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Choosing The Right Capture Solution

If you haven’t shopped for a capture board in a while, prepare yourself for option overload. The radical changes to come along this year include real-time previewing in the DV boards, and a plethora of bundled apps across the board, so to speak.

With all the new features, it’s easy to forget the basics. Capturing video is still about source, target format and who’s going to be watching whatever it is you’re outputting to tape, disk, or DVD, or streaming over the Internet. As always, you’ll need to refine your search to a card that will take an input from your source and feed an output to your media devices, plus have the best capture resolution for your audience. No doubt you have looked into digital video, so we’re not telling you anything new if we recommend you consider digital input if you’re planning to keep the board for a while. What we hope to give you is some useful information on how to do that. [Next week: Be sure to read our Wild Card experiment in which we tested an analog camera with a Firewire/DV/converter bridge.]

And, things haven’t changed so much that you no longer have to consider hardware and OS requirements. Many of the product specs are minimum requirements needed to run the board. As a result, you might not get the performance you’d like on a barebone machine, particularly if you are anxious to run some of the nifty apps bundled with the board. Read the specs carefully. Ask a lot of questions.

Here are a few other things to consider if you’re a pro shooting BetaSP or Betacam, a prosumer shooting Hi8 or a consumer shooting 8mm or off the TV. We hope this, and our guide, will help you wade through the possibilities.

For Pros:
If you’re shooting BetaSP or Betacam
I/O: SDI, Component, Audio, XLR/AES/EBUCapture Resolution: M-JPEG, MPEG-2, DV or Uncompressed

If you’re a broadcaster shooting BetaSP or Betacam, you’ll want to spend your money on a quality capture first and foremost. The obvious requirements are component video to break out luma and chroma separately and on-board M-JPEG, MPEG-2 and/or DV, or better yet, no compression at all. For the highest quality audio, look for XLR and/or AES/EBU connectivity. SDI comes standard or optional on many of the pro boards for serial digital without analog/digital conversion.

Apps bundled with the board should be a secondary consideration, especially if you’ve been at this a while and have all the basic editing functions already at your fingertips. A few card features might make life behind a camera a lot easier, though. You’ll notice most of the pro boards offer real-time color correction on the fly. Some also offer real-time 3D transitions. Video and graphics are likely to become a lot more intimate in the future, and you might want a board that can handle the relationship. We’d check out Leitch Technology’s dpsReality on this point alone. DpsReality’s media handling capabilities are a big selling feature for animation projects. It has a virtual file system that makes it a breeze to work with a wide variety of file formats, so you can interchange between video files and image file formats. And, for only $2,849, dpsReality will get you M-JPEG plus uncompressed video recording and playback. What’s also nice about dpsReality is that it gives you the ability to mix compressed and uncompressed video footage in real time in the same project.

If you’re working with digital and analog sources, we suggest you check out Matrox’s DigiSuite MAX, which comes in three flavors (LX, LE or DTV) for native DV, M-JPEG and/or MPEG-2 formats. All three capture in dual-stream uncompressed, and have broadcast quality analog video and audio I/O, plus optional SDI and even 16:9 editing support! The DigiSuite MAX can combine up to 15 effects and export MPEG-2 in real-time. But keep in mind that you’ll need dual procs to take full advantage of all this suite has to offer.

For Prosumers:
If you’re shooting digital or analog Hi8 video
I/O: S-Video, IEEE 1394
Capture Resolution: MPEG-1, MPEG-2 or DV, or uncompressed

A thousand dollars and some change will buy you an editing package that captures in DV and MPEG, and lets you preview your edits in real-time. With this year’s lineup, you shouldn’t have to wait to preview a transition or take a coffee break while the system is doing a simple dissolve. You can skip the rendering part and preview your edits in the current timeline before outputting them to tape or disk. You’re not going to have time to wait around for a computer anyway, because judging by the many new effects and software tools bundled with these cards, you’ll be busy creating all kinds of interesting videos.

Still, you won’t get everything you want from any one board, so you’ll need to pick and choose carefully.

If your focus is more on editing, look over the options carefully. Any package will likely include the latest Adobe Premiere. Are there other apps included? Does it come with audio editing and special effects, and if so, do they integrate with Premiere? Do you want the ability to preview and modify image parameters on the fly? Real-time color correction? Real-time chroma/luma keying? What about 3D transitions in real-time? Does it have a variety of out-of-the-box real-time transitions and effects?

If we were shopping for a serious capture (real-time MPEG-2 IBP and scalable DV codec) and previewing in real-time with more out-of-the box effects than we’d ever possibly use, we’d check the Matrox RT2500. We’d also check out Pinnacle’s Pro-ONE because it has the hardware acceleration needed for doing a number of functions at the same time (like filtering, color correction and playing back multiple effects in real-time -- all at once). On the other hand, if we were editing for broadcast and had a great deal of color correction to do, we’d check out Canopus’ DvStorm RT. It claims to have a killer color correction filter for intensifying colors and a clean chroma keyer that’ll make short work out of compositing footage.

You don’t necessarily have to spend a grand to get a deal, though. The price on analog capture cards has never been better. Why pay for digital now if you don’t plan to retire your analog camera for a while? A few hundred dollars and some change will buy you an analog card that will give you the essentials needed for capturing live video and audio: s-video, XLR/RCA audio, and full resolution, uncompressed or MPEG video. If your primary use for the card is live encoding, you’ll want good capture performance. We’d check out the Osprey 220 or 210 because it does color conversion in hardware rather than software, which is a faster conversion. We’d also check out Winnov’s Videum 1020 because it offers an excellent price point ($249) for some useful features (modify images on the fly; pan, tilt and zoom in real-time; and remote switching of up to four cameras).

For Consumers:
If you’re shooting VHS/8mm or recording off of TV
I/O: Composite
Capture Resolution: MPEG-2

You’ll need a composite input if you’re shooting VHS/8mm or a TV Tuner input if you’re recording off the TV, and anything else that will assist in the capture and editing of video. Look for a time shift feature that lets you pause during live television, and software that will let you edit and burn DVDs. Many of these lower priced boards have authoring software so you can add titles and menus to DVDs.

On paper, the Matrox Marvel G450 appears to be a good deal. It includes Ulead VideoStudio editor and has picture-in-picture as well as a time shifter for recording off of TV. For $230, it buys you the ability to input video footage, edit it down, add titles and effects, and output the result to videotape or DVD. Pinnacle’s Express DV might be a good option for those who have a digital camcorder and need an affordable and easy way to capture, edit and burn to DVD (for $79 to boot.) ATI’s All-In-Wonder RADEON 7500 is worth checking out just for the convenience factor alone. Besides a time shifter and the means to add effects, sounds and transitions to video, it has a remote-control so you can connect your PC to the TV and watch your DVDs or search channels from the couch!

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