Steve Smith, Videosmith

Jim Parker, Riverview

Barry Byrne, NYD2

Brian Connor, RSVP Inc.

Corrections or additions?

Manifest Technology by Douglas Dixon. Published in U.S. 1

Newspaper on February 23, 2000. All rights reserved.

DV: Professional Video on Your Desktop

Are you thinking that it might be time to buy a new

camcorder, maybe to capture a special family anniversary, or to take

on a trip? Perhaps you’ve noticed a new kind of camcorder on the


called "DV" for Digital Video. These video cameras are getting

lighter and more compact, and some are even small enough to fit in

the palm of your hand. Plus, the DV format promises the benefits of

digital technology, including higher picture and audio quality, the

ability to make perfect copies without losing quality, and even the

potential to edit and share video material on your computer.

But is this new DV format a good bet for consumers? Or is it part

of yet another huge marketing battle being fought by the global


electronics giants, a battle that could end up leaving us stuck with

another dead-end product like a Betamax VCR or DIVX DVD player?

In this case, the answer is clear: DV is the real thing. It’s been

around long enough to shake out early problems, and it’s off to a

good start as the next step in consumer camcorders. But the real


booster is the ratification of the quality and potential of the DV

format by the professional video production market, which has


adopted DV cameras. Major players like Sony and Panasonic also have

adopted and extended the DV format into a wide range of professional

video products.

As a result, DV is nothing less than a revolution: the democratization

of video production. For the first time, consumers have access to

video equipment that allows them to capture, edit, and create video

productions at full resolution and full quality. Apple’s recent


campaigns for the new iMac DV computer are built on this premise,

showing how consumers can shoot and edit their own videos.

Top Of Page
Steve Smith, Videosmith

"It’s awesome what you can get with DV," says Steve Smith,

president of Videosmith Inc. in Philadelphia, "all in the size

of a paperback book." Smith speaks from over 20 years of


shooting on location around the world, for clients including CBS News

and Turner Sports (, 215-238-5070).


is changing how people approach video. Even when people go on a


shoot they also take along a mini-DV camera to catch extra footage

like reaction shots." And DV quality is good enough that it can

be intercut with the professionally shot footage.

Smith speaks on "The Little Big Shootout: Mini-DV vs. Betacam"

before the Moving Image Professionals (MIP) on Tuesday, February 29,

at 6:30 p.m. at the Bristol-Myers Squibb television studio on Scudders

Mill Road. He will bring examples of some of the newest gear used

in the field, and provide side-by-side comparisons of different


MIP is the Central New Jersey chapter of the International Television

Association (ITVA), a professional organization for people working

in the fields of video, film and multimedia. For more information,

contact Sam Russell at 609-671-0883, or check the MIP web page at

The magic of the DV format is that it is direct to digital. It’s the

video equivalent of audio CDs, replacing analog recording with the

advantages of digital technology for the consumer market. Digital

means no more audio pops and hiss, no more video drop-outs and


and, most of all, no more accumulated quality loss as a tape is reused

or copied.

DV camcorders capture video and audio digitally, and record directly

to cassette tape in digital format, so your original recording is

stored at higher quality. With the data stored in digital format,

you can make exact digital copies without suffering the kind of


loss you get when copying an analog VHS or 8 mm tape. And DV


have digital interfaces, so you can connect them directly to your

computer to edit your videos, again at full quality.

By mid-1999, consumer DV camcorders became available from a wide


of manufacturers. As the variety of models increased, the prices also

started falling. While higher-quality units still cost over $1,000,

prices on some units recently have dropped below $700. Consumer DV

camcorders also use a new one-hour Mini-DV tape cassette, which is

only 2 x 2.2 x 1/2 inch, or about half the size (and thinner) than

the 8 mm video tape format. This means that Mini-DV cameras can be

shrunk down to be smaller than 5 by 4 by 3 inches, to weigh only


1 1/2 pounds.

Even though DV cameras use a different video tape format, you can

use them just like any other analog camcorder. You can shoot your

video, view it on the built-in viewscreen, and then connect it to

your existing video equipment. DV camcorders have the same analog

output jacks to view your digital DV tapes on your television, or

to record them on analog VHS or 8mm tapes.

As a result, DV camcorders still make sense even if

you never use them with a computer; DV is still a great format for

saving and copying your video. DV provides higher video resolution:

around 500 horizontal lines, compared to around 425 for S-Video and

Hi-8, and 300 lines or less for 8 mm and VHS. In addition, many DV

camcorders have analog input jacks, so you can record your old tapes

and save them in the digital DV format. You can rescue all those old

family videos on the back of the shelf and archive them in digital


Of course, even though you can use DV simply as a digital camcorder,

you would be missing out on the really fun part until you hook up

to your computer to edit the video. DV camcorders have a built-in

FireWire high-speed digital interface. (Technically, FireWire is the

Apple term for the interface, while the official standard is called

IEEE-1394, and Sony uses the name i.LINK. These are all different

names for the same high-speed digital interface, which runs at 400

million bits per second, or faster than the disk drives and even the

internal bus on most PCs.)

Using the 1394 interface, you can connect a DV camcorder to your PC

and transfer the video and audio between the DV tape and your PC’s

hard disk. Since the 1394 DV interface protocol includes both data

and control information, you actually can control your camcorder from

the PC software to skip through the tape and access the clips that

you want.

With DV video editing software, you can bring clips into your computer

to create your own production. You can trim clips to remove unwanted

material, and then combine and rearrange them to tell your story.

You can also go further to add professional touches like titles, video

and audio effects, transitions (wipes and fades between clips),


narration, and even background music.

However, 1394 is a relatively new interface, so connecting a DV


to most computers requires installing a 1394 board in your computer.

These boards are now available for as little as $100, and come bundled

with video editing software. (Higher end cards and software, such

as the Radius EditTV, cost as much as $800.) Some manufacturers are

already beginning to build 1394 into PCs. For example, the Sony VAIO

Digital Studio PC line includes two 1394 ports and bundled software

for capturing and editing both motion video and still images from

DV camcorders.

As with most relatively new technology, there are


caveats to working with DV, especially when upgrading an existing

computer. Unfortunately, the DV interface is not fully standardized,

so when buying a 1394 board make sure that it is compatible with your

specific DV camcorder. Also use a higher-end PC, since processing

and storing DV video data places major demands on your system


speed and data bandwidth (well beyond building spreadsheets or even

editing images).

The experienced users say that you want not only a fast processor

(300 megahertz is a starting point) but also lots of RAM (256 megs)

and a fast hard drive (66 megabyte transfer speed) generally found

only in PCs sold within the past year.

In particular, make sure you have plenty of disk space to store your

video files; the DV format compresses video to around 3 1/2 MB


bytes) per second, so it takes only around 4 1/2 minutes of material

to consume 1 GB (billion bytes) of disk space. Since a typical low-end

consumer PC (around $1,000) has 4 to 5 gigabytes of disk space, and

even a higher-end work PC (around $1,400) has 10 to 14 gigabytes,

do not expect to edit two-hour movies in one session on your home

PC. Instead, plan to work on shorter clips, and then output them back

to DV tape when you are done.

Top Of Page
Jim Parker, Riverview

Jim Parker, who does high-end digital video at his Riverview Studios

in Bordentown (, 609-298-4882), suggests that

consumers trying their hand at DV may find that it’s not quite as

easy or as inexpensive as some of the advertising would suggest.


question is will their time be spent effectively? Will they get


they are looking for?" Parker says. "There’s an Apple program

— Final Cut Pro — that’s really hot. Even the professionals

are trying it." But, he notes, while the software costs only about

$1,000, a system powerful enough to run it would bring the cost to

more like $5,000 — and that doesn’t include the camera.

But the real win with editing DV video on a home PC is that it is

real video: full video resolution and full frame rate. This is not

the compromised low-resolution, low-rate jumpy and smeary video that

you are used to seeing on PCs. This is the real thing; when you finish

the production, and write it out to DV tape again, it is still real

video, at the same quality as the original. If you have been wishing

for real video on your PC, then DV finally provides the goods.

Steve Smith’s company, Videosmith Inc., began using the Mini-DV


format in 1995, and now offers a growing range of support products

for Mini-DV and small camcorders. Smith began shooting video in 1968

while attending Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. "I

had a lifelong interest in photography, and bought my first video

camera in college," he says. "I started out to be the great

American documentary maker. To pay for the film, I convinced a


station to buy news stories at $10 a pop." He started working

as a full time freelancer in 1972, with his wife doing sound


and did a lot of work for CBS in the mid-70s. In 1977, he moved to

Philadelphia from central Pennsylvania and started Videosmith.

As its video production business expanded, Videosmith opened a video

production facility in Princeton in 1986. In 1995, however, Smith

saw the emerging competition from lower-end video equipment and home

PC-based video editing equipment, and sold all of Videosmith’s editing

facilities to concentrate on production and the rental business.


now does more retail business, and recently opened an on-line store

for video equipment and custom peripherals.

Videosmith recently completed a one-hour documentary about the City

of Philadelphia’s newly revamped 911 emergency call system for the

Discovery Channel’s primetime documentary series, "On The


The show was shot almost entirely on Mini-DV gear, over days and


in the call center and out on the streets. "The result was


says Smith.

"The show was originally budgeted for professional gear,"

says Smith. "But we were riding around in police cars and


and the professional cameras were too big, we would literally be in

their face. With Mini-DV we could mount remote cameras on the


for over the shoulder shots, taped to the seats for a fisheye view

out back, even on the hoods and roofs." The hardest problem for

the production team was scrambling into the ambulances when an


call came in to get all the gear turned on before the crew drove off.

The difference between consumer Mini-DV camcorders and the


formats is mostly in the ruggedness of the units, and the quality

of the lens and audio. "The format is almost perfect to start

with," says Smith. "It’s the other things that make a


Manufacturers like Sony, Panasonic, and Canon offer

more rugged Mini-DV cameras with three separate CCD image sensors,

interchangeable lenses, and professional microphones, for prices


$4,000. The DV format has also been extended for professional use

in competing professional formats, Sony DVCAM and Panasonic DVCPRO.

These use a wider track pitch and faster tape speed to provide more

robustness and reliability, and permit frame-accurate editing. These

cameras cost around $5,000, depending on the quality of the CCD image

sensors and lenses.

Top Of Page
Barry Byrne, NYD2

"DV gives the producer more options to acquire images, and it’s

all usable, and immediately available," says Barry Byrne, creative

director with New York Digital Design (NYD2), a digital production

and communications agency in Lebanon, New Jersey


908-534-6780). "With DV, the small cameras, reduced rigging, and

wireless mikes means that one person can do the shoot. But DV is not

used as a primary production vehicle. The small size is hard to move;

you can’t mount it on a steadycam. It’s difficult to compose the shot,

especially with a moving camera. DV is best used for shooting


forms and interactive features, where you can minimize the camera

movement and reduce the contrast."

Top Of Page
Brian Connor, RSVP Inc.

The digital video compression used in the DV format can produce


flaws when shooting video under difficult conditions, such as color

smearing and blocky regions. "Sometimes you can see `artifacts’

[distortions], especially at low light levels or with a busy


says Brian Connor, president of RSVP Inc., a video production


rental, and post-production house in Broomall, PA


610-328-3777). "But you’re hard pressed to tell it’s DV when


shooting a person against a blue sky on a bright sunny day."

So if you are looking for a new camcorder, it’s time to seriously

consider the new DV format. DV camcorders typically include features

such as both a viewfinder and pop-out LCD screen, optical and digital

zoom control, stabilization, analog output, and FireWire (IEEE 1394)

output. The more expensive units offer additional features including

three CCD image sensors (for better color quality), high-resolution

still capture (like a digital still camera), analog video and audio

input (for preserving your old analog tapes), and other digital


(for fun).

Sony has confused the consumer DV market by introducing a new DV


called Digital 8. The idea behind Digital 8 was to provide


with the older 8 mm format, especially for people who already have

an extensive library of 8 mm tapes. Digital 8 uses the same 8 mm


tapes, so it can play existing 8 mm (analog) video. And it records

video on the 8 mm tapes in DV digital video format. However, it


on the tape twice as fast, so a standard 120-minute 8 mm tape provides

only 60 minutes of Digital 8 recording time, the same as Mini DV


Sony recommends using the more expensive Hi8 format tapes for digital


The 8 mm tape format is also currently less expensive and more


than DV tapes (DV cassettes cost around $7.50 each in bulk, while

Hi8 tapes are around $4.50). However, since Mini-DV uses a smaller

tape, the Mini DV cameras can be smaller and lighter. They also are

available from a wide range of manufacturers, providing a wider


of options and prices.

DV looks like it’s here to stay. Just ask the video professionals:

"The DV format is great," says Brian Connor of RSVP. "DV

is wonderful for consumers; now you can edit video at home."

"The DV format gets gear into more people’s hands, and to the

mass consumer," says Barry Byrne of NYD2. "It gives the


more options to acquire images, and it’s all usable, and immediately


"Jobs lend themselves to this little format," says Steve


"The quality is stunning; people are blown away. Kids and schools

can turn out stuff that required a half-million dollar edit room 10

years ago."

Does your business have technology that is transforming

our personal and business lives? Send your suggestions for this column

to U.S. 1 Newspaper, 12 Roszel Road, Princeton 08540, fax


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