Canon Vistura Mini DV Camcorder, Microsoft Netshow Tools, RealNetworks Real Publisher, XingMPEG encoder, Classic Video Products SteadyTRACKER F-10 Camcorder Stabilizer, JVC HR-S9500U S-VHS Editing VCR
DV Video, Editor and Flash Photography to Boot
Vistura Mini DV Camcorder
Canon USA Inc.
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NY 10042-1113
Following in the footsteps of the Optura (November 1997 Benchmark), Canon's newest camcorder, the Vistura, functions as a Mini DV camcorder and a snapshot, digital still camera. Unlike the Optura, however, this camcorder doesn't try to mimic a still camera in form or function.
Designed primarily for the advanced hobbyist, Vistura is shaped more like a palm-sized video camcorder then a still camera. The variable zoom control is located on the top of the camcorder and the record button on back. The manual focus, iris and shutter speed all are accessible without having to use on-screen menus. The Vistura's power switch sets video, photo or VCR mode and a separate standby lever can be used to shut down the camcorder to save battery power, without losing manual settings such as white balance and shutter speed. The Vistura has an external microphone input and an IEEE-1394 (i.LINK) input/output port, but no analog video inputs. For outputs the Vistura has S-video, composite video, stereo audio headphones, and the i.LINK port. It also has a Control-L port for use in an edit system.
The Vistura doesn't have the time value (Tv) and aperture value (Av) feature for exposure setting that the Optura has. Instead, the Vistura offers control over the shutter speed and iris setting using an adjustment knob. A turn of the adjustment knob brings a shutter speed display to the viewfinder or the 2.8-inch LCD viewscreen. Once the desired shutter speed is displayed you just press the button in the center of the knob and the change takes affect. The Vistura also gives you control over the iris setting. Just press the exposure button above the adjustment knob, rotate the knob and number appears on the display with a plus or minus sign in front designating how many steps above or below the auto exposure it is. We found the shutter and iris controls easy to operate.
A feature that is shared between the Optura and the Vistura is a flash mount for using Canon's Speedlite flash units (the 220EX or the 380EX) for still photography. We found using the Vistura in photo mode with the flash attachment was much like using a still camera. The images it produced where sharp and bright.
The Vistura uses Canon's new Lens Shift optical image stabilizer. Most camcorders with Optical Image Stabilization use the Vari-Prism technology, which is too bulky for compact camcorders. Vistura uses a new technology (see Zoom In, Zoom Out in the October 1998 Videomaker) that reduces the size of the Optical Image Stabilization for use in small camcorders. The real test of image stabilization, however, is on long telephoto shots. We zoomed the Vistura to a long telephoto shot without using a tripod and the image was stable. With the stabilizer off, the long telephoto shot was too shaky to use. Like the other manual controls, the stabilizer is activated with a button on the side of the camcorder, which means it can be activated and deactivated without navigating menus.
The Vistura's built-in editing feature allows you to build an edit decision list in the camcorder (up to 20 edits with cut in and cut out points), and then shuffle the scenes around in the list. Using the list the camcorder will control a recording VCR, with infrared remote control, and edit a program. We tried this feature with a JVC HR-S9500U S-VHS deck and it worked fine. The camcorder superimposed the edit decision list menu over the video footage so we could see both on the viewscreen while marking the scenes. That means you can make a rough edit decision list in the field then let the camcorder put it together as soon as you get back. To set the equipment up we just attached audio and video cables between the camcorder and VCR then went though the camcorder's set up procedure for the infrared control, which was just a matter of scrolling through a list of numbered, control options until one started the VCR. To edit, we put the VCR into record/pause, scrolled through the camcorder's edit menu to the start command and pressed the execute button. The camcorder cued up to the first scene, started rolling and released pause on the recorder. When the tape reached the end of that scene the camcorder put the recording VCR into pause. It continued until the program was completed.
One of the lowest priced Mini DV camcorders on the market, the Vistura offers features most creative producers are looking for. With its manual controls, editing features and control-L port, the Vistura is a good camcorder for prosumers and advanced hobbyists.
Video Performance (approx.)
Down Stream Video
(Included with Windows NT or as free demo download)
One Microsoft Way
Redmond, WA 98052
1111 Third Avenue, Suite 2900
Seattle, WA 98101
Xing Technology Corporation
810 Fiero Lane
San Luis Obispo, CA 93401
Streaming technology gives us the ability to send moving video over the World Wide Web. People can go to a Web site, click on a name or icon and, after a few seconds of buffering, the video and audio program will begin to run. There is no need to download a file before running it. The downside of streaming video is that the display is in a small window and it typically only runs at 15 fps or less (prompting some to call it dribbling video). For our test, we decided to use the Montana Miller Flying Rings sample video that comes with Adobe Premiere because it is a file that everyone who owns Premiere has and is familiar with. For our tests we used a Pentium 133 with 16 MB of RAM and Windows 95. This month we will review software from Microsoft and RealNetworks for creating streaming video files from pre-produced programs. Also, we'll take a look at Xing's MPEG encoder which creates MPEG-1 files. Though MPEG files do not actually "stream", MPEG is nonetheless a widely accepted standard for downloading video clips from the Web. Though we are testing the Adobe Premiere plug-ins, you can get the same tools as stand-alone software encoders in case you are not using Adobe Premiere.
The first program we looked at was Microsoft's NetShow Tools. It is available as a download from Microsoft's Web site and includes a plug-in to encode directly from within Adobe Premiere. NetShow Tools requires a Pentium 100 (Pentium II/266 or Digital Alpha 533 recommended), Windows 95, 16MB of RAM (32MB recommended) and a Creative Labs compatible sound card. We downloaded NetShow from Microsoft's site and extracted the files. The program launched into the installation procedure and advised us that we would need Microsoft's newest Media Player to playback .ASF (advanced streaming format) files. We had the NetShow Player, which also plays .ASF files so we found we didn't need the new Media Player. The installation took only about four minutes and automatically installed the NetShow plug-in for Adobe Premiere. The plug-in option is found under the File/Export menu in Adobe Premiere.
The NetShow software takes any source information, movie (.AVI, .MOV), picture (.BMP, .JPG, .GIF, .DIB, .RLE) or sound files (.WAV, .MP3), and turns it into .ASF content. You can also convert PowerPoint presentations to .ASF files within PowerPoint or save the PowerPoint slides as .JPG images and use the NetShow T.A.G. Author tools (included with the NetShow Tools) to incorporate the .JPG files into an .ASF file. Once converted, an .ASF file can be delivered to a NetShow or an HTTP server for streaming as a stored .ASF file.
Before creating an .ASF file you must first determine the maximum bandwidth allowed for an .ASF file on the server you will use. The maximum bandwidth is determined by the unicast configuration of the NetShow server. To find the bandwidth, ask the system administrator of the server you will use, ours is a 128Kbps http server without streaming server software. Any Web server can serve NetShow, RealMedia or MPEG files, using Hypertext Transport Protocol (HTTP), however it is not recommended. There are services that will host your Web site and serve your streaming video, some for free.
When the file is ready to stream you must place it on a server. Either a NetShow server or an HTTP server will work. Microsoft recommends using a NetShow server because it will access all of the Advanced Streaming Format functionality whereas the HTTP server will not.
Encoding with NetShow
To create the .ASF files we loaded Adobe Premiere and opened the sample demo file (the circus program). We rendered the sample to an .AVI file. When rendered, the .AVI file had a size of 3,993Kb. With the .AVI file rendered and open, the NetShow Export function was active. We pressed NetShow ASF and another menu came up with a list of the template options for choices of quality and speed of the streamed file. High quality and speed settings will result in a larger file and better video. We picked the 28.8 High Motion Video option and the conversion took about a minute. We also encoded the file using the 28.8 High Motion Video (160x112) setting; it took the same length of time to encode. We view the finished clips with the NetShow Player. Both played the same. However, the former setting created a video with a black border at the top and bottom of the display. The latter setting didn't have the black border. We decided to use the latter. Encoded with the NetShow encoder the clip had a file size of 79KB.
The results of all the tests can be seen on Videomaker's Streaming Video Web site at www.streamingvideos.com.
RealNetworks states the system requirements for RealPublisher are a 486 DX2 66MHz (Pentium 120MHz recommended) with 16MB of RAM (32MB recommended), a 16-bit sound card, and an operating system of Windows 95/NT. The source files for RealPublisher can be any files that Premiere supports, which are .AVI, .MOV or .FLM (filmstrip). The audio source file should be .WAV only.
The RealPublisher installation was a bit quicker than NetShow, taking only about a minute, and it also included a plug-in for Adobe Premiere. After completion of the installation we opened Premiere again, loaded up the Circus .AVI file and then went to the file pull down menu. Under export we now had RealVideo Publisher listed right under the NetShow ASF encoder. We clicked on RealVideo Publisher and in the next menu, which was the options menu, choose Video, 28.8 High Action. As with NetShow, the encoding process took only about a minute. We viewed the finished clip with RealPlayer and it played a little choppy; more like a slide show. It looked about the same as the NetShow clip. When encoded with the RealPublisher encoder the clip had a file size of 70 KB, about the same size as the NetShow file.
Xing MPEG encoder
The XingMPEG minimum system requirements are similar to the others, Intel Pentium or AMD K6 (Pentium II recommended), 16MB RAM (32MB recommended) and Microsoft Windows 95/NT. Unlike NetShow and RealPublisher, the Xing encoder does not offer an Adobe Premiere plug-in. However, Xing is working on it, and the Adobe Premiere plug-in should be available by the time you read this article.
The XingMPEG Encoder is a stand-alone program and, as with the others, uses source files that are .AVI, .MOV or .WAV files. However, unlike the others, with XingMPEG you can also use an MPEG file as a source, offering one more choice of source options.
We opened the XingMPEG Encoder and found that the menu page includes the job queue, the "encode" button and a preview window. The process of encoding a clip with the XingMPEG encoder starts with setting the streaming profile, which defines what characteristics are included in the encoded MPEG files. The streaming profile setting window is found under the file window, by pressing control M or by pressing the new button to add a new job to the queue. We pressed the new button and the streaming profile menu appeared with a list of pre-defined streaming profiles. The user can also create custom profiles. The pre-defined formats include MPEG, VideoCD and StreamWorks. To see the difference between clips streamed for 28.8 modems and 14.4 modems we decided to encode one at each setting. We picked the StreamWorks audio/video profile at 14.4Kbps. A window then came up for us to define the source file. There were three boxes to fill in: video source, audio source and destination. We used the browse function and picked our .AVI file. The program automatically filled in the audio source and destination boxes. The destination was the Xing Media Files directory. We then set a second job in the queue, to encode the same clip for a 28.8 modem.
With this done we pressed encode. Unfortunately, during the encoding process, the program stopped on each job and told us the data rate was too slow for the source file. We were told to try again with a higher data rate. So, we went back to the job queue and started over. This time we picked 384K and the encoding process went smoothly. With its preview window, the XingMPEG encoder shows you frames of the file as it is encoding. Although it is not previewed at playing speed during encoding, the preview feature helps to keep track how far along in the encoding process the clip is. And, as soon as the encoding is finished, all you have to do to view the encoded clip is press the play button. We previewed the encoded file when it was finished and we were impressed with the motion quality of the clip. It was much smoother then the previous two. Encoded with the XingMPEG encoder the .MPG clip's file size is 1230K. Considerably larger than the other two. High quality brings a larger file size.
Streaming video is a new way to distribute your videos. While streaming video may not be quite ready for full frame (640x480), full speed (30fps) video, it is improving with other advances in technology. However, as we have experienced, the process of creating streaming video files from existing video (.AVI) files is not difficult at all. We did notice because our clip has a lot of movement and changes of color and texture per frame (not good for streaming video) the NetShow and Real Publisher encoded videos played more like a slide show. The XingMPEG encoded file play much more smoothly, however the file size was considerably larger. Remember though, that this file would not "stream" to the user over the Internet. Rather, he would have to wait for a large portion of the file to download before he could start to view it. All three were quick and easy to use.
Steady TRACKER F-10
Classic Video Products
93 Cottage Lane
Aliso Viejo, CA 92655-4204
Today's advanced shooters are looking for more dynamic videos with lots of camera movement. The problem most videographers have is holding the camcorder steady enough to get those camera movements without unwanted camera shake. Classic Video Products has developed a handheld camcorder stabilizer designed to solve that problem, the SteadyTRACKER F-10.
The SteadyTRACKER is a counterweighted metal "stick" with a mount for the camcorder on the top and a long base on the bottom, parallel to the camcorder, to counterbalance the camcorder. The base has counterweights or an optional LCD monitor and battery pack that act as counterweights. In the middle of the SteadyTRACKER is a flange with a foam pad on the bottom. The flange allows the weight of the SteadyTRACKER to rest comfortably on the top of the user's hand.
The SteadyTRACKER uses the operator's arm as a shock absorber to hold the unit steady. The F-10 is pretty basic and easy to use. The main operator requirement for the camera stabilizer is a strong arm. Holding the SteadyTRACKER with a camcorder on it will tire the arm pretty quickly.
A Matter of Balance
The SteadyTRACKER F-10 works with just about any camcorder which mounts on a sliding camera plate with a standard tripod screw (a 3/8-inch long, 1/4-20 machine screw). Once the camcorder is mounted on the top plate, the user can move the camcorder forward or backward and side to side using the adjustments on the plate, in order to balance the unit. We recommend marking the plate somehow, for each camcorder used, to save future balancing time when setting the unit up for use. The unit must be balanced both vertically and horizontally to operate correctly. If not balanced correctly, the F-10 will be hard to hold level and steady and will not function properly. The balancing procedure is not hard, just a matter of trial and error. It took us about 5 minutes to balance the unit.
Although the SteadyTRACKER is not a technically difficult product to operate, it does take a little time to get the feel of it. You must walk with your knees slightly bent and step softly for smooth video. The manual recommends the new user practice by using a cup of water placed on the base of the unit to learn how to hold it steady and vertical. After a short while you begin to recognize what level feels like and no longer have to think about it. Once you get the feel for moving with the SteadyTRACKER, walking quickly while shooting with the F-10 adds a nice look to the footage. Shooting with the lens on its widest setting helps to accentuate the effect as does moving close to walls and other objects. Moving close to objects enhances the camcorder's movement.
Get A Grip
There are two different ways to hold the SteadyTRACKER, the V grip and the full grip. The V grip is accomplished by holding your hand in front of you, as if you were going to shake hands with someone, except the thumb is level with the index finger, forming a V between the thumb and fingers. Place the stick in that V and let the flange rest on the top of the hand. With the V grip you are not holding the stick firmly, the stick can hang level naturally. However, the stick can also rock back and forth a bit in a pendulum fashion. The Full grip is similar to the V grip except that you hold the stick firmly and control any movement. We found that the full grip gave us more control and felt more secure. If you are concerned about keeping the shot level, just move the hand grip further up the shaft, which moves the center of gravity lower. Gravity will help keep the camcorder level. The disadvantage is that you must move slower to avoid having the camcorder rock when you start your move. The unit is also harder to tilt when you want to.
We found the F-10 did help isolate the camcorder from sudden movements and footage was noticeably smoother. It did take us some time to learn how to move with the unit. You must walk gently or the movement from footsteps will be noticeable in the shot, although still not as bad as without the F-10. It took us a little practice to get our shots as smooth as we wanted.
Another feature of the F-10 is the ability to raise your shot from below eye level to several feet above the heads of your subjects by just raising your arm. The F-10's stick raises the height of the shot two or three feet above your arm's reach, while still helping to keep the shot level. Another advantage is that while holding the F-10 above head level you can still see the shot with the monitor mounted on the base. These features make the F-10 handy for shooting over a crowd. Just don't get caught in the middle of the crowd as the unit is bulky.
The SteadyTRACKER F-10 helps make camcorder footage much more stable. It also eliminates the sudden, jerky movements that are a problem when using a handheld method. The SteadyTRACKER is a useful product for helping prosumer and advanced hobbyist videographers add professional looking movement to their footage.
HR-S9500U S-VHS Editing VCR
JVC of America
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470
Often these days, the VCRs of a video hobbyist or prosumer must be able to do double duty, both in the entertainment center and in the edit bay. JVC has been making decks that can handle this multifaceted job for many years. Last year's HR-S9400U S-VHS deck is a fine example (see the January 1998 Benchmark). This month we tested the latest of JVC's top-of-the-line decks, the HR-S9500U, to see if JVC has continued this tradition.
The HR-9500U has received a bit of a facelift from last year's model, with all tape control buttons except the play, pause and stop/eject, hidden behind the display panel (actually a lens that flips up in front of the LED display), and the jog/shuttle knob completely removed. Don't worry though, the jog/shuttle knob has just been relocated to the remote control where it is more accessible. While the face of the HR-9500U is much cleaner and prettier the last year's model, the new deck has plenty of muscle. It still includes all the features last year's HR-S9400U had, including TimeScan (which allows clean video during slow motion and fast motion) and Commercial Advance (a feature where the deck automatically zips through commercials during playback).
The Ins and Outs of It
Front panel inputs are hidden behind an access door. The inputs are limited to S-VHS, composite video and stereo audio. The JLIP (Joint-Level Interface Protocol) control port was moved to the rear panel. The rear panel also has an S-VHS input and an output, a composite input and output, a set of stereo audio inputs and outputs and an RF input and output. New this year is a cable box port (which the deck uses to change channels on your cable television box for timed program recordings) and an AV Compulink port (which also functions as the remote pause port). AV Compulink is a JVC feature that links compatible JVC home entertainment components, such as televisions, amplifiers and receivers, allowing them all to work together as a unit. You turn on the VCR and press play and your AV Compulink television and stereo automatically power-up and switch to the correct settings.
The HR-S9500U is a top-of-the-line deck with all of the tools necessary for video editing and it fits into a home entertainment system as well. As an editing deck the HR-S9500U still includes audio and video insert editing and JLIP for editing control. You can still attach a JVC camcorder with JLIP or Random Assemble Editing features and edit video from the camcorder right to the deck.
Change Is Good
One change to note, however, is the jog/shuttle knob's migration to the remote control. With the move came a change in operation. On last year's model the jog/shuttle did not operate in the standard way (the jog controlling frame-by-frame movement and the shuttle controlling slow and fast search). It did, however, control TimeScan playback. The shuttle knob on that model stepped through the various TimeScan speeds. This year the jog/shuttle functions do not control TimeScan (which is controlled by another button on the remote) and work in the traditional way. When we tested it, the jog knob stepped though the video frame-by-frame as we moved the dial and stopped advancing the frames when we stopped moving the dial. The Shuttle knob scanned either forwards or reverse, depending on which direction the knob was moved, in fast (at three different speeds), slow (at two different speeds) and at normal speeds. We were please to see that although the jog/shuttle was not in the TimeScan mode, the image was still free from noise and distortion while scanning frame-by-frame and slow, both forward and backward. The high-speed search mode did display scan lines in the picture, but the image was still viewable enough to search for a specific scene. Another difference between jog/shuttle and TimeScan is that audio is muted during jog/shuttle, while TimeScan plays the audio during searching. In TimeScan slow search the audio is slowed to match the video, but the pitch is electronically altered to sound normal. During fast search the audio plays slightly faster, with the pitch altered. When the audio can't keep up, it just drops sections of the sound and starts over.
We were impressed with the HR-S9500U's performance and, especially, its price. It is an affordable and versatile consumer S-VHS deck that can handle duties in the entertainment center or the edit suite. The video was of high quality at all speeds and the features were easy to access. The main area of weakness it seems to have is the lack of any kind of time code, a problem it shares with the HR-S9400U. This would be an ideal deck for the video hobbyist and prosumer who can't afford an industrial editing deck, but wants to stick with S-VHS.
Video inputs: S-video (x2), composite video (x2)
Video outputs: S;-video, composite video, RF
Audio inputs: stereo audio (x2)
Audio outputs: stereo audio
Edit control protocol: JLIP
Other features: TimeScan forward/reverse playback, audio/video dud, audio level meters, index search, Commercial Advance, video stabilizer, insert edit, Random Assemble Edit
Dimensions: 17.3 (width) by 4.3 (height) by 13.4 (depth) inches
Weight: 10.6 pounds