Working with Video
Earlier in this series I talked about the glittering world of video in the United States — where everything is cheaper and better of course. Or is it? Certainly video is cheaper, and there's a wider selection of video equipment and films on tape. But television programming is pretty diabolical (in general) and even the quality of the 525 line NTSC picture is not as good as our European systems, but we will not pursue that for the moment. Anyway, it is very entertaining to read the American video magazines and see what's currently on offer over there. With luck we may spot trends which will be repeated over here in months to come, while other novelties are worth mentioning out of curiosity. So remember, you read it here first, folks!
Starting with something in the novelty category, there are the new video cassettes with allegedly three dimensional capability. Straight back to the 1950s, this, and the first 3-D release is, appropriately, 'Creature from the Black Lagoon'. MCA has put the cassettes on sale and is offering free special glasses with every tape. What the rest of the family do while you watch with your special glasses is not clear, especially as they have no National Health scheme on which to fall back! Somehow I don't see this sort of thing catching on in Britain but it's certainly a novel idea.
Another feature unlikely to be copied over here is multi-speed video recording, and I am not speaking of special effects. What I mean is that virtually all home video recorders in the USA now offer a half speed and/or third speed facility which enables you to record double or three times the amount of programme on a normal tape. Thus on to a two hour blank tape you could record six hours of programmes. The only snag is that the picture and sound quality are degraded somewhat, though not sufficiently to stop consumers enjoying this facility. To be honest, I have not personally seen the results, so I cannot comment on the quality from firsthand experience but suffice to say multi-speed is now virtually a standard feature on VCRs in the USA. And despite the rude remarks about the American TV system I ought to say that a well recorded American VHS or Beta tape produces a picture which is subjectively little worse than the best European ones.
A feature in the USA scene which will be repeated over here is the arrival of receiver-monitor TVs aimed at the domestic user. Receiver-monitors have been around for years in the professional area and have proved their worth there. The receiver portion is just like any other TV set but the monitor facility enables you to connect a video input direct. Thus, if you want to test a camera you can plug its output straight into the monitor without first going through the modulator in the video recorder. With less intermediate processing you should (and do) get a better picture. The same applies to replay of video tapes — by connecting the video out of a VCR to the video in of the monitor you can view the tapes exactly as they are, without possibly losing the fine detail and colour effects. There are many other uses for video monitors in video production and home computer users have been looking out for low-cost, colour monitors for years. Receiver-monitors at realistic prices are now appearing on the US market; there is a large screen offering from General Electric and a six inch portable model from JVC. Interestingly, JVC have seen fit to launch the same set (in a PAL/SECAM version) on the UK market and I have in fact bought one. At a discount price of around £225 it offers an incredible range of facilities: battery/mains operation, PAL or SECAM colour, video and audio in and out, VHF and UHF tuner, and no less than three European sound standards, covering the systems used in the UK, western Europe and the East bloc. This makes it useful for monitoring foreign TV programmes when conditions are up and it has very useful applications in my particular speciality, amateur TV transmission. The only things the JVC CX-610UK doesn't handle are NTSC (the American system) and French TV.
However, I am straying from my roundup of what's new on the US scene. Here's another development sure to be repeated over here, the user-friendly camera. Nice as they are, some of the new super-cameras baffle you with all the controls. The latest offering from Toshiba enables, it is claimed, high quality home video movies to be produced even under the most taxing circumstances. Two things make this possible. One is the highly sensitive Univicon 2 tube which is said to halve the amount of light required for good pictures. An automatic shut-off is incorporated to protect the tube in extreme bright light. The other incredibly clever feature is automatic continuous focussing, using a CCD (charge coupled device) chip. This apparently senses the light spectrum frequencies of the scene when you focus on an object. If the object moves out of focus the CCD senses the error as a plus or minus value and operates a servo motor on the lens to compensate and correct it. The series of compensatory movements are said to be undetectable visually. Price is around £650, including electronic viewfinder and 6X zoom lens.
Home telecine devices abound in the US market now. They are designed to enable you to convert movies and slides to the video format and offer an optical method of coupling a projector straight into a video camera. In this way you avoid the problems of trying to shoot the projector screen with a camera and adjusting the light levels. Needless to say this rough and ready method just described produces rough and ready results. Unfortunately it is arguable whether low-cost accessories produce significantly better results, which may be why these gadgets are not so popular in the European market. To achieve professional results (without smeary images, bars across the picture and grotty sound) you need professional equipment costing several thousand pounds. You need a high-quality camera, a variable speed projector and a proper telecine lens multiplexer. There are several agencies offering film to tape transfer or you could use the facilities at JVC's Video Information Centre in London. Avoid low-cost, 'back street' outfits — they will rip you off.
Finally, we come to a field neglected over here but well catered for in America, video furniture. (There's a marketing idea!) In America you can buy attractive, real wood trolleys designed to carry a colour TV, video recorder and a few dozen tapes. (By comparison, all I have seen over here are very 'industrial' looking trolleys or foul chipboard cabinets with 'plastic teak' veneer.) But best of all new products in the USA is the Videnza and this is definitely my favourite! 'You can store up to 100 VHS or Beta video cassettes in Pyramid Manufacturing's Videnza cabinet', says the write-up. Half the tapes are always accessible; the other half are locked out of sight behind a false back. (Not a false bottom!) When a key is inserted, the hidden shelves swing into view. Cost is $219 and now I know how to store my exotic and rare collection of 'artistic' tapes!
See you next month.
Feature by Andy Emmerson
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