There are a few useful features that we rarely see on camcorders or VCRs. It’s not that no one wants these features. It’s just that they don’t fit into the marketing plans of the manufacturers.
Take, for example, the shrinking mike options on the average camcorder. External mike jacks are becoming scarce. Manufacturers don’t include them because they want people to “buy up” to a higher grade (and higher priced) unit.
Anyone who shoots video knows the value of an external mike. Even the entry-level hobbyist knows it’s better to place a mike close to the subject’s mouth. I can’t figure out why they would omit a mike jack from any Hi8 or S-VHS camcorder. It’s clear that the buyer of one of these high-performance camcorders wants more features, not less.
Mike jacks are not the only ploys used to control consumers. Anyone who has been reading Videomaker for any length of time knows how disillusioned we are about the absence of certain editing control jacks on consumer VHS video gear. Camcorders and VCRs with these jacks make for very easy and accurate editing because they provide two-way communication between the various pieces of video gear used in the editing process. Computer based editors, with point-and-click interface, require this two-way communication jack for accurate editing.
These simple jacks don’t cost very much to produce. But manufacturers rarely include them on camcorders destined for the U.S. market, unless they’re of the 8mm family.
Europe is a different story. France, Germany and the United Kingdom are three markets where two-way editing jacks are common on 8mm and VHS-family gear alike. It is important to point out that almost all camcorders and VCRs come from the same place–the Far East–and that only a few companies manufacture them. In other words, the same factories make camcorders for the United States and Europe. There is clearly a conscious effort to omit the editing jack from camcorders and VCRs destined for the United States.
Recently there has been some response on this issue on Sony’s part and I applaud them for that. But some consumer electronics manufacturers continue to make more advanced products for the European market than for stateside consumers.
What may motivate these companies is their industrial divisions’ desire to sell higher priced product to video editors. True, some offer a low-level editing solution on some of their products. They offer this on only a few models and even these have limits in terms of flexibility; they do not provide two-way communication. What I’m calling for is the inclusion of the full-featured editing jacks that allow the user to choose their editing interface. This would create an open system so that videomakers could achieve accurate edits any number of ways.
The possible reasons for the lack of two-way editing jacks on VHS equipment are many. Some executives have told me that they don’t think there’s enough demand for this feature. It isn’t likely that the demand for this feature exists only in Europe. Here in the U.S., most 8mm camcorders have had two-way edit control jacks for years. I can’t think why they would include this feature in so many camcorders if there’s no demand for it. It’s more likely that there are internal pressures from the industrial divisions of the camcorder manufacturers that keep them from providing too much power in consumer level gear.
I have no problem with any company trying to make a profit. It’s not rare in any industry to bundle inexpensive extra features into a higher-priced model. In this case, though, I feel that the camcorder manufacturers are making a drastic mistake. Editing jacks should not cost a buyer hundreds of extra dollars. The end result is that far less people edit, and we all know that editing is fundamental.
Just think for a moment: for every tape that you shoot, how many minutes really ring true with those special memories? Very few, I’m sure. So you must fast forward through most of the tapes you’ve shot while you and any other viewers sit and wait for the right footage.
It’s absurd to me that a company would make a device designed to help you capture memorable moments, but leave you high and dry when it comes to locating and enjoying those moments by allowing you to accurately edit your tapes with a wide choice of editing controllers.
I’m sure that most Americans purchase their camcorders in good faith, hoping to get the best features technology can bring them. I’m sure they’d be very upset if they knew that manufacturers omit basic features just so they can offer them on higher-priced models. Sure, it’s the same old carrot-and-stick marketing method, but these methods sometimes end up dangling basic features out of the reach of far too many consumers.
If you’d like to see video products that include editing jacks, just like those offered in Europe, drop me a line and I’ll forward your letter to the powers that be. Hopefully, we’ll see editing jacks on all video gear soon.
Matthew York is the Publisher/Editor of Videomaker magazine.