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VIDEO CAPTURE

There are a number of solutions to capturing video into a computer, but this site addresses only the capture of digital video via a firewire capture card. The standard known as IEEE 1394 defines the technical parameters of this activity and that is something about which I know nothing at all. Fortunately for us all, others do and right here you will find an informative and straightforward bit of explication. (The terms "firewire" and "i.Link", which is Sony's name for it, are interchangeable - and sometimes appear as "DTV Link"). But any firewire card provides the basic function of passing digital video from a DV camcorder to and from a computer hard drive. If you're thinking of buying and installing one yourself, you must choose between a basic firewire card (inexpensive) and a dedicated capture card, usually bundled with a variety of software devoted to editing and FX. Often the value of the bundled software more than compensates for the cost difference between basic firewire ports and true capture cards, but the dedicated card will not act as a firewire port for any other peripheral firewire devices, while the basic card allows multiple device connections. I have personally ripped out the firewire cable servicing my network to plug in a digital camcorder, and had nothing but bliss. The video captured, and the network was back when I reconnected the cables. That said, I use a proprietary card myself for video capture (Canopus Raptor), and firewire cards for networking my two PCs.
Another option is the purchase of a Creative Sound Blaster Audigy card (now in version 2) for your existing or new system. From the value version to the Platinum the card includes a firewire port, through which you can capture, as well as connecting a firewire hard drive, and establishing a firewire TCP/IP network. I took this route and access via the firewire network a second 40 GB drive in my original PC (Gramps). I can use it as archive storage for projects from the new PC. I can also shift files to reformat a drive, then return the files I need there - or just want in storage. I even save wear and tear on my Pioneer A03 DVD burner by sharing the CD drive on Gramps with Junior. The hard-and-software orchestra that is my new PC (Mar.03) lets me watch video on Junior from the CD drive on Gramps. For DVDs I need the Pioneer, or my external firewire LG all-format burner.

Canopus DV Raptor Capture CardVideo capture is extremely demanding of a PC, requiring fairly high minimum standards for processor speed, RAM, hard drive speed and capacity and graphic and sound card sophistication. Even the operating system you run comes into the equation. That's why so many people take the plunge either by buying a turnkey system already built and tested or by using professional help to tweak their existing system. One respected system integrator, DVGear, maintains a very informative site for anyone taking the plunge into DV. Start by browsing their FAQ area HERE.

I chose to do it myself, adding the capture card and a second hard drive to a system that met the specs. As I've said elsewhere on the site, it was a painful process, but rewarding and educational. You'll find an excellent, if aging discussion on building a system at Tom's Hardware Guide. If you want to check out some of the turnkey options, The Video Guys have a page on their recommended vendors.

At the low end, cards bundled with inexpensive video editing software will capture clips and provide an environment for stringing them together, adding scene transitions and titles, and exporting a finished video to VHS and various multimedia file formats. To do this the editing software must be capable of taking control of the camcorder's playback deck, (called "Device Control") so that you can find and identify the clip you want to capture, viewing the footage on your monitor as you hunt for the in and out points.

Ensure before you buy an inexpensive card that the editing software you wish to use, or may wish to upgrade to later, is compatible with the card you select. Check the maker's web site for compatibility information. A OHCI 1394 firewire card provides no assistance whatsoever to your editing software. It is strictly a port, like USB or parallel, allowing the transfer of digital data (your DV camcorder clips for example) from a source to your harddrive. Every function from batch capture to special effects must be supported by your editing software of choice because it gets zero support from a firewire card. As PCs become ever more powerful, software editors become more competitive with hardware-assisted solutions. Vegas Video, Avid Express DV and in-sync's Blade 2 are well-regarded non-linear editing tools that use only basic firewire. Final Cut Pro on Mac works the same way.

I should say that in early 2002, on a new power user system I batch captured in Premiere 6.02 from a simple firewire port on two different camcorders (Sony D-8/JVC miniDV) and was impressed with the operation - almost as smooth as when I use my DV Raptor card to support the capture. On my P-4/1.8 GHz/512 DDR SDRAM/Asus7700Ti Deluxe 32 MB vid card - since replaced with a 128 MB card) I saw small rainbow pixel blocks dancing across my monitor window when scrubbing in movie capture mode, but generally it worked, and captured without dropped frames.
Clearly, working in DV with only a firewire port for capture will be increasingly supported by software solution providers. If you are considering simple firewire editing you owe it to yourself to look at Vegas Video from Sonic Foundry/Sony. It's a real time editing environment without the proprietary capture hardware. Bundled with DVD Architect it's an impressive, modern solution for video through to DVD. Of course, Adobe isn't standing still either and the release of Encore made the Premiere/Encore pairing a similarly top grade path from shooting to editing to watching on DVD, but only on XP. If you're planning to use Adobe Premiere for your editing, and you could do far worse, visit their capture card compatibility page for lists of which cards they support and on which operating systems.

Beyond batch capture comes Real Time functionality. After you have edited for a few months on a non-real time system, you begin to realize how valuable it would be to your time to be able to try out transitions and effects without having to preview them first. The preview process involves the creation of temporary files containing the finished effect, and take from seconds to minutes to complete, depending on the complexity of the effect and the power of your PC.

Real Time hardware systems use on-board chips to do the work immediately so you can see it right now and, save it or try something else right now. Some (like Canopus) reveal more Real Time capabilities as the power of the CPU increases. This added muscle encourages trial and experimentation by reducing the waiting time to nothing. It's important to know that not all special effects can be performed in real time by a RT system, and each system developer makes different choices about what effects they will support in real time. I use the old Canopus DV Raptor, which has no real time support. I've seen both the Canopus Storm2 and the Matrox RT.X100 demonstrated and their real-time capabilities are very impressive. Both will export DV from the timeline WITHOUT RENDERING! And, both cost around CDN$2000. Click HERE for an in-depth "shoot-out" between the major players.

Cards such as the Pinnacle DV500, the Canopus DV Raptor RT and the Matrox RT.X10 are entry level priced for basic RT functions (under $US600) and probably offer as much help in speeding up the process as most hobbyists would ever demand. For some education on what real time means on each of three popular choices read this article from DV Magazine. Registration may be required, and of course everybody moves everything elsewhere a week after you link to it. For a complete menu of the choices available, their prices and features visit The Video Guys site. For some reason they left out the Raptor RT, but Tom's Hardware can fill in the blank.

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