD-TRV65 Hi8 camcorder
($899)
Sony Electronics
One Sony Drive
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
(800) 222-7669
www.sel.sony.com


The Sony TRV-65 is a Hi8 camcorder that does a nice job balancing price and features. The TRV65 has all the core functions of the more expensive Sony TRV models, but it's more affordable because it strips away some of the frills. The TRV65, for example, has the smallest flip-out LCD monitor of the series (2.5-inch, compared to the 3-inch TRV75, the 3.5-inch TRV85 and the 4-inch TRV95). Other differences between models include the TRV65's black-and-white viewfinder and its lack of an on-camera light. (For more comparison between features of Hi8 camcorders, see the All-format Camcorder Buyer's Guide in Videomaker's special Step-by-step Guide to Home Video).

The TRV65 doesn't sacrifice where it really counts, however. For example, the TRV65 uses the Sony InfoLITHIUM battery system, a nifty power system that not only provides a respectable 60-minutes of recording time under typical conditions, but also provides a digital readout indicating exactly how many minutes of battery power are left. Also convenient is that the battery can be charged while it's still in the camcorder. These handy features, among others, make the TRV-series a solid performing line of camcorders and the TRV65 a good Hi8 value.

It's Under Control
For smaller camcorders, simple, intuitive controls are an important convenience and the TRV65's controls fit these criteria. The main power/mode switch, the start/stop button and the standby/lock switch are all within thumb's reach. The standby switch is a nice feature that powers down the unit when it's not in use to conserve battery life. The TRV65 also features manual focus and manual exposure controls, which are important for manipulating how footage turns out and for shooting in various conditions.

The TRV65 includes a feature that allows the user to change how the start/stop (record) button works. On the left side of the camcorder, accessible when you open the 2.5-inch color LCD panel, is a three-position start/stop mode switch. This switch sets the start/stop button to operate in one of three different ways: normal mode, anti-ground shooting and five-second shoot. In normal mode, the start/stop switch operates normally; press once to start recording and press again to stop. In anti-ground shooting, the camcorder only records while the start/stop button is being pressed. Release the button and the recording stops. The anti-ground shooting mode is pretty handy. Also, when the switch is set to "five-second shooting", the camcorder records for five seconds each time the start/stop button is pressed. This feature might be useful for people who have a tendency to "overshoot" their subject matter or who want to create an in-camera video montage. Five green dots appear in the viewfinder to help you keep track of how much time is left (one dot disappears each second), and you can continue recording uninterrupted by pressing the start/stop button before the last green dot disappears.

Variable Images
The TRV65 has a smooth, variable-speed zoom that automatically goes into "digital zoom" mode at the end of the optical zoom range. The zoom slowed slightly when it reached the digital range, which made it easier to tell when the camcorder's digital zoom started functioning. Digital zoom by nature is lower quality than optical zoom, and when we increased to the maximum 72x digital zoom range, the image degradation was very noticeable. This extreme zoom range required the SteadyShot (Electronic Image Stabilization or EIS) to be enabled to hold the image still enough to use without a tripod. The digital zoom can be turned off in the menu system, as can the SteadyShot.

The TRV65 also has eight digital picture effects, including stretch, slim, mosaic, solarize, black and white, sepia, negative art and pastel. Additional important features include an external microphone input, AFM stereo audio, a headphone jack and a LANC (Control L) edit control jack.

The TRV65 even has the supposedly controversial NightShot infrared mode. Used at night (like it's meant to be) the NightShot is very effective, even if the footage looks rather strange. Using the LaserLink light, the TRV65 will shoot in total darkness to capture an image in green monochrome. Human skin appears very pale and eyes seem to glow. As much as we tried, however, we couldn't replicate the circumstances that apparently allowed some NightShot users (in broad daylight with an infrared filter) to see through peoples' clothes.

The TRV65 VCR playback functions include pause (still picture), picture search (scanning forward and backward while viewing) and slow speed (1/5 speed). Scanning and slow-speed operation displayed no distortion or video noise when we viewed it on the camcorder's LCD monitor. Unfortunately, when we tested the same functions on a television, using the camcorder's video output, there was slight video noise in the picture. It was one of the only weaknesses in an otherwise strong performer.

Although moderately priced and small in size, the TRV65 is a Hi8 production camcorder that's ideal for users shooting home movies, recording special events and making fun production videos. Even though it lacks some of the bells and whistles of its more expensive brethren in the Sony TRV Hi8 family, it has all the key features most users will need.




Shooting VHS, the Most Popular Playback Format

RCA CC-4371 VHS Camcorder
($599)
Thompson Consumer Electronics
10330 N. Meridian Street
Indianapolis, IN 46290
(800) 336-1900
www.rca-electronics.com


Although the VHS format is the standard for home videotape playback, the VHS camcorder is all but disappearing from the marketplace thanks to the popularity of the much smaller VHS-C and 8mm formats. Thanks to companies like RCA, however, the VHS camcorder is not completely gone. The CC-4371 VHS camcorder is a new full-sized unit suited for the video hobbyist and novice producer alike.

VHS Convenience
With the convenience of recording to VHS tape and the ability to perform audio and video dub (insert) editing, the CC-4371 is a good beginner's camcorder. Its larger size and shoulder rest make it easy to hold stable. It has a flip-out three-inch LCD monitor and a built-in light that works automatically when it's required. Although good for learning, the CC-4371 records only standard VHS quality and is missing many important features that a full production camcorder needs, such as manual focus, manual white balance, variable speed zoom, external microphone input and a headphone jack.

We tested the camcorder by making a short production video. We were particularly impressed with the titler's ability to superimpose titles over a pre-recorded tape (playing in the camcorder) and then copy the edited footage to another VCR using the video output. This is a very nice feature unique to this model. We were unfortunately limited by the number of lines (two) and total number of characters (32), but this is typical of most in-camera titlers.

The CC-4371 offers a series of fades for in-camera editing, including a "white fade," a "wipe from black," a "zoom fade," and a "black and white fade." We used the black wipe and then brought the title in by pressing the titler button. Unfortunately, the button's click was so audible the sound was recorded on tape.

What, No Menus?
Unlike many compact camcorders, this model has no menus to navigate to access its functions. The functions are all activated using the buttons on the left side or the top of the camcorder.

The camcorder is easy to shoot with. There's a flip-out shoulder support to help steady the camcorder while using the LCD monitor. The CC-4371 also has electronic image stabilization, which RCA calls "Steady Pix." The Steady Pix feature noticeably degraded the picture quality, but because the camcorder is so easy to hold still, we only needed it during extreme telephoto shots.

Most of the camcorder's functions are automatic and work pretty well. The auto focus worked accurately. When we changed subjects from a near object to a far object, the camcorder found focus in less than two seconds. The macro-focus ability worked well enough to copy small photographs and most 35mm slides held up in front of the lens.

The automatic white balance takes about 10 seconds on average to adjust to different light sources, which is pretty slow. This is actually a desirable feature because the change is so gradual that it's almost unnoticeable. Once the white balance is set, the CC-4371 displays natural-looking colors, both in tungsten light and daylight.

Light and Sound
The CC-4371 has a small, four-watt, built-in light that helps enhance color in normal lighting situations. Although the light is low-powered and designed to supplement a main light source, it actually supplied enough illumination to be used as the only light source. The light can also be set to an automatic mode to help save the battery.

The camcorder's microphone is sensitive enough to record a subject six feet away with good fidelity. Unfortunately, since the mike is mounted on the front of the viewfinder, it is also sensitive enough to occasionally record the operator's breathing, especially if he's using the viewfinder instead of the LCD monitor (or has a cold).

The CC-4371 features a 16x optical zoom. A digital zoom extends it to 32x. The digital zoom kicks in automatically when the camera reaches the end of its optical range and this creates slight image noise. In addition to the 32x digital zoom, the camcorder includes an effect called "Zoom:2," which digitally extends the zoom range to 130x. Like most long digital zooms of this sort, the resulting picture looks very distorted and noisy.

Flying Heads
One of the features that make the CC-4371 a good camcorder for home production is the flying erase head, which makes video insert editing possible. Without a flying erase head, no camcorder or VCR can perform a video insert edit. We tested insert abilities by making both an audio-only dub and also an audio and video dub. It performed the edits cleanly without glitches or rainbowing. The ability to make audio and video insert edits is a real plus for any camcorder. Many higher priced 8mm and even Hi8 units do not have this ability.

The RCA CC-4371 shows that the VHS format is not yet obsolete. With its easy operation, stable size and A/V dub capability this camcorder is great for the home video hobbyist and novice producer.




DV for the PC


MotoDV FireWire Capture Card
($499)
Radius Inc.
215 Moffet Park Drive
Sunnyvale, CA 94089
(408) 541-6100
www.radius.com


MotoDV was the first product to offer digital FireWire (IEEE 1394) editing for the Macintosh platform (see Benchmarks, December 1997 Videomaker). The MotoDV is now available for the PC, which brings this low-cost DV capture and playback system to the two most popular computer platforms. Hobbyist and prosumer alike will benefit from this product's introduction to the "Wintel" system.

Apparatus
We tested the MotoDV on a PC with a 200MHz Pentium processor, 64MB of RAM, a Matrox Mystique graphics accelerator and a Seagate Barracuda Wide SCSI-2 hard drive.

The MotoDV hardware is a small PCI, high-speed serial bus card with three six-pin FireWire connectors. Although the card has three connectors, only one device can be attached at a time. The other two connectors are for future features. Because the board uses six-pin connectors, as with the previous Macintosh version, it must be connected to the camcorder with the four-pin to six-pin cable that comes with the board. The four-pin to four-pin FireWire cable that comes with many DV camcorders will not work.

As with most DV capture boards today, the MotoDV has no audio or video outputs. Full-screen monitoring of the card's output is accomplished by attaching an NTSC monitor to the output of the camcorder. The output from the card goes through the camcorder to the monitor.

Installation of the hardware requires inserting the card in a free PCI slot in the PC and attaching the FireWire cable to the card and the camcorder. One of the advantages of FireWire is that the same cable that carries the video and audio information also controls the camcorder's playback, tape shuttling and record functions. In this configuration, the computer acts as a remote control for the camcorder, sending and receiving transport signals via the FireWire cable.

The Soft Stuff
The MotoDV software consists of three programs: SoftDV, which is for setting the software codec options; MotoDV, for capturing DV footage; and DV Player, which is for playing and recording captured footage back onto DV tape.

One of the main differences between the Mac and the PC versions is that the Mac version can have both the capture and playback programs open at the same time. In the PC version, you must close one before opening the other. This took time and was a bit of a hassle.

As with the Mac version of the card, capturing footage was a simple, self-explanatory process. A small, low-resolution window displays the MotoDV input so you can cue the tape for capture. The display window is handy for confirming that the footage is getting into the computer, but the NTSC monitor attached to the camcorder is a much better way to cue the tape. It displays footage full-speed, full-size and full-resolution.

The Catch
When we first tested the MotoDV, we experienced periodic operation glitches. Although it didn't drop any frames, playback was more unstable than it should have been with the wide SCSI-2 hard drive we were using. It didn't control the camcorder through the FireWire very consistently and occasionally couldn't even find the camcorder. We'd reboot and everything would work OK for a little while until it happened again

A phone call to Radius tech support revealed that the problem wasn't the card itself, but rather compatibility issues between the MotoDV and the Panasonic DV710 camcorder we were using. It turns out that, so far at least, the MotoDV fully supports only a select few DV camcorders, most of them Sony models. (They're listed on the Radius Web site at www.radius.com/products/dvqualified.html). When we tested the card using a Sony DCR-VX1000, the jitters and instability in the video disappeared. All footage played rock steady. Because the footage captured with the Panasonic played back stable through the Sony camcorder, the type of camcorder seemed to make a bigger difference for clean playback than for successful capture. Neither did we experience any more camcorder control problems after changing to the supported model. The program always recognized the VX1000.

Playback and recording to DV tape both worked fine with the VX1000. One feature we especially liked was the ability to set the playback options to display a blank section or colorbars before and after the footage being played. We compared the footage played back to the original footage both visually and with a waveform monitor and found no difference. The captured footage that was recorded back to tape was just as stable and pristine as the original.

The need to use a specific DV camcorder with the MotoDV is a bit limiting, but if you have the correct camcorder (or plan on getting one), the video quality is excellent. MotoDV is a good DV FireWire capture system for a reasonable price.




Video, the Fast Way


Fast AV Master PLUS 2.2 Audio/Video Capture Card
($899)
FAST Multimedia
15029 Woodinville-Redmond Rd.
Woodinville, WA 98072
(425) 489-5009
www.fastmultimedia.com


Although it's getting easier to find video capture systems for under $1000 (for capturing analog video, not to be confused with a DV capture card), selecting one may be a little harder. We'll make it easier for you. A good capture board should synch audio and video, link multiple smaller files into one long project and come bundled with a healthy portion of editing and music creation software. The FAST AV Master PLUS fills this rather tall order with no problem.

Based on the same hardware as AV Master (see Benchmarks, October 1996 Videomaker), AV Master PLUS adds new drivers, improved FASTCap capture software, a full version of Ulead MediaStudio Pro (5.02), Magix Music Maker music creation software (see Benchmarks, November 1998 Videomaker) and FAST's new Multifile Play List capability (which links multiple files and plays them as one long show).

Installation
We tested the AV Master on a PC with a Pentium 133 MHz processor, 32MB of RAM and a Seagate Cheetah wide SCSI-2 hard drive for video capture. The board has one S-video input, one audio input (3.5mm stereo jack), one S-video output, one composite video output (RCA) and one audio output (3.5mm stereo). We encountered one small installation problem. The AV Master software drivers auto-installed in the "PCI Multimedia Device" folder instead of in the "Sound, Video and Game Controllers" folder, where it needed to be to work correctly. After moving it, the AV Master worked great and we moved on to the FASTCap application.

Using FASTCap
FASTCap has an intuitive interface screen composed of three tool bars at the top with a clip bin and preview screen at the bottom. The first toolbar is the capture control, which holds the record button and audio quality, video quality and capture rate settings. The second is the input tool bar, which sets the signal standard (NTSC, PAL or SECAM) and video levels for brightness, contast, color and hue. The third tool bar controls the clip list display.

The video produced by the AV Master Plus and FASTCap was exceptionally clean, both visually on the monitor and when we tested it on the scopes. The board and application get high marks in this important category.

Capturing Video
Conveniently, the program automatically names and numbers files as it captures them (based on user-established naming criteria), which greatly speeds up the capture process. It was easy to quickly start and stop the captures while the raw footage continued to run. We had a slate on each scene of the raw footage and didn't have to stop the source tape between shots. The video quality was excellent with very few artifacts or quality degradation. The footage on playback looked the same as the original, both on the video monitor and the scopes.

The AV Master Plus is an excellent capture and playback system. We never experienced any problems reading or writing video files, and it never dropped frames. The AV Master is good analog video and audio capture card for the professional, prosumer or advanced hobbyist.




White Light


Whitedome Softbox/Starlite Kit
($1144)
Photoflex
333 Encinal Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(800) 486-2674
www.photoflex.com


We often talk about how important it is to have sufficient light to shoot video. The quality of the light is just as important as the quantity. In some cases, it's even more important. Large units that pump out hundreds of watts of light might make your video look worse if it's hard, direct light. Soft, diffused light will create a more pleasing image. The Photoflex Whitedome Softbox with the Starlight system provides just that.

We've heard many times that shooting video on an overcast day will produce images far more pleasing than shooting on a bright clear day. A large light source creates light with soft edges and lower contrast, showing more detail in the shadows. On an overcast day, the clouds make the sunlight into a huge, soft source that throws light everywhere. The same can be done with an artificial light source, and that's exactly what the Whitedome does.

A Whole Lotta Light
The Whitedome is a large soft box that mounts on the front of high-intensity video lights. The Whitedome is different from other soft boxes because its sides are made of the same diffusion material as the front. Most softboxes have black, opaque sides and keep light from spilling out. The Whitedome's large, flat front provides smooth, soft illumination for your subject, while the sides fill the room with soft light. This ability to bathe a room in soft light makes the Whitedome an excellent light source. It's especially useful in a large area or in other conditions that are typically difficult to light properly.

The Whitedome comes in three different sizes, 16x22 inches, 24x32 inches and 36x48 inches. Photoflex has adapters that allow you to mount the units on the Photoflex Starlite 3200 video light, the Photoflex four-star connector (a bracket which holds up to four Starlites), the Lowel Tota light and the Lowel DP light. We tested the large Whitedome with three Photoflex Starlite 3200s mounted on the four star connector.

The Shining Star
The Starlite 3200 units are high-wattage lights for use with the Photoflex soft boxes. The lamps, which are available in 150-, 250-, 500- and 1000-watts, are sealed in a glass envelope, which means you can handle them with your bare hands (when the lamps are cool) without the skin oils on your hands damaging the lamps. The units also come with snap-on covers that protect the lamps during transportation.

Although there is a bracket to mount a Whitedome on a single Starlite, we used the four-star connector that allows you to mount from one to four individual Starlites on a single Whitedome. This creates an array that can range anywhere from 150 watts (using a single Starlite with a 150-watt lamp) to 4000 watts (using four Starlites each with 1000-watt lamps). The four-star connector attaches to a bracket that allows mounting the light on most standard light stands. Before the lights can be set up, the brackets must be assembled. This was an easy task. Although the assembly of the entire system seemed complicated at first, we had the entire four-star connector, with three Starlite 3200 units and the large Whitedome, completely assembled within 20 minutes of opening the boxes.

It's Portable
When we first saw the Whitedome, we thought that because it was so large and complicated, it would be suitable for studio lighting only. After setting it up once, we changed our minds. It took us three an a half minutes to assemble it and three minutes to disassemble and pack up the entire Whitedome and Starlite system. It fits in a very portable package, but unfortunately doesn't come with a carrying case.

The light quality from the Whitedome is excellent. The light it throws is soft and even. For our test we set up a wide shot of an interview subject with the room behind the subject visible. We used one large Whitedome with three 1000-watt Starlites placed above and to one side of the subject. The subject was well lit and the light looked very natural. The room behind the subject was just a little darker than the subject, but evenly lit. The light from the Whitedome also filled the sides of the subject, which aided in softening the contrast.

The Whitedome and Starlite combination is easy to setup and transport. It provides excellent light quality and distribution. This system would be ideal for the prosumer and advanced hobbyist.

Tags:  December 1998
Jim
Martin
Tue, 12/01/1998 - 12:00am