Casablanca DV Nonlinear Editor
Azden ECZ-990 Zoom Microphone
Sharp VL-PD1U Slimcam
Cool-Lux Video Kit light kit
Magix Music Maker music creation software
Casablanca DV Nonlinear Editor
Azden ECZ-990 Zoom Microphone
Sharp VL-PD1U Slimcam
Cool-Lux Video Kit light kit
Magix Music Maker music creation software
Casablanca version 2.7.1 nonlinear editor
3380 Mitchell Lane, Ste. 102
Boulder, CO 80301
Looking more like a VCR than a computer, the Casablanca is a stand-alone nonlinear editor that saves the user from the setup hassles of most computer-based nonlinear systems. (see our review of the Casablanca version 1.0 in the April 1997 Benchmarks). With the Casablanca second generation, DraCo has entered the digital video (DV) marketplace. We tested version 2.7.1 for this review, and DraCo had released up through version 2.7.5 as of press time.
Recording with FireWire
To test the DV capabilities of our version we connected a Sony DCR-TRV9 camcorder, which required only an IEEE 1394 (FireWire) cable. The cable carries all signals and machine controls, allowing full editing control from the Casablanca.
To record video into the Casablanca we cued up and played our camcorder footage using the Casablanca's controls. We pressed "RECORD" on the Casablanca's interface screen and the video was copied to the Casablanca's hard drive. Because we digitized all the footage as one clip, we needed to split it into separate scenes before editing.
Editing with Picons
As with version 1.0, the editing menu display shows a storyboard at the top of the screen with a bin containing a graphic picture icon of the first frame of each scene. Editing the program involves highlighting a scene with the cursor and then pressing "ADD" on the control panel. It took only minutes to place the clips in order and play back our video. Changing the order of these scenes is done easily using the "REMOVE" and "ADD" buttons. We tested the "INSERT EDITING" function (new to this version) by inserting a new clip over an existing clip on the storyboard. The insert worked fine without affecting the audio or program length.
For graphics we typed a title over the first scene and used the "LEFT ALIGNED" button to place it where we wanted. We noted that the titler interface has been improved from the first generation. Positioning text is more precise now and choosing text colors and attributes is easier to control. Titles can be saved or archived so they can be edited and used again later. We found this was a good idea. We also discovered that scenes with titles should be rendered first if you plan to use effects or transitions with them. Before we rendered the opening scene (the one with the titles) we tried adding a fade-up from black. We got the fade, but lost the titles. The solution was easy. We remade the titles, archived them and then rendered the scene. This time when we added the fade everything worked fine. We added graphics to a few other scenes and rendered each. Rendering times depended on how long the graphics were displayed (the titler lets you specify how long the graphics should be displayed within the scene). Our longest graphic was the opening title (about 15 seconds), and that took only about a minute to render.
We then added some of the Casablanca's transition effects -- a 3D rotation, a page turn and some dissolves -- between scenes and rendered them. We decided to add 15 seconds of black before and after the program and color bars before the first black using the "EMPTY SCENE" option in the edit menu.
We added an audio fade-in and fade-out at the start and end of the program. DraCo has improved the audio tools in the second generation Casablanca. Included, for example, is the ability to change audio levels for a particular clip. There is still room for improvement, however, and according to DraCo we should see some of those in version 3.0. We are looking forward to the ability to edit an audio track first, and then match video to it.
With the camcorder still attached to the FireWire cable, we went to the "FINISH" menu and pressed "RECORD TO DV." We cued the tape from within the Casablanca program and copied the finished program to the same tape the raw footage was recorded on.
After watching it a few times, we found two scenes from the video that needed extra punch. We went to the "EDIT" menu, split out the scenes, and using the "SPECIALS" menu, we applied slow motion and fast motion to the appropriate scenes. Rather than render each scene individually, we decided to use the "RENDER STORYBOARD" feature, which renders all effects in the storyboard with one command.
That's where we ran into our only problem. The system crashed almost immediately. We tried shutting down and restarting a few times, but the program wouldn't start. To get the system functioning again we had to reload the program. Unfortunately, reloading erased all our files. Since we had saved our finished show to tape, we recorded the show back into the Casablanca off the DV tape, split out the scenes to be edited, added the slow and fast motion to them and rendered them individually. We recorded the new show back to DV tape and compared it to the previous version. We saw no generation loss or artifacts in either version. For us, DV saved the day. Although the system did crash, it was an easy recovery. According to DraCo's technical support, the crash was caused by a software bug that has been fixed in version 2.7.3 and above.
Rendering is only required for transitions, titles, effects or audio, not the entire project, so editing with the Casablanca DV is quick. The main weakness is the lack of ability to change audio levels within a scene. You can adjust the levels of the entire scene, but you cannot change them within.
Despite that, the second-generation Casablanca -- like its predecessor -- is a good nonlinear editor. It's stand-alone, relatively inexpensive and it's even better with DV.
Is Louder Better?
Azden ECZ-990 Zoom Microphone
147 New Hyde Park Rd.
Franklin Square, NY 11010
Remember the get close rule of audio? Unfortunately, there are times when getting close to your subject is simply not an option. That's when we look for ways to cheat physics. The highly directional (or "shotgun") microphone is one way to do it. The mike records sounds coming from directly in front with greater intensity than sounds coming from behind or from both sides. Less ambience and unwanted noise ends up on the tape, and the subject is perceived as being closer than it really is.
The Azden SCZ-990 "zoom" mike is an external microphone with two pickup patterns: one multi-directional (referred to as "SHORT"), which is similar to the ones on most camcorders, and one narrower (referred to as "LONG"). The ECZ-990 sits atop your camcorder, attached either by the supplied shoe-mount clip or self-sticking Velcro(TM). The mike plugs into the camcorder's external mike jack. Power to drive the mike's internal electronics comes from an internal AAA battery. A power/pattern switch on top of the mike slides between "OFF," "SHORT" and "LONG" settings.
The ECZ-990's cable is a handy coiled affair which stretches from about one to two feet. This keeps the cable from getting in the way when using the camcorder and also allows the Azden to work with many different kinds of camcorders. The ECZ-990's shoe-mount clip has a tilting range of about 45-degrees, allowing you to point the mike down at a subject occupying the bottom portion of a very wide shot. Typically, you'll want to leave the mike pointing directly in-line with the lens, however.
The ECZ-990's sound changes drastically between the two pattern settings. In the "SHORT" setting, bass response starts diving off at around 1kHz while treble response stays strong. This gives the mike a "tinny" sound, somewhat lacking in fullness. Shooting a person speaking from the opposite side of a room resulted in a sibilant recording (one overly strong in "S" and "T" sounds).
A similar bass roll-off occurs in the "LONG" mode, accompanied by a reduction in high-frequency response above 4kHz. This gives the tighter setting a rather midrangey, low-fidelity character. Response in the voice range sounds decent, which is a good thing considering that people are the subjects most commonly shot with a camcorder.
The ECZ-990's rather severe roll-off of low frequencies has a few benefits, which may explain the motivation behind the design. For one, less bass response will minimize wind noise. With the supplied foam sleeve in place, the Azden does a respectable job controlling wind noise. Second, less bass may mean a reduced pickup of button noises. The ECZ-990 doesn't fare quite so well in this regard, picking up a healthy amount of handling noise from the camcorder itself.
When it comes to reaching out and pulling in a distant subject, there isn't a dramatic difference between the two pickup pattern settings. With a speaking subject about 10 feet away in a moderately noisy environment, both settings offered a slight improvement in noise rejection over the camcorder's built-in mike. Plugging in the Azden mike resulted in an unmistakable loss in fidelity however, especially at the "LONG" setting.
One method Azden uses to make the "LONG" setting seem more effective is to bump the mike's overall sensitivity up by 10dB. This makes everything dramatically louder, which can fool the ear into thinking that the mike is more selective. If you listen closely, you'll hear equally dramatic jumps in competing noises.
The ECZ-990's stated maximum sound pressure level is 100dB, which isn't all that loud. Shoot a moderately loud music concert, for example, and the mike may audibly distort unless you're well away from the sound system. The same goes for a loud laugh, a shout or an exuberant crowd at a sporting event. From about eight feet away, we were easily able to drive the ECZ-990 into distortion with a strong yell. Normal subjects (speaking people and the like) shouldn't be loud enough to distort the Azden, but many subjects may be.
Long and Short of it
Does the Azden ECZ-990 really give you better sound from distant sources? Yes and no. If your camcorder has one of the wide stereo mikes that are becoming so common, the front-firing ECZ-990 may pick up a stronger signal from a distant subject. Fidelity will most likely drop a notch (and you'll lose your stereo spread), but you may get better separation between subject and noise. If your camcorder already does a decent job with distant subjects, the only real improvement you may see with the ECZ-990 is a louder signal due to its higher overall sensitivity.
Though Azden claims the ECZ-990 has a pickup range of 30 to 40 feet, the mike's one-paged photocopied "manual" says that the ECZ-990 is not designed for distant shooting. Instead, the manual recommends a wireless mike for true distant-shooting flexibility. In the case of the ECZ-990, I have to concur.
Touch Me Cam
VL-PD1U Mini-DV camcorder
Mahwah, NJ 07430
The Sharp VL-PD1U Slimcam is just what the name implies -- slim. Although it's only slightly over 2 1/2-inches wide, this pocket sized, digital video camcorder packs some impressive features and image quality. Not only is it easy to handle, but along with standard external controls, it has an impressive four-inch, touch-screen LCD monitor that lets you control most features by lightly tapping the display with your finger.
Once the LCD monitor is open, touching the screen with your fingertip can activate the function menus. To pick a menu option, touch that function's name on the screen. There are four different menu screens. To change between them you press the icon in the top left corner of the display. The menu options available on the four screens include: extend, backlight compensation/gain, focus lock, return, search, fade, time code, picture, menu (for set-up menu options), white balance, shutter speed and scene menu. On our test bench the camcorder performed very well, displaying a horizontal resolution of 475 lines. Playback resolution was the same at 475 lines.
Although the VL-PD1U features a color viewfinder, we found the camcorder much easier to operate using the flip-out, five-inch LCD monitor. When using the viewfinder, the back of the camcorder (and your thumb) is pressed against your face making it somewhat difficult to operate the zoom control (which doubles as manual focus). With the touch screen, however, the controls are right at your fingertips. The screen worked flawlessly. The only problem we could see was the camcorder's tendency to move when we pressed the touch screen to make setting changes while shooting. We discovered, however, that the problem was solved easily by squeezing the touch screen between the thumb and index finger, rather then pushing on it.
We found the touch screen to be a great way to navigate through the menus. When we were shooting in a backlit situation and wanted to adjust the exposure, we tapped the screen to activate the menu, then touched the "BLC/GAIN" text button to activate the backlight adjustment. When we touched the part of the image we wanted the exposure set for, the camcorder adjusted itself to comply.
"FOCUS LOCK" (manual focus in the LCD mode) worked much the same way. It allowed us to lock the focus on any object in the frame just by touching on the object, a function we found to be very useful.
Manual white balance is another function reached through the touch screen. "WHITE BAL" is on the fourth screen of menus and is reached quickly by pressing on the top left corner of the screen three times. Just frame a white object and press the white balance command. The camcorder took from five to eight seconds to complete manual white balance, depending on the amount of light available. In low light it took a little longer to set. Once set, the manual white balance looked correct. The auto white balance had a tendency to appear a bit blue in the sunlight and a bit yellow under tungsten light.
The VL-PD1U is long on zoom, thanks to its 40x digital zoom. Before the digital zoom can be used, however, it must be turned on through the menu. Once on, the digital zoom is activated automatically once you reach the end of the 10x optical zoom range. As you would expect, there were noticeable digital artifacts when we zoomed all the way to the 40x maximum. At the extreme zoom length, we had some trouble holding the shot steady even with the digital image stabilization (DIS) turned on. Without the DIS a shot zoomed all the way in was unrecognizable. For medium to wide shots the DIS worked great and caused no picture degradation.
The VL-PD1U has an interesting function called "EXTEND" that instantly zooms in on any portion of the display you touch. The amount of zoom is preset (at the "EXTEND" selection under "MENU") to either 1.5x, 2.0x or 2.5x magnification. We turned on this feature and framed up a wide shot with two people. All we had to do then was touch one person's face on the screen and the camcorder instantly zoomed in on that face. No need to pan or tilt the camcorder. We touched again and the camcorder returned to the original wide shot. Then we touched on the other person's face and the shot instantly zoomed in on it. This would be very helpful tool when shooting a conversation between two people.
The touch screen on Sharp's latest mini-DV camcorder is not just a new gimmick. Sharp has made the VL-PD1U's touch screen LCD monitor a useful tool that helps improve the way you shoot. This is a well designed, compact camcorder with many useful features.
Video Kit light kit
409 Calle San Pablo, Unit#105
Camarillo, CA 93012
Today's camcorders can shoot in very low light, but the quality of the video will suffer. In low light situations, the camcorder's iris must be open wide, causing soft focus and short depth-of-field. Color saturation and purity also suffer. The solution is a portable light kit. Unfortunately, most light kits are large, expensive and hard to transport. The Cool-Lux Video Kit solves these problems by putting an inexpensive three-unit light kit, with accessories, into a briefcase-sized carrying case.
The kit includes two Mini-Cool lights, one Micro-Lux light and numerous accessories all packed in pre-cut foam. The kit does not include light stands, which is how it's kept small. Instead of stands, the kit includes a number of mounting tools, including an adaptor for mounting the lights on a camcorder's accessory shoe, spring clamps with rubber coated jaws, putty knives with light mounting brackets for mounting lights in door frames, and scissor clips for mounting lights on acoustic ceiling tile frames.
The Mini-Cool lights work with 11 different Cool-Lux bulbs (both 12 volts DC and 120 volts AC), wide beam or spot and wattages from 25 to 250. The lights have detachable AC power cords with in-line switches. The lamps can also be used with DC power by replacing the AC light bulb with the included DC bulb (a different wattage rating than the AC bulb) and attaching an adapter to the power cord that allows you to plug it into an automotive cigarette lighter outlet, a Cool-Lux battery pack or a powerbelt for DC operation. Cool-Lux also includes a DC photo dimmer, which, when attached in-line between the light unit and a DC power supply, allows the user to dim the light. The Micro-Lux is a DC only unit.
Lighting an Interview
To test the Video Kit we shot an interview in the living room of a private home. With the subject on a couch, we used the two Mini-Cool lights in a two-point lighting set-up. There was a door behind the couch, on the right facing the scene. We slipped one of the putty knives between the top of the door and the frame, then mounted one of the Mini-Cools on the putty knife's mounting bracket. We aimed the Mini-Cool down at the subject as a backlight.
We then went back to the front of our talent and clamped one of the spring clips onto a bookcase in front and to the left of the subject. We mounted the other Mini-Cool on the clamp's mounting bracket. We attached the coiled power cords and discovered that they were very short, requiring us to use an extension cord for each light unit.
With the set-up complete, we fired up the camcorder (a Sony TRV9) and took a look without the lights on. The image was flat, a bit dark and in soft focus. In other words, a typical living room shot. Then we turned on the lights. They made quite a difference. We had sharp focus, good color saturation, proper white balance and a wide contrast ratio. However, we found the light a bit harsh, casting hard-edged shadows. Included with the kit were two glass diffusion filters that mount in a slot inside the Mini-Cool units. Daylight correction filters are also available but not included in the kit, which is too bad. We popped open the top of the Mini-Cool (after letting it cool, of course) and slipped in the diffusion filter. Although the filter softened the light slightly and widened the beam a little, it was still too harsh. Knowing that creating shadows with soft edges requires a large, even light source, we held an 8x10-inch piece of diffusion material, which we had available, about a foot in front of the Mini-Cool. The large defuser gave us just the light quality we wanted. Unfortunately, the diffusion gel was not part of the kit. Cool-Lux does offer an optional accessory that should do the same thing; the LC7170 Soft Light Converter Attachment which sells for $40. For the price, it would be nice if the LC7170 came included in the Video Kit. The same can be said about the LC7100 barn door attachments. There's a place in the case to store two of them, but they are sold separately as optional accessories for $70 each.
Reflections of Light
Next we tried using a large reflector that we had on hand. We placed our reflector on a chair (obtained on location) next to our subject. We then clamped the front Mini-Cool to a small stepladder (also obtained on location) and placed it in a position where it lit the reflector, but where no light from it fell on the subject. This again gave us two-point lighting, but this time the front light was large and diffused. This set-up gave us a soft even light over the entire subject and just the right highlight on the subject's shoulders and hair.
Although it would be improved with the addition of daylight filters and the soft light converter attachment, the Video Kit is still a great lighting package. With the Video Kit and one reflector we were able to achieve well-balanced, professional looking lighting. Light and portable, the Cool-Lux Video Kit would help any hobbyist or prosumer bring home better-looking video footage.
Music Maker music creation software
Magix Entertainment Corp.
429 Santa Monica Blvd. #120
Santa Monica, CA 90401
One of the best ways for hobbyist and prosumer video producers to make their work more complete is to add a music track. Most of the time this means purchasing a music library, which can be expensive and limiting. Magix Entertainment helps solve this problem with its Music Maker software.
Music Maker works on 486DX or Pentium PCs with a minimum of 16MB of RAM, at least 10MB of hard disk space, a 16-bit sound card and a 4x CD-ROM. For best performance, the manufacturer recommends a system operating at 100MHz or faster with 32MB of RAM and 100MB of hard disk space. To use the 32-bit version 3.0 you will need Windows 95 or Windows NT. Music Maker will work with Windows 3.1, but it will only load the 16-bit version 2.0.
Music Maker includes a neat tutorial that not only teaches you how to use the program, but gives an introduction into music arrangement, at least for modern rock and pop music. Using video clips, the tutorial lets four members of a rock band explain the instruments they play and how that instrument fits into a song arrangement. Between each band member's video, the tutorial switches to a display of the program. Using voice-over and animation, the tutorial instructs you how to choose and arrange the instrument just introduced. We recommend using the tutorial.
When the program first starts it asks you to pick a few settings for your new arrangement. You can choose either 4, 8 or 16 tracks to work with. You can also choose the memory mode you wish to work with, either stereo or mono (mono saves memory and may be better for video work than stereo) and 44kHz or 22kHz sample rates. While 44kHz will give you CD quality sound, it uses far more memory then 22kHz. If the finished product is going to videotape, a 22kHz setting should work well. We tested it at 22kHz and found the quality to be fine. For digital video (DV) productions, the 44kHz mode would be more desirable.
The display consists of a graphic representation of the (4, 8, or 16) music tracks, two tool bars and a directory of music samples. To help keep track of timing, the tracks are marked with a grid, which can be set to various music timing notations, from a full bar to 1/16 bar. More important to video producers, however, is that the grid can also be set to a time display mode (minutes:seconds:frames). This is a handy feature that will enable you to time your music changes to match your video. The music you create is made up of loops (or samples) of actual instruments (saved as .wav files) that you arrange (by dragging and dropping with the mouse) on the tracks of the display.
To test the program we created a music track to accompany a chase scene. We wanted the music to build suspense slowly, for about 15 seconds, and then, following a change in action on the video, become more intense. Since we wanted to time the music to the action on the screen, we first changed the grid to time display mode. We wanted something dramatic, with the sound of a large orchestra, rather than the sound of a single electric guitar or keyboard.
We went to the directory of samples, looked for "classical" and listened to a couple. Once we found an orchestra ensemble that sounded right, we dragged it to the beginning of the first track. The music worked well but the sample wasn't long enough, so we went to the directory to find another one. Music Maker's file names make it easy to find samples that work together. Using letters and numbers, the file name defines the sample's type of groove, tonality and pitch. By matching letters and numbers, we combined four samples that together made a very effective 15-second opening for our music track. For our first change, we copied and pasted the opening orchestral sample so it looped through again on track one (an easy point and click procedure). We then found some neat synthesizer and dragged it to track two, mixing it with the orchestra. With the addition of some drums on track three, we had created an original music sound track that fit right in with the action in our video. We played the resulting .wav file from the line-out jack on our PC sound card to the editing deck.
Music Maker is an easy to use program that enables non-musicians to create original music sound tracks for video productions. At the price, this program is a bargain.
Casablanca DV nonlinear editor
Video inputs and outputs:
IEEE 1394, S-video
Audio inputs and outputs:
IEEE 1394, stereo RCA-style
4GB, 6GB, 9GB or 18GB SCSI-2 hard disk
Maximum data rate:
slow, fast, backwards, still, strobe
-- DV input and output
-- Camcorder control through IEEE 1394 interface
-- Easy to operate
-- Cannot adjust audio level within scene
-- A great stand-alone, DV nonlinear editor that is easy to use.
Azden ECZ-990 Shotgun Microphone
cardioid (SHORT), super-cardioid (LONG)
150Hz to 18kHz (no deviation listed)
-35dB (LONG @ 1kHz, 1V/Pa), -45dB (SHORT @ 1kHz, 1V/Pa)
1.8k ohms (LONG @ 1kHz), 800 ohms (SHORT @ 1kHz)
better than 40dB
DC 1.5V AAA battery
Fair wind noise rejection
Poor fidelity in LONG mode
Minimal bass response overall
Distorts easily with loud sounds
Offers little rejection of background noise and poor fidelity outside of the vocal frequency range.
Sharp VL-PD1U camcorder
10:1 optical zoom, 40:1 digital zoom, 4.4-44mm focal length, f/1.6
1.3-inch, 660,000-pixel CCD
0.5-inch color viewfinder; flip-out 4-inch full-color LCD screen with touch control
auto, manual, focus lock (with touch screen)
Maximum shutter speed:
auto, four program AE modes
fade, sepia, wide screen
12-bit stereo, 16-bit mono
IEEE 1394, microphone (plug-in power type)
IEEE 1394, S-video, composite video and stereo audio (with supplied cable)
touch screen control, instant zoom, focus lock
2.28 (width) x 4.94 (height) x 7.67 (depth) inches
Video Performance (approx.)
Horizontal resolution (camera):
Horizontal resolution (playback):
Pause to record:
Power-up to record:
Fast-forward/Rewind (30 min. tape):
-- Touch screen menus easy to access
-- Instant zoom
-- Focus lock
-- Auto white balance too blue
-- Using touch screen may shake camcorder
-- The touch screen is a fun way to control the camcorder and includes many interesting features.
Cool-Lux Video Kit
Quartz lamps, 25 to 250 watts,
12 volt DC or 120 volt AC (depending on lamps
Mini-Cool lights, 12 ounces; Micro-Lux, 7.25
ounces; complete kit, 15 pounds
2 spring clamp mounts, 2 putty knife mounts, 2 scissor clips, one DC dimmer, 2 DC adapters
-- Compact kit
-- Well-stocked with mounting accessories
-- Needs larger diffusers
-- Needs daylight filters in kit
-- Doesn't include barn doors
-- Great little light kit for the hobbyist and prosumer on the go.
Music Maker music creation software
PC (Win 3.1, 95 or NT)
486DX or Pentium
10MB free space
16-bit sound card
486 at 100MHz or faster
100MB free space
-- Creates music to match video
-- Low cost
-- Works on 486DX
-- Needs lots of memory for long music tracks
-- A great low cost way to create copyright-free music tracks for video.