What a year! Now that we have indisputably moved into the 21st century, the products we see look more and more like science fiction. DVD authoring; cameras that record directly to disc; high-quality, hybrid, all-in-one megapixel still/video cameras and a plethora of editing options make this an exciting time for video. Computers are fast, the software is mature and major technologies have become solidly standardized. We can honestly say that, for the first time, video production is truly within the reach of almost everyone.
The only downside to this picture is that the market can be very confusing. There are so many products, technologies and formats to understand. The good news is that even though it can seem overwhelming to novice videographers, there are so many good choices out there that it only takes a little research to find what you need. Editing software is one really good example. While we could only select one product in the category as the Best of the Year, many new products excelled in the editing category. Likewise with camcorders there were so many good models released in 2001 that it was difficult to select just one. Our solution was to break up some of the categories into different price brackets. Is it really fair to compare $5,000 models with $2,000 models and declare the $5,000 camcorder the best? Or should we compare $1,000 professional software to $60 novice software? Not only does this categorization allow you to find the best product for your budget, but it also allowed us to formally recognize some very impressive products at some very attractive price points.
Released at the end of 2001, there were no surprises with this camcorder. We expected top-notch quality and we were not disappointed. The XL1S is not so much an upgrade as it is a polishing of an already excellent product, the XL1. Among the things we really liked were the many new and accessible controls, especially the picture sharpness control, the picture adjustment memory and the included XLR microphone adapter.
$4,499 www.canondv.com (800) 828-4040
Panasonic Broadcast AG DVC10
Once the high-end video cameras were removed from this competition by our price break, the 3-CCD camcorder field became very competitive, although only a few were actually new for 2001. Combining professional features and a very reasonable price, the Panasonic AG DVC10 proved to be a very nice camera with excellent imaging properties, the ability to turn off automatic gain control and adjust audio manually and an audio clipping indicator. Its large body makes steady shooting easy, and its light weight won’t wear out users.
$2,595 www.panasonic.com/broadcast (800) 528-8601
Canon Optura 100MC
The over-$1,200 Mini DV camcorder category was by far the most competitive group. This year’s winner is the Canon Optura 100MC. In the end, our decision to give the award to this camcorder was largely based on lens and image quality, as the leading contenders were similarly equipped with features. The fine optics and optical image stabilization combined with an excellent CCD to produce the sharpest images we’ve seen in a single-CCD camera to date. Add in the extra bonus of its 1.3 megapixel, high-resolution, still-image capability all in a rather compact package and you have an all-in-one winner.
$1,899 www.canondv.com (800) 828-4040
The introductory level Mini DV camcorder category included many excellent Digital8 and Mini DV cameras. When the dust cleared from the fray, the Sharp VL-NZ10U Mini DV was on top, with an impressive array of manual controls (white balance, exposure, shutter), an included external “zoom” microphone and a basic still-image feature, all packed in a very small and easy to use camera.
$1,199 www.sharp-usa.com (800) BE-SHARP
Sony CCD TRV98
In the past, we divided analog camcorders into Hi8, VHS-C and VHS, but, evidenced by the dwindling number of models within these formats, the end appears to be near for analog camcorders. The high resolution of the Hi8 format should not be ignored however, and the Sony CCD TRV98 really surprised us with its image quality and sharpness. If you are on a strict budget (street price is much lower than the MSRP listed below) and do not plan to edit your video on a computer, then the TRV98 is a great little video camera. With a large 320,000- pixel CCD, a microphone in-jack, and even a few bells and whistles like infrared NightShot mode, the TRV98 is our favorite analog camcorder released in 2001.
$599 www.sel.sony.com (800) 222-SONY
Dell Dimension 8100
Many of the big computer manufacturers now produce desktop machines that are ready to edit video. The Dell Dimension 8100 was particularly notable for its analog as well as (now-ubiquitous) IEEE 1394 capture capabilities. If you don’t yet own a DV camcorder and need a can-do machine, the 8100 is just the computer for you. As with all of the awards, this one goes to a product released in 2001, which we reviewed. Computer systems are more prone to going out of date than most other categories, and the 8100 has been superceded by the 8200, which is much less expensive and more powerful than the 8100 was at the time we reviewed it.
$2,399 www.dell.com (800) 915-3355
Compaq Presario 7000Z
“Best and First” should really be the award here. We congratulate Compaq for bringing DVD authoring to the masses on a PC platform. The Presario 7000Z came configured with the Pioneer DVR-AO3 DVD-R drive and was well designed with thoughtful conveniences like a front-mounted IEEE 1394 port. This package included everything necessary for DVD authoring, from capture through edit and on to burn. Like the Dell 8100, the 7000Z is now yesterday’s news, and newer, more powerful models at lower prices are available.
$3,156 www.compaq.com (800) 888-0220
Apple Mac G4 with SuperDrive
The machine we tested in our labs was a beauty: dual 800MHz CPUs, stylish 17-inch LCD monitor and the SuperDrive DVD writer. But, the best part was when we burned our first DVD on the system and popped it into a number of stand-alone DVD players. It actually worked as advertised. Call us jaded and cynical, but it is simple things like this that make us happy. Nice job, Apple.
$4,499 www.apple.com (800) MY-APPLE
A little on the high-end of the price spectrum, there was no denying that the full-featured (dual 1.2GHz CPUs, 512MB RAM, 75GB U160 SCSI video HDD), rack-mountable and completely configured StormRack got things done in terms of performance. Built around the Canopus DVStorm card, the extensive real-time effects and processing capabilities signify a post-production dream come true for studios on the clock and under the gun.
$7,599 www.canopuscorp.com (888) 899-EDIT
Sony VAIO GR290P
The Sony VAIO surprised us with nearly three hours of heavy editing on a single battery charge. The 15-inch TFT LCD and PIII 1.2GHz processor didn’t hurt either. The system was ready to roll, complete with Windows XP and Premiere LE. For editing on the go, we were impressed by the VAIO laptop.
$3,599 www.sel.sony.com (800) 222-SONY
MacroSystem US Casablanca KRON
Editing appliances are built to do one thing edit video and the KRON does its one thing very well, indeed. No more complex than hooking up a VCR, the KRON had us up and editing in no time. Simple enough for parents to understand (kids will have no trouble at all, of course), the KRON now offers more complex features and real-time transitions. Although the DVD-authoring features were incomplete at the time of this writing, the base system itself is still excellent and deserving of the award. The promise of built-in DVD authoring is a desirable feature as well.
$5,495 www.casablanca.tv (303) 440-5311
Apple iMovie 2.0
While there are a number of excellent novice-level editing environments out there, none were as simple to use as iMovie 2.0. From your DV camcorder, to computer, to the clean and uncluttered workspace and finally back to the camera, this application was a joy to play with, and a refreshing splash of water in the face for long-time video editing veterans. It can’t be beat at this price.
$49 www.apple.com (800) MY-APPLE
We’d love to shock and surprise you with our controversial choices for our awards, but sometimes you just have to go with the obvious favorite. There really wasn’t anything that seriously competed with the new version of After Effects. Still, the engineering team at Adobe deserves a standing ovation for outdoing themselves with this significant and important upgrade to an already excellent product.
$649 www.adobe.com (888) 724-4508
Apple DVD Studio Pro
The end of 2001 saw an explosion of DVD-authoring applications hit the market. Next year, we will certainly offer DVD-authoring awards at more than one price point, but 2001’s obvious overall winner was Apple’s DVD Studio Pro. Not designed for beginners (nor priced for them either), the strength of this tool rested in its efficient workspace and comprehensive feature set, which was unmatched by anything else released this year.
$999 www.apple.com (800) MY-APPLE
Ulead MediaStudio Pro 6.5
This was another of the most hotly contested awards and you really would not be making a mistake going with any of the year’s offerings in this category. While the foundation of the decision to give this award to MediaStudio Pro 6.5 was based in the long-time quality and stability of the environment, it was the excellent advanced capture features and scene detection that really won us over. The built-in MPEG-2 encoding and new DVD-authoring features set MSP 6.5 apart from the rest as well.
$495 www.ulead.com (310) 896-6388
Pinnacle Studio DV 7
With generic and highly standardized sub-$50 IEEE 1394 cards seemingly available everywhere, the real question for anyone wanting to take that first step into DV is not what hardware to get, but what software bundle to buy. We were extremely impressed with the Studio DV 7 package and found its capture, tape scanning, scene detection and print-to-tape functions outstanding.
$130 www.pinnaclesys.com (650) 526-1600
Sonic Foundry ACID Pro 3.0
In yet another competitive category with lots of excellent products, we chose ACID as our favorite music creation application, primarily because of its excellent balance between ease of use and creative flexibility. New features allowed the inclusion of a video track and made ACID an ideal scoring tool for any multimedia artist. Our only criticism was that it was also incredibly fun to use, making it a dangerous time burglar, threatening both productivity and deadlines.
$350 www.sonicfoundry.com (608) 256-3133
Cakewalk Sonar XL
Sonar was a true all-in-one wonder, combining a sophisticated multi-track audio environment with unmatched MIDI capabilities and extensive effects processing. Whether you need to compose or create music from scratch, record a voiceover or just sweeten the existing audio track, Cakewalk Sonar XL is the tool you need.
$479 www.cakewalk.com (888) 225-3925
Hitachi DZ-MV100A DVD-RAM CAM
This trendy little camera can record about an hour of DVD-quality MPEG-2 video or 1,000 high-resolution JPEG pictures to a double-sided 8cm DVD-RAM disc. Random access means no more rewinding or fast forwarding to find scenes, and compatibility with Hitachi’s DVD-ROM drive (GD-7500) means that there is no longer a need to capture video at all. While we aren’t all that excited about editing compressed MPEG-2 video, this is still a very, very interesting product.
$1,995 www.hitachi.com (800) HITACHI
A Look Ahead
2002 looks even more exciting than 2001. The newest items to watch are the DVD-related entries. While there were only two recorders and a handful of editing environments released in 2001, this year promises an explosion of products for videographers. And prices should fall like a led zeppelin in a typhoon. These are Exciting times, indeed.