Unintentional showrooming

My mom asked me a few weeks ago to recommend a tablet or e-reader. She’s really only interested in reading, so that pretty much answered half the question. You can read on a tablet, of course, but when you sit down to read on one, it’s almost a guarantee you’ll end up doing more than just read a book. You’ll see that e-mail notification and you’ll check it, and next thing you know, you’re on to something else.

So… Kobo, Nook, or Kindle? For me, it was an easy decision. The Nook was the best hardware at the time, so I went with a Nook. Ve hev vays to get the books we want onto the hardware we want, but Mom doesn’t want that hassle. She just wants to be able to buy the books she wants and read them right away. Amazon’s done a hardware refresh, so their hardware is as good as any other at this point, if not a little better, and they have the largest library of books, so it was an easy decision. The newest Kindle Paper White it is.

So, the day after it came out, she went to the nearest Best Buy to buy it… and ended up ordering it from Amazon. That practice is called “showrooming,” and retailers hate it, but sometimes they shoot themselves in the foot. This was one of them. Read more

Using s-video gear with Commodore monitors

Commodore and Atari used an early implementation of s-video on their home computers in order to show off their computers’ advanced-for-their-time graphics. Many monitors sold for those computers featured compatibility with this feature, which was called “separated” or “y/c” composite or at the time. JVC called the feature “s-video” when they started using it on their SVHS camcorders starting in 1987, and JVC’s name stuck. Other companies followed suit, and s-video and the mini DIN plug became an industry standard.

Commodore and Atari used a different connector than JVC did, but all it takes to use s-video gear with those old monitors is a cable, which you can make with about $10 worth of parts from Radio Shack. Read more

Your Fair Use rights are in danger (again)

In case you haven’t yet, you really need to read about The INDUCE Act. The potential is for any device that could be used to illegally copy copyrighted material to become illegal, and the manufacturers of said devices liable for their use.

This is wrong for so many reasons. Take the example of the crowbar.I can use a crowbar to break into my neighbor’s house. By this logic, a crowbar should be illegal. Never mind that a crowbar is a useful tool. I own two of them. I bought them so I could pry out the rocks that make up my patio so I can put down a weed control mat under them. I hope I’ll never have to use one to free someone from a car whose doors and windows won’t open, but I can. If I use a crowbar to free my neighbor from a car wreck, I’m pretty sure he’ll be glad I had that tool. Even if I could have used it to break into his house.

The main target is P2P networks. But the bill is too broad. Under some interpretations, an iPod would be illegal because you might load CDs that you borrowed from me into it. I suppose a camcorder would be illegal too, because someone might take it into a movie theater. Never mind that 99.999% of camcorder owners use them to shoot home movies. The risk of someone using a camcorder to make an illegal copy of a movie is too great to allow you to preserve family memories.

Is this really the direction we want to head? Do we want to be a dictatorship run by big media conglomerates?

Mr. Hatch, I suppose you believe that when someone uses a firearm to kill someone, the manufacturer of said device should be held liable? I suppose you believe that the risk of consumers using firearms to kill one another is great enough that firearms should be illegal? Am I following your logic correctly?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a pinko Commie who doesn’t want to pay for anything. I’m actually a Republican. But real Republicans believe in balance. I respect intellectual property. I’ve written and published a book. A few people even liked it. I really didn’t make enough money off it to make it worth my while–I could have made more working the late shift at a fast-food restaurant. The biggest things I have to show for it are a published book on my shelf with my name on it, and the thrill of having walked in to Borders and seeing it.

So I didn’t make as much money as I would have liked. That’s my problem. I don’t blame photocopiers and scanners for my book not selling 4 million copies. I can blame my publisher for not promoting it and not getting more copies of it into the niche marketplaces where it sold well, and I can blame myself for not promoting it and not sending out news releases saying I got published, and I can even blame myself for not targetting it properly.

If I write a book that people want to read, and my publisher and I do a good job of getting the word out about it, I’ll make money. If I can make more money fixing computers or mowing lawns than writing books, then the answer isn’t to try to manipulate the legal system. The answer is to either figure out how to make money producing intellectual property, or spend that time doing something else.

If my desire to protect my rights starts infringing on your ability to do things you need to do, then it’s gone too far. As my former journalism professor Don Ranly was fond of saying, my constitutional rights end at the tip of your nose.

Why do Orrin Hatch and his buddies cooperate in the creation of what’s essentially a welfare state for large corporations, at the expense of our liberties?

Would you please ask your Congresspeople these questions?

Ways to save money on your DVD player

If you’re the only person left in the United States without a DVD player, you might want some tips on how to buy them.
I know, I know, since this year was the year of the DVD player, this information would have been a lot more helpful a couple of months ago. I don’t always think of things as quickly as I should.

Believe it or not, your best bet for a DVD player is very likely the cheapest one on the shelf at your local store, the one that’s a brand you’ve never heard of and made in China.

The main reason most people want a cheap DVD player and don’t know it is old TVs. I’ve got a Magnavox console TV that looks like it should be sitting in a shag-carpeted living room with an Atari 2600 connected to it. DVD players have S-Video and composite outputs. The only words of that sentence my ancient TV understands are “have” and “and”.

There are two ways you can put composite inputs on an old TV like mine. You can connect an RF modulator to it–that’s an accessory you can buy at Radio Shack for $30 or most consumer electronics stores for $25 that plugs into your TV’s antenna jack and gives you composite and possibly S-Video inputs.

The second way to put composite inputs on an old TV is to connect a VCR to it. Chances are you already have a VCR. Every VCR I’ve ever seen has composite inputs, which are intended to allow you to chain two VCRs to a TV.

But most brand-name DVD players have copy protection circuitry that detects the presence of a VCR and degrades the picture to an unacceptable level. This is because Hollywood is convinced the only reason someone would connect a DVD player and a VCR in tandem is to make copies of DVDs. And since the lack of composite inputs on old TVs presents an opportunity to sell more stuff, and most big-name makers of DVD players also make stuff like TVs, they’re more than happy to comply.

The brands you’ve never heard of, however, really don’t give a rip. They care about making stuff cheap. And, well, extra circuitry means extra cost. So that’s one reason to leave it out. And China is notorious for thumbing its nose at Western copyright law anyway. (I find it really frightening that totalitarian China is more interested in my rights as a consumer than the supposed Republic of the United States, but that’s another topic.)

Connecting a VCR to a TV through its antenna doesn’t noticeably affect picture quality, because VHS’ picture quality is lower than that of broadcast TV. Connecting a DVD player through the antenna–whether through a VCR or an aftermarket RF modulator–does reduce picture quality. But the picture will still look better than VHS-quality.

Every time I’ve looked, I’ve been able to find no-name DVD players for $60-$65. Name-brand ones cost closer to $100. So a cheapie could potentially save you $70, if it saves you from having to buy an RF modulator.

But even if your TV has composite and/or S-Video inputs, you probably still want the ability to chain your DVD player through your VCR. Because chances are you still want to keep your VCR around for recording TV shows (don’t tell Hollywood) and watching all your old tapes that you don’t re-buy on DVD.

An awful lot of TVs that have those inputs have two sets of inputs, one on the front and one in the back. If you ever connect your camcorder to your TV, you want to save your front-mounted inputs for that, to save fumbling around. If you have a videogame console that you’re in the habit of disconnecting and reconnecting, you want your front inputs for that.

Having the ability to chain your new DVD player to your old VCR gives you more options in setting things up. Options are good.

If you just got a DVD player and you’re having problems with it, you might just want to exchange it for a no-name model.

Finally, if you’re into foreign films and want to import DVDs to get movies you can’t get in the United States yet (if ever), you’re much more likely to be able to disable region codes on a no-name cheapie than you are on a big name brand.

What about reliability? Yes, a $60 no-name model is probably more likely to break than a $100 brand-name one. How much more likely? It’s hard to say. Is it worth the risk? Absolutely. In all likelihood, by the time your cheapie breaks, you’ll be able to buy a replacement cheapie for 40 bucks. Or, since many cheapies use a plain old IDE DVD-ROM drive like your PC, and that drive is the only mechanical part in a DVD player, you stand an awfully good chance of being able to fix the thing yourself. It’s pretty easy to find an IDE DVD drive for $50 or less right now. Within 18 months, I expect them to be selling for $20. If not sooner.

Finally, a tip: If your TV has S-Video inputs, use them. Using S-Video instead of the more conventional composite gives you a sharper picture and better color accuracy. With VHS, this doesn’t make a lot of difference because the format is really low-quality to begin with, and tapes wear out and reduce it even more. There are a lot of things that can go wrong before the signal even starts to travel down that set of cables.

Since DVD has much higher resolution and doesn’t wear out, you’ll notice the difference.

Picking a power supply for my video editing PC

I rebuilt my video editing system this past week.
Some months ago, Windows 2000 decided to start acting really goofy–it would start up, and Explorer would crash and restart every 10 seconds. I was able to make the system usable again by going into win.ini and changing the shell from Explorer to the old Program Manager, but seeing as I can’t stand Program Manager, I didn’t like that solution much.

I took the opportunity to make some more changes to the system too, specifically, upgrading to a 1.2 GHz Duron CPU and adding a second 18 GB 10K RPM drive (both purchased for an aborted project) and replacing the Adaptec 2940UW host adapter with an Adaptec 19160 I purchased over a year ago and for some insane reason didn’t use when I built the system in the first place. I also dropped in a Sapphire Radeon 7500 card, since I loaned out the S3 Savage4 card that was originally in the system.

The Radeon is overkill for this application, but it’s a $40 card so I really don’t care. Having a faster processor and a drive dedicated exclusively to holding my source video improved performance noticeably. By today’s standards, this is a very modest system, but it’s very nice for editing. It’s on the low end as far as disk space is concerned–figure a gig per four minutes of video in the standard DV format you’ll get from a firewire-equipped camcorder–but it’s very fast.

It’s also extremely unreliable. In a 90-minute session, the machine locked up twice. One was a black screen of death, and the other was a spontaneous reboot. In its previous incarnation, the system had a 750 MHz Duron processor and a 4500-rpm Quantum lct as a secondary drive for overflow use (I’d use it as a holding bin for video, then move it to the 10K drive for final output to tape to avoid dropped frames). Until the weird Explorer problem, it was rock solid. My Antec 300W power supply handled that load just fine.

That Antec power supply is about three years old, a relic from an era when 500 MHz was a blindingly fast processor and power requirements weren’t as obscene as they are now. Its age and the standards to which it were built are probably a problem.

PC Power and Cooling’s power supply selector gives a nice way to size a power supply to match a system. For me, it suggested that a PCP&C 275-watt power supply would be adequate under some circumstances. Well, assuming the box provided 275 watts divided properly on the correct rails, that is. (That kind of talk makes most people’s eyes start to glaze over, so people don’t talk about it much. PCP&C included.) But this machine has exactly one PCI slot still open, so it’s heavily loaded. I want more headroom than that.

PCP&C has its 350W box on sale for $71, which is considerably higher than Newegg will charge for basic 350W Antec or Enermax units, but pricing on business-grade or enthusiast-grade Antec and Enermax units is in line with PCP&C, and the PCP&C units have a better warranty. Plus PCP&C will ship it free and they throw in some freebies worth about $5 retail when all’s said and done.

I’ll get the Turbo-Cool 350 model rather than the Silencer 275 model. Quiet would be nice, but the system already makes a racket. So I’ll take overbuilt. Everything else about this system is.

Picking out a camcorder

I had someone ask me for some advice in picking out a camcorder yesterday. I know I’ve talked a little bit about that before, but this field is always changing, so it doesn’t hurt to revisit it.
I’m going to link to a bunch of stuff on Amazon here. Amazon’s not the only place to buy this stuff, of course, but their selection is good, and I have an affiliation with them. If someone clicks on one of these links and ends up buying something, I get a kickback. But my primary motivation is informational.

Second things second: I know they’re cheap, but think twice about analog camcorders. A Quasar VHS-C camcorder will run you $200. You get a nice 20X optical zoom and a few digital effects, and it’s nice to be able to play your tapes in your VCR, but those are the only benefits you get. The image resolution is a lot lower than with a digital camcorder, and it’s a lot less convenient to dump video from an analog camcorder into a computer for editing. Since any computer you buy new today will have at least some editing capability (current versions of Mac OS and Windows include at least rudimentary video editors, so all you’d need to add to a PC is a $25 Firewire card if it doesn’t have built-in Firewire), you’ll probably want to be able to take advantage of it. If you don’t have Windows XP or ME, you can pick up a $65 Pinnacle Studio DV, which will give you the Firewire ports, rudimentary editing software, and most importantly, slick capture and titling software. The capture software is especially nice; it’ll detect scene changes for you and catalog them. Even if you do have editing software, you might want this. It saves me a lot of time.

Digital8 cameras are getting hard to find. Their chief selling point, besides price, was the ability to use analog Hi8 tapes, which was nice if you were upgrading. If you have some Hi8 tapes and want to continue to use them and want an easy way to move them to a computer for editing, look for a Digital8 camera. But there’s a good possibility you’ll have to buy online. And the resolution isn’t as high as MiniDV–Digital8’s selling points in the past were price and backward compatibility. The price advantage is evaporating, leaving just backward compatibility as a selling point. MiniDV is the future.

Panasonic has a digital 4-in-1 device that does video, still, voice, and MP3 duties. I don’t recommend it. The image quality is substandard, its fixed focus will make it even worse, and you can’t mount it on a tripod. Its list price is $450 and I saw it at Amazon for $340, but it’s a toy. Given a choice between it and a $250 analog camcorder, I’d go analog every time.

MiniDV is pretty clearly the way to go. It’s the emerging standard, as it’s become inexpensive, the tapes are compact and reliable, and the resolution and picture quality is fantastic.

You can spend as much as you want. An entry-level MiniDV camera, such as the JVC GRDVL120U, will run you about $400. For $400, you get 16X optical zoom, S-Video output for TV playback and a Firewire connection to dump your video to computer for editing, image stabilization, the choice between manual and autofocus, and the ability to take still shots and dump them to tape.

Pay no attention whatsoever to digital zoom. Using digital zoom to get much more than double your maximum optical zoom is completely worthless. There’s enough fudge factor in NTSC television that you can get away with using a little bit of digital zoom, but with this camera, once you’ve zoomed in to 32X, you’ve cut your effective resolution from that of DVD to that of VHS tape. Zoom in much more than that, and your image will look very pixelated. This particular JVC advertises 700X digital zoom, but you definitely don’t want to use it.

You can spend three times as much on a Sony DCRPC120BT. For your money you’ll get a better lens, so your image quality will be a little bit better. Whether that makes a difference will depend mostly on the television you’re displaying on. You’ll get much higher-resolution still shots, and the ability to store your stills on a memory stick. That’s a very nice feature–no need to advance and rewind your tape to find shots, and no need to interrupt your video sequences with stills. You actually get less optical zoom. You get less digital zoom too, but that’s not important. You’ll also get a microphone jack, which is very important. The microphone built into the camera will pick up some motor noise and won’t necessarily pick up what’s happening across the room. It’s very nice to have the ability to wire up a microphone to get away from the camera motor and possibly get closer to the sound source, to keep the sound from being muffled. You probably won’t buy an external mic right away. But chances are it’s something you’ll eventually want.

Personally, when I’m on a project, I’d much rather have the inexpensive JVC (or something less expensive that offers a microphone input) because the $800 more I would spend to get the Sony would let me buy a digital still camera with much better capabilities than the Sony offers. And when I’m shooting a video, having two cameras is an advantage–I can set them both up on tripods and shoot, or hand one camera off to someone else and tell them to get me some shots. Having two cameras can get me a whole lot better picture of what’s going on. But not everybody’s shooting documentaries like me. For travel, the Sony is a whole lot more convenient and more than worth the extra money. And if you’re recording your child’s birthday party, you probably just want one camera in order to avoid turning your living room into a TV studio.

So you need to figure out what you plan to do with it.

As far as accessories go, you absolutely want a tripod. Again, you can spend as much as you want. Amazon offers a Vivitar kit for about $40 that includes a bag and a tripod. With image stabilization, you can run around shooting birthday parties and vacation scenes and have a reasonably good-looking image that won’t give you the shakes. But if you’re recording Christmas morning, then set the camcorder up across the room, then go over and open presents with your family. I know, I hate being on camera, and you might too. But I wish I had some home video footage of my Dad. I remember his laugh and I remember how he loved to joke around, but I can’t show that to anyone.

If you just want to set the camcorder up at a fixed angle and run across the room, a cheap tripod will do the job nicely. If you’re going to be standing behind the camera and panning the scene, buck up for a fluid-head tripod. You’ll be able to move the camera much more smoothly. My Bogen tripod wasn’t cheap, but I wouldn’t be without it now that I have it. I think some people with arthritis have steadier hands than I do, but even I can do good-looking pans and zooms with that tripod.

Sometimes people ask me about brands. I learned on JVC equipment, so I’m partial to it. But it’s hard to go wrong with any of what I call the Big Four: JVC, Panasonic,
Sony, or Canon. Professionals use all four brands with excellent results. Sure, every professional has a preference. But the differences among the Big Four will be pretty slight. I’m less comfortable with offerings from companies like Sharp and Samsung. They haven’t been in the business as long, and they’re consumer electronics companies. The other companies sell to professionals. Some of that expertise will inevitably filter down into their consumer products as well. And the difference in price and features between a Sharp or a Samsung and a JVC, Panasonic, Canon or Sony isn’t very much, so a top-tier offering is a better bet for the money.

What I’ve learned in my current video project

This is a selfish post. I want to record my notes of what I’ve learned on my current project so I don’t forget them, and so I can access them anywhere. Other video hobbyists might benefit.
This is almost exclusively theory, so it should be applicable to any video editing software/equipment you find. But as far as specific tips for helping Premiere… I doubt there’ll be anything directly applicable. Read more

The immoral, despicable “journalism” at the Church of the Nativity

Charlie asked what I, as a trained and sometimes-practicing journalist, think of Caroyln Cole’s work at the Church of the Nativity.
Well, the story linked here hits on precisely why I’m not a full-time journalist slogging words for some magazine full-time and climbing the ladder towards editorship. What usually passes for journalism today can at best be considered advocacy; in the case of what Cole sometimes practices, it’s better described as fraud.
Read more

Some video editing tips from the school of hard knocks

Hi. My name is Dave. I attended the best journalism school there is for broadcasting.
I paid almost zero attention in the television units, because, well, I hate TV. So I learned nothing that would be of use to me at this stage of life. Aside from how to go get a story and ask questions and gather footage, which is pretty much the same no matter what your medium is, whether it’s a newspaper, a magazine, a video documentary, a Web page, or a research paper. We all have a sense for what’s interesting and relevant. Develop that, and you can tell a story in any medium.

OK, that’s all I know about video editing theory. That was easy, wasn’t it? Aren’t you glad you didn’t pay $200 per credit hour for it?

Now let’s get practical. This is going to be most practical if you have equipment similar to mine. If you don’t, hopefully it’ll tell you something useful.

Here’s what I use to make magic happen on the boob tube:

IBM-compatible PC

  • AMD Duron 700 MHz CPU
  • 384 MB PC133 memory
  • Adaptec 19160 Ultra160 SCSI card
  • Maxtor Atlas III 10,000 RPM 18GB Ultra160 SCSI hard drive
  • Quantum Fireball 15 GB UDMA66 hard drive
  • Plextor UltraPlex 40max SCSI CD-ROM for audio capture
  • Pinnacle DV500 Plus editing/capture card
    JVC GR-DVL100 miniDV camcorder

    You can capture video with Adobe Premiere, but there’s a lot of overhead involved. It’s better to use the bundled Pinnacle DVTools app. I was in the habit of capturing with DVTools, then using the freeware VirtualDub (do a Google search) to convert those files to Indeo 5.1 format to save space. I saved a lot of disk space, but I wasted a lot of time. A PC equipped with a DV500 can do most things to DV-formatted files in realtime, whereas my setup has to render other file formats. You’re looking at 2-4 frames per second to do the initial conversion, and then Premiere renders them at a similar rate. Get monster hard drives so you can hold those larger DV files, and you’ll save lots of render time. You’ll also completely eliminate generation loss, which is the whole point of digital video in the first place, although the generation loss from rendering DV to Indeo back to DV isn’t something anyone’s likely to notice. Realistically, you’ll lose more as the signal is being transmitted from the camera to your screen than you will from three generations of conversion.

    I find playback off my UDMA drive less than adequate. It doesn’t drop frames but the video has too many artifacts. It’s fine as a holding bin for clips I might use, or for editing, but before I do my final output to tape, I move the files over to my high-speed SCSI drive.

    On some platforms, you really want to have your OS and apps on one drive, your video on another, and your audio on yet another. I find the Atlas III is more than fast enough to hold all three and get away with it. If I had to do it all again though, I’d probably still get the Atlas, and I’d get another very large but slower SCSI drive.

    When you’re editing with Premiere, you may find your hard drives fill up at an alarming rate. Before starting a project, search for directories called Adobe Premiere Preview Files and clear their contents. I found a missing 4 gigs that way. Also defragment your drives before starting on a project. You want big, contiguous blocks to hold your huge video files.

    You can’t just plug a camcorder into your firewire port and go to File, Export Timeline, Print to Tape and expect it to work. You have to put your camcorder into VTR mode first, an operation that isn’t always obvious from looking at the camera. Check your manual. On my DVL100, turning the mode knob to Play does the trick.

    Also, you can’t plug a camcorder in hot. At least not any of the JVC cameras I’ve tried. The computer will see them, but it won’t be able to control them. Shut down the computer and turn off the camera, plug in, then power both up, and they’re happy.

    Although Pinnacle’s DVTools can export DV to tape, it’s faster to do it from Premiere. It takes Premiere forever to export a video to disk in DV format, and then of course the export to tape happens in real-time. Doing it from Premiere in the first place cuts the time required by 3/4.

    And here’s a principle I learned at a seminar earlier this year at Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church in Dayton, OH: There’s no such thing as junk video. Ginghamsburg’s video director actually advocates leaving your camera on at all times, even when you’re moving the camera, because a lot of times you’ll shoot good video unintentionally. I don’t have the battery life to be able to leave it on all the time, but I leave it on more than I normally would. I found in my last project, where I was filming fire, that the smoke and heat waves coming off the fire confused my camera’s autofocus, so the camera was trying to find what it was supposed to focus on, which futher accentuated the heat waves and produced a really haunting effect. People asked me how I did it, what it was, where I shot it. It was pretty anticlimatic, I’m sure, to hear it was just a tree off in the distance. And I got the shot strictly because I wasn’t paying attention. The fire had died down and I hadn’t noticed.

    All cameras have particular nuances. That scene probably would have looked different with another camera. I discovered later how to confuse my autofocus when I was trying to set the camera up for playback. The only way you’ll learn your camera’s nuances is to play with it. And be sure to try things with it you wouldn’t normally try. I discovered the autofocus thing when the camera was pointed at my desk at extremely close range. Believe me, there’s absolutely nothing compelling about that desk. It’s 18-year-old particle board.

    And a principle I learned myself: There are a couple of ways I find my best footage. One way is just to fast-forward through it and watch. If it’s compelling at 20x normal speed with fuzzy detail, it’s likely to be compelling when played the way it was shot. The other thing I’ll do is play the footage in my monitor, and watch out of my peripheral vision while I do something else. If it’s good enough to grab my attention, chances are it’s worth using. It’s a brutal way to edit, but if you have to condense several hours’ worth of footage into three minutes, it’s the fastest way I’ve found.

    Honest, the money was burning a hole in my pocket!

    I went out shopping yesterday for a white gold rope to go with a white gold cross pendant I bought a month or so ago. I’m no expert on jewelry, but my sister knows as much about jewelry as I do about computers and baseball combined, and she said I shouldn’t buy silver unless I was going to wear it all the time. I don’t wear jewelry all the time, so I took her advice and bought white gold.
    I found the chain.

    Then I wandered over to the electronics aisle. I saw a $129 KDS 17″ monitor. Pass. I saw other monitors of varying sizes and qualities. Then I walked down the next aisle, where I saw HP Pavilion and Sony VAIO computers. Nothing earth-shattering. Then I saw something that made me do a couple of quadruple takes. A Lexmark color laser printer. Price? Seven hundred bucks. I was shocked. I’m pretty sure the last time I looked, the cheapest color laser you could find was $1500. I remember in the summer of 1994 selling a number of color inkjet printers for $649. So $700 for a color laser printer is a significant milestone, and it’s reason not to pay more than $100-$150 for a color inkjet. If you’re serious about color printing, that laser will give far better output, much faster, and at a much lower cost per page.

    Yes, I’d love to have one. But I’ve got a Lexmark 4039 I bought in 1996. It still works fabulously. It also still has the toner cartridge that came from the factory in it. Needless to say, I don’t print a lot. So I really don’t know how I could justify a color laser printer.

    So I walked on. I spied some DVDs. I flipped through them. Just a bunch of mediocre movies, most of which I’d never bothered seeing, so I wouldn’t have any inclination to pay $12.99 for them either. Then I turned around. Camcorders! I saw some Sony and Hitachi models, VHS-C and Digital-8, priced very nicely. Very nicely. At $200, I don’t understand why camcorders aren’t as common as VCRs were 10 years ago. You can get a nice camcorder now for what a nice VCR cost then. But that wasn’t what I was looking for.

    Next section: JVC and Sony camcorders. Much pricier, but they had the magic word I was looking for: miniDV. I looked at the price: $480 on the entry model. That was about half what the entry models cost the last time I looked. I played around with it. The picture was awfully nice. I played around with the more expensive models. The picture wasn’t any nicer. So I wrote down the model numbers. At $480, I was almost ready to buy right then and there. But $480 is too much to spend casually, so I did a little research online.

    Camcorder tip: Go ahead and search the Web for camcorder specs and reviews, but expect not to find much. Searching the web gives the impression the JVC GR-DVL805 doesn’t exist. The low-end JVC GR-DVL100 did have some positive reviews. I searched Google groups and found lots of good insights on both models. (If I find a consensus amongst a bunch of hobbyists who bought a product with their own money and used it long enough to get an opinion on it, I generally trust them. I certainly trust them more than a salesman, and there are problems these people will notice that a video magazine won’t due to lack of time with the unit.)

    The DVL100 is lightweight, does a great job of gathering light (most JVCs do, in my limited experience), reasonably easy to use, and the price is right. Only complaint I could find: the tape motor is close to the mic, so you’ll get some motor noise. That’s not much concern for me.

    The 805 is essentially the same camera, but it can double as a 0.8-megapixel digital still camera. Other than that, it has the same strengths and weaknesses as its cheaper brother. Since a 0.8-megapixel digital still camera is essentially worthless unless you’re shooting pictures for the Web, that feature isn’t useful to me.

    Both camcorders had a few other weaknesses: You can’t plug an external mic into them, and while you can dump video from the camera into the computer via a firewire port, you can’t dump edited video from the computer back to the camera. Those are higher-end features. Neither of those matter much to me either. When I’m doing really serious work that requires those, I’ll be borrowing my church’s professional-grade JVC camera, which does everything but autofocus and make coffee. For projects where I record the audio separately (which is common), this camera will be fine. And as a second camera, it’ll be great.

    So I bought it.

    I’m amazed at how much video recording and editing power you can buy for $2,000 these days. For 2 grand, you can get a Pinnacle DV500 editing board (with Adobe Premiere bundled) and a low-end digital camcorder and still have plenty left over to buy a computer to connect it all to.

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