Buyers Guide to the Best Video Products of 2006

The best consumer video production products of 2006, selected by the editors of Videomaker.

Best Products Award Criterion: E.Q.U.I.P.

For a product to qualify for an award, it must have shipped in the 2006 calendar year, and it must have passed through

Videomaker headquarters for examination by our editors. From there, we judged products based on the following five criteria:

Empowerment – how effective the product is at helping videographers be more
effective at video production.

Quality – it must be put together well, durable and show excellence in its category.

Usability – how user-friendly it is.

Innovation – it should have some inventive or original features.

Performance – it must work consistently, effectively and provide a good value for
the price.

As video enthusiasts we get attached to some of the products that land on our desks for review. This year we’ve seen products get smaller, lighter, faster, sexier and more affordable. This year we really got attached. While many are incredible tools, we have to narrow the field for our “Best Products” award. These proved to be extraordinary tools for the consumer videographer; a handful of the camcorders introduced this year blew away our expectations for what a consumer camcorder can do; new computer systems have more processing power than you can shake a stick at; and, software packages give users the ability to make feature length productions with as much gloss as Hollywood. Still, the thing that amazes us the most is how approachable video production has become. Videomaker’s 2006 Best Products of the Year salutes, not only the best gear, but the new generation of video producers who will be using these tools to share their voice with the world.

Best Consumer Camcorder

Canon Elura 100

From a long line of contenders, the Elura 100 stands out largely based on its price-to-performance ratio. We were very surprised how much camcorder Canon squeezed into this small but powerful shooter. There’s not much to scoff at with its 1/5″ CCD, 20x optical zoom, mic input and user-friendly design. The Canon Elura 100 is a great deal for the consumer digital videographer looking for a stable, Mini DV camcorder.

Best High Definition Consumer Camcorder

Canon HV10

The arrival of the HV10 broke expectations about what can be done with a consumer camcorder, offering a petite, sleek HDV camcorder with 1080i capabilities. Its single 1/2.7″ CMOS sensor reproduces a vivid picture suitable for high definition displays. As we continue to watch high definition technologies filter down to the consumer, the Canon HV10 puts style and class as an exclamation point in this category of consumer HDV.

Best Hard Drive Camcorder

JVC Everio GZ-MG505

For the shooter out there who is tired of recording media and is confident on data back-up practices (we hope we haven’t lost your interest already), the JVC Everio GZ-MG505 is a robust solution. We like this camcorder’s 3-CCD design, featuring 1/4.5″ native 16:9 imagers. While it’s not a high definition format, it’s ready to display the proper aspect ratio on HD displays. Throw in a mic input, accessory shoe, 30GB storage capability and an easy to control interface, and you’ve got one heck of a “forward-thinking” standard definition camcorder.

Best Prosumer Camcorder

Sony HDR-FX7

This year Sony nearly perfected its HDV prosumer camcorders, of course, not to any of our objections. The HDR-FX7 marks a simple, powerful camcorder that can please the newcomer as well as the ambitions of a professional shooter with its manual controls. We love the 3 quarter-inch ClearVID CMOS sensors, HDMI interface, light-weight, yet remarkably well-balanced feel of this camcorder.

Breakthrough Camcorder of the Year

Panasonic AG-HVX200

The Panasonic AG-HVX200 made a lot of heads turn this year with its multitude of high definition formats and P2, solid-state recording media. Like its SD cousin, the AG-DVX100, it has found its way into many production houses, big and small. We are excited to see Panasonic challenging the design and workflow of digital video. If only we had a time machine to see where the market is going, we might jump aboard the no-tape bandwagon too.

Most Innovative Product of the Year

Manfrotto 560B Monopod

A monopod is such a handy tool. And, this particular model offers a fluid pan head (or should we say foot), which makes it even more useful. It’s the first time we’ve seen this feature on a monopod and the results were smooth and natural looking pans. We were also attracted to the 560B’s retractable feet, which give the shooter more balance and traction. If you’re a serious on-the-go shooter, you’ll definitely find this monopod suitable for your lifestyle.

Best Editing Laptop

Apple MacBook Pro 15″

Over the last year Apple has made quite a few notable improvements across all of its computing product lines. The MacBook Pro laptops are not excluded of such improvements. Remember when you couldn’t run Windows on a Mac? Remember when Apple didn’t have Intel chips? We were very pleased with this laptop’s fast processor speeds, improved energy efficiency and versatility. You’d be hard pressed to find a laptop this year that has made so many great improvements.

Best Editing Computer

Gateway E-6610 Workstation $1,622

This robust workstation nearly flew under our radar, but luckily we have a keen eye for value. The E-6610 Workstation is certainly a great value for anyone looking to do some serious editing and yet not break the bank. With room to grow, this workstation is ready to make the move to Vista and/or HD video. Throw in that 19″ LCD monitor to boot and you’ve got a complete system capable of more than what you bargained for, or at least we think so. We wouldn’t be too surprised if Gateway mysteriously bumped up the price.

Honorable Mention

HP xw8400 Workstation $5,576

If money is no object, then we can’t forget to mention the quicker- and quieter-than-we-expected HP xw8400. This workstation is built to meet the highest demands of professional video editing. Although it comes at a cost, it might be well worth it for the video editor who needs a top performer for advanced video editing (i.e., compositing, 3-D animation) or rendering large projects (i.e., high definition encoding, DVD authoring, etc.).

Best Lighting Instrument

Litepanels DV Camera Kit

Here is another innovative product that changes what we know about the entire category. LED light technology puts out less heat and is much more efficient than its competitors, making this light kit a very useful tool. For the working professional in event and wedding videography, this kit is on-the-go capable. The soft and even quality of light, usability and efficiency make it a clear winner.

Best Stabilization Device

Steadicam Merlin

It’s aesthetic magic when a good Steadicam operator executes complicated camera moves. The Steadicam Merlin magic lies in its ability to give you the freedom to move about while minimizing the disturbing shake. The Merlin adds that support through high quality manufacturing and years of experience in Steadicam research and development. We think this is an exciting stabilization tool that delivers great results.

Best Audio Mixer

Tapco Mix.120

If you’re like most of us, you’ve got too many devices going in and out of each other. The Tapco Mix.120 is the type of device that simplifies your editing workstation, giving you much more control than you’ve ever had. Also, mix in the potential of using it to record live productions, and you’ve got a useful production tool as well. All this functionality, good manufacturing quality and more than reasonable price and we’ve got a clear winner.

Best Microphone

AKG Perception 100

The world of podcasting and hobbyist video production ushered in the AKG Perception 100. We were very pleased with this studio mic’s performance, even when we compared it to top-end professional studio microphones. If you’re doing a lot of voiceover work or podcasting, this is an inexpensive mic that won’t disappoint your ears. We couldn’t find an equal mic at this great a value or performance.

Best Hard Drive

LaCie 1TB External Hard Drive

When it comes to stylish looks, LaCie has always been a leader. But they’re also a leading brand because of their trusted performance. The 1TB Big Disk Extreme with triple interface (FireWire 800, FireWire 400 and USB 2.0), high data throughput and a mix match of disk utilities, made installation and operation a snap. When it comes to adding storage to your video editing system, it’s nice to have something that’s this low maintenance. And it’s sexy. There, we said it.

Best Hard Drive Recorder

Focus Enhancements FS-100 DTE Recorder

Who’s got the trademark on DTE? Focus Enhancements, that’s who. They’ve also got a reliable product with a user interface that gives added control to the drive. When it comes to hard drive recorders, those are two things that will help you feel like you can shoot more confidently.

Best DVD Duplicator

Primera Bravo SE

“Hands-off” disc publishing is a good thing for those of you who have to fulfill medium to large disc runs. The Primera Bravo SE is just the machine to do all the routine work for you, while still keeping the overall cost of production down. We were impressed with its performance, speed and small size, making it manageable for most computer desks. Not long after the release, Primera swapped out the DVD burner for a Blu-ray burner, which we were quite surprised to see. Of course, you’ll have to pay more for that option, but we like that Primera is staying competitive and raising the bar.

Best Introductory Editing Software

Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0

Adobe Premiere Elements has changed the game forever, making a video editing application that can please both the newbie and the more advanced hobbyists. Version 3.0 also adds more support for HDV, additional DVD templates and incorporates the same interface that we’re very pleased with. Add in Adobe’s trustworthy brand name and increased interaction with Photoshop Elements, and this product is bound to please the video editing enthusiast.

Best Introductory DVD Authoring Software

Ulead DVD MovieFactory 5

These days there are as many ways to burn a DVD as there are ways to sing the National Anthem. Ulead DVD MovieFactory 5 stands above the crowded DVD authoring market with its addition of Blu-ray and HD-DVD support. It also has a healthy smattering of video editing and menu creation enhancements that make this a fun application capable of delivering stunning results. Ulead has made us proud.

Best Music Creation Software

Sony Cinescore

We got a good look this year at a multitude of music creation software, and Sony Cinescore surprised us with its approachable interface, including interactive tutorials for editors who are new to this type of application. Mix in its innovative music generation feature that allows you to make dynamic soundtracks for a variety of productions, and you’ve got a royalty-free music making machine. We look forward to seeing more musical themes released for this software in the future.

Best Audio Editing Software

Adobe Audition 2.0

It’s no surprise that Adobe re-committed itself to market this software to audio professionals this year. When Audition hit our workstation we scratched our heads trying to decide how much time it would take to thoroughly review this application. All that is to say that we were pleased with the depth of this software package. Whether mastering a multitrack score or simply sweetening up a voiceover, Audition 2.0 can get ‘er done.

Best Video Editing Software

Sony Vegas 7 + DVD Architect

Sony Vegas has always been a valuable tool for video editing hobbyist and professionals, balancing a straight forward user interface with powerful editing performance at a fairly low price. Vegas 7 with DVD Architect improves compatibility with high definition playback and incorporates a completely customizable workspace. With powerful editing capabilities and a feature rich DVD authoring application, Vegas 7 + DVD Architect is a wonderful solution for advanced users.

Best Advanced DVD Authoring Software

Adobe Encore 2.0

When it’s time to really mash things up, fulfill those “DVD extras” dreams or copy encrypting your worldwide release, Adobe Encore 2.0 proves to be a valuable asset for any DVD authoring guru. The 2.0 version update gives users increased stability and more flexibility. That’s something professionals need 24 hours a day. Meanwhile, the program’s logical timeline interface helps keep the learning curve lower than one would expect from such a powerful application.

Congratulations to this year’s winners and the respective product teams who brought them to life. As always, there were so many great products to consider, test, compare and jealously fight over. In the end, we are proud to give this group our seal of approval and we look forward to seeing their successors in our office. To learn more about these products and all the others that caught our eye throughout the year, make sure to read our entire set of Test Bench reviews in every issue.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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