Looking back over the wave of products that rolled through our offices and made it into the pages of Videomaker during 1998, from the swell of exciting new technology it’s clear that enthusiasm for desktop video is on the rise.
The release of so many new desktop computer video products aimed at so many different markets, in fact, forced us to re-evaluate our prize categories this year and increase our number of desktop video awards. You will find this year, for example, that we awarded prizes for the best video editing software, the best "turnkey" nonlinear editing system and for several categories of best video capture boards. The growth of desktop video is great news for videographers who more and more want to incorporate computers into their productions. Like computer technology, desktop video is getting less expensive and easier to use even as it becomes more powerful.
Alas, some other categories didn’t fare so well as the tide shifted towards things simpler and silicon. There were no entrants this year, for example, in the S-VHS or S-VHS-C camcorder categories. Neither were there any new VHS editing VCRs or new stand-alone edit controllers. In these categories, due to lack of new products, last year’s recipients are still the newest and the best (see Videomaker, Best Products of the Year, Feb. 1998).
Luckily, the standards were well represented in 1998, with strong contenders in the Mini DV, 8mm, Hi8, VHS and VHS-C camcorder categories. Because sound is half the battle for good video, we’ve added new audio awards this year for wired and wireless microphones. As always, we’ve included our Best Accessory award for that broad yet important group, our Innovative Product and Innovative Technology awards for best ideas and our Best Buy award for the product that represents the best overall value. 1998 was a great year for consumer videography. We hope you enjoyed it.
A professional-quality DV camcorder at a consumer-level price, the Panasonic AG-EZ30U is packed with the kinds of extra features we
love to see in our Best Products of the Year winners. With three 1/3-inch
CCDs, a 2.5-inch flip-out LCD monitor, manual focus, manual white balance,
manual iris and manual shutter speed controls, all complimenting fully-functional
automatic modes, the AG-EZ30U offers a broad range of controls in a sleek,
easy-to-operate design. We were particularly impressed with the camcorder’s
professional “zebra bar” function, which highlights parts of the shot that
are overexposed and allows for a high degree of accuracy in the manual
exposure mode. Added touches include a lens-mounted manual focus ring and
one-touch buttons for all the manual settings instead of the all-too-common
mess of controls buried in an endless list of menus. (800) 211-7262.
Suggested retail price:
The Sony TRV-series of Hi8 camcorders has by far the widest
array of features of any of the camcorders in this category. The top-rung
TRV99 is packed with all the bells and whistles that make it a Best
Product of the Year award winner. All the TRV Hi8s have 18:1 optical zoom,
72:1 digital zoom, electronic image stabilization, manual focus, manual
exposure, external mike input, external headphone jack, Control-L edit
control, NightShot, Laser Link and the Sony InfoLithium battery system.
The TRV99 additionally boasts a four-inch color flip-out LCD monitor and
RC time code, making it the most versatile, user-friendly and feature-packed
Hi8 camcorder available at any price in 1998. (800) 222-7669.
Suggested retail price: $1,299
From the little things like button placement, to the really important
stuff like manual settings and edit control, the Canon ES970 8mm
is a great camcorder. There are several unique features, however, that
really put this camcorder in a class by itself. The ES970 features two
“Custom Keys,” for example, that are easy-to-reach programmable buttons
you can set for one-touch operation of whatever features you use most,
such as fade or manual focus in the camera mode, or record or playback
in VCR mode. FlexiZone autofocus is another interesting feature. Controlled
by a thumb-operated toggle, FlexiZone allows you to select which object
in the frame will be the subject of the autofocus. For editing, not only
does the ES970 have traditional Control-L, but it also has a nifty Auto
Editing mode. In this mode, the camcorder sends an infrared blast to nearly
any brand of VCR to start and stop recording in sync with whatever sections
of your camcorder tape you’ve selected to edit to VHS. (800) 828-4040.
Suggested retail price: $799
For full-size VHS function, the RCA CC-4371 is a worthy winner
in a category that’s unfortunately slowly fading in favor of smaller formats.
Full-size VHS camcorders have always been known for stability and for the
convenience of instantaneous VHS VCR playback. It’s just easier to keep
still and make good camera moves with a full-sized camcorder. Pop the tape
into any old VCR to see the results. The CC-4371 lives up to this tradition
of reliability, ease and convenience, but takes it one step farther by
adding audio/video insert edit capabilities (for dubbing sound over video
or video over sound). The CC-4371 also features a flip-out LCD monitor,
electronic image stabilization, 16:1 optical zoom, 130:1 digital zoom,
on-camera light and a unique in-camera titler. (800) 336-1900.
Suggested retail price: $599
VHS-C continues to be one of the most popular formats for entry-level
and hobbyist videographers. It’s always a close contest, but this year
the Panasonic PV-L958 edged-out other capable contenders by delivering
the broadest and most useful range of features at a typically affordable
VHS-C price. Plenty of in-camera editing power characterizes the palm-sized
PV-L958. A broad selection of fades and wipes, for example, allows for
quick and easy in-camera transitions on the fly. A digital still camera
feature called PhotoShot stores up to 30 JPEG images in its memory. They’re
downloadable to a PC with the cable and software included with the camcorder.
Slap a title across the frame with Adobe software (also included in the
package), upload it back to the camcorder, and you’ve got yourself a nice-looking
title for an in-camera production. (800) 222-4213.
Suggested retail price:
The JVC S-VHS edit deck was the hands down winner in this category for the second year running. HR-S9500 maintains the core features that made last year’s S9400 an exceptional consumer editing deck, including TimeScan, a JVC feature that allows the user to move forward and backward through tape at speeds up to 7x faster than normal while still playing an unbroken image on screen. The deck also features JVC’s Random Assemble Editing, which uses the proprietary JLIP editing protocol and allows edit control with other JVC products. Commercial Advance, which automatically fast-forwards the tape through commercial playback, is icing on the cake. (800) 252-5722
Suggested retail price: $700
Many videographers may have never thought of using a boundary microphone
for their video projects, opting instead for more traditional styles. That’s
unfortunate. The AT851A boundary mike is versatile, streamlined
and delivers exceptional audio quality in many difficult-to-mike situations.
Not only does it easily win the Best Product of the Year award for this
new category but it just might make you a convert. A boundary mike sits
low to the surface of the area you want to record, therefore eliminating
much of the distortion caused when sound “bounces” off a wall, table, stage
or other large, flat surface. With the AT851A those notorious problems
with loud footsteps on a wooden stage or shuffling chairs near the lectern
overriding the vocals are gone. It’s so small and streamlined, it’s virtually
invisible on-camera. (330) 686-2600.
Suggested retail price: $222
Nady is known for its high-quality microphones and the Nady Platinum
802 wireless transmitter and receiver package is a great example why.
The Platinum 802 wins this category for several reasons. Signal quality
is excellent because the transmitter operates in the same UHF (ultra-high
frequency) range professional gear uses. UHF is subject to less outside
interference and allows for better sound quality. Dual outputs (three-prong
XLR and 1/4-inch line-level) combined with 250-500 foot receiver range
give the mike outstanding versatility. The Platinum 802 houses a true diversity
receiver, which means it has two separate receiving circuits in case one
is suffering from static (some mikes claim diversity but only offer two
antennas and a single receiver). The lavalier microphone is of excellent
quality and sound recorded with the system is outstanding overall. The
Platinum 802 offers audio on par with a wired system but with all the convenience
of wireless components. (510) 652-2411.
Suggested retail price: $480
The new Edirol V-5 special effects generator/mixer/switcher
from Roland is a unique take on a classic video production standard. For
one thing, the V-5 comes bundled with a Roland microphone, a 3D titling
program for Windows, and a PC music program. The V-5 mixer itself features
a VGA input port on the box to help easily incorporate computer content
into video productions. It offers fast fades and transitions. It stores
up to 24 images on board, more with an add-on card. The V-5 also offers
a unique graphics extractor function for custom titling. (360) 332-4211.
Suggested retail price: $1,288
This is a blossoming category that reflects the growth of digital technology
in the video arena. A turnkey nonlinear editing system requires no user
hardware or software installation and little or no configuration. Just
plug it in and start editing. This year, several systems were either introduced
or came down in price to fill the growing need for these types of easy-to-use
digital nonlinear products. The Casablanca DV by DraCo systems
wins because of its combination of price, compatibility with several makes
of DV camcorders, ease of use, reliability and availability. The DV Casablanca
has all the features that made the Casablanca classic such a hit last year,
including its portable, stand-alone independence and its easy-to-use storyboard
editing interface. Additionally, DV Casablanca has a FireWire (IEEE 1394)
input port that allows the transfer of video data and edit controls back
and forth between the unit and most DV camcorders. (303) 440-5311.
Suggested retail price: $5,195 (w/9GB hard drive)
The Canopus DVRex is an outstanding high-performance video capture
board for the serious digital nonlinear editor. While most DV capture boards
can only accept video through the FireWire port, the DVRex accepts composite
and S-video signals as well. All the inputs are accessible through a versatile
(and good-looking) breakout box that works in either an internal or external
configuration. To top it all off, the DVRex handles its duties with a high-quality
hardware codec by Sony, making it smooth, clean and reliable. The board’s
performance is outstanding, with easy installation in an available PCI
slot, fast rendering time and the ability to do batch audio and video captures
through the FireWire automatically from a DV camera to the hard drive.
Suggested retail price: $3,495
In a robust category with many strong contenders, the Bravado 2000
by Truevision takes the 1998 Best Product of the Year award with
its proven reliability, affordable hardware codecs and user-friendly design.
One of the most noteworthy features of the Bravado, for example, is a breakout
box that places the board’s input and output plugs at the video editor’s
fingertips. This eliminates the need to reach behind the computer to adjust
cables. Also noteworthy is the exceptional quality of the input and output
plugs themselves. These might seem like small things, but they reflect
on the overall quality of the board and the thought put into its design.
In performance, the Bravado uses a hardware-based Motion JPEG (MJPEG) codec
to efficiently and reliably capture and render video and audio through
composite or S-video inputs and outputs. This board is a workhorse that
supports either Adobe Premiere or Ulead MediaStudio Pro editing packages,
either of which come bundled with the board. (800) 522-8783.
Suggested retail price: $699
A great solution for the nonlinear editor on a budget, the Pinnacle
Studio DC10plus is a bundled package that includes a capture board,
proprietary video editing software and useful audio creation and mixing
software. Pinnacle’s Studio software interface is one of our all-time favorites
because of its potent mix of simplicity and functionality. Rest assured
the DC10plus also scores well in the reliability department. It installed
easily and ran steadily on a PC with a basic video-editing configuration
(P133, 64MB RAM, and 6GB SCSI HD). Of special note is the fact the DC10plus
has to render only transition effects. It doesn’t need to render cuts and
it doesn’t have to render to an entirely new file. This saves lots of time
and hard drive space. The included Magix MusicMaker music creation software
is an added bonus, allowing video editors to easily create and incorporate
professional-sounding soundtracks. The Studio DC10plus is a great desktop
video product. (650) 526-1600.
Suggested retail price: $229
Reliable, cost-effective, high-capacity, high-speed data storage is
a panacea for desktop video editing. The Medea VideoRaid external disk
array fits all these criteria and is the best product of the year in
the hard drive category. Because Medea uses Enhanced IDE drives and technology,
it’s cheaper than most SCSI disk arrays. Medea makes both internal and
external arrays. The external disk array uses a PCI board to interface
with the PC, which makes it easy to install and configure. And boy is it
fast. The VideoRaid pushes video data faster than comparable SCSI arrays
for a cheaper cost. How about no-sweat 10MB per second digital video all
the way across the disk? Not only is this faster than your capture board
probably even handles, but this extra horsepower comes in handy when rendering,
previewing, transferring and playing back captured videos. (888) 296-3332.
Suggested retail price: $1,299for 10GB – $4,999 for 67GB.
Sony‘s line of VAIO Digital Studio computers,
which so far includes the PCV-E302DS and the PCV-E308DS, are high performance
multimedia computers that combine plenty of horsepower with the latest
video and audio editing technology in an amazingly affordable turnkey package.
Never mind the 350 or 450MHz Pentium II processor, the 10.2 or 13.6GB hard
drive, the 64 or 128MB of RAM, the Matrox graphics accelerator or the 5X
DVD-ROM drive. What makes the VAIO Digital Studio computers the most innovative
products of the year is how they combine this power with the hottest digital
video and audio technology. They have, for example, an i.LINK (IEEE 1394)
port for digital video transfer and editing with Sony i.LINK Handycam Camcorders;
S-Link (control A1) to control Sony CD changers and MiniDisc decks to record
custom MiniDiscs, optical digital audio outputs for recording digital audio
from the Internet or CD to a MiniDisc deck; and a bundle of custom audio
and video editing software. All of this is available for the price of less-stocked
machines without the unique features. Now that’s an innovative product.
Suggested retail price: $1,500 (PCV-E302DS); $2,300
When it comes to image stabilization, optical technology is better
than electronic because it doesn’t degrade the image nearly as much. Canon
takes our award for Most Innovative Technology this year with an exciting
new optical image stabilizer. The main difference between Canon’s new optical
system and previous optical systems is in the size. The Canon Optical
Lens Shift Mechanism, adapted from Canon’s auto-focus SLR camera lens,
is the smallest optical image stabilizer ever invented. It allows for high-quality
stabilizing in a significantly smaller package. Basically, the lens shift
mechanism shifts horizontally and vertically to the axis of the lens very
quickly, which compensates for the shake and removes it from the image.
Canon’s top-shelf products like the Vistura already have it incorporated,
but look for it in many new products as Canon incorporates it into its
full line and other manufacturers license the technology.
A powerful animated 3D titling program for a bargain-basement price,
Ulead continues its tradition of designing outstanding video editing software
for the consumer-gear videographer with Cool 3D. The software package
is very versatile. It provides, for example, a series of well-designed
prefabricated title templates to choose from. It additionally offers a
custom interface that allows the user to get as elaborate as he or she
desires. Cool 3D is not only inexpensive, it’s very easy and quick to learn.
The program can create realistic-looking 3D titles in a matter of minutes,
or take a little longer to animate and render them. For a great desktop
video titling product at a great price, Ulead Cool 3D is a Best Product.
Suggested retail price: $49
MediaMotion is a nifty desktop video accessory that makes editing
with Adobe Premiere a snap. MediaMotion allows Premiere to read either
the time code or the counter numbers from your video source, which gives
you convenient mouse control of the video source decks. MediaMotion also
allows you to log tapes by marking edit in and out points and then saving
them in an Adobe Premiere “library.” You can later select only those clips
you want to digitize for your actual production from the various libraries.
This saves you the trouble of digitizing everything at once, even stuff
you don’t want. Similarly, MediaMotion allows batch digitizing, wherein
the computer is left to digitize a preselected list of clips automatically,
one after another. MediaMotion is a great accessory that takes some of
the time and space sting out of desktop video editing. (800) 338-3348.
Suggested retail p