Video capture is coming to a PC near you. For years it has been a fringe application, useful only to people who needed to get full motion video from their VCRs to their desktops. But a number of software and hardware developments are causing people to rethink this innovative technology.
The technique is simply the conversion of analogue video images into a digital format that can be stored on a PC or Mac. On a PC, the file is usually held in AVI format - the default for Microsoft Windows media player - or Mpeg; on a Mac it is commonly stored as a Quick Time file.
First, users need a video capture device to be able to turn the raw analogue video into a digital file. It, along with appropriate video editing software, allows users to create and edit videos on-screen and then distribute them electronically.
A growing number of corporate customers are eager to use this technology.
Executives in multinational companies, for example, may want a fast, convenient way of viewing short corporate videos and TV commercials developed for the company. By using a video capture board and storing the videos as files, they can be held on the corporate network or made available to customers on a Web site.
Because the files are stored digitally, there is no need to worry about the different TV standards used, say, between the US and Europe. An AVI file created using a Pal video recorder and a PC in the UK can easily be played on a PC in the US without converting it to NTSC format. All that's required at both ends is compatible software to play the file.
For dealers, one key consideration in offering video capture technology to customers is the software that is bundled with it.
The majority of good video capture boards will do an adequate job of converting video to a digital form. But the real issues are the quality of the file that results, how compatible that file will be with other systems, and the ease with which it can be created.
For this reason it is becoming common to see bundles like the one announced by Adobe Systems earlier this year. The bundle contains Data Translation's Multimedia Group for its New Media 100qx digital video engine. The package, which is aimed at video professionals, is claimed to offer a high-performance, PCI-based, open Quick Time digital editing solution on the Mac.
'Adobe Premiere has long been the standard in Quick Time-based video editing software,' says John Molinari, general manager of Multimedia Group.
'The pairing of such a highly regarded product with Media 100 is an exciting solution for anyone interested in creating high-quality videos easily and affordably. Before Media 100qx, only one out of 10 aspiring videomakers could afford a broadcast-quality digital video system. Media 100qx was created for those other nine people.'
Premiere is a digital video editing program that Adobe says allows users to easily combine video, audio, animation, still images and graphics in order to create movies on the desktop. The movies can be output to video or used for multimedia presentations. The package is already used in commercial videos, corporate communication training programmes, production of multimedia titles and off-line editing for the broadcast community.
Apple experts may be interested to know that the Media 100qx PCI board is the same Vincent digital video engine used in the Media 100, now running in a Quick Time environment. The Media 100qx also supports Quick Time files created using Adobe After Effects 3, Adobe's composing, 2D animation and special effects tool for video and film.
Adobe has not been standing still in its Premiere developments for Windows either. A few months after the Media 100 announcement, Adobe unveiled Premiere 4.2 for Windows - a 32-bit version optimised for Windows 95 as well as Intel-based CPUs running Windows NT 3.51 or NT 4.
The company says its customers seem excited at the market opportunities that Premiere for Windows 95 will create. 'Premiere has always been a powerful, easy-to-use program,' explains Andrew Hoffman, technical and multimedia specialist at Cognetics, a Princeton-based multimedia development company. 'The improved performance and 32-bit architecture of Premiere 4.2 running under Windows NT make professional video editing on the PC platform a compelling solution.'
That would mark a big shift, as many of the video editing solutions on desktop computers for the past few years have been largely limited to the Mac. On the deluxe CD-Rom edition, Adobe includes software from Vdonet that allows users to create movies for real-time 'streamed' viewing over the Web without having to download complete AVI or Quick Time files to their desktops.
This process, referred to as streaming video over the Internet, is made possible using Vdonet's Vdo Live and Vdo Live Personal Server - software that enables users to compress video clips in Adobe Premiere directly into Vdo Live format for playback over the Web on W95 or NT systems.
Adobe claims that the 32-bit architecture in the W95 version of the product enables Premiere to provide additional capabilities that video professionals require for online quality video on the desktop - capturing higher data rate video for improved image quality and faster rendering. The company also claims performance improvements up to 2.5 times faster than version 4, depending on the hardware, when running under either W95 or NT.
According to Adobe, the program's open, extensible plug-in architecture lets it take advantage of Microsoft's new Active Movie technology that is used in Internet Explorer 3.
To get an idea of the kind of features that can be expected in a consumer-level video capture board, consider the specifications of a recent $599 video capture board from Hauppauge Computer Works, known as Win Motion 60.
Its creators describe it as a full-frame, full-motion video capture board for PCs. It can capture live video from a VCR or video camera continuously to hard disk so that the video can be digitally edited on a PC.
The resolution of the captured images is 640 x 480 pixels with a frame rate of 30 frames per second. Win Motion 60 stores its video data in AVI format. Video moved to a PC can be edited and then output back on to tape.
A lot of data compression is required to make all this happen. Even with reasonable compression, many video capture systems can still use 50Mb or more just to store a couple of minutes of video. Win Motion 60 uses fairly standard Motion Jpeg compression technology to reduce the amount of disk space required to store digitised video.
Motion Jpeg compression can capture full-frame video at up to the full NTSC rate of 30 frames per second or the PAL rate of 25 frames per second, resulting in video sequences that can be played back to a TV monitor or VCR. In addition, Hauppauge says digital video captured using Win Motion 60's Motion Jpeg compression technology can be edited to create digital video files which can be played back to a PC's VGA screen. Motion Jpeg also allows frame-by-frame editing
Hauppauge says Win Motion 60 was designed for two purposes: to create digital videos for use in multimedia presentations and to allow digital editing of video tapes. The product is apparently used by video editors, corporate marketing communications departments, trade show demonstration creators, training video developers, video hobbyists, CD-Rom producers, and creators of corporate product literature on CD-Rom.
It can be configured for a single or a dual-monitor system. The single-monitor configuration allows video to be previewed on a VGA screen. The dual-monitor configuration shows video on a separate monitor. It is typically used by video editing professionals to see the quality of the video after it has been captured and edited.
When used in a dual-monitor configuration, both the preview and played back video from the Win Motion 60 is seen on a TV monitor, while the capture and playback controls are displayed on the VGA monitor.
According to Hauppage, such boards have a number of popular uses. For instance, corporate marketing communications departments can build a video tape or CD-Rom library to showcase company products for in-house sales staff and product distributors.
Video training developers can prepare tapes instructing consumers how to use hardware or software products. The tapes can be edited as new product features are introduced. Marketing people can create video tapes to demonstrate products at trade shows.
Well-heeled video hobbyists also apparently use this technology to consolidate tapes of family events and produce their own videos of their children, vacations, weddings, graduations and other family occasions.
CD-Rom title producers can capture video segments to disk using video capture technology, edit the video segments and then convert the entire video sequence into an Mpeg stream using AVI to Mpeg conversion software.
Opportunities for dealers arise from the fact that this stuff is finally getting standardised, cheaper and having applications created for it that make sense to a larger customer base. Being able to put videos in customer presentations is a nice thing to do - if it can be done easily and cheaply.
Lisewise, having video on a Web site - or even a corporate intranet - is something that will become increasingly attractive as Web access speeds increase and more users are able to break the current 28.8Kbps modem barrier.
As all of this happens, there will be a demand for dealers that know what they are talking about, and can help install this technology and teach people how to use it. There will also be a need for dealers that can put together solutions that make some sense - rather than just fill space on someone's product brochure.
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