Test Bench:Compaq Presario 7000Z DVD-R Turnkey Editing Computer

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. In reviewing these turnkey systems, we do not focus on the features of any specific 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 $3,156 price places it a notch or two above the baseline cost for home machines, the Presario’s Athlon processor, Windows Me operating system and all-purpose hard drive proclaim that this is meant to be a home PC. Video editing is not its exclusive function. One more thing about that price: Compaq is now selling a very similarly equipped Presario 7000T-1.5 for only $2,129.

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 20 painless minutes. 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 come color-coded.

The FS940 19-inch monitor has slots on either side for hanging its standard JBL speakers, and a DC power-jack on its back to supply them with juice. Nice touch. Speaking of speakers, this system also came with a set of five additional Klipsch surround-sound speakers. This embarrassment of speakers gave us a choice whether to hook up for simple stereo, surround sound or both.

This system has no inboard DV codec for translating the incoming DV signal into a form the computer can use. 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.

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 video CD.

We set StudioDV to autolog and captured 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 (picture-icons), each representing a distinct shot.

We opened Premiere, logged three clips into a batch capture 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 title over the first, and a three-second dissolve between the last two, and previewed. The machine didn’t require any rendering time; it immediately showed us the preview .

Not so with Premiere, given the same clips, similar title and three-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 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. Since all clips were captured at full resolution, recapturing them was unnecessary.

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 video CD, 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 video CD of our 42-second movie in two minutes, 33 seconds. This played without problems in a Philips DVD 940 DVD-Video player. The quality was the standard low-resolution MPEG-1 quality of video CD.

The installed LE version of Sonic Solutions’ DVDit! did not have an MPEG transcoder (the SE version would have), and therefore couldn’t make a DVD from our test .avi file. Compaq avoids a turnkey demerit here, however, because StudioDV, as installed, had an MPEG encoder built-in. We brought our finished 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.

Summary

To achieve the full functionality we reached, add the cost of an NTSC monitor (we used a small, cheap one), audio adapter and Adaptec EZ CD Creator upgrade to the 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 $2,000 more than this whole computer, and considering the 19-inch 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, video CD authoring tasks favorably and quickly. It was easy to set up, and had everything necessary for video editing and DVD authoring already installed. Compaq’s tech support team was quick, reliable and well-equipped. We give it an "A."

TECH SPECS


Platform: Windows

CPU: AMD Athlon 1324 MHz

RAM: 256MB

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 R, 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

Strengths

  • Standard DVD-R drive
  • Includes two editing software packages
  • It’s fast

Weaknesses

  • Premiere wasn’t configured to find a
    default audio capture program
  • Inserting audio CD defaults to a player
    that can’t capture .wav files

SUMMARY

A well-equipped video and DVD-authoring system at a reasonable price.

Compaq Computer Corp.

P.O. Box 692000

Houston, Texas 77269-2000

(800) AT-COMPAQ

www.compaq.com

$3,156

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