Compaq Computer Corp.
P.O. Box 692000
Houston, Texas 77269-2000
The Compaq Presario 7000Z with the MyMovieSTUDIO bundle takes its place among a new generation of computers from the big manufacturers that are designed, among other things, to edit video right out of the box. We refer to these as "turnkey" video editing computers, and to their makers as "system integrators." In reviewing them, we do not focus on the features of any one software application, but on whether the system as a whole delivers on its promises: simple hookup and lack of reliance upon the user to install hardware, software or configure the system. The Presario with the MyMovieStudio bundle should, among other things:
Capture video and sound from a DV camcorder and audio from an audio CD, and enable the user to edit these into a finished video.
Output the finished video to videotape or DVD-R disc, playable in a stand-alone DVD-Video player.
Also, it should perform some basic functions, such as rendering previews and final videos, and burning discs, at reasonably fast speeds.
Though its $3156 price places it a notch or two above the baseline cost for home machines, the Presario’s Athlon processor, Windows Me operating system, and single all-purpose hard drive plainly proclaim that this is meant to be a home PC. Its intended user would use it to run spreadsheets, write letters, surf the Web, and edit video, and would not reserve it exclusively for video editing as professionals often do with their edit bays. One more thing about that price: Compaq is now selling a very similarly equipped Presario 7000T-1.5 for only $2,129. Nevertheless, this machine says to the video hobbyist, "I’ll roll into your home ready to edit video and to make tapes and discs. You need only hook me up to get started." Did this machine fulfill all of its promises? Yes. Is it worth the money? Yes. Could it be made even easier to use? Yes.
Hooking It Up
Hooking up the Presario took all of 20 painless minutes, even with the extra patches for our preferred A/V preview mechanism (more below). The Presario politely sports one of its FireWire jacks and two of its USB ports on the front panel. The inputs and outputs on Compaq’s own cards are color-coded to their appropriate wires. If Compaq could have gotten its vendors supplying other cards, such as the Ethernet card, FireWire card and modem, to similarly color code, the machine would have a completely unified presentation, and would be that much easier to hookup.
The FS940 19" monitor has slots on either side for hanging the JBL speakers that come with it as standard issue, and a DC power jack on its back to supply them with juice. Nice touch. Speaking of speakers, however, this system came with a set of five additional Klipsch surround sound speakers. This embarrassment of speakers gave us a choice whether to hookup for simple stereo, surround sound, or both. The boltless side of the computer’s case was designed to be easy to open with the push of a latch. Good idea, but it was nevertheless so tight that it required some persuasion by a screwdriver to actually come off. Inside we noticed one unoccupied PCI slot awaiting any future PCI peripheral that might come our way.
Recommended setup note: This type of system has no inboard DV codec for translating the incoming DV signal into a form the computer can use. This means the Presario must rely upon the codec in our camcorder to perform functions as basic as previewing audio and video. Without a work-around, this would condemn us to previewing our audio and video through our camcorder’s viewfinder and speaker or headphones. Here’s the work-around. First, we ran one of our camera’s analog video outputs to an NTSC monitor. Next, we patched the camcorder’s analog audio outputs (this required an adapter) into the sound card’s line input. Now we could preview video through a monitor and sound through the nice JBL or Klipsch speakers.
Booting up the computer loaded around eight applications into the system tray, most of which were not necessary for our present purposes. The most obnoxious program to auto-start was the MS Works Portfolio, which insisted on sitting on top of every window from any application, until we told "msconfig" to let it lie dormant on boot up. When up and running the desktop showed a vast array of shortcuts, some to installed apps, others to Compaq online services, still others to competing online offers of ISP services and software products. These all were splattered, not grouped in any rational way, across the screen, without any kind of introduction or explanation.
The desktop is the first sight to confront new computer owners upon boot up. Is this any way to help them get started? Would a quick and simple "introduction to your computer" video, that plays at boot up, help? To its credit, Compaq did provide an introductory CD with this machine, but the opening desktop really needed work.
Getting to Work: Editing Video
Our objectives were to make a short video and output it to videotape and DVD. As a sidelight, we thought we’d try also to output to videoCD.
First, we set about capturing music from an audio CD. When placed in the CD-ROM tray, the CD triggered the Windows Media Player to open. While the Media Player can record or "rip" audio files, it always transcodes them into the Windows Media audio format: a file format not useful to either of the two video editing programs installed on the machine. While StudioDV itself allowed us to quickly rip a music file, Premiere asked us first to identify a third-party program for the purpose. A better integrated system would have audio CD player software that also records wav files installed as the default audio player, and would have Premiere configured to use this same player-recorder as its audio capture device. We pointed Premiere at the Adaptec EZ CD Creator, already installed.
Next we set about capturing video. When we first opened StudioDV, we received a series of warning messages (such as "the driver you are about to install is older than one you have") as it attempted to initialize the camcorder we had plugged into the computer, a JVC JY-VS 200. We clicked our way through these, and were never troubled by them again. We set StudioDV to autolog and capture from a DV tape at "preview quality." The machine did this flawlessly in little more than real time, giving us a "photo album" of picons, each representing a distinct shot. We also tried the same at full quality. The machine processed this veeeery slowly, and never placed the picons in the album. Seemed the machine was not up to this task. This is not a serious problem, as most projects made in StudioDV would never require full-quality capture at the start of a project. Instead, StudioDV allows one to autolog and capture at preview resolution, but then re-captures at full resolution only the footage used in the final edit at rendering time: a method that speeds up the capturing process and makes the most of system resources.
We opened Premiere, logged three clips into a batch list and let the machine capture them at full resolution. Again, the machine performed without a hitch, capturing our clips and delivering their picons into a "bin" in little more than real time.
We jumped back to StudioDV, placed three clips into the timeline, added a supered title over the first, and a 3-second dissolve between the last two, and previewed. Magically, the machine required no rendering time: it showed us the preview immediately.
Not so with Premiere, given the same clips, similar title and 3-second dissolve, our 42-second movie took 57 seconds to render before we could preview it. To be fair, this would have gone much quicker had we chosen to capture in preview quality in Premiere as we had in StudioDV.
Back in Studio, it was time to meet the rendering trade-off. When commanded to make our 42-second movie, it recaptured the essential footage and rendered it all at full resolution in two minutes, 22 seconds. We had no trouble off-loading this to tape.
In Premiere, rendering the movie took only 58 seconds. As all clips had been captured at full resolution, there was no need to recapture them. We used the "Export Timeline" to "Movie" command successfully. When trying the "Export Timeline" to either the "Print to Video" or the "Export to Tape" command both the application and the OS crashed. However, exporting the finished clip using either of these commands worked as it should, with "Export to Tape" triggering the camcorder to record the output.
The end product of all this sophisticated editing was two similar 42-second movies. We chose one as a test file and proceeded to the disc-burning phase.
Burning the Discs
By upgrading Adaptec’s EZ CD Creator software to the Deluxe version, we were able to make a videoCD, an inexpensive (CD-R discs are far cheaper than DVD-R discs), low-res alternative to burning DVDs. After a few minutes of authoring, the machine burned a videoCD of our test 42-second movie in two minutes, 33 seconds. This played without problems in a Philips DVD 940 DVD player. The quality was the standard low-resolution MPEG-1 quality of videoCD.
The installed "LE" version of Sonic Solutions’ DVDIt! did not have an MPEG transcoder, and therefore couldn’t make a DVD from our test movie avi file. Compaq avoids a turnkey demerit here, however, because StudioDV, as installed, had an MPEG encoder built in. We brought our fnished movie into the StudioDV timeline and output it as an MPEG-2 clip. We were able to address this MPEG-2 clip in the DVDIt! project and output the finished project to a DVD-R disc. Someone rendering a movie from Adobe Premiere would have to remember to run the finished movie through StudioDV in this way before trying to include the movie in a DVD.
The PhilipsDVD player which successfully played our videoCD disc was not able to read this DVD-video disc or others we burned using the same process. After press time, however, we were able to find three players that could read the DVD-videos: the Toshiba SD-2300, the Samsung DVD-N501 and the Aiwa XD-DV290.
To achieve the full functionality we reached, add the cost of an NTSC monitor (we used a small cheap one), audio adaptor, and Adaptec EZ CD Creator upgrade to the $3156 cost of the computer. We’d recommend having Compaq install the Adaptec upgrade before shipping. Considering that, a year ago, the cheapest DVD-R drive alone cost $2000 more than this whole computer–and considering the 19" monitor and set of seven speakers–we found the price of the Compaq Presario 7000Z reasonable. It performed its video editing, DVD authoring and even, when upgraded, videoCD authoring tasks well and quickly. Most fundamental to a system sold as a turnkey solution: it was easy to set up, it did indeed have everything necessary for video editing and DVD authoring already installed and its tech support team was quick, reliable and well-equipped. Further color coding, an improved opening desktop display, a more suitable default audio CD player-recorder and a more streamlined path from Premiere to the DVD software would make a good turnkey even better. Nevertheless, we give it an "A."
CPU: AMD Athlon 1324 MHz
RAM: 256 MB
Hard Drive: IBM 71GB DTLA 307075 DMA HD
OS: Windows Me 4.9
Sound Card: Creative Labs SB Live
VGA Card: NVIDIA GeForce2 GTS
1394 Ports: 2 TI OHCI Compliant IEEE 1394 (Pinnacle Card)
DVD-RW: Pioneer DVR-103
CD-ROM: Compaq CD-ROM LTN403
Floppy Disk Drive: 3.5-inch generic
Five PCI slots, One AGP slot
Monitor: Compaq FS940 19-inch
Speakers: JBL Platinum stereo, Klipsch
ProMedia v. 2-400
Installed Software: Windows Update Reminder, Windows MovieMaker, Pinnacle Studio DV 1.06, Sonic Foundry DVDit!, Adobe Premiere 6.0, Media 100 Cleaner 5 EZ, MS Works 6.0, Adaptec EZ CD Creator 4, Compaq WinDVD Player, Sonic Solutions DVDit! LE 2.3, Real Player Plus 7, Basic QT Player 4.0, Windows Media Player 7.0
A well-equipped video and DVD-authoring system at a reasonable price.