No doubt about it–1997 was a good year for both professional and amateur videographers. A number of new camcorders with never-before-seen features and functions hit the marketplace; one even boasted the use of a hard drive instead of tape as a recording medium. Editing equipment also became available in unprecedented forms. This was the year of stand-alone nonlinear editing systems that don’t require a computer to operate, and low-cost computer-based edit controllers that give home-PC owners powerful editing features for under $300.

Now it’s time for the editors of Videomaker to decide which of this fine crop of new video products deserve to be called the best of the year. Among the winners, you’ll find that many tried-and-true ideas held their ground against the incursion of newfangled devices. Features like manual controls and time code still manage to swing our favor, as do the basic fundamentals of quality audio and video output. To all who made excellent products in 1997, we give our heartfelt thanks for a job well done. To the very best of the year, we offer the following awards.


Best DV Camcorder: Canon XL1

With its far-out design, full suite of manual controls, interchangable lenses, FireWire jack and stunning 3-chip image quality, the XL1 wins the DV camcorder prize hands down for 1997.

One look at the XL1’s body tells you that the designers had a fun time with this one. A sturdy handle, along with a conveniently placed extra zoom toggle switch and record button, allow for easy carrying and shooting from low-angle positions. Available lenses currently include a wide-angle and telephoto option; the 16:1 telephoto lens that comes with the camera incorporates Canon’s new image stabilization technology, which is nothing short of amazing.

Late in entering the DV camcorder game, Canon apparently planned to take its time and make the best camcorder they possibly could. They succeeded with flying colors. Keep your eye on this one; it’s going to get a lot of attention in the coming months.

Best Hi8 Camcorder: Canon ES4000

The Canon ES4000 is a Hi8 enthusiast’s dream. It offers all of the basic functions necessary in a serious prosumer-level camcorder, including manual exposure, manual shutter speed, RC time code, Control-L, microphone input and headphone output. It also incorporates a clever built-in editing system called Infrared Auto-Edit, which allows the videographer to easily copy selected scenes from the camera, controlling a home VCR with infrared pulses emitted from the rear of the unit. Throw in Canon’s patented FlexiZone system, which allows you to select critical areas of the picture for the camera’s autofocus and autoexposure systems, and you’ve got a camcorder that means business in both the prosumer and hobbyist realms.

If this isn’t enough to convince you that this was the best Hi8 camcorder released in 1997, maybe the price tag–just $1199–will change your mind. Until last year, a camcorder with these features would have set you back well over $2000. With the release of the ES4000, these important features have become available at a price the rest of us can afford.

Best 8mm Camcorder: Sony CCD-TRV52


Though Sony wasn’t the sole inventor of the 8mm
videotape format, the company has certainly seized hold of this
realm and claimed it for its own. Last year’s top-of-the-line
Sony 8mm camcorder, the CCD-TRV52, boasted many exciting new features
as well as several tried-and-true components necessary for good
home videography. Among the new features is Sony’s LaserLink system,
an optional feature which allows cable-free playback of videos
on your television. With the LaserLink system, all you have to
do is point the camera in the right direction and hit the play
button to begin watching your videos; an infrared signal carries
the audio and video information to a receiver unit that sits on
top of your TV. Sporting a 3-inch LCD monitor, microphone and
headphone jacks, a LANC terminal and five digital picture effects,
the TRV52 delivers rock-solid performance at a reasonable price.

Best VHS Camcorder: Samsung SCF34


This year’s best of the full-size camcorder crop
was Samsung’s SCF34, a stylish model that includes something rarely
seen on VHS units: a microphone input, which allows users to get
decent audio with an accessory mike. Also included are four program
autoexposure modes, four digital effects, audio/video dub and
a built-in titler. Among the digital special effects available
on this unit is an electronic imitation of a fog filter, which
might come in handy for titles or perhaps even dream sequences
for ambitious narrative projects. To ease the burden of carrying
along such a large camcorder (by today’s standards), Samsung has
included a handy carrying strap on the top of the camera. The
Samsung SCF34 is a good choice for those weekend videographers
who like the convenience of VHS, or who simply prefer a larger
camera that sits on the shoulder for increased steadiness.

Best VHS-C Camcorder: Panasonic PV-D607


Grabbing the prize in the VHS-C category is Panasonic’s
PV-D607, a flagship model of the company’s Palmcorder line of
camcorders. The PV-D607 is one of the only VHS-C camcorders ever
produced with an edit control protocol (Panasonic 5-pin). Also
featured in the PV-D607 is the ability to snap digital stills
and transfer them to a PC with a serial interface kit. With 20:1
optical zoom and a whopping 200:1 digital zoom, this camcorder
really brings in those far-away subjects, while an external microphone
input helps with the job of bringing in those far-away sounds.
A clever panel in the rear of the camcorder holds the PV-D607’s
tiny remote control unit, which would be very easy to lose if
there wasn’t such a convenient place to store it right on the
camcorder body. A built-in automatic light rounds out the features
of the PV-D607; all of its bells and whistles combine to make
it one of the more full-featured point-and-shoot camcorders available
in the consumer/hobbyist marketplace.

Best S-VHS Editing VCR: JVC HR-S9400


JVC added a few exciting innovations to their
top-of-the-line consumer S-VHS VCR last year. Perhaps the most
innovative of these is TimeScan, a system that allows you to move
forward and backward through the tape at speeds up to 7x faster
than normal while maintaining a clear, unbroken picture on the
screen. Also included is the ability to play back short snippets
of audio while fast-forwarding or rewinding through a tape; these
snippets of audio are played forwards at normal speed, regardless
of the direction or speed of the tape. Also featured in the HR-S9400
is JVC’s Random Assemble Edit, which is a great way to copy selected
scenes from a camcorder to the VCR (if the camcorder also has
the Random Assemble Edit feature). Essential editing features,
such as audio/video dub and insert editing, are also included,
as is a method for skipping commercials on playback–very handy
for those who want an editing VCR that also serves as a good home
VCR for time-shifting TV programming.

Best VHS Editing VCR: Hitachi VT-UX717


The Hitachi VT-UX717 is one of the least expensive
ways for consumer videographers to get into the exciting world
of video editing. With its jog-shuttle controller, front-mounted
A/V inputs, synchro-edit input, and audio/video dub capability,
it aims to offer home videographers some of the more basic functions
found on many professional editing decks. Hi-fi stereo audio is
available, as is the ability to mix the hi-fi track with the lower-quality
linear audio track (an excellent way to make background music
tracks). Other appealing features of the VT-UX717 include automatic
tape head cleaning, index search controls, LCD audio peak meters
and a flying erase head for clean, noise-free edits. When not
in use, the VT-UX717’s dust cover flips up to keep unwanted particles
from settling on the unit’s controls, or (worse yet) the delicate
tape transport system. Looking for an easy, inexpensive way to
copy selected scenes from your camcorder to your VCR? The VT-UX717
has got you covered.

Best DV VCR: Sony DHR-1000


Yes, we realize that the Sony DHR-1000 was the
only DV VCR released in the consumer market in 1997. Even
so, this baby is impressive enough on its own to earn a Videomaker
"Best of 1997" award. With S-video, composite video,
stereo audio and FireWire inputs and outputs, it was the first
device ever released that gave videographers the ability make
digital archives of their analog tapes (Hi8, VHS, etc.) on the
new DV format. When used with another FireWire-equipped camera
or VCR, it gains the ability to make perfect loss-free copies,
generation after generation. Throw in a ten-event edit controller,
jog-shuttle, A/V dub capability, built-in time base correction,
audio level controls and the ability to record on 120-minute DV
tapes, and you’ve got a prosumer editing machine that’s hard to
beat.

Best Edit Controller: DataVideo Technologies SE-200


Though it easily gained the prize for the best
edit controller of 1997, the DataVideo Technologies SE-200 is
so much more than just an edit controller. Billed as an all-in-one
integrated editing center, the SE-200 incorporates features of
a titler, an SEG, an audio mixer and a color corrector, among
other things. The edit control functions of the SE-200 support
RCTC or VITC time code; deck control exists in the form of Control-L,
Panasonic 5-pin or infrared (record deck only). Some of the features
of the SE-200–the titler, for example–don’t function as well
as other stand-alone units, but the edit controller operates flawlessly.
GPI-trigger support is also included, so it’s possible to incorporate
an external stand-alone titler at a later date if you’re not happy
with the SE-200’s built-in character generator. In fact, the edit
controller works so well, it’s worth the price of the entire unit
on its own.

Best Stand-alone SEG: Videonics MXPro


In 1997, Videonics decided to release a newer,
beefed-up version of their popular MX-1 Digital Video Mixer: the
MXPro. The look and feel of the newer unit is quite a bit different
from its predecessor. Gone is the somber black rectangular case
of previous Videonics products; the MXPro has a re-vamped space-age
design. There’s more space between the controls, which contributes
to a more ergonomic design. The heart of the improved unit is
the 10-bit frame synchronizer/TBC, which delivers stunning visual
quality even on complicated effects. New features include transitions
made from circles, stars and hearts; a joystick-style RGB color
corrector; and an option to upgrade to the IEEE 1394 FireWire
digital video standard that’s prevalent on many of today’s DV
camcorders. Priced well under $2000, the MXPro is set to make
a big splash in the prosumer video pond.

Best DTV Product over $2000: Fast DV Master

The Fast DV Master was among the first few desktop
video products that enabled owners of DV camcorders to download
their digital video directly onto the computer’s hard drive. The
chief difference between the DV Master and its competitors, however,
is the presence of the same compression/decompression hardware
that exists in DV camcorders and VCRs. This means that it’s possible
to use the DV Master to record video shot on an analog format
(such as Hi8 or VHS) onto the hard drive, edit using your favorite
nonlinear software, then record the project onto a DV tape. It
also means greatly increased rendering times, and full-motion
720×480 playback directly on the computer monitor. Controlling
your DV camcorder or VCR via FireWire is also possible with the
DV Master. For DV camcorder owners who want to go nonlinear, it’s
a desktop video dream come true.

Best DTV Product under $2000: Ulead MediaStudio Pro 5.0

Making a jump from version 2.5 directly to 5.0,
Ulead produced a stunning upgrade for its MediaStudio Pro line
of nonlinear editing software. Ulead retained all of the functionality
of the old MediaStudio in version 5.0, and added quite a few impressive
new features to the mix. These new features include EDL export,
a built-in vectorscope and waveform monitor, special effects compositing
and rotoscoping with the Video Paint application, stunning title
graphics with the new Video CG software, and the SmartRender system
of previewing and rendering your editing decisions. The Video
Paint and Video CG software are especially impressive, offering
the functionality of many stand-alone software products costing
several times the list price of the entire MediaStudio Pro 5.0
package. A built-in Video Wizard guides newcomers effortlessly
through the process of capturing, editing and outputting a video–a
very nice feature for those who are new to the craft. Nice job,
Ulead!

Easiest Editor: DraCo Systems Casablanca


Nonlinear editing has always been plagued by
the difficulty of configuring home computers to perform tasks
that they simply weren’t made to perform. This is why DraCo Systems
came up with the great idea of making a stand-alone nonlinear
editor that didn’t require a computer to operate. With the Casablanca,
all you have to do is hook the box up to a monitor and VCR, plug
in the power cord, and you’re ready to capture video onto the
unit’s built-in, pre-configured hard drive and edit to your heart’s
content. The process of nonlinear editing has always been fundamentally
easier than tape-based linear editing; the Casablanca’s easy-to-master,
point-and-click user interface simplifies the process even further.
Designed to bring powerful nonlinear video editing tools to those
who don’t want to hassle with installing hard drives and capture
boards, the Casablanca is truly an innovation in the direction
of simplicity–which, we think, is a good direction for the video
editing marketplace as a whole.

Best Buy: Matrox Rainbow Runner Studio

Two years ago, Videomaker reported on
an exciting new trend in PC-based desktop video: full-screen,
full-motion MJPEG digitizers had finally dropped below the $1000
mark. In 1997, Matrox’s Rainbow Runner Studio–an add-on card
for their popular Mystique graphics accelerator–dropped the price
down to the sub-$300 mark. Capturing full-screen, 704×480 video
at 6.6:1 MJPEG compression, the Rainbow Runner Studio delivers
on its promise of bringing nonlinear editing capabilities down
to a level that just about anyone can afford. The product comes
bundled with all the software you need to get started, including
an easy-to-use PC/TV Remote application for capturing clips, as
well as Ulead’s MediaStudio Pro 2.5 nonlinear editing software.
Together with the new breed of low-cost, A/V-compatible hard drives,
the Rainbow Runner Studio has helped to create a new type of video
editor: the hobbyist nonlinear enthusiast, who can make quality
productions on his home computer that actually look good on videotape.

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