with Stephen Muratore, Chuck Peters, Tony Kilcollins and Charles Fulton
For a product to qualify for an award, it must have shipped in the 2002 calendar year, and it must have passed through Videomaker headquarters for examination by our editors. From there, we judged products based on the following seven criteria:
How effective the product is at helping videographers be more effective at video production.
Ease of Operation:
How user-friendly it is.
The product must provide a good value for the price.
It must be put together well, durable and show excellence in its category.
It should have some inventive or original features.
It needs to be able to endure the rigors of active video production.
It must work consistently and effectively.Throughout the course of a year we have a unique opportunity to see, play with, test and review all of the latest and greatest video toys. At the end of each year, we take a step back to look at the whole and publish a list of our favorites. Selecting winners is a fun but challenging process. The editors compared, contrasted, discussed, debated and defended their recommendations. When the dust settled, we had this list of winners. Here they are:
Videomaker’s Best Products of the Year.
Best Mini DV Camcorder Over $3,000
The Panasonic AG-DVX100 is one sweet camera, even if you aren’t shooting an Indie for Sundance. We weren’t terribly excited by 24p in and of itself: we don’t have $50,000 to transfer our video to film, and our productions are shown on 30fps interlaced NTSC televisions anyhow. But we were extremely impressed with the true progressive modes, the accessible (and extensive) manual controls, the fine audio capabilities and the overall imaging quality of this professional-level camera. The DVX100 truly has it all.
Best Mini DV Camcorder $2,000-$3,000
This was a close category this year, with the GL2 competing against the outstanding Sony TRV950 ($2,600). While you won’t be disappointed with either camera (the Sony shoots a very sharp image in automatic modes), we give the edge to the GL2 for two reasons. First, the GL2 has better audio controls with a number of very useful meters carefully placed around the camera body. The Canon also has better and more accessible manual controls (such as direct iris control in F-stops) that professional videographers will understand and truly appreciate.
Best Mini DV Camcorder $1,200-$2,000
For the opposite reason we liked the GL2 in the previous category, we feel that the Sony PC120BT is the best camera in this category. Its first-rate automatic shooting features make it an excellent choice for the hobbyist. In point-and-shoot mode, this camera produced one of the sharpest images we’ve seen. And that doesn’t mean that the manual controls aren’t there if you need them. With high-res still shot capabilities, a compact size and Bluetooth networking potential, this is an ideal camera to take on vacation.
Best Mini DV Camcorder Under $1,200
Every year we see higher quality products at lower prices and this camera is a classic example. The Sharp VL-MC500U is a refined and perfected version of last year’s winner, for about $200 less. Beside solid performance and good manual controls, Sharp deserves an award for its innovative shooting assistance guides, which help the beginner learn basic shot composition with an on-screen rule-of-thirds grid.
Best Analog Camcorder
JVC GR-SXM740 S-VHS-C
While it was not the smallest or least expensive analog camcorder we saw this year, JVC’s beginner-friendly S-VHS-C camcorder did boast the highest quality image, and that was enough to push it to the top of our list. The SXM740 includes a full feature set and the potential convenience of being able to play the tapes back in S-VHS VCRs (with the included adapter).
Most Innovative Camcorder
Sony DCR-IP220 MICROMV
This year Sony combined impressive 2.1 megapixel still capabilities with the new MICROMV format in its ultra-small IP220 camera. In our tests, the quality of the unique MICROMV-format video was indistinguishable from comparable Mini DV camcorders under normal viewing. With a style that looks like no other camcorder, this was a fun and easy camera to use. Despite some limitations when editing MICROMV video on a computer, for the home and vacation videographer, this is an eminently portable all-in-one imaging device.
Best Turnkey Editing System Over $6,000
Laird DVora AVID Xpress DV 3.5
Ready to go pro? You can now get yourself into a no-compromises Avid system for well under $10,000. The Laird DVora system, with a full compliment of video inputs (including YUV) and professional XLR audio inputs mounted on a steel, rack-mountable break-out box, is the way to go. The performance, stability, features and price of the DVora made this our choice at the top end.
Best Turnkey Editing System $2,000-$6,000
1 Beyond 660 SE+ Canopus DVStorm SystemOne inherent problem with reviews of computers is that by the time the review hits the stands, something faster and cheaper is already out. The problem is even more acute with yearly awards. When it was released, the 1 Beyond 660 SE+ was the fastest machine we had ever seen. With the robust real-time capabilities of the Canopus DVStorm SE+ card, dual-AMD processors and hundreds of gigs of storage space, this was our dream machine. Although this particular box has since been superceded, take a look at the latest faster-better-cheaper 1 Beyond machines.
Best Turnkey Editing System Under $2,000
The cute integrated monitor and low price of this machine might make you skeptical about its performance, but the bottom line is that, with the included iMovie 2 editing software, the eMac does a nice job editing video. Apple made our choice easy in this category by throwing in a DVD SuperDrive and iDVD 2 to make discs.
Best Editing Laptop
DVGear DVMobile Pro Dell Latitude C840
We don’t award ties, but if ever there was a tie, this would have been it. The winner in this category depends on what you need. For raw performance, hardware features and price, the 1 Beyond DV Pro 2600 laptop ($3,995) takes top honors, but the primary characteristic of an editing laptop is portability, and the DVGear-configured Dell is 33% lighter and explicitly designed for the road. We also preferred the distinctly sharper LCD screen and the comprehensive Adobe Digital Video Collection software.
Best Standalone Editor
Edirol hit the ground running last year with a fantastic new product with a feature set that rivaled editing systems installed on desktop computers. The optional DV-7C controller (add $325 to the price) made the DV-7 stand out in its category. Standalone systems have always sought a balance between features and ease-of-use, and the DV-7 seems to be perfectly weighted.
Best External Capture Device
Pinnacle Bungee DVD
The Pinnacle Bungee connects to your computer’s USB port and converts analog video to DVD-ready MPEG-2 video on the fly before sending it to your computer. In addition, it has basic TiVo-like PVR functions that allow you to record and pause live TV. Although it is not a dedicated video-editing product, n operation, this broad collection of features was enough to garner an award in this category.
Best Real Time Capture Hardware
With almost identical prices, pragmatically equivalent real-time analog previews and DV output, the Matrox RT.X100 and Canopus DVStorm2 are both excellent products that will not disappoint. What set the RT.X100 above was the flexibility, range, quality and usability of effects and filters. Just one example is the brilliant real-time color correction tool, which, among other things, will let you instantly fix those shots taken when you forgot to white balance your camcorder.
Best Video-Editing Software Over $100
Adobe Premiere 6.5
The quality of the new versions of the many video editing programs we saw this year was amazing, including (but not limited to) Vegas Video 3, Final Cut Pro 3 and Avid Xpress 3.5. In the final analysis, the cross-platform Premiere 6.5 is our winner. It does real-time previews, but can still render-as-you-edit, which many folks like. The fabulous Inscriber titler is the best in the class and there are tons of 3rd party effects available. Optional dedicated hardware rendering means that you might never wait for a render again and that alone makes this a winner.
Best Editing Software Under $100
Pinnacle Studio 8
This comprehensive package really does it all, from automatic capturing to burning discs. And, like the previous version, it is easy and fun to use. The complete Deluxe version ($300) includes a breakout box which conveniently brings video and audio connections out from the dust-bunny warren behind your PC.
Best Compression Tool
The aggressive first-generation Canopus ProCoder has upset Discreet Cleaner’s domination of the video compression market (although Cleaner 6 for the Mac is very impressive). The quality of the output using Canopus DV and full-featured MPEG codecs was outstanding, but the encoding automation tools are what make this product worth the price. Multiple input formats to multiple outputs with complete control in a remarkably easy to use tool that comes with good documentation: what more could you want?
Best Effects Plug-in
Boris FX 6.1
First it was fancy plug-in transitions. Then Boris expanded into other types of plug-in special effects. Now Boris FX has evolved into a full-fledged, standalone compositing application. Sure, you can still use it within your favorite editor, but the multitrack timeline and extensive keyframable animation attributes make it much more than just another plug-in.
Best Advanced DVD Authoring Software
Sonic ReelDVD 3.0
We saw a few affordable applications that offer the DLT output professionals need to send projects to a duplication house for mastering, including top-rated Apple DVD Studio Pro and Sonic ReelDVD. You might blink at the $1,000 price, but factor in the expensive licensing fees for Dolby AC3 stereo encoding, and these products are suddenly a bargain. In the end, compatibility is a major issue, and ReelDVD uses the same software engine that Hollywood uses to create the DVDs you rent and buy, making it our winner.
Best Intermediate DVD Authoring Software
Ulead DVD Workshop
There are a slew of beginner-level DVD authoring applications under $100 and a handful of more expensive applications, but Ulead DVD Workshop is currently alone in the intermediate range. Taking advantage of Ulead’s considerable expertise in graphics and video, this is a great product that offers full creative freedom in addition to attractive templates to get you started. First play, motion backgrounds and menus are all supported.
Best Introductory DVD Authoring Software
Dazzle DVD Complete
Introductory software products are often trapped between the apparently contradictory characteristics of ease-of-use and number of features. DVD Complete handles this with a unique system of templates and wizards that allow you to get as complex as you want. It even includes templates for printing jacket covers and disc labels.
Easiest DVD Authoring Software
Apple iDVD 2
iDVD 2 is by far the easiest introductory DVD authoring application we’ve seen. Nothing on any platform matches iDVD 2 in terms of usability and price. While we expected (and were not disappointed) to find attractive templates, the level of freedom you have is remarkable. Toss in a full feature set, including motion backgrounds and menus that preview in real time, and Apple grabs another award for the trophy case.
Best Music Creation Software
Sonic Foundry ACID PRO 4.0
Besides being one of the best loop-based music creation tools around, highlights of the 4.0 version include impressive 5.1 surround mixing capabilities and complex effects automation found nowhere else. Drop a video track into the mix and you have the perfect tool for frame-accurate scoring.
Best Audio Editing Software
Syntrillium Cool Edit Pro 2.0
In addition to a full set of non-destructive audio editing tools, filters and effects, Cool Edit Pro 2.0 is a solid multi-track mixer and a competent loop-based music creation suite with basic MIDI functions.
Best Audio Mixer for Video
Carvin SM162 Studio Mate
With 16 channels and quality components inside and out, the range of features that the SM162 provides goes well beyond what most videographers will ever need. We were pleased by the brilliant quality of the sound mixdowns from this relatively small mixer. This is a serious audio peripheral that will last a lifetime.
Best Production Accessory
Road Rags Light Control Kit
We are happy to give an award to this simple, but invaluable production accessory. Lightweight, collapsible, portable and durable, the flags and scrims in this kit will make a big difference in the look of your videos.
Best Post-Production Accessory
ShuttlePRO Multimedia Editing Controller
The ShuttlePRO makes editing more efficient and enjoyable. The USB controller is simple to install, easy to program, completely customizable and comes complete with presets for most popular editing environments.
Congratulations to our winners. Without a doubt, the products that we see get better and better each year, making the selection of winners more and more difficult. We were pleased to see such close competition in many of this year’s categories. 2002 was clearly a great year for video producers and video production tools. We eagerly anticipate another exciting year filled with new and interesting developments. Look for in-depth reviews each month in our Test Bench section of the magazine, and look for a list of our favorites of 2003 next February.