DVD editing turnkeys are the way to go for no-hassle DVD authoring. We recently got our paws on the Compaq Presario 8000T and the HP Pavilion 9995, two solid competitors in the emerging DVD turnkey market. The two machines fall into two slightly different price categories, with the HP occupying the basic/budget niche and the Compaq a step above in features for $1,400 more. The ultimate test for both is the same: can the machine make DVDs that will play back in a stand-alone living room DVD player?
Both the HP and Compaq systems are designed to capture video from DV sources via the IEEE 1394 ports, edit video, record finished videos to tape or output streaming video files. Additionally, both author and burn video to DVD and VCD, and can copy files to CD-R, CD-RW and DVD-writeable discs. They are both sold as ready-to-edit turnkey system for editing videos and authoring video to disc.
Of course, "DVD" does not necessarily mean DVD-Video. There are many flavors of DVD, suited for many excellent purposes beyond just movies for stand-alone living room DVD players. The new DVD+RW format and drive (Ricoh OEM) in the HP Pavilion 9995 shows a lot of promise for many reasons, including using the DVD+RW drive to back up huge video projects. Still, as video enthusiasts, there can be no denying that we are most excited by creating DVDs for the living room. The newer Compaq Presario 8000T has the now widespread Pioneer DVR-103 DVD-RW, a drive that the company has been working with for some time now. The HP Pavilion 9995 is the first DVD+RW machine.
The Pavilion 9995 sports a muscular P4 2.0GHz with 512MB of RAM and an 80GB hard drive. With some nice extra touches, like a front panel accessible IEEE 1394 port and S-video and composite outputs on the display card in back, this is unquestionably a sweet video box. The machine was simple to hook up. It came with an adequate monitor, keyboard and mouse in addition to a pair of unamplified (passive) Polk Audio speakers. The sound card on the motherboard offered all of the standard audio out options found on any standard sound card in addition to an amplified output port that could power the speakers.
When we powered up the computer, it bolted through the BIOS to the Windows XP Home Edition OS, and we waited. And waited. This must have been the first real boot of the system since the hard disk was set up at the factory because the computer took a full seven minutes to boot. At the end of that seven minutes we had to deal with the HP and Windows first-run features, including setting time and date, refusing registration and so on. A bit annoying that the machine didn’t just boot to the desktop immediately, as we kind of hoped a turnkey system would do, but not that big of a deal. Subsequent boots were much faster, taking a little under 30 seconds.
One of the more interesting features of this computer is the nVIDIA GeForce2 MX400 display card. A decent all-around graphics card with enough 3D power for most games, video editors will really like the S-video and composite out on the card for setting up a dual-monitor desktop workspace with any NTSC monitor. All you need are two small televisions to turn this into a nice three-monitor setup. Use the VGA monitor for your editing application, one television for less critical Windows tasks and another to preview your DV video output routed through your camcorder.
Stu, Stu, Studio
It may seem like Pinnacle Studio 7 (or DV) is taking over the OEM planet, what with it being found on more and more systems every day. It is a good basic editor, more complex than, say, iMovie 2, but not as difficult to use as Premiere, yet it still contains 99 percent of the tools most mortals will ever need for editing. The full version of Studio 7 was included on the HP machine, while the more limited SE version came with the Compaq computer. Studio 7 was very stable on both the Pavilion 9995 and the Presario 8000T and did not crash or hang in any of our tests, from capture, to edit, to render. Scene detection was not perfect, but worked well. Unfortunately, Studio 7 was not well suited to long-form projects since the audio became noticeably out of sync by the half-hour point and was off by over a second at the end of an hour. Our work-around was to break the project up at natural divisions and render (or print to tape) each section individually, all less than 10 minutes in length, something we’ve been doing for years and years anyhow.
Rendering was especially fast on the Pavilion 9995: a two-second transition took nine seconds to render and a 10-second scrolling title with a drop shadow only took 24 seconds. MPEG-2 rendering from within Studio 7 took about 27 minutes for a 10-minute video clip.
DVD Me, HP
We were initially frustrated to find that there was no way to burn video to DVD on the Pavilion 9995, only a data burning utility from HP. After exploring the box the computer came in, we found that Sonic MyDVD was indeed included, but uninstalled. There may be a very good reason why this wasn’t initially installed, but this violates the spirit of a true ready-to-use system.
MyDVD is very easy to use and we had a complete, 1 hour and 15 minute DVD project with three attractive main pages, 12 menu items and titles finished in about 10 minutes. The many templates were varied and easy to use, with a simple trimming tool and basic titles included. In our opinion, MyDVD strikes an excellent balance between simplicity and features. If your source video is already broken up into individual AVI video files according to how you want your menus to appear, DVD authoring with MyDVD is a breeze.
All of our native DV video needed to be rendered (transcoded) to proper DVD MPEG-2 video, which was conveniently accomplished using MyDVD’s built-in and automatic encoder. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the 2.0GHz CPU zipped right through this intensive process, taking about an hour and 45 minutes to encode and burn our one hour and 15 minute duration project. In all, including the MPEG-2 render and setting up the project, it was less that two hours from raw DV footage until we were dropping the still-warm DVD into an Aiwa DVD player for our first computability test. The DVD media we initially tried was the included DVD+RW disc. It was not recognized as a valid DVD in any of the players we tried. We then got out a blank DVD-R disc, but discovered that this much cheaper media format is not supported by the 100i DVD+RW drive.
The Compaq Presario
The Presario was also easy to set up and we especially liked the informative documentation that aided this process. After simple hookup of the basic hardware and boot up, we were greeted by far fewer advertising icons on the desktop than we were with the 7000Z; thank you Compaq.
The ATI All-in-Wonder video card had a nice breakout box that brought many analog audio and video in/out ports to the front of the computer. Though the breakout box takes audio and video inputs, the card itself doesn’t actually capture sound. Rather, it passes this chore along to the machine’s Sound Blaster Live! card by way of a stereo line output cable. The ATI setup documentation didn’t explain this patch, leaving it to the user to figure out, by trial and error, why no audio was being captured with the video from analog sources.
We encountered no mishaps with the installation of any of the software provided: a remarkable fact given that most of the software necessary to make this machine a turnkey video editing and disc authoring system did not come to our offices pre-installed.
Using some of the software was a different story. When we ran Sonic DVDIt! LE, the resolution we initially selected for our display card was not supported. When we went to increase the screen resolution to one that supports DVDIt!, we fell into a time-consuming tailspin of failed attempts to change refresh rates and video card settings before we discovered that the ATI All-in-Wonder card had to be switched to single-monitor mode before allowing resolution changes.
Aside from the necessary hardware connection between the ATI and Creative Labs cards already mentioned, Sound Blaster Live!’s mixer must be properly configured to capture audio with the analog video signal. Again, we were left to fend for ourselves, through trial and error, to get this to work. Compaq’s Getting Started Guide to MyMovieSTUDIO is a fine overview of this bundle, but it makes no provision for those choosing the ATI All-in-Wonder option for their machines.
The All-in-Wonder (AIW) card on the Compaq digitized analog video clips from an analog camcorder (and from its own TV tuner) as MPEG-2 files at full-screen resolution, and played them back, as promised. This was a feature that was missed on the HP. The only editing software supplied with the Presario 8000T capable of editing MPEG-2 clips, however, was the very limited Windows Movie Maker: Pinnacle Studio 7 SE could not. Windows Movie Maker was also able to control the camcorder and capture video from it into AVI files.
The AIW also acts as a scan converter, sending the computer’s VGA output including full-screen playback of video clips to a television or VCR.
Pinnacle’s Studio 7 SE installed without a hitch (but we did have to install it) and quickly recognized the camcorder, allowing us to capture and edit flawlessly. The speeds of our various performance tests were not too bad, but we expected better from a 2.2GHz CPU, especially after our tests on the 2.0GHz Pavilion 9995. We checked the CPU settings and discovered that it was running at only 1.5GHz, although the CPU was clearly a 2.2GHz chip. We suspected an incorrect setting in the BIOS and called Compaq. Indicating that the speed may have been set at the lower default at the factory, a Compaq rep confirmed that we should set it to 2.2 GHz in the BIOS. We did and the machine speeded up to a respectable 2193 MHz. Later chips will have the speed set irrevocably. If you get an early issue of a 2.2 machine, check the BIOS and be sure to check with the manufacturer.
After making these adjustments, we clocked the following in Studio 7 SE: a two-second dissolve took about three seconds to render. A still 10-second title with a drop shadow supered over a color background took 13 seconds to render. The same supered over video took 17 seconds to render. We couldn’t make a scrolling title (as we did with the full version of Studio 7 on the Pavilion 9995) as this function was not enabled in the SE version. A simple 10-minute video project took 11 minutes, 36 seconds to render into an avi file ready for output to videotape. Transcoding our 10-minute project to MPEG-2 took 18 minutes, 37 seconds. This was a snappy machine.
Video destined for DVD requires MPEG-2 video files. DVDIt! LE doesn’t transcode DV AVI files to MPEG-2, so we used Studio 7 SE to manually render the project. Although we ran into no problems, there is a possibility of encoding files incorrectly at this step and caution must be taken. After testing and burning our DVD, we first tried the disc in a Samsung DVD-N501 player. It read the disc, showed its menu and played the two videos for about half the length of each but then froze up. Other DVD players we tried were more successful, including an Aiwa XD-DV290 and a newer Toshiba, which played the disc back correctly. As with all home-produced DVDs, newer DVD players are much better at handling the DVD-R media than older machines.
Name Your Price
These two machines are representative of what can be found on the market today for affordable video editing and DVD authoring: you can find a machine to fit your budget. With a superior video card that supports analog capture via a nice breakout box, a beautiful speaker system and a larger monitor (among other perks), the Presario is the machine we’d want at home. It was faster and had more storage than the HP, but with all these options, $1,400 more expensive. Indeed, we preferred the software package that came with the HP, including the full version of Studio 7 and Sonic MyDVD that did all of the MPEG-2 encoding automatically. Both machines performed very well as video editors.
In the end though, we also wanted a DVD to watch in the living room. The more expensive DVD+RW disc (about $14) we burned on the HP simply did not play in the machines we tested it in, while the DVD-R disc (about $5) we burned in the Compaq did.
HP Pavilion 9995 Turnkey with DVD+RW
– IEEE 1394 card
– two mediocre speakers
– 17′ monitor
Pinnacle Studio 7 (full version)
Sonic MyDVD (included but not installed)
Compaq Presario 8000T Turnkey with DVD-RW
great video display/capture card with analog I/O and nice breakout box
– sweet Klipsch ProMedia 5.1 THX certified speakers
– Logitech wireless mouse
– credit card reader in keyboard
– 10/100 Ethernet
– 19′ monitor
Pinnacle Studio 7 SE
Sonic DVDit! Version 2.3 LE