Each year computer video products get faster and sleeker. Fortunately, many of them also get less expensive. The year 2000 ushered in some exciting new computer video products – from editing software to turnkey editing systems to software for authoring DVDs. So whether you’re looking for a loaded, broadcast-quality turnkey editing suite or simple software to put home video on the Web, you’ve come to the right place. These eight computer video buyer’s guides should help you with your next purchases.
Integrating video editing hardware and software in a computer is not an easy task. That’s why we recommend investing in a pre-configured editing system. We call this a "turnkey" system because it’s ready to go right out of the box – just plug it in and turn it on (turn the key). There are two basic categories of turnkey editors: computer-based systems and editing appliances.
A computer-based system combines a PC (or Mac), a digitizer or capture card so that you can capture video and audio to a hard drive and editing software so you can edit your project and output it for viewing.
Computers-based systems offer flexibility and customization. If you outgrow your basic editing software, for instance, you can simply load another one. You can also take advantage of third party products to add more tools to your editing software. On the downside, computer systems that are used for various applications (Internet, spreadsheets, word processing, etc.) need to allocate resources to those programs. Video editing is a resource-intensive application. Whenever possible, dedicate a computer for video editing and use another for other applications.
Editing appliances have gained popularity in recent years. An editing appliance is a closed system, which means you can’t run Windows or access the Internet; you can only edit video using the installed software. Appliances are simple to use, easy to set up and are very reliable. It’s important to do your homework before you buy, however, since you’ll be locked into that system and only that system. You cannot install third party plug-ins or change editing software.
Each year there are more editing appliances from which to choose. MacroSystem-US (formerly Draco) introduced the Avio, its successor to the Casablanca, and soon its high-end system, Kron, will be available. Applied Magic offers the Screenplay and the Sequel.
Digitizers and Capture Cards
If you already have a computer, installing a digitizing/capture card might be an option to consider. Many people have had success going this route and there are many products that do a great job. Installing computer cards is not always an easy task, however. We recommend enlisting the help of a geeky friend or a trained professional.
If you’re shooting video with a non-digital camcorder, like 8mm, Hi8, VHS, S-VHS or VHS-C, you’ll need a digitizer card to convert your analog video to a digital signal that can be stored on your computer’s hard drive. If you have a digital camcorder then what you’re after is a capture card, which doesn’t digitize, but merely captures video.
The next thing you must decide when considering a digitizer or capture card is your final output media. If you’re going back out to tape, you will need a full-screen, full-motion card so that your video plays at the full NTSC size. If you’re looking to distribute your video via the Internet or CD-ROM drive, then you might want to consider a less expensive external capture device that offers less than full-screen, full-motion video.
There are a number of digitizer and capture cards available and many come with included software bundles as complete editing solutions. Make sure that the card you select is compatible with your computer and supports your camcorder. Many manufacturers list camcorder models known to work with a particular board on their Web sites.
Videographers who distribute their videos primarily over the Web, on CD-ROM or through e-mail, might want to consider external capture devices. Installation is a piece of cake – just plug the unit into a parallel or USB port that comes standard on most computers and launch the software. There’s no need to open the case at all.
Video on the Internet or CD-ROM is much smaller than full-screen video. Most external devices digitize less than full-screen, full-motion video and are an affordable and simple way to get video onto the Web or a disc. If you’ll want to record your production out to tape, you’ll need a device that does at least 640×480. All external digitizers take analog video inputs only. Many are able to digitize audio, but not all of them.
Video editing software is becoming so popular that many standard computer systems now come bundled with simple video editors. Editing software allows you to arrange your footage, add music, narration, special effects and titles. Everything you need to complete a video project. It also allows you to choose various formats for output.
Sometimes the hardware you buy includes editing software. There are software bundles that accompany many digitizing/capture cards and there is always software included with turnkey systems.
The best way to figure out which software is best for you is to assess your editing goals. Do you just want to do basic, no-frills editing for family and friends, or do you want to do some more advanced titling, transitions, effects and be able to layer lots of video and audio tracks? Once you figure these things out, look over the Editing Software grid and compare the abilities of each program. Price is often a good indicator of sophistication. As a rule, the more you pay the more features you get. Though you can accomplish quite a bit with many of the less expensive programs, anything under $400 is generally for beginners or hobbyists.
CD & DVD Authoring Software
CD-ROMs and DVDs are some of the latest vehicles of distribution for videographers. Never before has authoring video for CD or DVD been as easy or affordable.
There are two aspects involved in the creation of CD-ROMs and DVDs: hardware and software. The hardware consists of an actual CD-ROM drive or DVD drive that can burn video onto a disk. In our grid, we focus on the software side of disc authoring. These programs let you format and prepare the video file(s) for CD or DVD. Disc authoring software allows you to create the menus and button pointers so you can navigate through the content of your CD or DVD, and save the project in a format that is ready to burn. As CD and DVD burners proliferate, the market for disc-authoring software continues to grow.
Streaming video is one of the most popular ways to distribute video on the Internet. Streaming allows the viewer to start watching video while the download is in progress through use of a buffer. To create streaming video, you need encoding software to compress and optimize your files for the Web.
In an effort to make video publishing on the Web as simple and inexpensive as possible, several manufacturers have made extremely user-friendly programs that are very inexpensive – some are free.
However, if you’re looking for more advanced Web video compression software, you can find a variety of products that range from $100 into the thousands. What you get for the extra cash are features that allow fine tuning of your video to optimize the viewing experience. Advanced codecs (compression/decompression schemes), VBR (Variable Bit-rate Sampling), Watermarking and Before/After previews are just a sampling of tools and enhancements that you can expect to see in the upper end of this product line.
Titling can be one of the most fun and creative aspects of making video. Most video editing software includes at least a basic titling application. Some function like plug-ins within your editing software while others work independently. Some key features to consider include the ability to create crawling or scrolling text, shadows, images, motion paths and fades. If you want something specialized, like 3D titles, you may have to purchase a more expensive program. Check out the Titling Software grid to compare all the features offered by the various programs.
Music & Sound Effects Libraries
If you plan to sell, broadcast or show your video publicly you might want to consider royalty-free music and sound effects to enhance your productions and keep you out of litigation.
Here’s how it works: you pay a one-time or an annual fee, depending on the company, for the rights to use the music or sound effects in a library. Both fee methods have their advantages and disadvantages. For example, if you pay the one-time fee, the disks you purchase are yours. You don’t have to renew your rights annually. But, if you choose the annual renewal method, you have access to new music each year. You’re not stuck with overused or out of date music.
The music and sound effects libraries in our grid span a multitude of styles and genres. With them, you’ll be able to add high-quality sound and raise the level of excellence of your final product.
No Time Like the Present
Whether you’re just beginning or you’re a veteran, it’s a great time to be a video producer. The products for creating digital video are more sophisticated and less expensive than ever before.
These buyer’s guides will lead you to the products that best suit your needs. The key is to assess your goals, then your budget and then compare the features in the grids. Once you narrow the selection down to several choice products, check online at www.videomaker.com or in back issues to see if we’ve reviewed them. After you’ve done the research, purchased the products and completed your video system you’re ready to produce video – and that’s what it’s all about.