King of the Hill

Sony’s latest camcorder, the Hi8 CCD-TR700, reigns as new king of the Handycam line. And rightly so: this little unit boasts numerous niceties, including a 10x multispeed zoom lens, color viewfinder, optical image stabilization, a full complement of manual controls and rewriteable consumer (RC) time code support.

The TR700’s lens offers all the control of an outer focus design with the reduced size of an inner focus system. A large, knurled focus ring sits right where you’d expect it, around the lens. It’s as smooth and responsive as any focus system–you can even zoom in tight to focus, backing out to frame the shot. Most inner focus systems don’t allow this focusing technique.

Full-range autofocus works without a hitch from infinity to about 1/4-inch. It locks in fast, with almost no autofocus shimmer. You can shoot subjects just three feet away with full telephoto, giving a compressed, distant look to small objects. If only all inner focus lenses were so well designed.

The Sony has two zoom speeds, one nice and slow and the other quite fast. The rocker has two very distinct positions; so it’s easy to select and stay on a given speed. Both are very usable, though I can’t help wonder why Sony didn’t opt for more speeds on the TR700.
Steady Shot optical image stabilization moves a portion of the lens assembly to actually steer the incoming light. The Sony system works extremely well, canceling out even severe camera shake with no loss of resolution. It’s amazing how much easier it is to manual focus on a subject that’s not shaking all around the frame. It seems Sony’s improved Steady Shot since its introduction; it now does a better job with quick jitters or vibrations.
The Sony’s LCD color viewfinder is plenty sharp for consistent manual focus, delivering about 250 lines of horizontal resolution. Colors are rich and natural; you forget almost instantly that you’re looking through a viewfinder, much more so than with a monochrome display. Underneath the viewfinder are recessed controls for hue, color and brightness.

Another big bonus of color viewfinders is the ability to check white balance at a glance. If you must make adjustments, you’ll know right away.

Behind Door Number One

A sliding door on the left side of the TR700 covers buttons for manual focus, manual iris, program auto exposure modes and white balance. Manual iris is absolute, meaning it holds one iris setting regardless of changes in lighting conditions. A knurled ring near the sliding door adjusts iris, with an indicator in the viewfinder showing its position. This is as good a manual iris system you’ll find on any compact camcorder.
The Sony’s four auto exposure modes set shutter speed to control image sharpness and depth of field. Portrait mode varies shutter speed up to 1/2000th of a second; sports goes as high as 1/500th. High speed shutter locks exposure at 1/4000th for freezing fast action. What does twilight mode do? As near as I can tell, it simply reduces the iris in low light situations to reduce gain noise–shutter speed stays locked at 1/60th.
White balance modes include continuous auto, hold, indoor and outdoor. Like iris and exposure, white balance returns to auto mode when you close the sliding door. Other controls fall outside the sliding door, on the infrared remote, or in the Sony’s on-screen menu.

The CCD-TR700 has two fade modes, both linked to the record trigger. One is the traditional black, the other mosaic. Both fade audio as well as video. You can’t hold down fade to record black, but you can achieve the same effect by manually closing the iris down.
The infrared remote is the key to the Sony’s advanced transport modes, as many of the buttons fall on the remote only. These include forward/reverse frame advance and forward/reverse 2x play. The TR700 is unique in that it allows you to hear audio in the 2x forward play mode. The result is a bit garbled, but it can help you locate edit points based on the audio program.

An audible beep sounds when you start or stop recording, helping to avoid that embarrassing “I didn’t know it was recording” footage. You can disable the beep with the Sony’s menu system, but I found it useful enough to leave on. The sound is not recorded onto tape.

It’s About Time

Everyone knows that time code is necessary for accurate editing; what no one can figure out is why so few domestic camcorders support it. Thankfully, the TR700 breaks Sony’s recent trend to leave RCTC support off its camcorders. The unit offers the ability to read and write RC time code, as well as stripe pre-recorded tapes. The button for the latter function, Time Code Write, exists only on the remote.

The TR700 will also record, erase and locate index marks. This makes it easier to find specific sections on tape, but there’s a catch. Turns out the index information resides in the same area as the time code. When you record or erase an index mark, you kill the RCTC in that section.
A Counter/TC switch controls whether the TR700 displays normal real-time counter information or time code. The Sony records data code as well; this allows you to view the date you actually shot the footage when you play it back. This beats recording the date onto your footage permanently, and avoids the risk of forgetting to shut time/date stamp off.


Hands On

So how does the CCD-TR700 perform? In a word, excellently. Video quality is very good, audio quality superb. Resolution and detail fall mid-pack in the Hi8 class. The Sony’s image stayed noise-free even in low light conditions; extremely low light sensitivity was average, but the TR700 delivered a better-than-normal image in moderate light.

Sound pickup was clean and clear. The Sony has a zoom mike setting, which adjusts pickup pattern to match the zoom setting. Stereo imaging is first rate at the wider settings, collapsing to mono at tight zooms.

The change between wide and tight is abrupt and distracting–I eventually disabled the zoom mike setting altogether. The Sony’s wind compensation setting is also pretty drastic, really thinning out voices and music. Last audio beef: in quiet conditions, the built-in mike picks up a lot of motor noises. You can distinctly hear the zoom, focus and transport motors. Plan on shooting with an external mike in quiet locales.
Ergonomically, the TR700 provides an enjoyable shooting experience. The unit balances nicely in the palm, with major controls easy to find and use. The viewfinder hood is square, however, and doesn’t seal tightly against the eye. This makes it nearly impossible to see the LCD in bright sunlight.
Those last few quibbles aside, the Sony CCD-TR700 is a solid Hi8 performer. It offers a good mix of convenient features, powerful manual controls and high-quality recording. Hi8 shoppers, be sure to test drive the new TR700.
–Loren Alldrin

Technical Specifications

Sony CCD-TR700 Hi8 Camcorder

Format: Hi8 (8mm compatible)

Lens: 2-speed 10:1 optical zoom, f/1.6, 6.1-61mm focal length

Viewfinder: Active-matrix color LCD

Exposure: Auto, absolute manual, program AE

Program AE modes: Portrait, sports, high speed shutter, twilight

Focus: TTL auto, manual override

Audio: AFM hi-fi stereo

White balance: Continuous auto, hold, 2 presets

Other features: optical image stabilization, RCTC read/write, mosaic or black fade, infrared remote, edit search, in-viewfinder zoom and exposure meters, data code record

Inputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio, microphone, LANC

Outputs: S-video, composite video, stereo audio, headphones

Dimensions: 4.5 (height) by 4.5 (width) by 8.5 (depth) inches

Weight: 2 pounds (sans tape and battery)

Video Performance (approx.): Horizontal resolution (camera)
430 lines

Horizontal resolution (playback): 400 lines

Performance Times: Pause to record 0.5 second, Power-up to record
4 seconds

Fast forward/rewind (30 min. tape): 1 minutes, 40 seconds

Sony CCD-TR700 Hi8 Camcorder
Sony
Sony Drive
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
www.sony.com
($1800)

Second-Generation Titler

About a year ago we reviewed Videonics’ first entry in the stand-alone video titler product class: the Video TitleMaker (TM-1). That machine caused quite a stir. It offered good looking fonts, interesting backgrounds, attractive display modes and easy operation-at a previously unheard of suggested list price of $500.

After analyzing feedback from users-including suggestions for new features-Videonics’ engineers began the task of improving the already commendable TM-1. The result: the Video TitleMaker 2000 (TM-2000), a refined titler at a price that remains affordable. Let’s take a closer look at this second generation titler from Videonics.

New Features

First off, the TM-2000 offers something that all Videomakers desire: more fonts. Combinations of typefaces, sizes and styles create over 90 possibilities. Most of the resulting characters are smooth and clean, though a few suffer jagged edges. The TM-2000 provides a wide range of useful typefaces, from bold block letters to thin delicate characters; plus unique ones like Old English, cartoon style and some upper-case only typefaces. The new script font is a particularly welcome addition.

The TM-2000 adds a new preview output capability-a professional feature. With the composite preview signal routed to a separate monitor, the user can change, add or otherwise manipulate titles; the audience won’t see the titles as they change-only the preview monitor displays the edit screen, not the program monitor.

Say you’re working on a live baseball game and you want to update the score. No problem. First go into preview mode, enter the new information and then return to normal mode to display the revised score to the TV audience.
Another valuable new feature: the TM-2000’s ability to designate certain pages of text to specific projects. Each project has a user definable name.
For example: you have 15 pages of text for a wedding, 20 pages for a stage play and another 17 pages for an industrial video. The user simply places appropriate pages of text into separate projects and enters a project name. This facilitates locating, and playing back the correct pages of a particular videomaking project.

Another handy new addition is the TitleMaker’s GPI (general purpose interface) trigger input. This feature allows other compatible equipment-like editors and video mixers produced by a variety of manufacturers-to control the TM-2000 through a simple stereo mini phone cable. Say you’re using the compatible Videonics Thumbs-Up editor. You can program the editor to trigger the TitleMaker to display titles, just as if you pressed the “play” button on the TitleMaker at precisely the right moment. This helpful feature will save you time and frustration in the edit suite.


Crisp and Clean

The output quality of the TitleMaker is crisp and clean; even delicate thin fonts are clearly legible. The best quality results when signals pass through the TM-2000’s Y/C circuitry.
You can’t “mix-and-match” Y/C and composite signals. For example: if you want to add titles to the signal from a standard composite camera, you must use the composite output jacks on the TitleMaker. You’ll record the resulting signal on a composite VCR.
The internal genlock circuitry allows for the superimposition of titles over an image from a live camera or the playback picture from a VCR. The stability of the genlock is good.

If you’re accustomed to a full-size computer-style keyboard, the TM-2000 may make you feel as if you’ve switched from a grand piano to the portable keyboard you gave the kids for Christmas. A compact unit that won’t hog valuable desktop space, the TM-2000 measures just a foot wide and 9 1/2-inches deep. But, because of these compact measurements, the QWERTY set of keys is considerably smaller than a standard keyboard.
The small rubber keys don’t necessarily indicate that the machine has received your keystroke. Furthermore, fingers may tend to roll off the pads. For some Videomakers, these minor keyboard quirks add up, especially under the added stress of a live broadcast.
Word processing features like copy, move, auto center and left or right justification make text manipulation easier. If you want further fine tuning–such as placing text slightly off center, or almost to the left edge of the screen–you must use the tab or space key.
Thorough and well written, the instruction manual comes with an index and a glossary. The preloaded demo gives you an idea of this machine’s possibilities. You can even dump the demo into the TM-2000’s editable memory; so you can see exactly how the folks at Videonics achieved the effects.

More questions or problems? Don’t worry. Videonics’ HelpLine is at hand for the mere price of a phone call: (408) 370-9963.

Creative Control

On-screen menus and intuitive commands make learning the basics of the TM-2000 a fairly quick and painless task. But, given the almost endless titling possibilities available with the TM-2000, you could spend hours mastering all of its creative applications to videomaking. That’s good.

A complete palette of colors comes factory pre-loaded. Don’t find one you like? Mix your own custom colors; most translate well to NTSC video.
Configure fonts in four sizes: plain, bigger vertically, bigger horizontally and bigger horizontally and vertically. Larger fonts tend to display jagged edges. You can’t mix fonts, styles or colors on same line. Outline and drop shadow effects aid in character legibility.
Other character features include: three levels of bold; variable character spacing; special characters like hearts and check marks; and foreign characters. The TM-2000’s memory will store 8000 characters.

Colorful text borders, boxes and lines make creating eye- catching visuals fun and easy. You can complement your titles with 32 background patterns, ranging from classy stone-like textures and geometric patterns to rather chaotic displays of pulsating rainbow colors. You can also soften solid or pattern backgrounds to opaque; this allows the underlying video to show through a little bit.
The titler offers scroll, crawl, cut, fade and wipe display modes. Menus aid in the selection of these effects; later, on-screen prompts will verify these selections. Assign transition speeds at one of eight pre-programmed rates, from jack rabbit fast to turtle slow.
The TM-2000 adds four new effects: slides, or “fly-ins,” from any side of the screen. For example, you can have text slide in from the right side of the frame and then drop out the bottom, or enter from the top and then slide out the right side of the screen.
For each page in a titling sequence, you select an in and out effect and designate how long the title should remain on the screen. After everything’s set, a simple press of the TM-2000’s play button begins the entire chain of events precisely and effortlessly.

The Videonics Family

Titles deserve as much attention as any other aspect of videomaking. Videonics’ TM-2000 offers an affordable solution to communicate your ideas with words on a video screen.
Videonics produces an entire line of video post-production equipment–all designed to work as a team. The TM-2000 shares appearance and design features with the MX-1 Digital Video Mixer, the SE-1 Sound Effects Mixer, the TU-1 Thumbs-Up editor and the VE-1 Video Equalizer.
Bargains abound if you’re thinking about the older TM-1 TitleMaker; a quick survey found street prices well below $400. At press time, the new TM-2000 commanded prices in the upper $400 range. The TM-2000 looks a lot like its older sibling. The only major change is ergonomic: the addition of a new palm rest for more comfortable typing. But don’t let appearances fool you; the TM-2000 packs new features that make it well worth a closer look.

In all aspects of videomaking creative control is essential; Videonics’ TM-2000 Video TitleMaker gives you that control. With one million colors to choose from, a flexible assortment of highly legible fonts and a bevy of special effects at your fingertips, you’ll use characters to communicate with style.
–David Welton


Technical Specifications

Videonics Video TitleMaker 2000 (TM-2000)

Fonts: 23

Font styles: 9

Font sizes: 4

Special character features: Drop shadow, outline, 3 levels of bold, variable character spacing, text borders, boxes, lines, special and foreign characters

Colors: 1 million

Background patterns: 32

Display modes: Scroll, crawl, cut, fade, slide, wipe

Display/transition speeds: 8

Title memory: 8000 characters

Resolution: 720 by 480 pixels

Inputs: Y/C video, composite video, stereo audio, GPI trigger

Outputs: Y/C video, composite video, stereo audio, preview

Backup battery: 7 year lithium

Dimensions: 3.9 (height) by 12 (wide) by 9.5 (depth) inches

Weight: 3 pounds

Videonics Video TitleMaker 2000 (TM-2000)
Videonics
1370 Dell Ave.
Campbell, California 95008
www.videonics.com
($599)

Sheer Elegance

A few years back, Sony Industrial introduced a one-of-a-kind product designed for simple Hi8 editing. Called the EVO-9700, this unique Hi8 deck offered both play and record transports, a built-in edit controller with time code and single-frame accuracy, simple titler, audio and video insert capabilities and more. Basically, the EVO-9700 was a complete Hi8 editing system in a box.

Enter the EVO-9720, Sony’s latest dual-deck Hi8 editor. The biggest news with the EVO-9720 is a pair of RS-232 interface ports that put each transport under computer control. Thus a computer-based editing package will drive the EVO-9720 just like a pair of Hi8 decks.
Or you can pair the EVO-9720 up with Sony’s new FXE-100 switcher/edit controller for flexible A/X-roll (simulated A/B-roll) editing. Throw in a third professional deck as a recorder, and the EVO-9720 will function as two source decks for full-blown A/B-roll editing.

Sony dropped the original EVO-9700’s clunky titler, replacing it with a much more usable video fader and background color generator. The unit will read RC time code in addition to industrial 8mm time code, though it writes only the latter. AFM audio is now stereo instead of mono; thanks to an on-screen menu, numerous functions offer a finer degree of control.

Standing Alone

Though the EVO-9720 functions well as part of a larger system, we’ll test it here as a stand-alone unit. This is how most will use it, at least initially.
The Sony has a surprisingly small footprint; it’s about the same width as a normal home VCR, though a few inches longer. The remote control attaches with a coiled cable, allowing you to use the remote from about two feet away. Most of the Sony’s controls fall on the front panel only, so you really can’t stray far from the unit. But you can lean back in your chair and edit from the remote. Luxury.

The EVO-9720’s back panel bristles with jacks, including BNC and Y/C video jacks and RCA-style audio jacks. Sony wisely provided all the signal routing capabilities most users would ever need. For example: you can switch the recorder to accept video signals directly from the player deck, from the player through external processing or from another line input. Front panel inputs include microphone and headphone, both with level control.

Two audio/video monitor outputs allow you to watch the signal from both source and record transports. A single monitor works just fine, especially since the EVO-9720 has picture-in-picture capabilities. With this feature enabled, you can see both source and record signals on the screen at once.
The EVO-9720 provides many options for editing. You can select and edit scenes manually; one at a time; or you can build up an edit decision list of up to 99 different scenes and fade transitions. You can manually insert video/AFM audio or PCM digital audio, two capabilities most consumer-level Hi8 decks lack.

Depending on the mode, you select in and out points on the playback and/or the record deck. Automatic assemble editing remembers fades, background colors, slow-motion scenes and freeze frames. You can save your edit decision list (EDL) to tape for later retrieval.
A GPI trigger output allows you to interface the EVO-9720 with an external A/V mixer or titler like the Panasonic WJ-MX30, Videonics MX-1 or Titlemaker 2000. You can fire the GPI based on the in and out points of the playback or record deck. A programmable offset allows you to fine-tune the timing of the GPI signal.

Thanks to digital stabilization processing on the playback side, the EVO-9720’s still and slow-motion effects are perfect. Slow-motion is at a fluid 1/5th normal playback speed, adding a slightly posterized look to the image. I didn’t find this objectionable; in fact, it enhanced the slow effect.
The playback electronics also include digital chrominance and luminance noise reduction. With three and four levels of correction respectively, the EVO-9720 can make minor improvements on grungy tapes. A digital dropout compensator helps eliminate those annoying flashes of white; but it can’t work miracles with a seriously damaged tape.

The addition of a fader makes the EVO-9720 much more versatile as a stand-alone editor. You can fade to or from both black and white; the transition takes either 2 seconds or 0.5 seconds. Both these speeds are quite useful. You can fade still or slow-motion scenes, which makes for some nice effects. The Sony offers eight background colors; too bad it allows fading on just two of these.

Performance Points

Editing with the EVO-9720 is simple, fast and accurate. The unit works with about a two-second preroll, which makes assembling a lengthy edit list less time consuming. Yet even with this short pre-roll, I found edits to be solid and frame-accurate every time. Sony engineers have definitely done their homework on the EVO-9720’s transport control.

Audio routing and control is top-notch. You can select AFM, PCM or an adjustable mixture of both from the playback deck. The Sony will in turn lay these down on either AFM or PCM at the record deck. You can also select a “straight” audio routing, which sends AFM to AFM and PCM to PCM. In other words, you can do most anything you want with the EVO-9720’s audio signals.
Image quality is very good; the Sony’s video holds out relatively well against generation loss. I hoped that Sony had found an electronic “shortcut” to minimize generation loss inside the EVO-9720. They may have, but generation loss is still noticeable after an edit; there’s a definite loss of crispness and a slight increase in noise when toggling between source and recorder. Until we have a digital dual-deck Hi8 editor, this is to be expected.
Overall, the EVO-9720 is a tidy, elegant approach to Hi8 editing. The unit’s RS-232 jacks open up a universe of possibilities for computer control, making the Sony a wise investment for traditional and computer-based editing alike.
–Loren Alldrin


Technical Specifications

Sony EVO-9720 Dual-deck Hi8 Editor

Format: Hi8 (8mm compatible)

Editing modes: Program mode (assemble), video/AFM audio insert, PCM digital audio insert

Program mode memory: 99-scenes plus transitions

Fader: Black or white, 0.5 or 2 seconds transition time

Background colors: 8

Audio: Stereo PCM, stereo AFM

Other features: Wired remote, digital luma and chroma noise reduction, digital dropout compensator, slow/still adjust, picture-in-picture

Control ports: Serial RS-232 (x2)

Inputs: Composite and S-video, stereo audio, external mike, external sync (x2)

Outputs: Composite and S-video (x2), stereo audio (x2), composite video/mono audio monitor (x2), headphones, GPI trigger

Dimensions: 5.5 (height) by 17 (width) by 16 (depth) inches

Weight: 24 pounds

Video Performance: Horizontal resolution 400 lines, Signal to noise ratio 45 dB

Loren Alldrin is Videomaker‘s technical editor. David Welton is an independent video producer and a college video production instructor.

Sony EVO-9720 Dual-deck Hi8 Editor
Sony Business and Professional Group
Sony
3 Paragon Drive
Montvale, New Jersey 07645
www.sony.com
($5720)

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