I bought my first video capture card 10 years ago. The sales person who took the order didn’t have the foggiest notion what I was buying. He thought a Targa was a jacket you wore in the Arctic.
Video equipment has evolved quickly in the past few years. For many of us, video equipment that doesn’t plug into a PC is old fashioned. Some desktop-video (DTV) professionals go so far as to define "PC" as "life-support system for video equipment."
In the DTV world, PC-based nonlinear edit (NLE) systems and video switchers receive most of the attention. However, there are many other computer-friendly video components available, both hardware and software, that can make your videos more professional looking, easier to produce, and a lot more fun.
The Time Base Corrector
If you want to have an immediate impact in the quality of your edited videos, invest in a time base corrector (TBC).
Camcorders and VCRs are mechanical devices. They use little plastic gears and rubber rollers to display thirty individual pictures every second. Being mechanical, they are subject to variations from machine to machine. And the videotape itself, which holds the picture information, is a thin ribbon of plastic subject to mechanical stretching. These factors make it difficult for a VCR to exactly line up the tape for playback.
The TBC is a device that improves video playback. It’s an essential tool for the edit suite or duplication system. A TBC stops your picture from tearing, jittering, rolling and bending at the top of the frame. It also eliminates sync signal loss when you copy tapes. Most TBCs also have a processing amplifier (proc amp) which allows you to correct color and brightness.
The best-known PC time base corrector is Digital Processing System’s TBC 4 ($999). The TBC 4 is a user-installed circuit board that fits into any PC. Your computer acts as the TBC’s power supply and software interface. An optional remote-control box eliminates the need for PC software. The TBC 4 supports both composite and S-video signals, and its external genlock connector allows you to synchronize the TBC 4 into a studio or edit suite.
The TBC 4’s video proc amp allows you to adjust white, black, chroma and hue levels. A color-balance window gives you a graphical adjustment, similar to a vectorscope. Freeze frame, variable speed strobe and "film mode" effects are standard.
Another PC-based TBC is the Novamate TBC/Frame Synchronizer from Nova Systems ($1400). Although a little more expensive, it has a comb filter to help improve image quality.
Most computers sold today are "multimedia ready," which means they have a CD-ROM drive and a sound card so they can play video clips. The growth of multimedia computers has opened up a new venue for videographers seeking new markets for their work.
Over the past year, Videomaker magazine has examined the process of digitizing video in depth. Digitizing is exactly what NLE systems do. But did you realize you can distribute that digitized video to clients or friends on a CD-ROM?
The compact-disc recordable (CD-R) drive uses a laser to write or "burn" your computer data into a CD. To make your own CD-ROMs, you need a CD-R drive, blank CD-ROMs and the appropriate software.
The typical CD-R drive operates at a 4x writing speed. Under optimum conditions, the 4x drive can record an entire CD-ROM in about 15 minutes. Less-expensive CD-Rs operate at 2x writing speed. Expect longer recording times with these drives.
Hewlett Packard’s SureStore 6020 ($800) is a popular drive that reads and writes CD-ROMs. In addition to copying standard PC files to CD-ROM, the HP software included with the drive also allows you to make custom audio CDs. These will work in the CD Player in your car or home stereo.
The Yamaha CDR400tx-PM ($899) is a 4x speed CD-ROM recorder similar to those found in many multimedia production houses. Yamaha, an industry leader, was one of the first manufacturers to market a CD-R recorder.
Hi-Val may not be the most well-known name, but they offer several CD-R bundles to get you started with a minimal investment. The Hi-Val CD-R system starts at $399 for an internal system that includes a 2x speed JVC CD-R drive. Hi-Val is available through many computer superstores and mail-order houses.
A standard CD-ROM has a capacity of 650 megabytes, and blank CD-ROMs cost $8 to $10 per disc.
Audio Editing Software
If you have a PC with a sound card, you already have the beginnings of a digital-audio workstation. Most sound cards come with basic software that allows you to record and playback. But if you want to make some really cool noise, you’ve got to get your hands on some good audio software.
Sound-editing software displays a sound file as a digital waveform, as shown in figure 1. The editor can cut and paste the waveform, and the sound it represents, as easily as a word processor cuts and pastes text.
The most famous PC sound editor is Sonic Foundry’s Sound Forge 4.0 ($495). Sound Forge edits a wide variety of audio-file formats, including Windows video files, also known as AVI files. (Editing AVI files is very important for desktop video.) Sound Forge uses a video-preview window that displays your images in perfect sync with your audio.
Sound Forge allows you to manipulate or add many different effects to your audio, such as reverberate, echo, noise reduction and equalization. A demo of Sound Forge is available on their Web site at www.sfoundry.com.
If you want to edit audio on your PC, but can’t afford the ticket price of Sound Forge, try Syntrillium Software’s Cool Edit 96 ($50). Cool Edit is a shareware program that you can download from the Internet at www.syntrillium.com. If you like the program and continue using it, you pay for it.
Cool Edit is a favorite tool of desktop video editors because of its affordable price and full range of features. It has many of the features found in Sound Forge 4.0. One notable exception, however, is that it can’t directly edit the audio portion of Window’s video files.
Multimedia and Animation Software
Multimedia software is great for programming CD-ROMs, but what good is it for video production?
Surprise! Most authoring software contains animation tools that let you create animated sequences for your videos. Use a video encoder to record these animations directly to videotape. (Refer to the April 1997 Encoder Buyer’s Guide for more information.)
The standard in authoring tools is Macromedia’s Director 6.0 ($999). Video production facilities have embraced Director because of its ability to create 2D animations. Director also allows you to output your work as Internet "Shockwave" videos.
Other authoring programs that will allow you to create animation include Astound 4.0 ($250) and Scala Multimedia MM100 ($249). You can download a demo version of Scala Multimedia from their Web site at www.scala.com. You can also download a 30-day-trial version of Astound at www.astoundinc.com.
For pure 2D animation without the multimedia-authoring capability, take a look at Fractal Design’s Painter 4.0 ($279). Painter 4.0 is an integrated paint/animation program that will let you paint directly onto digital video.
For a real bargain, check out the CD-ROM version of CorelDraw 4.0. Although CorelDraw is currently in its seventh release, earlier revisions are still being actively marketed. CorelDraw 4.0 comes with a 2D animation program called CorelMove. You can’t beat it for $65, plus you get the full versions of CorelDraw, Corel Photopaint and a ton of clip art and Truetype fonts.
As the name suggests, 3D animation programs allow you to "model," or build, three-dimensional objects, complete with photorealistic color.
Unlike their 2D counterparts, 3D programs require you to "render," or draw, each individual frame of your animation. After rendering, these frames are recorded to videotape in one of two ways. Using a single-frame controller and a frame-accurate VCR, you record your 3D sequence to videotape one frame at a time. If you have an NLE system, you can save the animated sequence to your hard disk and edit it directly into your program.
With the release of Truespace’s Caligari/SE ($99), the cost of 3D animation programs has fallen to the level where anyone can afford to use it. Caligari/SE is the baby brother of Truespace Caligari ($300), one of the oldest animation programs on the market. Caligari has a save-disabled demo version available on their Web site at www.caligari.com.
If you need to animate human figures, Fractal Designs’ Poser 2.0 ($149) is worth a look. Poser 2.0 includes detailed models of men, women and children. Poser animations can be saved as QuickTime or AVI files.
Many of the animations created for feature films and television series are being created on desktop PCs. Programs such as NewTek’s Lightwave ($1500) and Kinetix 3D Studio MAX ($3500) allow the user extensive control of images, movements and textures.
MPEG is a data-encoding standard used for compressing and decompressing video. Unlike QuickTime and Windows AVI movies, MPEG usually requires dedicated hardware for playback.
MPEG comes in two flavors: MPEG-1 and MPEG-2. The difference between them is the data-compression rate and picture quality. MPEG-1 is typically used for CD-ROM delivery of video. Picture quality is slightly sharper than VHS, and a single CD-ROM can store about an hour of video. MPEG-2 provides higher picture quality–partially due to the fact that it uses four times as much data for its images. MPEG-2 is considered "broadcast quality," and can store 15 to 20 minutes of video on a single CD-ROM.
The major attraction of MPEG-1 over MPEG-2 is economy. MPEG-2 is still relatively new to the PC, and encoders start in the $5000 price range.
Many MPEG-1 encoders are professional devices designed for post-production houses. These systems offer real-time processing of your video into MPEG computer files.
In the under $1000 range, MPEG encoders are slow. Picture quality is good, but not as good as the higher-priced professional systems. One of the newest MPEG-1 encoders is Data Translation’s Broadway ($1000). Broadway uses a two-step approach to encoding video. First, it converts your video to a file format called AVI-MPEG. This allows you to edit your work with an AVI editor, such as Adobe Premiere. After editing, Broadway compresses your project into a standard MPEG-1 file. The newest version, Broadway 2.0, can also encode incoming video to MPEG-1 in real time.
At $599, LA Vision’s Genie is one of the least-expensive MPEG-1 encoders available. It comes bundled with video-editing software and presentation software. Genie Recording Studio ($999) also includes a JVC CD-R drive for recording your MPEG video to CD-ROM.
XingMPEG Encoder ($89) is a software-based MPEG-1 encoder. To use the XingMPEG Encoder, your video must already exist in a digital form. Similar to Data Translation’s Broadway, the XingMPEG allows you edit your video while in AVI format. As a separate process, XingMPEG encodes your AVI movie into an MPEG file. XingMPEG is slow, but it’s perfect for occasional users. It allows you to create MPEG without investing in encoding equipment. You can purchase and download XingMPEG Encoder directly from their Web site (www.xingtech.com). An XingMPEG player is available for free at the same Web site.
PC Video Cameras
What’s that weird-looking sphere sitting on top of the PC in the computer store? It almost looks like an eyeball. In a manner of speaking, it is an eyeball–an eyeball for your PC.
The PC camera has gained popularity due to its low price and high performance. A PC camera consists of a single CCD imaging device and its associated circuitry, similar to that in your camcorder. Place the camera on top of your monitor or on your desk and it becomes a video phone. Of course, you can also take it around your office to look at other things. The length of the connecting cable is the only restriction.
The PC camera is ideal for video conferencing, digitizing still images and recording live action videos. Some folks use them to set up live "web-cams" on their Internet sites.
Connectix’s Color QuickCam ($250) creates color movies and still images. The QuickCam connects to your PC through the printer port and keyboard connector. You won’t have to take anything apart to install it. The QuickCam also comes in a less-expensive ($99) black-and-white version.
QuickCam software allows you to zoom from your PC screen, without buying additional lenses. Camera focus is adjustable from one inch to infinity. Other user-definable settings include brightness, hue, color saturation and white and black levels.
The included QuickMovie software allows you to record motion-video files. Depending on your PC hardware (a faster processor gives better performance), QuickCam movies play on your PC at 24 frames per second (fps) at 160×120 pixels. At that size, expect razor-sharp images. With a little sacrifice in image quality, you can get quarter-screen images (320×240 pixels) at 15 fps. It can also capture still pictures at full-screen resolution. If you want to record sound, you’ll need a separate sound card and microphone.
A popular use of the QuickCam is conducting video-phone conversations with other QuickCam users over the Internet. Check out the QuickCam at www.quickcam.com. The quality of the pictures from this little camera is impressive.
The CCD-PC1 from Sony ($450) consists of a miniature camera mounted on a gooseneck swivel head. Looking more like an art-deco desk lamp than a camera, the camera has a built-in microphone. Unlike the Connectix QuickCam, the Sony camera has RCA type audio and video connectors, as well as S-video outputs. To use the Sony, you’ll need both a video and an audio capture card. If your video card is up to it, the camera will allow you to capture full-screen, full-motion video.
Star Dot Technology’s WinCam.One Basic ($199) is a variation on the QuickCam. The WinCam plugs directly into the PC’s serial port with no additional hardware. Unlike the QuickCam, which is non-customizable, the WinCam comes with one of six different lenses. Extension cables can extend the WinCam up to 250 feet from your PC. For more information on the WinCam, examine their Internet site at www.wincam.com.
Put Them to Work
As you can see, there are lots of out-of-the-ordinary PC-friendly tools in the video marketplace. Using them for multimedia and video production is as natural as using a camcorder for recording. So, why not put them to work. You’ll be glad you did.
David Felder is a video writer and producer.
Miscellaneous DTV Manufacturers
1959 Landings Dr.
Mountain View, CA 94043
2655 Campus Dr.
San Mateo, CA 94403
100 Locke Dr.
Marlboro, MA 01752
Digital Processing Systems
11 Spiral Drive
Florence, KY 41042
Fractal Design Corp.
5550 Scotts Valley Dr.
Scotts Valley, CA 95066
5301 Stevens Creek Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA 95052
642 Harrison St.
San Francisco, CA 94107
46716 Fremont Blvd.
Fremont, CA 95438
600 Townsend St.
San Francisco, CA 94103
1200 SW Executive Dr.
Topeka, KS 66615
50 Albany Turnpike
Canton, CT 06019
2323 Horse Pen Road
Herndon, VA 20171
100 South Baldwin St. Suite 204
Madison, WI 53703
One Sony Drive
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
2700 E. Imperial Hwy., Bldg. A
Brea, CA 92821
P.O. Box 62255
Phoenix, AZ 85082-2255
810 Fiero Lane
San Luis Obispo, CA
P.O. Box 6600
Buena Park, CA 90622