Capture images from your video camcorder, give them special
effects with the GrabIt plug-in device
A digital camera is great for capturing quick World Wide Web and desktop
publishing images, but it has fairly daunting limitations in quality.
Consider instead an excellent image capture device you may already have: a video
camcorder. No digital camera priced below $1,000 can equal the image quality from a $400
camcorder or come close to storing as many images-nearly 175,000 per two-hour videotape.
The problem is getting those images from videotape into your PC. I've tried several
video-capture boards, but they're expensive and must be installed inside a PC, which can
GrabIt, in contrast, is the size of a cigarette pack and plugs into a PC port to accept
signals from any standard National Television Standards Committee-compliant video source.
International versions for PAL and SECAM video standards also are available.
If you don't want to attach GrabIt directly to your PC, a short parallel extension
cable can put the device into a more convenient position for notebook computer use.
There's no pass-through, so you can't leave a printer connected to the parallel port
while using GrabIt. But swapping cables between GrabIt and printer shouldn't pose much
inconvenience. Or maybe you're lucky enough to have dual parallel ports.
The device has four other ports: video in, video out, power in and S-video in.
Connecting a videocassette recorder, laser disk player or camcorder to GrabIt consists
merely of plugging a supplied cord between the video-out port on the playback device and
either the S-video or video-in port of the GrabIt.
The necessary 5-volt operating power can come via a supplied keyboard adapter or by
attaching the adapter to the keyboard port of a notebook. That frees you to take GrabIt
into the field.
With the video-out port, you can watch playback simultaneously on a larger monitor.
However, you can't view stored PC images on a TV monitor-GrabIt is a one-way device.
It comes bundled with North Coast Software's PhotoMorph 2 special-effects software on
CD-ROM, plus AIMS Lab's capture, editing and interface software on diskette.
The user interface helps you pick just the right image from a streaming video source.
The default Window I displays six thumbnail images in full color, constantly updated, and
you have sufficient time to click on the window and store your chosen image.
When images change slowly, try the GrabIt Capture Window II, which displays a single,
larger image. You can pause, save or format images from either window, but the Window II
interface has slide controls at the bottom for adjusting brightness, contrast, saturation
and gamma settings.
The first three controls adjust in 256 steps. The gamma setting, similar to contrast
but with finer midrange control, has 3,800 adjustments. Documentation is 18 pages long but
plenty for this easy product. Special effects software is documented on the CD-ROM.
Setup is fast. Just plug in GrabIt, load the software and connect a video source, then
hit the source's Play button and click on Save when you see the image you want.
Selecting image quality and file format is equally easy. You can capture in 24-bit, 16
million-color Microsoft Windows bit-map format; 256-color BMP; 16 million-color Joint
Photographic Experts Group; 24-bit, 16 million-color PCX; and 24-bit, 16 million-color
Targa or TIFF.
AIMS Lab has fixed the only significant problem I found with this device: its initially
low 720- by 480-pixel maximum resolution. A free software upgrade has brought resolution
to an acceptable 1,440 pixels by 960 pixels, or 1,440 by 1,152 for PAL video.
The reason behind the odd pixel counts is that GrabIt adheres to video standards rather
than to a PC image standard. This makes sense because, after all, you want the highest
quality you can get from a captured video image.
GrabIt's included software probably is all you need for presentations or similar tasks.
If you do more sophisticated image manipulation, you probably already have the necessary
software, so once again the included software is adequate.
Image quality certainly equals that of many low-end digital cameras, and the ability to
capture existing images from disk or tape archives is a major plus. If your organization
doesn't already own a camcorder, it might pay to buy one along with GrabIt, rather than
invest in a less flexible digital camera.
John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s.