Q. I need help to determine if it is possible to adequately upgrade a personal computer with a VIA chipset to do digital editing. I have a Compaq Athlon 500 with FireWire, 384MB RAM, 53GB of storage (at 7,200rpm) and a 32MB ATI 128Pro All-in-Wonder graphics card. I’m shooting with a Sony DCR-TRV900 and I’m using (Sonic Foundry’s) VideoFactory editing software. The system seems fine in every way, except when it comes to rendering. Moving images flicker and ghost. Is an upgrade feasible or do I need to replace the system?
A. We receive a ton of mail every month asking for system recommendations. Sorry, but we can’t offer that kind of advice; there are too many variables. Even when we review specific, pre-built systems from vendors, no matter how good the system is, we always get a few letters from unhappy folks who have experienced problems with that system.
Second, your (relatively) old system should be just fine. You didn’t list a single spec that presumes any intrinsic problems. The CPU is fast enough, you have boatloads of RAM and your hard disk is plenty fast. A good, fast, dedicated hard disk is the most important aspect of any video editing system. Slower CPUs and less RAM just mean that you will have to wait longer for your renders.
I don’t think your problems relate to your hardware. My suspicion is that it is a field/interlacing problem. Here’s a diagnostic test. Does the video only ghost and flicker on a television, but not on your computer? If it does, change the field order for rendering. In Ulead apps, the fields are named "A" and "B;" in other apps, they could be referred to as "upper" and "lower" or "odd" and "even." We hope we didn’t just talk you out of buying a cool new system, but unfortunately, you probably can’t use this flicker as an excuse.
Q. Since it is digital, is Pioneer’s DVD-R drive capable of giving me the same quality of my original DV source tapes? How can I optimize the resolution facet of this process? So far I have found that the colors are true, and there is no smearing, but the sharpness is like VHS or worse.
A. The quality of the MPEG-2 video that you record to DVD is not determined by your hardware, but is instead a result of your video encoding software. Your source DV video is converted to MPEG-2 (still all digital) for compatibility with the DVD format specifications. MPEG-2 is more highly compressed than DV and, no matter what anyone from any company tells you, the quality is not as high. In the best case, such as the movies you watch on DVD or from digital satellite transmissions, the quality is excellent. In your case, you should not expect DV quality, or movie studio DVD quality for that matter, but the results should be considerably better than VHS. While the resolution is objectively better than VHS, MPEG-2 video for DVD almost always shows some compression artifacts. Subjectively, some people don’t mind this, but others might find it an unacceptable drawback.
The quality of the encoding software is critical and a basic understanding of its use is important. Movie studios typically use extremely expensive encoders and have dedicated professionals who specialize in compression, many times doing a frame-by-frame analysis to tweak the compression throughout the film. Most of us are not willing to perform the compression manually, nor are we able to afford the pro-level encoders. There are a number of sub-$200 encoders available that do a nice job, although typically, you will still see some compression artifacts. At this time, there are still important DVD hardware and compatibility issues. Not all encoders create MPEG-2 video that your DVD burning software will like. Not all discs burned with your particular hardware will work in stand-alone DVD-video players. Unfortunately, this is just the state of the industry at this early stage. We must caution people that DVD is still for early adopters only. I’m just as excited about DVD as anyone else, but we should all expect some frustrations along with the thrill of being first on the block.