Power User: In-house video setup needn't cost more than $5,000

John McCormick

With in-house video production capability, an agency can record anything from IT inventories to training sessions. It makes sense to have digital recordings good enough to incorporate into later projects.

I set out to find a good, semiprofessional digital setup for less than $5,000, excluding the PC. I wanted the ability to record near-broadcast-quality digital video under various circumstances, edit the raw video by computer, apply special effects where appropriate and produce high-quality VHS copies.

I bought most of the components online from B&H Photo of New York, at www.bhphotovideo.com, where I've always gotten exactly what I ordered.

A few years ago, I tried the Sony VX-1000 videocam with three charge-coupled devices and liked its 3-pound weight as well as its features and video quality. This time I chose the latest VX-2000 version. It proved to be a superb camera with a long list of features to which I added a fill-in flash/video light, the largest battery available and a polarizing filter. Two neutral-density filters were built in.

These options brought the total weight to about four pounds, but recording time jumped to more than 500 minutes between charges. That's plenty for a full day of video work, using the standard battery as a one-hour backup when the bigger one runs down.

It's possible to produce blue-screen effects and edit right in the camera, but I used Adobe Systems Inc.'s Premiere video editing software. A 600-MHz Compaq Celeron system running Microsoft Windows 2000 was fast enough for editing, but for large projects I would want a faster system.

Adobe Premiere supports a variety of hardware, so the camera playback and recording control were all automatic.

The fastest way to get a final cut is to build a storyboard from these clips and let Premiere do the final build, which can be output to the VX-2000 to retain digital quality.

I didn't want to wear out a $3,000 camera playing back the original to make duplicates, so I bought a GoVideo DDV3120 dual-deck VCR from Sonicblue Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., at www.sonicblue.com.

I composed the VHS master from the camera playback. To make dupes, I put the master in Deck 1 and a blank in Deck 2, then pressed the copy button. The quality was excellent. I ran off 35 copies without wearing out the master, but I could have recorded another master from the MiniDV digital original if copy quality had degraded.

I had three editing options: the camera, the computer or the VCR. That made it possible to adjust errors without going back to start everything over.

The camera's SteadyShot feature worked well, but I also tested the Glidecam Pro stabilizer from Glidecam Industries Inc. of Plymouth, Mass., at www.glidecam.com. Its carefully balanced pendulum mount held the camera steady even when I was running or walking down stairs. The addition raised total weight to about 11 pounds; a special harness and vehicle mounts are available.

Setup was finicky, however, and took me about 25 minutes. The downside was that any change to the GlideCam Pro, even swapping batteries, required recalibrating the mount. Given some practice, I could do it in a minute or two without tools.

The results of the first video were comparable in quality to local TV commercials and should suit many agency needs.

Later I added to the setup a 3.1-megapixel Sony CyberShot DSC-p7 camera to make high-resolution stills for video titles and backgrounds. It accepted the same Sony Memory Stick as the videocam.

If your editing PC lacks a FireWire port, you can get a FireWire card such as the Pyro Basic DV for less than $50 from ADS Technologies Inc. of Cerritos, Calif., at www.adstech.com.

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