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A DIGITAL VIDEO OVERVIEW

If you are satisfied with watching the contents of your video camera through a TV or VCR/TV combo, you won't use much of what is available on this site. You can get helpful information on buying a new digital-format video camera, or on shooting better video - but if you are or want to be a digital video maker, capturing and editing your own footage for output to VHS or an alternate media, come on in!

Making desktop video (what is it?) is the most time consuming passion I've had since passion meant something else to me. If you're already doing it you don't want to use any more of your precious free time than is absolutely necessary to learn or get what you need. You can probably skip over this page and move on. For those of you considering getting involved, or newly involved and trying to sort it all out, let's begin with a review of the basic requirements and processes for making your own movies.(Either now or once you've read this section, take a look at the "How Video Editing Works" article HERE.)

This site caters to the shooter who has chosen a digital versus analog camera format. For the best quality available to a hobbyist, starting with digital images, capturing them on computer in digital files and creating digital finished product for output is the best choice. Of course nothing stands still in the digital arena and since I wrote that, many devices and cards have appeared for "digitizing" analogue input for editing on computer. I don't cover these in any detail but most of the information here is relevant to analogue as well as digital footage, once it's on a hard drive.
In your browsing of camcorder choices or elsewise you may have run into terms like NTSC and PAL. These are acronyms for TV broadcasting standards. In North America NTSC rules and this is relevant in areas such as image dimensions in pixels, frame rate (29.97 fps versus 25) and lines of resolution. I don't specifically discuss the European/Japanese PAL standard but the majority of general information on this site will be useful regardless of your location.

Sony DCR-TRV 525 NTSC D8The Camcorder
Digital cameras come in all shapes, sizes and prices, and two primary tape formats. If you want to jump right into the choices follow this link to an excellent camcorder buyers guide. And here's another, written by an informed enthusiast, who lists his favourites in 1-3 CCD camcorders, accessories and retailers. Finally, ZDNet retired a link to pro camera features, but replaced it for now with a good section on Camcorder reviews grouped by price category. Check it out HERE. Unless you know enough about the desktop video environment that choosing a camera is your final step I suggest that you complete the overview before investigating specific knowledge areas. .

Today (Sept. 03) I discovered a fairly extensive set of FAQS on a wide range of video issues,available from Videomaker magazine's web site. If you're new to the hobby you should spend some time HERE.
You own or are shopping for, or deciding on the format of a digital camcorder. This site is intended for hobbyists, so we'll assume that you neither have nor intend to have a $15,000 camera. You own or want or will want either a Digital 8 or miniDV camcorder. If you haven't purchased yet read the DV Camcorder page for information about the formats. Whichever you choose, you'll have high resolution, superior quality video images, using the equipment properly, of course. To turn yards of tape into compelling video you have to edit. To edit you must first review what you've shot and decide on which scenes or clips to capture into your editing system.

The Capture
To capture anything you need a system with specific capabilities. These include a digital capture card or OHCI firewire card, a fast hard drive, a graphics card supporting direct draw overlay (so you can see on your monitor the video in your camcorder), a good sound card and speakers, video editing software, and, if you want to do voice-overs (narration), a microphone. You can record narration direct to your camcorder and capture it - and this works very well - but you can avoid the capture stage by recording direct to your PC using Windows Sound Recorder (or alternative recording software) and a microphone connected to your sound card. There are a number of good, afforable audio editors on the market and more recently a scramble among the major NLE makers to upgrade their built-in audio editing components - except for Sony's Vegas Video 6, which already has the benefit of its beginnings in audio editing.

The Hardware
I built my first system by tinkering with the PC I already owned, a PIII-450Mhz with a soundblaster live audio card, an Asus 16 MB AGP video card, and the addition of a Canopus DV Raptor firewire capture card and Maxtor 7200 rpm 40Gig video-dedicated hard drive, running Windows 98se.

Most advice you read on building your own solution suggests you use professional help or buy a turnkey system, configured out of the box to edit digital video. This is not bad advise in my opinion, but if you aren't afraid of (or enjoy) the challenge of opening the case and ironing out the inevitable and numerous blips of your own install, you will save money if not sanity.

If you can't wire your home audio centre you may not want to do the install yourself. I put off installing the DV Raptor card until the Christmas holidays (2000), knowing from my research that I would have challenges. I never did get my home network up again and it was three days before I figured out how to view the camera on the monitor, but that is ancient history now and I've been capturing flawless digital video with no dropped frames ever since I got the bugs ironed out.

I also installed the dedicated video capture hard drive (having to reposition both of my CD drives in the process) and that wasn't without pain, but as I said it works and I learned a tremendous amount about my system and the process in general by doing it myself.

Once you have a working system and have learned to use your capture and basic edit functions (regardless of the software you choose) you'll be sending finished videos to your VCR and marvelling at playing your stuff on your TV, even if it's usually only you in the audience.

Making VHS versions of your work is the easy part. Producing your projects for CD or the Internet introduces a whole new set of tools and learning. But if you've come this far that's a part of why you are doing this, isn't it? To stay on the bleeding edge? If that's where you want to go, Content Shop's web site will get you there - I can guarantee that because I'm there myself (with the blood to prove it) thanks to web sites, magazines, forum groups, hours of practise and a very few excellent books and videos. You're here because you understand that there is something revolutionary going on in personal content creation. I hope you find support here for your vision of it, whatever that is, and I hope you'll tell me whether or not what you found here helped you, once you've looked it over. Good luck!

I look forward to seeing your work, if you intend to share it with the world. And I mean that too. It's a bit lonely at this point in the millennium, with just 3% of web sites offering streaming video or progressive download (video delivered via http, without a dedicated media server). We can all learn from each other and get where we're going that much faster if we share our stuff.

My editing setup consists of an Intel PC (with my old Canopus DV Raptor PCI card), a 19" Samsung flat panel CRT monitor, a 19" TV/VCR combination unit, the Sony VX2000 miniDV, an early model Sony D-8 camcorder and a Sony ECM MS908C shoe-mount microphone (not shown) for which I purchased a $20 table stand to facilitate narration when I have an editing project at that stage. I have a firewire port in my Audigy Platinum sound card, but always use the Raptor for video capture, leaving the firewire port for an external LG multi-format disk burner. This simple setup allows me to watch TV and VHS tapes, view the camcorder's contents, capture TV, DVD (mine) or VHS material to the camera and then to the computer, and send video from the computer direct to VHS tape, or to the camcorder to archive finished projects without taking up hard drive space. There's a world of wiring involved but disconnecting four cables frees the camera for shooting. I still leave a camera in the loop, however, for the feed to VCR/TV. I find it more straightforward than sending signals from the video and sound cards to the VCR.
I later added a new VCR to the mix, one with S-Video in/out. The improved colour signal makes a dramatic difference to VHS output of digital files. Later still I bought a modern DVD player which allows me to make and view VCDs and to capture clips back to the PC from my DVD productions, via the analogue to digital converter in my Sony Camcorders.
I have added a Samson wireless lav and an Azden shotgun mic to my toolkit since buying the VX2000. Check out the What's New page for a more detailed look at my new (March '02) system. There you will also find comments and pictures of new equipment as I acquire it.
Photo of my new Editing Rig.

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