Test Bench:DV Gear DVWonder Turnkey Editing Workstation


$2,349

DV Gear LLC

10634 E Riverside Dr

Suite 110

Bothell, WA 98011

(877) 415-0628

www.dvgear.com

The DVWonder Workstation from DV Gear is a turnkey editing system built around the DV Raptor capture card from Canopus. By its price and features, it seems tailored to computer-savvy intermediate-level videographers, who have experienced timeline editing or want a system on which to learn it.

Turnkey systems, by definition, require the user to only "turn the key" to get them going. What we found, however, was a powerful system that was anything but plug-and-play.


Setting Up

The DVWonder workstation arrived in an assortment of boxes. After unpacking all of the components, which included a computer tower, a pair of Altec Lansing speakers, an NEC 17-inch monitor, a keyboard, a mouse and an assortment of cables, we connected everything and powered up the system. The computer that DV Gear sent us for evaluation was a 550MHz Pentium III with 128MB of RAM, an internal Sony 48x CD-ROM drive and a 20GB ATA66 EIDE hard drive (partitioned into a 2GB system drive and an 18GB A/V storage drive).

We received a message on first booting the system that Windows had detected new hardware. According to DV Gear, each system is tested before shipping, but it appeared they didn’t test the system with the monitor they sent to us, because that’s what Windows detected as a new device. After a short delay to load the appropriate driver for the NEC monitor and configure its resolution to 1280×1024 so that everything would fit onto the desktop, we were at the DVWonder Workstation desktop.


Capturing Video

It’s important to remember that the DV Raptor, and the DVWonder system built around it, is designed for digital video capture and editing only. The card has analog inputs but it is not designed to digitize analog video. You cannot connect your analog camcorder and capture and edit its video. The analog inputs serve another purpose.

We connected a Sony DCR-VX2000 Mini DV camcorder to the FireWire port on the front panel of the DVWonder. We attempted to capture our test footage using Adobe Premiere, but found that we were unable to see our footage. Next we tried the Canopus Raptor video capture application. We could only see an image as a still when we stopped playback. Tech support at DV Gear explained that the DV Raptor card doesn’t have hardware DV decoding. Instead, it merely acts as an interface to transfer DV data from the camera to the system, where the software codec (compressor/decompressor) does the work (more on this later). They also told us we might have a problem using the VX2000 with the DV Raptor because drivers have not yet been written for that model. We switched to another Mini DV camera, the JVC GR-DVM90u, but had the same problem.

We made a final attempt and switched cameras again and this time we connected a Canon GL1 Mini DV camcorder. To our delight, everything worked properly. We grabbed a few clips and edited them together in Adobe Premiere. We then dumped the completed project back out to tape. After three camcorders, and several calls to tech support, we had finally accomplished what the DVWonder was designed to do.


Unexpected Camera Connections

When capturing, editing or printing to video, it is imperative that your DV camera not only be connected to the IEEE 1394 FireWire port, but also to one of the analog inputs (either the RCA or S-video input). The reason for this is, that the DV Raptor capture card has no hardware codec; and therefore, it has no digital to analog conversion.

The conversion of digital to analog, which is necessary to display your images on your computer monitor, has to occur in the camera’s hardware codec. So, the Raptor sends the digital video signal down the FireWire to the camcorder, which converts it to analog. The analog signal goes back into the Raptor through the analog input, and then the images are displayed on the computer monitor (and on an external analog monitor, if you connect one to the analog outputs) so you can see your video.

In order to play captured DV files, you still need the camera connected because the displays on the computer monitor are analog overlays. The bottom-line with the DV Raptor, and therefore the DVWonder, is that you must always have your DV camcorder connected to see what you are editing.


Learning Curves

Despite the set-up problems we found with the DVWonder, it is an impressive and powerful system. Until recently, this much computing power would have cost much more. Now, thanks to the constantly improving power of computers and the drop in hardware prices, you can get a system like this for less than what an entry-level computer would have cost only two years ago.

However much of a bargain it may be, our encounter was not an easy, out-of-the-box experience. The system does not include a quick-start guide, to walk new users through the set-up. The system ships with Adobe Premiere, which is a very powerful, full-featured program, but one possessing a learning curve as steep as Everest.

So, if you’re looking for the simplest editing solution, this may not be the choice for you. But, if you don’t mind exerting some effort, this could be a very worthwhile system. One that will accommodate you as you grow in experience and expertise.

Needs Pressing

The DVWonder is impressive and affordable. We were quite pleased with it once we worked through the camcorder incompatibility issue. If considering this system, check with DVGear first to see whether it supports the camcorder you have. We were also pleased with DVGear’s tech support. When we had to call them, their technical people were quick to answer the phone, very knowledgeable and friendly.

The DVWonder is a bundle of good components offered at a fair price. With a bit of persistence and assistance, it can be up and running in less than a day. If you don’t mind spending that kind of time, the DVWonder may be your answer to produce high-quality digital video for less than $2,500. Just make sure you’re prepared for the climb.

TECH SPECS

Hardware: PIII-550, 128MB RAM, 2GB IDE System drive, 18GB SCSI AV Drive, Sony 48x CD-ROM, NEC MultiSync FE700 17-inch Monitor, Altec Lansing AC22 Speakers

Connectors:

Front Panel: RCA Audio In, RCA Composite In, S-Video in, RCA Composite Out, S-Video Out, IEEE 1394

Rear Panel: RCA Composite In, S-Video In, RCA Composite Out, S-Video Out, IEEE-1394, 1/8-inch mini stereo phone line out

Bundled Software: Windows 98 SE, Adobe Premiere 5.1c, Adobe PhotoShop 5.0 LE, Canopus Raptor Navi, Canopus Raptor Video

STRENGTHS

  • Good pricing
  • Good components

    WEAKNESSES

  • Documentation sorely lacking
  • Not plug-and-play
  • Steep learning curve
  • Doesn’t support all camcorders

    SUMMARY

  • A very well-priced bundle of quality components that almost work together without intervention. Not quite ready for beginners.
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