The King’s Pawn
Sony CCD-TR400 Hi8 Camcorder
1 Sony Drive
Park Ridge, New Jersey 07656
The Sony CCD-TR400 is for those who want a high-quality home camcorder, but can’t afford the decked-out
CCD-TR700. It offers the ease of use and comfort of a point-and-shoot, yet also includes some professional features
common to the TR line.
Images come into the camcorder through a 5.4mm to 65.8mm lens. This f/1.8, 12:1 zoom lens changes rather
abruptly between its two speeds. Focus is either automatic or completely manual, as is the iris control. A visible
exposure meter appears in the viewfinder to let you know the iris is in manual mode.
Switches and controls are easy to find and operate, with the exception of the iris and focus controls. The iris
control is under the rear left side, while the focus knob is on the left front side. Using either knob means removing
your left hand from supporting the unit, which can cause shaking even the Steady Shot stabilization won’t
An auto-exposure program button calls up a choice of four different shooting modes. These modes automatically
set the camera systems for optimal shooting and each has its own range of shutter speeds.
A door on top of the unit opens to reveal the VCR controls while another door on the right side reveals the A/V
connections. The unit has a stereo headphone jack as well as an external stereo mike input. For those with the proper
editing equipment, the CCD-TR400 has a Control-L (LANC) input for use as a source deck. However, the unit does
not support time code.
There is a menu system controlled by buttons at the rear of the camcorder; the menus appear in the black and
white viewfinder. This allows you to enable or disable Hi8 mode, mike windscreen, edit mode and infrared remote.
The menu also includes a world clock.
A side-mounted liquid display crystal shows tape type, battery condition, counter numbers, and a few other
functions. The wireless remote repeats most of the VCR control functions.
The Steady Shot system does quite a good job of smoothing out unsteady hand-held shots, especially in the
telephoto lens mode. In fact, it is perhaps the smoothest in-camcorder stabilizer I have ever worked with, even
compared to similar systems in other Sony camcorders.
Panning with the Steady Shot on doesn’t give a lagging impression as in other units. The circuit seems to have
slightly less effect on the image than others I’ve used and I think that’s why I like it; it does not override natural
While resolution was much better than regular 8mm, my first impression was that it was something less than Hi8
performance. A horizontal resolution test of the camera section showed little more than 360 lines-a bit disappointing
for a Hi8 camera. As a result, the test tape played back at about 320 lines. This is still far better performance than
regular 8mm but does not match any Hi8 standard.
Color rendition, while very nice, was also suspect and usually warmer in tone than the actual scene. You can
adjust white balance by aiming at a white surface for the first fifteen seconds after turning on the power standby
switch, but there is no indicator to check it by.
Autofocus in the CCD-TR400 hesitated considerably; auto iris was smooth in response but the camcorder
behaved poorly in low light.
In fact, low light performance is one of the CCD-TR400’s biggest drawbacks. At just half a stop below optimum
lighting, the picture appears very grainy. Even the dark areas in a properly-lit room get a bit grainy. This is
not the camcorder for night sports shooting or for recording events in low light. Low light not only effects
the grain, but drives the auto focus into a coma. It barely works in dimly lit rooms and did not seem to work at all
outdoors at night.
On the audio side, stereo separation is very good even at close ranges and the hi-fi is high quality, though slightly
While I liked this unit overall and found it easy to use, I prefer the image quality of the Sony CCD-FX series. I was
particularly unimpressed with the low light performance and bothered by the lag in the autofocus at lower light
levels. Still, the CCD-TR400 offers a bit more user control than simple point-and-shoot models. So if you plan to
shoot in daylight or in well-lit rooms and want a better image than regular 8mm, you might do well to take a look at
Sony CCD-TR400 Hi8 camcorder
- 12:1 zoom lens, f/1.8 with focal length 5.4mm-64.8mm
- Auto or manual
- Auto or manual
- White balance
- S-video, composite video, stereo audio
- S-video, composite video, stereo audio
- Other features
- Auto white balance, program AE, fade to/from black or mosaic, world clock, internal
menus, wireless remote control, battery, A/C adapter, charger
- 4 1/2 (width) X 4 3/8 (height) X 8 1/4 (length) inches
- 2 pounds, 7 ounces with battery and tape installed.
- Video performance (approx.)
- Horizontal resolution (camera)
- 360 lines
- Horizontal resolution (playback)
- 320 lines
- Performance times
- Pause to record
- Less than 1 second
- Power-up to record
- 3 1/2 seconds
- Fast forward/rewind (30 min tape)
- 6 minutes 40 seconds
JVC Edit Desk System
41 Slater Drive
Elmwood, NJ 07407
The JVC Edit Desk System offers three products as a matched set: the industrial BR-S500U S-VHS player
VCR, the BR-S800U S-VHS editing deck and the JVC RM-G800U editing controller. The heart of the system is the
RM-G800U edit controller which centralizes the editing functions of both decks. All of this provides the user with
an easy-to-use, cuts-only professional editing system. The system is frame accurate and offers both assemble and
full insert editing.
JVC put this system together for prosumers and the professional event videomakers who require more control and
flexibility than consumer equipment can provide. For those with considerable budgets, such as larger independent
production houses, the Edit Desk system is useful for off-line editing and logging. Producers with smaller budgets
can use this system as a base on which to build an editing suite.
The Edit Desk system looks professional in appearance and design. The edit controller buttons have a simple,
logical layout. Each has its own light emitting diode (LED) to indicate an on or off condition. Further, many of the
system’s controls provide a tone when selected.
Both decks use direct drive motors, and have sturdy chassis made of rugged die-cast aluminum. However, the
front bezels are made of thin plastic and may not last long.
Because it is intended as a player, the BR-S500U has no audio controls. This and the lack of input connectors or
record controls are the only differences between the two decks.
The Inside Story
The system uses a special type of time code called Control Track Longitudinal, or CTL time code. If you
install an optional board, you can also use vertical interval time code (VITC) or longitudinal time code (LTC).
The CTL records on a separate track of its own rather than borrowing one of the linear audio tracks as LTC does.
This allows for two linear audio tracks as well as the usual stereo hi-fi tracks. The linear audio tracks use Dolby NR
for better audio reproduction.
To set up your edits on the RM-G800U edit controller, you simply pick an "in" point for the start of the
scene you wish to add, then an "in" point on your master record tape where you want the scene added. Finally, you
pick an "out" point on either the source or record deck where you want the edit to end. Using this method (which the
pros call "assembly editing"), you only need one "out" point.
Other buttons allow the edit controller to add scenes and/or audio to replace signals that already exist on the tape
("insert editing"). You can use any combination of insert buttons for video, audio track one, or audio track two. The
control track from the earlier signal remains intact during the edit process, allowing for a clean finished edit.
Along the top of the unit are controls for choosing the type of time code you are using (or control track). Next to
that is the liquid crystal display (LCD) which indicates the position of the tape on each deck presently controlled.
Also found here is a reset counter button and a lap button which measures the elapsed time of each edit.
The Edit preview, Edit review, Edit start and All stop buttons round out the unit’s controls. The preview button
will show you the edit before it’s performed, while the review button will show you the finished edit. You can eject
your tapes from the edit controller as well.
A general purpose interface (GPI) button sets the timing of triggered effects, like titling from a character
generator (CG) or effects from a special effects generator (SEG). When used with the shift button, the GPI button
manually triggers a GPI pulse. This button also helps set up time code, and exits the Record mode.
There are two GPI connectors on the back of the unit. You can set one to trigger a little ahead of an edit "in" point
while the other triggers precisely on the "in" point. You can also manually trigger either one at any time.
The last controls are for toggling the menu on/off and setting the control parameters within the system. Number
codes allow you to set parameters such as preroll time, "out" point return on/off, bump on/off and sync quality.
Other choices include edit accuracy and edit delay, GPI signal output type, and E-to-E setting (for using a single
monitor). There are also many other choices, enough to confuse even the most experienced editor. But don’t despair-
-if you make a bad selection and then get lost, simply turn both VCRs off, then turn them on again while holding
down the LAP and RESET buttons on the edit controller. This will reset the Edit Desk to factory values.
Swab That Deck
Looking at the two decks, the BR-S500U and BR-S800U are almost identical except for the BR-S800U’s added
recording and editing features. Each has dual VU meters you can switch to monitor either the hi-fi or linear audio
playback levels, or the record levels of either the hi-fi or linear tracks on the BR-S800U.
Since most functions are identical on both decks, let’s limit the rest of our look to the BR-S800U. The front panel
has the basic transport controls with a two piece jog/shuttle knob. The outer knob controls tape transport over a wide
range of speeds. The center section of this knob advances or retards video frame by frame.
Two extra buttons on the BR-S800U control only the record and audio dub modes. A setup control
section allows you to choose between hi-fi or linear tracks, as well as left, right or stereo playback.
The unit uses signal level knobs for setting hi-fi and linear audio track levels. Also in this section is a video input
switch for Y/C or composite signals, as well as switches for setting the LED counter to present control track or time
Along the top of the panel are the VU meters and the tracking control. A switch turns the right meter into a
tracking meter for best tracking adjustment. A row of LEDs indicate hi-fi on, Dolby NR on, servo lock (when using
external sync), and cassette loaded. There are also buttons to control tape counter searches, repeat plays, and reset
One of the most important controls on both decks is the Menu button. The menu, which appears either
on the LCD screen or on the video monitor, offers 38 choices on the BR-S800U, while the BR-S500U drops those
that involve audio/video recording. The edit controller also controls the menu.
Using the menu, you can adjust sync, TBC, input selection, pre-roll time, edit delays, search speeds, servo settings
and even set up a slow motion in the editing protocol. And again, you can reset to factory defaults at any time.
On the rear panel are the inputs and outputs. The unit can use S-video and composite connectors simultaneously.
All audio connections are RCA with a separate connector for an audio monitor.
The JVC Edit Desk System works well. Nothing is difficult to understand or use except perhaps the menu
settings. The well-written operator’s manuals will get you through everything with little trouble. If you have any
experience with straight-cuts linear editors, especially the older U-Matic types, you will probably learn to use this
system in twenty minutes or less. If you don’t have experience, the manuals should have you editing in a few
The performance of the Edit Desk System pleased me very much. The CTL was indeed single-frame accurate in
every edit I tried. (Note: I did not test the unit with either VITC or LTC time code.)
I only found one major flaw: there’s no obvious way to upgrade to A/B roll editing. Still, if you add a good
consumer level character generator and special effects generator (both GPI controllable), you’ll have a high quality
editing system at a reasonable price. If you’re planning to build a budget editing suite, you should take a look at the
JVC Edit Desk System.
JVC BR-S800U S-VHS Editing Deck
Note: Specifications of the BR-S500U are equal to those of the BR-S800U except for lack of input connections, VU meter controls and recording controls.
- S-VHS (VHS compatible)
- Video inputs
- S-Video, composite, sync in
- Video outputs
- S-video, composite (x2)
- Audio inputs
- Stereo linear, stereo hi-fi
- Audio outputs
- Stereo linear, stereo hi-fi, audio monitor
- Video controls
- Manual tracking, video input
- Control protocol
- 12-pin JVC cable, control via RS-232C and RS-422 with proper interface
- 5 (height) by 17 (width) by 18 (depth) inches
- 25 pounds
- JVC RM-G800U Editing Controller
- Editing protocol
- 12-pin JVC cable, CTL time code
- Standard shuttle controls, jog wheel, counter, time code/control track, lap &
counter control, menu controls
- Edit controls
- Assembly edit, insert edit, entry, in, out, cancel, goto, preview, review, all stop,
auto edit, GPI
- 3 (height) by 12 1/2 (width) by 7 (depth) inches
- 3 pounds
Steady Tracker Flight Stick Pro
Classic Video Productions
93 Cottage Lane
Aliso Viejo, CA 92656
($499 with monitor, $250 without)
This is the newest product from Classic Video Productions, who also offers the Action Boom Steady Tracker and
the Mega Crane series. The Flight Stick is a stabilizer for shooting any kind of video.
Two versions are available. A standard version handles cameras or camcorders up to six pounds, and has a $149
price tag (without monitor). The Pro version (tested here) can handle cameras up to 16 pounds. This weight is far
beyond what other similar products can handle, and as a result, the Flight Stick targets the entire video market.
The Flight Stick looks rather nice. Hard plastic, finished in a mottled black, makes up the base of the unit. A
balancing weight found at the rear nicely fits into the base and easily accomplishes a two-axis adjustment.
The 4-inch Citizen color liquid crystal display (LCD) is located on a swivel mount on the front of
A two foot tube extends from the base up to the camera mounting platform. You mount your camcorder on an
adjustable platform welded to the tube. A single knob locks the camcorder into position. A cable for attaching the
monitor to the video out on your camcorder runs through the base and tube of the unit to tidy things up. Finally, the
operator’s handle mounts around the upright tube (much like a motorcycle hand grip) and two clamps allow for its
adjustment up or down the tube.
After mounting your camera on the platform, you must balance the whole unit before using it. You should
have all attachments on your camcorder before you start the balancing procedure, including a tape and battery.
This type of stabilizer works by balancing the weight above and below the grip point so that inertia helps keep the
whole thing stable. In practice, you want the bottom end to be slightly heavier than the top.
The manual gives some insight into the balancing process, but I found that by balancing the grip point first, then
positioning both the camcorder and base weight until the unit sits plum to the ground, I was able to achieve a good
balance in about ten minutes.
Using the Flight Stick is not unlike carrying a glass of water around your house so carefully that the surface of the
water stays level with the edges of the glass. As with a new artist learning to use a brush, this takes practice. Use
your predominant hand for gripping and supporting the weight and your other hand to pan and tilt. Once again,
Into the Wild Blue
I shot about twenty minutes of video with the Flight Stick, during which I ran, walked, climbed stairs, stepped
over fences, and climbed hills. I also tried pans and tilts while shooting. During most of this the LCD monitor was
difficult to see, and viewing it from an angle distorted the image and colors.
On my initial try I had some trouble keeping the unit vertical without tilting off to the side a little bit. Adjusting
the monitor so I could see it better helped this somewhat, but the problem persisted, especially when turning
corners. Again, practice should clear this up.
I also noticed a slight jarring in the footage when I ran. Loosening my grip a bit helped this but it’s clear that
practice will be the best remedy.
All units like the Flight Stick must be able to move smoothly around the operator’s hand grip, and this is where
the Flight Stick has problems. Classic Video chose to use a metal sleeve as a bearing between the tube and the
handle and it tends to be a bit sticky at times, rubbing against the upright tube and the upper handle clamp. This
seriously affected some pans I tried. Future versions of the Flight Stick will benefit greatly if Classic Video switches
either to ball bearings or a Teflon sleeve for the handle. Also, the addition of a bubble level on the base would aid
greatly in balancing.
Furthermore, the location of the monitor seemed a bit too low for me. If mounted on the tube, it would be easier
to see without affecting balance too much.
One other problem. The camcorder mounting plate, as stated, locks down with a single knob. This is quick and
efficient, but it makes fine adjustment more difficult than with other brands.
All in all, the unit was easy and fun to use. I liked the way it was constructed, and I appreciated the simplicity of
balancing as well. Going up stairs, climbing, tilting, and other maneuvers are all quite smooth with this unit. And I
liked the very solid feel of the Flight Stick.
Put bluntly, the Flight Stick works. It’s worth your consideration if you’re looking for a stabilizer.
Steady Tracker Flight Stick
- Weight capacity
- Supports camcorders up to 16 lbs.
- Citizen 4-inch color LCD
Monitor controls: on/off, brightness, color
- Video Input (monitor)
- One mini-jack video in
- Audio Input
- One RCA audio input on monitor
- Dimensions (approx.)
- Base: 22 (length) by 2 1/2 (height) by 4 (width) inches
Tube: 23 inches
Camera platform: 3 (width) by 7 (length) inches
- 6 1/2 pounds