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Digital Video Camera &Editor
JVC GR-DVL9500 & Pinnacle Studio DVplus
The camera allows both digital video to be taken and also still photographs which are saved as short lengths of non interlaced video (JVC call this a progressive scan mode). This allows still pictures to be extracted at the full DV PAL format size of 768 x 576 using their proprietary software and a serial link or to be grabbed as images within the Studio DVPlus video editor typically as 640 x 480 JPEG or Bit-map images.
The editing suite allows a whole tape to be captured at moderate preview quality in under 500 Mbytes and automatically splits it up into screens which can be dragged and dropped to form the basic video. They can then be trimmed as required, audio levels adjusted and sound tracks added. Titles and stills can be equally easily added by drag and drop and editing.
Still pictures: A still is taken as a 5 second long freeze of the picture using a non interlaced format (Progressive Scan in the JVC jargon). These can be downloaded using their own software (as can any frame of video) using their own software. It is saved initially in proprietary DV format in the full DV PAL resolution of 768 x 576 but their software allows it to be saved to other formats such as JPEG and a Windows bit-map file. Their software has the ability to also do a motion compensation for ordinary video before it is saved - this almost completely removes the jagged edges one gets on a moving scene by correlating the two frames making up the interlaced scan which are separated by 20 msecs. I find that I use the still picture facility extensively as it produces pictures of adequate quality for web use and for viewing on the computer - I end up with 150 to 250 still pictures mixed in with the video. Each still has shutter noise and brief blanking added to it which makes it quite acceptable for viewing the unedited video.
Software provided: The Video camera comes with two of their own pieces of software to Download Pictures and to do a simple edit from the camera to a video recorder. The editing software is fairly basic although it allows you to set the frames fairly accurately and controls the target VCR via a cable from the camera to its own remote control - simple but basic and capable of controlling most common videos as well as their own. Both sets of software has a very chunky feel to them and look as if it was written for Windows 3.1. The basic procedure is to watch the tape under the control of the computer and click as the starts and ends of each scene are passed. The transitions are then added and the cut in and out points adjusted as required. This is also a quick and easy way of marking each still for the downloading program which can then be left to get on with the job. The transfer of stills via the slow serial link is a long job - circa 2 minutes per image - so leaving it to run as a batch is very useful. The format is proprietary and I have not yet found a batch program to convert to JPEG so each one then has to be individually saved as a JPEG - at the best I manage 5 a minute.
>Presto! software: In contrast the Presto! MrPhoto software supplied to manage ones photos is very good and enables one to manage the results from the camera as a series of "reels" and drag and drop them onto editing programs including their own one called Presto! ImageFolio LE. ImageFolio allows one to do many if not all that my old favourite Paintshop Pro 4 does and in addition enables one to work with layers. There is a final Presto! PhotoAlbum program for producing photo albums which I do not feel a need to use at present. One of the nice features of the Presto! suite is that the program can be minimised to a small window showing a few pictures from the reel which lives on top of your editors etc allowing one to drag and drop images easily for working on. Even the main window has a row of Icons for all the Image editors it locates when it is loaded - it took a while to realise the power under the rather garish skin.
Tricks to get the best from the JVC GR DVL9500: The video is very good under normal and outdoor conditions but some care has to be taken to get the best colour balance indoors especially in poor light.
Are there Benefits Stripping Tapes for the JVC GR DVL9500?: I have tried stripping a tape for the 9500 by recording from end to end with a cover over the lens in a quiet place. This means that one should always have a continuos time code and there should be no risk if one winds back and misses the end of the previous recording - just a black bit. I then tried recording over this and everything superficially looked OK - however when I looked in detail by recording the playback (with Time Code on the screen) on a VHS recorder and stepped through the output frame by frame I discovered that I had the problem I was seeing with ordinary recording. The first frame of the new recording often had the same DV Time Code as the previous frame and when this happened there was a missing Time Code at the end. I also cross-checked the effect directly on the Video Camera using the remote control and single step. Strangely these were not detected as dropped frames or a discontinuous time code by Studio DVPlus which must be set to tolerate small errors. (But see below for Major Problems with Pinnacle Studio DVPlus due to these Time Code errors when editing using "Preview Mode").
Latest Situation: I have had checks run on the camera through the dealer and back at JVC. Both the dealer, (London Camera Centre), and JVC in London have been very helpful. The camera goes through the normal checks as being within specification but JVC accepted at an early stage that I have real problems and took the camera back for further tests to resolve where the problems occur. They were then in a position to confirm that the systems I described existed on my camera and were also able to confirm that the systems did not appear on any other JVC GR-DVL9500 that they tested. They therefore replaced my camera free of charge and have expressed every confidence I will not experience any more problems. I now have have a DVS1 editing deck and I am making dubs and editing on the DVS1 to reduce wear on the camera. I have also got into the habit of using the techniques suggested by JVC to minimise the potential for this problem.
Machine Specification: The specification of machine required is significantly higher than the Studio DV with a Pentium 450 or better required with at least 64 Mbytes RAM, and 128 Mbytes desirable, running Windows 98 SE. I have a Dell XPST700r with 128 Mbytes of memory on a 100 MHz bus. The program also needs a fast hard drive to capture the video, they say most UDMA drives are suitable and they provide a utility to check drive transfer rates which need to be above 4Mbytes/sec to run the capture section and probably much higher to avoid the odd drop of a frame. My machine initially had a single Quantum Fireball LCT10 15 Gbyte UDMA drive connected via ATA-32 which achieved transfer rates of between 17 and 19 Mbytes/sec and did not show any missed frames although the same drive is being used for the system and for video capture/rendering. For serious use one should probably have a separate 30 Gbyte drive either rated for video - that is continuous read and write without any automatic re-calibrations which many new high capacity drives carry out periodically, or with a large buffer.
I have now added a second hard drive - a Seagate U5 ST340823A 40 Gbyte drive which has been partitioned into a 4 Gbyte Drive for general purposes and a dedicated 36 Gbytes for video processing. Both unfortunately have to sit on the same IDE channel which is only ATA-32 UDMA. This has slowed the transfers on all the drives to between 11 and 14 Mbytes/sec. In practice I have not yet seen a missed frame on preview capture which is the most demanding as it is most processor intensive. The Seagate drive got a PC Direct commendation and was also very cheap (85 from dabs.com) - the tests by PC Direct on a UDMA/100 interface show it to be capable of over 30 Mbytes/sec and it has a 1 Mbyte buffer which helps maintain a high rate even on a slow shared IDE controller.
Demonstration Software: I first tried out the basic software using their free CD which came by return post. There was a form on the web site somewhere to ask for it. That convinced me it was the way forwards for me. The only problem was that the camera was not capable of recording. I was in the process of working out how to convert my DVL9500 to be able to record as well as output on the Firewire connector (there are programs which enable you to reprogram the internal flash memory to enable most European cameras but at some obvious risk) when the new Studio DVPlus version was announced.
Installing the card and software:I un-installed the Demonstration Software and opened up the machine and installed the card. At turn-on the Plug and Play features located the hardware and it was very easy to complete the installation using the CD provided. Usually there are problems installing any hardware but this was the most straightforward I have experienced for a long time.
Camera Drivers: Likewise the installation of the Firewire drivers for the camera was very easy. When the camera was plugged in (power can be on) and turned on it was immediately detected and the drivers installed by Windows. The default is a Microsoft driver but Pinnacle also provide a Texas driver which they say works better with the JVC camera and a utility to swop them over permanently which I ran. After that every time one plugs the camera in the correct drivers automatically load. The audio drivers again seem to have been installed correctly and invisibly at some point. I think I had it all up and running in little over an hour from taking a screwdriver to the case.
The Editing Software (other than their idiosyncratic but powerful TitleDeko title editor) is very easy to use especially after their tutorials etc on the Demo disk. There do seem to be a couple of anomalies with the current version of the software and I found there was already a patch on their web site which I have loaded. The problems are not serious but I suspect they will be patched soon as their seems to be a good response to problems judging by their Support and FAQ files and their own bulletin board at webboard.pinnaclesys.com. See below for more details.
Disk space requirements: I have been working with 100 minutes of preview mode video in the machine and have been producing one 12 - 15 minute video at a time with background (CD) music but without an audio commentary on a 15 Gbyte drive. The complete disk space being used is 7 Gbytes the two videos but only one rendered with all the full quality batch captured video. The breakdown is:
Preview/Full capture Problem: The other problem is much more major. I have been capturing the video in the preview mode which saves a lot of disk space and doing the editing including cropping scenes etc. The scenes have been correctly split to the frame for each clip using discontinuities in the Date/Time Code associated with each image. Each frame of Digital Video has associated with it a Date Stamp (the time it was recorded) and a DV Time Code which indicates where on the tape the frame is recorded. When one comes to output the video the program asks you to put back the various original tapes and collect the full rate video it needs. It does not however get it right on any of my existing tapes and there are errors of up to a second associated with the start of each scene, usually it is early by 2 -24 frames. This is not a complete show stopping problem as it over captures by several seconds to allow final trimming adjustments but it does mean that one has to do all the fine tuning after one has done the batch capture. If one then deletes the massive amount of full resolution video and goes back to the preview the final adjustments have to be done again. You are quite likely to want to do this if, for example, you need an extra copy or want to change the sound track and is not practical to keep large amounts of full resolution data for years.
Preview/Full capture Problem - probable cause I spent a long time trying to get some consistency and understanding of the problem and believe it is a mixture of the JVC GR DVL9500 camera and Studio DV. I have discovered that the camera is sometimes, at the start of a scene, providing two frames with the same DV Time Code - one is the last scene of a shot and the same DV Time Code is on the start of the next shot. I found this by copying a full tape to an ordinary VHS video recorder with the DV Time Code displayed on the screen and then using slow motion and single frame steps to look at the output as recorded on the VHS tape. It occurs on the tape I examined on about 10% of the transitions between scenes. Studio DVPlus when capturing in preview mode seems to run an internal count of the frames captured and only converting to an absolute DV Time Code when it needs to recapture the full resolution video. You can see it does this running count on every scene by hovering over a scene - if you start preview capture half way through a tape the time code still starts at 00:00:00. You can then see it is using the DV Time Code when it collects the full resolution video - it names each capture file with a name related to the DV Time Code on the tape.
The end result of this is that every time you get a duplicate frame count the full resolution capture is another frame out. I checked over a 30 minute capture and the number of frames difference recorded by StudioDV and that on the tape was 18 frames (equivalent to 3/4 of a second). The error on this capture, calculated and measured at various positions on the tape, agreed to within one frame and I think that single frame is a deliberate safety margin. Another earlier tape gave 67 frames error (equivalent to nearly three seconds) in the full 60 minute length. So who is to blame - it is easy to blame the camera, however Studio DVPlus does claim that the occasional dropped frame in Preview should not effect the recaptured video and in the same way the occasional duplicate DV Time Code should not be a problem if Pinnacle calculated where to recapture using the DV Time Code present in every frame - it must read them to know if a frame has been dropped because it displays a counter for dropped frames! It also stops capture if the DV Time Code is discontinuous. I did even check that it detected dropped frames - try opening a big program whilst capturing video to see dropped frames!
The JVC view: The camera manufacturer JVC say that all consumer cameras, regardless of manufacturer can suffer from this sort of error of a single missing or extra DV Time Code, in particular, if the camera tape is allowed to unthread due to being turned off, rewound etc when it has to "recapture" the Time Code. This is backed up to some extent by comments from service agents. If this was a well known and accepted fact and within normal consumer camera specifications then the fault lies largely with Pinnacle in the way they take shortcuts in how they handle the transition from Preview to Full Rate capture video which assumes a higher than specified performance from the cameras. It would be easy to use the information in each frame to calculate where to recapture and set the in and out positions and avoid the unacceptable cumulative error by the end of the tape.
The Pinnacle View: After 15 minutes on an expensive telephone support line I finally worked up my way up and got a statement from a Pinnacle Technical Support Supervisor that the Preview style of operation in Studio DVPlus would not work with the type of errors I describe here and a suggestion for a work round.
Other Cameras. I have also briefly tried out the combination of a Sony DCR-DVR6E (PAL) and StudioDV and in the 20 minutes I checked there were no time code errors I could detect.
An Expensive Way to Correct Time Code Errors The solution suggested by Pinnacle was to copy the tapes to get a continuous time code before editing. The success of this depends very much on the form of digital copy and what is changed - the DV Time code needs to be updated but not the Date and Time stamp on the scenes. I have now persuaded a friend to digitally copy a tape from his Sony camera to a very upmarket JVC HR DVS1 Editing deck using a Firewire connection and this combination rewrote the DV time code leaving the Date/Time stamp on each frame unchanged. Initial checks show that this has cured the problem and I now get recaptures accurate to a single from at the end of a 60 minute preview. The only catch is that the JVC HR DVS1 Editing Deck which has both mini DV and SVHS capabilities is about 1299 list price and there seem to be no cheap alternatives - it is probably cheaper to buy another camcorder with DVin capabilities!.
Final Situation: I have had checks run on the camera through the dealer and back at JVC. Both the dealer, (London Camera Centre), and JVC in London have been very helpful. The camera goes through the normal checks as being within specification but JVC accepted at an early stage that I have real problems and took the camera back for further tests to resolve where the problems occur. They were then in a position to confirm that the systems I described existed on my camera and were also able to confirm that the systems did not appear on any other JVC GR-DVL9500 that they tested. They therefore replaced my camera free of charge and have expressed every confidence I will not experience any more problems. Now I have the DVS1 editing deck I am, however, making dubs and editing on the DVS1 to reduce wear on the camera.
Pinnacle have a good web based newsgroup for technical support at webboard.pinnaclesys.com - I only found this referred to within the FAQ files on the UK site. You have to register if you wish to post. The newsgroup system is subdivided into many areas for each product and their own staff moderate and answer some of the questions.
There are ordinary newsgroups covering the field rec.video and in particular rec.video.desktop seem to be good places to start. If you are not used to newsgroups and do not have a reader set up try going to http://www.mail2web.com which allows you to access almost any newsgroup from within your browser. It is not as good as using an off-line system but plenty good enough for occasional use.
I have found a site with general help for Video Editing including ways to optimise W9x, XP and W2000 for Video editing at http://www.videoguys.com