May 2001 news

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Panasonic returns to the top

Our biggest gripe when reviewing camcorders over the past few months has been the fact that almost all of them have been bottom-loaders. Despite the continued integration of bottom-loading tape carriages on Sony and Canon machines, Panasonic actually seems to have listened to the cries of despair.
Panasonic came to Computer Video Towers to announce the launch of its latest range of consumer MiniDV models, and one of its first comments was that these machines would not be bottom-feeders! This is great news - and a little surprising as Panasonic was probably the first company to implement this ludicrous design. The NV-DS27, DS28, DS37 and DS38 will all load from above - and whoever bent the ear of Panasonic and made the company listen deserves a big shiny medal (especially if it was us).
Each machine uses the same housing, measuring 77(w) x 96(h) x 179(d) mm. Each will sport a 1/4in, 800,000 pixel CCD; an electronic image stabiliser; a 2.5in LCD panel; a 15x optical zoom; and a massive (and pointless) 600x digital zoom. An IR nightvision filter is now a standard feature, but these machines do feature a couple of potentially useful toys, too - a zoom micr
ophone and an audio filter to cut out wind noise.
At the bottom of the range are the DS27 and DS28, with the DS28 distinguished by its working DV-input. Next up are the DS37 and DS38, each supporting MultiMediaCard and SD Card. Again, one is nEUtered (the DS37) while the other has a DV input, and an analogue input, too.

Panasonic, 0990 357357;

Real-time Mac editing - at a price

Unfortunately, the RTMac/FCP combination won't be an option for a lot of Mac users. For a start, the cost for the hardware alone (£820, inc VAT) is the same as for the RT2000 Windows package, which comes bundled with editing software - Adobe Premiere 6. With no editing software included with the RTMac, the overall outlay increases by £800 for Final Cut Pro 2 or £200 for those upgrading from FCP V1.25.
More important still, the system requirements are rigid and include, at their most basic, an Apple motherboard with an AGP slot - which means G4-based machines but, even then, not the earliest models. Also necessary are a 400MHz (or faster) G4 processor; 256MByte RAM; OS9.1 (plus QT5 and, initially, Final Cut Pro 2); and a hard disk able to sustain two 3.6MByte/sec data streams - though that should include most modern IDE drives.
On the plus side, users of RTMac who wish to increase their desktop space by running two monitors (and that really ought to include most video editors) will be saved the expense of adding an extra card. RTMac doubles as a graphics card and works together with the AGP card fitted in these particular Macs to allow the desktop to be spread over two screens.
The company says that editors using RTMac can work with three layers of video and graphics in real time and create effects instantly, without rendering. It also reckons that finished projects can be recorded to videotape in real time. What isn't clear, though, is whether some effects and transitions work in real time and others have to be rendered, nor whether projects need to undergo a final render prior to output. Watch out for early, and definitive, reviews of RTMac, FCP 2 and any of the above mentioned goodies we can lay our hands on.

Apple, 0800 783 4846;
Adobe, 020 8606 4001;
Digital Marketing International,
Matrox, 01793 441107;

Mac OS X at last - but still under construction

Apple has finally released its long-heralded Unix-based operating system OS X (oh-ess-ten). The operating system, retailing for £100 (inc VAT), has been in gestation since December 1996.
Despite offering built-in support for twin processors, plus other features vitally important to stability (and its credibility as a modern operating system) - such as pre-emptive multi-tasking and robust virtual memory management - the initial version of OS X is hamstrung in a number of ways.
At the outset, there is - astonishingly - no support for CD-RW and DVD. Perhaps even more amazingly, there are only three programs available that can run natively in OS X and, hence, take proper advantage of the protected memory system which prevents software crashes bringing down the entire operating system.
Two of the OS X-native programs are from Apple - revamped versions of the iMovie low-end video editor (a 16.3MByte download), and iTunes jukebox software (3MByte) - the other is Media Player 7, from Microsoft (5.5MByte). Some reports also say that one game, the Tomb Raider-basher, Oni, from GodGames supports OS X but, if so, GodGames itself appears not to realise, judging by its web site.
Mac staples - such as Quark Xpress, Microsoft Office and Adobe's Photoshop and Illustrator - are missing from the compatibility list, as is Apple's top-end video editor Final Cut Pro.
OS X's part-finished nature is underlined by the revelation that Apple won't be shipping Macs with the new operating system installed until July. By that time, hopefully, the missing hardware support will be present and there will be some major programs available that will run natively.

Apple, 0800 783 4846;

Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum

Roxio - Adaptec's software division - has launched an improved version of its flagship CD authoring software, Easy CD Creator. Like its forerunners and its sister product, WinOnCD 3.8 (review this issue, p64), Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum offers a wide selection of tools for very little money - in this case £45 (inc VAT).
In terms of menu creation and multimedia features, the program's VCD authoring tools are largely unchanged from version 4 (review Nov 99, p52). As a result, WinOnCD 3.8 is still the clear winner for making complex, highly-customised VCD presentations, at least for those adept enough to figure out how to use WinOnCD without the aid of an English language manual.
However, Easy CD Creator 5 does include an improved MPEG-1 encoder. This will be a relief for many who were miffed that V4 rejected their MPEG files. Version 4 came bundled with a light version of MGI VideoWave III, which - maddeningly - was unable to make White-Book standard MPEG-1 files. Roxio doesn't bundle VideoWave with Easy CD Creator 5, but instead includes a strangely familiar-looking integrated video editor, called VideoImpression.
As with VideoWave, VideoImpression is storyboard-based, and allows assemble editing only. There are, however, some attractive transitions, image filters and titling tools. Video can be captured from standard OHCI FireWire ports and encoded as PAL or NTSC MPEG-1 files for burning to VCD. Unlike WinOnCD 3.8 and Nero 5, though, Easy CD Creator 5 can't be used to make MPEG-2 based SVCDs.


Alarming effects

The DV market is typically a place where big companies provide cost-effective tools for low-budget DIY productions. ALARMDV, from csb-digital, breaks the mould slightly, being a special effects tool - geared squarely at the ambitious guerrilla movie-maker - but created on an equally DIY basis. ALARMDV (£45), is the brainchild of three 21 year-old students, Joshua Davies, Dave Cranwell and Toby Walsh.
The program is available for Mac and Windows PCs, and uses QuickTime 4 at its core. Customers buy the program, and from then on all effects plug-ins are free. Given that most of today's film students were raised on Star Wars movies, we expect its presence to be very obvious in degree shows from now on. ALARMDV's prize effect is a lightsword - similar to the Light Sabres of George Lucas's saga. Lightsword clashes and the muzzle flashes from guns are also available. We're sure that someone will find a way of using this rotoscoping tool in a way that enhances a movie's narrative and helps develop characters, but for the moment, it's nice that people are having fun!


Canon reaches for the bottom

Canon's forthcoming MiniDV camcorder models, the MV400, MV400i, MV450 and MV450i are housed in the same chassis as the MV300 - Canon's first and, we'd vainly hoped, only bottom-feeding MiniDV camcorder.
Prices are expected to start at £650 for the basic, nEUtered, MV400, rising to £750 for the DV-in enabled MV400i. The MV450 models are much the same as the MV400s, but with MultiMediaCard and SD Card support, and will cost around £800 for the nEUtered model - and £900 for the DV-in enabled MV450i.
Compact size is now the focus for Canon's consumer DV camcorders - with each of the newcomers measuring a mere 57(w) x 102(h) x 134(d)mm. Sadly, this also means that Canon's lovely trademark - the optical image stabiliser - is unlikely to feature on any future entry-level MiniDV models.
Each new camcorder features a single 1/4in CCD with 540,000 (340,000 effective) pixels; and a lens with an f1.8 maximum aperture, a 10x optical zoom, and 100x digital. Also common to each model is a colour viewfinder and a 2.5in, 112,000 pixel, flip-out LCD monitor. Shutter speeds vary between 1/12 and 1/8,000 second, and audio is recorded as 16-bit sound at 48kHz, or 12-bit at 32kHz. Another surprise is a move away from another Canon feature - progressive scan CCDs. These models feature a Progressive Shutter System, similar to that found on Sony's MegaPixel models, the PC100, PC110 and TRV20.
One major plus point is that Canon appears to have seen the light, and blessed its DV-in enabled models with analogue inputs too. This has traditionally been a practice exclusive to Sony, and we're delighted to see that others are catching on.

Canon, 020 8459 1266;

Recent features...
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Reviewed in May's issue:
Pinnacle DV200
Datavideo VDR-3000
Adaptec 4300
CeQuadrant WinOnCD 3.8

In this month's news:
Panasonic returns to top
Real-time Mac editing
Mac OS X at last but...
Easy CD Creator 5 Platinum
Alarm DV
Canon reaches for bottom

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