- JVC GR-DVM1 Mini DV Camcorder
- Hitachi VT-UX717A VHS Editing VCR
- Sima ColorWriter Magic Video Titler
- Roland Virtual SoundCanvas Music Pack
- Pixelan Video SpiceRack Effects Software
Attack of the Six-inch CyberCam
GR-DVM1 Mini DV Camcorder
41 Slater Drive
Elmwood Park, NJ 07407
The new DV (digital videocassette) format did a lot more than just make camcorders better at recording pictures and sounds: it made them a whole lot smaller as well. Now that the new format is becoming more popular, the race is on to produce the ultimate in compact-camcorder technology.
The GR-DVM1 is JVC’s latest volley in the war to balance camcorder size and portability against the increased resolution and functionality of the DV format. With a 2.5-inch polycrystalline LCD monitor, microphone, headphone jacks and a handful of editing features available through the supplied docking station, the GR-DVM1 answers many concerns that owners had with its predecessor, the GR-DV1.
Seeing the Light
The GR-DVM1’s design is a little bit different than most consumer camcorders. Instead of the conventional horizontal configuration that we’ve come to identify as the standard camcorder shape, it has a vertical orientation, mounting the compact lens above the diminutive tape transport system. Instead of pressing it to your face and viewing images through a tiny viewfinder, you hold it away from yourself and frame up your scene through the 2.5-inch LCD monitor. It’s not the first camcorder with such a design, but it is one of only a very few that doesn’t stick to the traditional camcorder look and feel.
The lens assembly on the GR-DVM1 has a 10:1 optical zoom, which you can extend through digital circuitry to 20:1 or even 100:1. Like most digital zoom systems, there’s a trade-off between zoom ratio and image quality; the farther out you zoom, the more grainy noise and pixelated digital artifacts you’ll introduce into your image. To put it simply: don’t expect to gain a crisp, clear video image at anything above a 20:1 zoom ratio with this camcorder.
The LCD viewfinder on the GR-DVM1 is one of the best of its kind available on the market today. If you’ve used an LCD monitor in daylight before, you know that it can be difficult to see on sunny days. The GR-DVM1’s LCD monitor is clearer and brighter than most, and it resolves images much more clearly than the average built-in camcorder monitor. It is certainly an improvement on earlier LCD designs, but beware–shots taken in noonday sunshine will still require a little bit of squinting.
Those who are familiar with the more standard type of small-format camcorder might find handling the GR-DVM1 a bit awkward at first. To help simulate the feel of more conventional camcorders, JVC supplies a combination tripod mounting base/hand-holding device which adds a simple hand strap to the equation. Though helpful, the device doesn’t completely take away the awkwardness of shooting with the GR-DVM1.
Manual controls exist on the GR-DVM1 for white balance, shutter speed and focus. Exposure (iris) control is available in two ways–fully automatic, or Iris Lock, which allows you to use the automatic exposure system to find a particular setting, then lock it into place so it won’t wander throughout the shot. This is useful for those creative choices that most automatic systems won’t allow you to achieve, such as shooting everything slightly overexposed, or in silhouette.
The presence of a headphone output to complement the unit’s microphone jack is an improvement over the earlier GR-DV1, which included no way to monitor audio while you were shooting. As you monitor your audio with the GR-DVM1, however, listen closely for a high-pitched whine that accompanies the soundtrack; that’s the camcorder’s motor noise spilling over onto the tape. Essentially, this is the result of the camcorder’s AGC (automatic gain control) circuits boosting the volume in a quiet room, and picking up motor noise in the process. This was a problem with the earlier GR-DV1 and with many other tiny-format camcorders–one that almost necessitates the use of an external microphone.
The GR-DVM1 gives videographers access to a number of digital effects that are useful for in-camera productions. Should you decide to edit with the GR-DVM1, the unit does include several options that will help you copy selected scenes to a master tape. If you have a JVC VCR with the Random Assemble Edit feature, you can easily arrange a series of clips from the GR-DVM1 and copy them in any order onto your VHS or S-VHS tape. If you purchase the JLIP player pack from JVC, you can control the functions of the camcorder from a home PC. (Note: these editing options are only available when the GR-DVM1 sits on its docking bay.)
Also supported through the docking bay is still-image transfer to a computer or video printer. The GR-DVM1, similar to many other DV camcorders, is capable of recording digital still images in 6-second intervals on the tape; audio from the built-in microphone is recorded along with the still, as is an optional camera-shutter sound effect.
The quality of images recorded by the GR-DVM1’s camera section is superb–sharper even than a number of other compact DV camcorders now available. Prosumer videographers, who often have contented themselves with Hi8 or S-VHS footage, will find nothing to gripe about in the resolution department.
The GR-DVM1, in short, is a fine camcorder that will hold its own in the growing category of consumer digital video cameras. It has one major flaw (motor noise while using the on-camera mike) and one major omission (no Firewire digital input/output), but if you can work around these drawbacks, it’s sure to please.
Keep It Simple
VT-UX717A VHS Editing VCR
Hitachi Home Electronics, Inc.
3890 Steve Reynolds Blvd.
Norcross, GA 30093
Now that the pages of Videomaker have gently persuaded you to start editing your home videotapes, a question forms in your mind: how shall I begin? What equipment will I need to start copying selected scenes from the source tape to a master tape?
Fortunately, if you’re thinking these thoughts, you probably already own a camcorder; that’s a good start. The only other piece of equipment you really need is a VCR to copy your selected scenes onto. Good, you say; I’ve got one of those, too. Trouble is, your typical home VCR doesn’t really make the process as easy as it could. Is there such a thing as a simple, inexpensive home VCR that has some of the same controls and features available on professional editing decks?
Yes, there is. A number of companies make home VCRs designed for double-duty as consumer editing machines. This is the category into which Hitachi’s VT-UX717A fits. It’s an inexpensive VHS VCR with front-loading A/V inputs, synchro edit capabilities, an audio dubbing feature and a jog-shuttle dial. While it’s certainly not presenting any threats to the professional editing-VCR market, it will help to simplify the task of copying selected scenes from your camcorder to your VCR.
With the unit’s front dust cover in its upright, closed position, the look and feel of the VT-UX717A is sleek and trim, with only a few controls and connectors visible. The dust cover is a nice touch that will help to prolong the life of the VCR as well as cassettes played on it.
The most visible difference between the VT-UX717A and most ordinary VCRs is the jog/shuttle controller (that circular contraption on the right-hand side of the unit). With the jog/shuttle, you can perform two functions that are very useful when editing video: you can twist the outside ring (the "shuttle") to rapidly fast-forward or rewind while watching the screen to locate specific shots on a tape; or you can spin the inner dial (the "jog") to advance a frame or two at a time. This makes it easy to locate a specific edit in or out point–something that’s quite difficult to accomplish with just the pause button and your reflexes.
Also worthy of note for the would-be video editor is the placement of A/V inputs on the front face of the VCR. This makes it an easy matter to connect your camcorder without getting involved in the mess of cables that exists behind most home VCR setups.
To the left of the tape-transport mechanism, there is a small input jack labeled Edit In. This is Hitachi’s proprietary synchro-edit jack for controlling two VCRs (or a VCR and a camcorder) with a single pause/record button. On the plus side, it’s a good way to get started editing with a minimum of fuss. Simply connect the two decks with the synchro-edit cable, put the record deck in pause mode, find the beginning of a "keeper" shot on the camcorder or player deck, hit the record/pause button on either unit to begin recording, then press it again to pause both decks. Repeat as necessary to complete your program. Unfortunately, the system will only work with two Hitachi products.
Once you’ve compiled your visual edits, you might want to add a soundtrack–maybe some narration, or a musical background track. For these procedures, the VT-UX717A has got you covered. Its audio-dub feature will record new information onto the linear audio tracks while leaving the video and hi-fi audio untouched. To add a musical background track to your vacation video, for example, you’d simply cable your tape or CD player’s audio outputs to the audio inputs on the VCR; rewind to the beginning of the video; press the audio-dub button on the VCR’s remote control; then record your audio track onto your videotape without harming the picture. Once it’s recorded, you can choose to listen to either the hi-fi audio track, the (new) linear audio track, or both together ("mix").
This handful of editing features might not sound like much to the seasoned professional video editor, but for those who just want to copy some scenes onto a VHS tape from their camcorder and maybe add some narration or music, Hitachi’s VT-UX717A provides all of the basic functionality you need for about half the price of the average 8mm camcorder. Sure, you might want to upgrade someday to a more powerful editing VCR, but if and when you do, the VT-UX717A will still serve faithfully as a home VCR for viewing rental tapes–or perhaps for re-visiting those early masterpieces you made using just your camcorder and your humble VHS deck.
Roll Out the Titles
ColorWriter Magic Video Titler
Sima Products Corporation
6153 Mulford Street
Niles, IL 60714
After you’ve purchased a camcorder, a decent editing VCR and a microphone or two, what’s the next step you’ll need to take in order to expand your arsenal of video editing hardware? Chances are, you’ll want to put some text on the screen now and again. So unless you intend to record your own pen-and-ink titles with your camcorder, you’ll probably want to invest in a video titler.
Stand-alone video titlers come in many shapes and sizes. Depending on their features and performance, consumer titlers (also referred to as character generators or CGs) can range in price from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. Sima’s ColorWriter Magic sits at the low end of the consumer titler price range, offering basic functionality and a handful of simple text-based effects for enhancing your videos. Can such an inexpensive unit perform at a basic level of quality–one that won’t make your videos look too crummy to show to relatives? Let’s find out.
Cue the Title
The ColorWriter Magic is easy to install. Just plug a video source into the inputs, connect the output of the unit to a VCR for recording, hook up the power source and you’re ready to go. The ColorWriter Magic will accept either composite (RCA-style) or Y/C (S-video) cables; audio connectors are provided to make setup easier, but the unit won’t affect your audio in any way.
Before you begin titling, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the controls available on the ColorWriter Magic. Like other stand-alone character generators, it organizes titles into a number of pages, each of which can be recalled for display or editing. To insert a title that you’ve created over your video footage, for example, you’d press the Page key, followed by the number of the title page you want to display, followed by the Insert button. If you wanted to make that title scroll up the page, pressing the Scroll Up button before you press Insert would accomplish this for you. Other effects available include Scroll Sideways, Zoom, Fade, and six Special Effect options (which are basically combinations of existing zooms, fades and scrolls).
Creating a title with the ColorWriter Magic is as simple as selecting the appropriate page, pressing the Create button and typing away. It’s a simple matter to choose a size, a color, a border, a background and/or a box for your titles as you work on them. Also available are a number of text-placement options, such as center, line shift, page shift, and others. Cursor-movement keys located on the right-hand side of the unit make it easy to select a start point and begin typing.
The Nitty Gritty
Typing titles with the ColorWriter Magic’s poorly designed keyboard can be quite a chore. You must press each key fairly hard in order to make a character appear on the screen–not a situation that’s conducive to the quick entering of titles.
If you’re looking for a wide range of font and style choices, the ColorWriter Magic isn’t the best choice. You can create titles in only a single, sans-serif font that looks about as good as the scoreboard numbers in a circa-1975 electronic Pong game. This is perhaps the ColorWriter’s biggest flaw: it gives you only one low-quality font to work with.
Some of the effects on the ColorWriter don’t operate as well as they should. For example, the Fader on our test unit had a tendency to blink the title on and off briefly before performing the fade. Likewise, the Scroll command seemed to make the whole title move in tiny, stuttering steps instead of a smooth motion across the screen.
In fact, you should consider the ColorWriter Magic only if your budget restrictions and need for a titler are both very great. The output resolution is unacceptable for all but the most basic projects, and the choices available for colors and styles are very limited. It might be useful for archival purposes, such as logging the contents of a tape or something similar, but the built-in titler that’s available on some camcorders will out-perform it. In the world of consumer video gear, the phrase "you get what you pay for" is all too often true–and the ColorWriter Magic is no exception.
Make Your Own Kind of Music
Roland Virtual SoundCanvas Music Pack
P.O. Box 4919
Blaine, WA 98231-4919
It’s a common problem in the video profession: you need some quality music for a production you’re working on, but you don’t want to pay the royalty fees necessary to obtain popular titles. This very real demand for music, which exists at all levels of the video industry, is what led to royalty-free music. Usually sold in the form of a CD library, royalty-free music can help videographers flesh out their productions with a wide selection of tracks in a plethora of styles.
Problem is, when you buy royalty-free music, you can’t provide much in the way of creative input. If you think a certain song would be better without that xylophone in the background, or with an entirely different drum arrangement, tough–you’re stuck with whatever you purchased on the CD.
So what’s a creative videographer to do, apart from taking up a musical hobby and recording tracks of his own? If the videographer in question owns a PC equipped with a sound card, then Roland’s Virtual SoundCanvas Music Pack (marketed by the Edirol Corporation in the United States) is one way to tackle the problem. Incorporating four separate Windows95 software products in a single package, the Virtual SoundCanvas Music Pack gives users a way to create their own original musical works with a simple drag-and-drop interface.
The four software products included in the Virtual SoundCanvas Music Pack are: DoReMix2, Cakewalk Express, EasyJuke2 and the VSC-55 Virtual SoundCanvas itself. Together, these four titles provide everything necessary to start creating your own musical scores. No prior musical experience is necessary–although it sure doesn’t hurt, and trained musicians will probably get more out of the system than others.
The heart of the Music Pack is the VSC-55 Virtual Sound Canvas, a sound generator compatible with two popular digital audio standards: the General MIDI (Musical Instrument Digital Interface) system, and Roland’s GS format. As you operate the other software titles included in the Music Pack, the VSC-55 sits in the background, processing all of the sounds necessary to play your musical creations.
While the VSC-55 synthesizer is the heart of the system, DoReMix2 is the interface that musical beginners will rely on to help them create their own compositions. Essentially a simplified music production tool, DoReMix2 reduces the complexity of musical arrangement to the level of dragging, dropping, cutting and pasting individual musical phrases on a grid. The interface couldn’t be simpler; made up of a large central grid surrounded by controls for instrumentation, tempo and other features, it offers an easy way to start making music right away, without even opening the manual.
Here’s how you can create a song with DoReMix2 without any prior musical knowledge: on the upper right side of the screen, choose a category from the Phrase Directory–Classical, for instance. The first eight boxes that run across the top of the screen will now have a set of graphical musical instruments corresponding to the style that you’ve chosen. The Classical option, for example, displays a selection of percussion, woodwinds, strings, harpsichords, bells, flutes and such. Each instrument icon represents a single musical phrase, four measures in length; double-clicking the icon will play the phrase for you. If you don’t like the first phrase that comes up, it’s an easy matter to right-click the mouse over the icon and pull down a list of a dozen or so alternatives in the same category and genre. When you find one you like, you can grab it with a right-click of the mouse and drop it into the correct place on the grid below.
The grid itself is divided into frames and tracks (vertical and horizontal, respectively). Each frame represents four measures of music, incorporating all of the instruments that you place in the six available tracks. The top four tracks will accept any kind of instrument except drums; the fifth and sixth tracks are for bass and drums, respectively. A seventh track holds information regarding key changes and other events.
Back to our example: drop some strings, a harpsichord and a woodwind section into the first three tracks of the first frame; then put a bass fiddle and a percussion section into the bottom two instrument tracks. Click the play button to listen to your creation; if you like it, it’s an easy matter to copy it and paste it into the next frame for four more measures of the same. Add a little variation by changing an instrument or two; change keys by pulling down the appropriate command from the menu bar.
Shaken, Not Stirred
If you lack ideas, or you’d just rather not go through the emotional turmoil of writing your own orchestral masterpiece, you can use DoReMix2’s randomizer function. When you click the dice-shaker icon that appears on the lower left of the screen and drag it into one frame of your composition, DoReMix2 will place a random assortment of bass, drum and instrument phrases into the grid. The style of these phrases will correspond to that of the current Phrase Directory you’re working with (classical, funk, etc.).
If you’re a musician, and you’d rather have more control over your compositions than DoReMix2 can provide, the bundled copy of CakeWalk Express will provide the same drag-and-drop simplicity on a real, honest musical staff instead of a simplified grid. Basically a scaled-down, limited version of an industry-standard MIDI sequencing program, CakeWalk Express provides plenty of room for growth and learning for would-be computer musicians at all levels of competence. You can even use CakeWalk Express to build your own musical phrases for use in DoReMix2.
Last but not least, EasyJuke2 is a simple MIDI jukebox that gives you a number of tools for playing or recording your musical creations. With EasyJuke2, you can play your MIDI tracks in any order you want, for easy recording; you can also loop them (play them over and over)–a handy feature for video editors who need a quick background track or two for their video productions.
For hobbyist and prosumer video editors, the Virtual SoundCanvas Music Pack delivers versatility, affordability and creativity in a simple yet powerful package. If you haven’t tried your hand at computer-based musical creation yet, the SoundCanvas just might be your opportunity to start composing today.
A Pinch of This, A Dash of That
4107 Harrison Street
Bellingham, WA 98226
Producing digital video projects on a desktop computer is something like cooking a meal. Both activities involve a very large number of potential ingredients, and each gourmet chef or accomplished video editor will approach a given recipe or edit-decision list with a style and flair of his or her own. But there’s a whole lot more to both cooking and video editing than tossing in spices and flavors at will; in other words, making haphazard use of nonlinear editing tools (such as plug-in transitions, overlays, moving titles, etc.) can have roughly the same effect as tossing a handful of cloves into a pot of spaghetti sauce.
The concept behind Pixelan’s Video SpiceRack is to leave behind all of those super-fancy, techno-flash 3D transitions that many manufacturers of plug-in effects are currently flooding the market with, and proceed with a simple set of tools that will provide usable, tasteful results.
The Gradient Ingredient
Not actually a plug-in in the strictest definition of the term, the Video SpiceRack is a collection of hundreds of gradients for use in a wide variety of applications and situations. If you’re an Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Effects, in:sync Razor or Fast Video Machine user, then perhaps you’re aware of the Gradient Wipe option available in these programs. A gradient wipe uses a black-and-white gradient image as a set of instructions for a transition effect. Suppose, for example, that you have a simple linear gradient that changes from black on one side of the screen to white on the other, with a subtle vertical shift through the various shades of gray in-between. Choosing this image as your gradient wipe pattern would provide a wipe from the left side of the screen to the right, but with a diffused-looking mixture of the two images where the two video streams meet instead of a sharp line.
This concept works equally well with a large number of gradient types. It’s one part of the above-mentioned video editing applications that is completely user-definable; just make yourself a black-and-white gradient, then plug it into your transition and see how it works.
Unfortunately, when you take this trial-and-error approach to applying gradients as video wipes, the effects you end up with may leave a bad taste in your mouth. This is why Pixelan spent countless hours devising hundreds of video-friendly gradients and packaged them as the Video SpiceRack: so you wouldn’t have to.
Dinner is Served
The Video SpiceRack gradients require no installation; they’re simply a series of image files contained on a CD-ROM disk, and organized into several folders. Because the actual size of the gradient should match the size of the video project, the Video SpiceRack gradients are first divided into six folders, based on the resolution of the images. These resolutions are as follows: 320×240 (Web or multimedia projects), 640×480 (NTSC full-screen), 648×486 (Truevision Targa resolution), 768×576 (PAL/SECAM full-screen), 720×486 (CCIR-601 video output), and 720×576 (CCIR-601 output for PAL/SECAM).
Using the gradients is quite simple. In Adobe Premiere, for example, all you have to do is choose the Gradient Wipe effect, click on the Select Image button, then choose a gradient from the Video SpiceRack CD-ROM. You don’t even have to copy the gradients onto your hard drive, if you want to save space on your system.
The transitions that you can come up with using the Video SpiceRack are very professional-looking and unobtrusive. Rendering times will vary depending on the system you’re using and the specific gradient you’re working with, but most won’t tax your system like some plug-in 3D transition effects will. If you’re looking for a way to spice up your nonlinear transitions without overwhelming your viewers, try making some gradients on your own and plugging them into your nonlinear editing software. If you find that creating a proper gradient for video use is more difficult than it looks, give the Video SpiceRack a try.
JVC GR-DVM1 Mini DV Camcorder
10:1 optical zoom, 100:1 digital zoom, 4.5-45mm focal length, 2-speed power zoom, f/1.6, inner focus, telemacro
- Image sensor
1/3-inch CCD, 570,000 pixels
2.5-inch LCD display
Auto, inner manual
- Maximum shutter speed
1/2000th of a second
Auto, Iris Lock
- White balance
Auto, manual, 3 presets (tungsten, outdoors/cloudy, outdoors/sunny)
- Digital effects
4 fades (black, white, black and white, mosaic), snapshot, dissolve, 6 wipes (corner, window, slide, door, scroll, shutter), classic film, twilight, video echo, strobe
Stereo PCM digital, two modes: 32kHz or 48kHz
Camera: microphone (1/8-inch stereo mini)
Docking station: stereo audio (RCA-style)
Camera: headphones, composite video, stereo audio (each through separate 1/8-inch mini plug)
Docking station: S-video, composite video, stereo audio
Manual shutter-speed control, playback speaker (monaural), 5-second shooting, stereo microphone, Random Assemble Edit, audio insert (through microphone), LP recording
2.4 (width) by 6.2 (height) by 3.7 (depth) inches
- Weight (sans tape and battery)
- Video Performance (approx.)
- Horizontal resolution (camera)
- Horizontal resolution (playback)
- Horizontal resolution (camera)
- Performance Times
- Pause to Record
- Power-up to Record
- Fast-forward/Rewind (30 min. tape)
- Pause to Record
- Good resolution
- Compact design
- Built-in edit control features
- Microphone picks up motor noise
- No S-video output on camera
- No Firewire digital input/output
A very nice upgrade to last year’s GR-DV1, the GR-DV1M adds features that will please both hobbyists and prosumer videographers.
Hitachi VT-UX717A VHS Editing VCR
- Video inputs
Composite RCA-style (x2), RF
- Video outputs
Composite RCA-style, RF
- Audio inputs
Stereo RCA-style (x2)
- Audio outputs
- Control protocol
- Other features
Tape navigation, flying erase head, jog/shuttle control, automatic tape head cleaning, audio/video dub, illuminated LCD panel, audio peak meters, front-mounted audio/video inputs
21 (width) by 3.7 (height) by 12 (depth) inches
- Low cost
- Optimized for simple editing setups
- No time code or other advanced editing features
A good choice for your first editing VCR
Sima ColorWriter Magic Video Titler
- Font styles
- Font sizes
- Insert effects
Zoom in, zoom out, fade, vertical scroll (4 speeds), typewriter scroll (4 speeds), 6 special effects
- Title memory
S-video, composite video (RCA-style), stereo audio
13.75 (width) by 2.25 (height) by 7.75 (depth) inches
- Easy to use
- Poor resolution
- Only one font
Though only slightly more functional than a camcorder’s built-in titler, the ColorWriter Magic might appeal to some budget-minded hobbyist video editors
Roland Virtual Sound Canvas Music Pack
- Minimum System Requirements
- Operating system
- Sound card
16-bit stereo sound, 22.05kHz sampling rate
- Easy to master
- Very versatile
- Only one drum track
- Limited composition capabilities
An easy, inexpensive way to create your own royalty-free music for video production
Pixelan Video SpiceRack Effects Software
- Minimum System Requirements
PC or Mac
- Operating system
Same requirements as host software (Premiere, After Effects, etc.)
Same requirements as host software (Premiere, After Effects, etc.)
- Other requirements
Adobe Premiere 4.0+, Adobe After Effects, Media 100, in:sync Razor, Star Media Systems Video Action Pro, Fast Video Machine or Pinnacle Systems GenieFusion
- Recommended System
Pentium (PC)/Power Macintosh (Mac)
A selection of down-to-earth, simple gradient effects to enhance the flavor of your nonlinear video transitions.