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Technican's Corner
Questions people have asked me recently

By Robert Lamm

I want to get video out of my computer. How do I do that?

You've got a lot of choices: The simplest way is to get a an external scan-converter: It plugs into your computer's monitor jack and adds an additional video output that you can record on a video deck. Prices range from $300 to $15,000. The $300 converters are meant for home hobbyists: They're grainy, drop scan lines (which makes thin fonts and CAD drawings unreadable) and often have software drivers that hang up programs. The $15,000 models come with very fancy image processing to preserve as much resolution as possible, allow you to zoom in on parts of the image, add pointers, etc. But most industrial users buy $1500 models that do the job without lots of frills: the Hyperconverter by PC VIdeo Conversion is a typical example.

I should warn you: Standard video doesn't have the resolution to reproduce small fonts and thin lines: Your converted video won't look as good as the original: Thin horizontal lines will flicker, and small text will be fuzzy and hard to read. If you're going to a color-under format like 3/4", 3/4" SP, VHS, S-VHS, 8mm and Hi-8, you'll also notice that saturated colors will run, especially strong reds. If you can, try to make all graphics destined for video conversion with large heavy fonts, thick, heavy lines and medium-to-low-saturation colors.

If you want to grab stills from live video to incorporate in your graphics, you'll need to get a frame-buffer card instead of a scan converter. It'll save the stills as graphics files which you can then cut and paste with normal software.

The best-known frame buffer is the Truevision Targa+. It costs around $1500 for the most popular model.

Truevision has since come out with a motion-video capture/compression card called the Targa 2000 (About $5500). It'll record an entire video presentation onto your hard drive. It's also an excellent way to play back high-quality (640x480x24-bit) animations to videotape.

Video capture/compression cards also let you edit video on your computer: The best known software package for this application is Adobe Premiere. But Premiere is kind of clunky at video resolutions, so use is mainly limited to multimedia applications with low resolutions and frame rates like CD-ROM authoring.

But just this week, I saw a very nice video-orineted nonlinear editor for the Targa 2000 that I thought worked very well: AVID's new Real Impact, aka MediaSuite PRO for Windows. I bought two copies on the spot and we're in the process of setting up a demo system.

If you're serious about using your computer as a video production tool, I would advise you to seriously consider buying a motion video capture card: You'll be able to do graphics, animation, editing, all sorts of post effects, etc., on that one piece of hardware.

I would like to use my computer as an edit controller. Is there any software I can buy?

Yes. Abbatte Video makes a vey inexpensive package that controls consumer decks. But the quality and precision of the edits is limited by the hardware constraints of your VCR's.

You can also buy DOS software that emulates professional CMX-type editors to control RS-422 machines like Betacam and 3/4" edit decks. This is made by ETC (Editing Technologies Corp.) in California. It works very well, even down to controlling DVE's, importing and exporting EDL's, logging, etc. It also comes in a quasi-nonlinear form, editing to a videodisk that can then do trims and rearrange edits, etc. Quite a few people in New England have ETC systems.

Do I need a scan converter to show my computer on a video projector?

Most industrial video projectors can display standard Mac and VGA signals, although you might need to get a special cable. Try to avoid consumer-type projectors that only display standard NTSC signals because you'll not only need a scan converter, the signal will get substantially degraded in the conversion...

How do I show my Betacam deck on a projector? The projector doesn't have component inputs and I think the standard video input is too fuzzy.

I agree with you: The NTSC composite signal smears the color up considerably. If there's any way to stay in component or RGB, you'll get a much clearer picture.

Some of the Sony UVW Betacam machines have RGB outputs. If you have one of these machines, hook it up directly to the projector's RGB inputs. Otherwise, you'll need to buy a transcoder. Nova in Hartford makes a whole line of these, they cost about $750.

One of my customers wants to make his video look like film. In particular, he wants 3-2 pulldown. What is that?

I don't think your customer really knows what he's asking for. 3-2 pulldown is a way of dealing with the different video and film frame rates. Since there are only 24 film frames for every 30 video ones, some video frames are exposed with more than one film frame. If you look at the individual frames of a video that was transferred from film, every fifth frame will have a double-exposure. In practical terms, it degrades the motion slightly.

But what really gives film its distinctive look is the different lighting and shooting style: Video is usually shot with very flat lighting to allow multiple camera angles and minimize dark areas which show noise. Films are usually lit individually for every shot, with stronger modeling to take advantage of film's greater contrast range. Film transferred to video theoretically shouldn't look any better than the same video shot directly in the field, but often does because a colorist carefully adjusts the image during the transfer.

Some people like the scratched-film look. You can actually get effects devices that add these artifacts to your video footage! The Amiga Toaster comes to mind...

My 3/4" deck has a 'dub' connector on it. Is this component video? Is it better than the normal composite signal?

3/4" dub (aka Y-688) is very similar to the S-Video signal that comes out of S-VHS and Hi-8 decks. There are two coax lines carrying the signal: One for luminance (the B/W picture) and another for color (known as subcarrier). S-Video uses the standard NTSC 3.58 Mhz subcarrier, Y-688 uses the 3/4" off-tape color subcarrier of .688 MHz. You'll get better luminance detail and a little less color artifacting if you use these signals, especially if you do so from beginning to end of your production process.

When did Sony, Panasonic and JVC batteries get so expensive? I used to get them in New York for half what they're charging!

The New York dealer was selling you clones: They won't last as long and might not have the same capacity. The venting usually isn't as good and this causes the cells inside to dry up faster, leading to the battery's death. If you had bought the real stuff to begin with, you wouldn't be shopping again now!

Bob Lamm is Manager at CYNC Corp., a video/multimedia dealership in Brookline, MA. He can be reached at (617) 277-4317, fax (617) 232-8748, cync@world.std.com.

(c)1995 Robert Lamm.

Posted: October 1995
Bob Lamm, SMPTE/New England Newsletter/Web Page Editor
blamm@cync.com