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Hardware You'll Need

The most essential hardware item you need so you can create content is a digital video camera. Beyond that, you need a fast computer and plenty of hard disk space to store the digital video files that you import from the camera. The number of capable computers and cameras you have to choose from is overwhelming, but there are certain features you should look for as you make your hardware decisions.

Hardware Tip

Video and audio editing requires a lot of computer processing power. Older computers may not be up to the task at all, or they might be just too slow to be productive. Digital editing software applications usually require current operating sytems and fast processors. The power and speed of your computer will directly affect the quality of your video-editing lifestyle.

A fast computer

Because digital editing and rendering requires intensive computer processing, you'll be pretty miserable if you're not using a reasonably fast and powerful computer. We've used a range of computers for video editing and have decided that processor speeds slower than 450 MHz require too much patience and time. Because video editing demands processing power, some editing applications may recommend that you use a system with at least an 800 MHz processor. Also, be aware that video editing applications may require a certain operating system. Make sure the software you plan to use is compatible with your computer's operating system.

Your computer should have a high-speed communication card called IEEE 1394 to which you can connect your digital video camera. Some computers and cameras use brand names for the IEEE 1394 connection, such as “FireWire” (Apple and some PCs) or “i.Link” (Sony). Many current computers have at least one IEEE 1394 connection, but if your computer doesn't have one already built-in, you can buy an IEEE 1394 card and install it in an available expansion slot on your computer.

Additional hard drives

Digital audio and video files on your computer require lots of hard disk space. Even with the huge storage capacity that most computers have today, you'll need more. One minute of uncompressed video takes more than 200 MB of disk space; audio files add up to over 10 MB per minute.

Fortunately, hard drives are coming down in price and going up in capacity. If you have an extra bay available in your computer, consider installing an extra hard drive for video projects. Or you can easily add one or more external FireWire (IEEE 1394) or USB 2.0 drives. Hard drives vary in rotational speeds (5,400 rpm and 7,200 rpm). For video work, get the fastest drive possible (7,200 rpm).

In addition to increasing storage capacity, a second hard drive can make some aspects of video editing more efficient. For instance, when the computer has to render certain video effects or transitions, the process of reading from and writing to the same disk will be slower and less efficient than if your editing software is on one hard drive and your project on another. This enables the computer to read one drive while writing to another.

While there are many good external hard drives on the market, we prefer LaCie d2 FireWire hard drives because their “fan-less” design makes them virtually silent.

A digital video camera

When buying a video camera, choose one that will be easy to connect to your computer. For convenience, choose a digital video camera that has an IEEE 1394 (also called FireWire or i.Link) connection. Most of the current digital video cameras have connectors that can be plugged straight into your computer's IEEE 1394 port. If your camera doesn't have a FireWire or i.Link connection, you can buy a converter that will bridge the gap between a camcorder and computer.

Another consideration in choosing a video camera is the quality of the video it can capture. Even less expensive video cameras have surprisingly good quality, especially if you limit your choices to popular brands such as Sony, Canon, JVC, or Sharp. The main quality difference is determined by how many “CCD imagers” are built into the camera. CCD (Charge–Coupled Device) is a technology used to build light-sensitive devices: A three-CCD camera (also called a “three-chip” camera) captures sharper images and colors than a single-CCD (“one-chip”) camera.

Three-chip cameras are more expensive, but provide better video quality, most noticeably in dimly lit scenes. If you're creating personal video projects, you may be quite satisfied with a more affordable single-CCD camera.

What if your video camera isn't digital?

Our discussion of hardware and software assumes you're using a digital video camera with a FireWire or i.Link connector, which makes it easy to capture digital video footage to a computer.

The most popular mid-range video cameras use MiniDV tapes. Digital video captured on MiniDV tape has a higher resolution than analog video formats such as 8mm, Super 8mm, or Hi-8, and produces better quality video for DVD projects.

Camera Tips

There are many cameras that may be suitable for your projects. They range in price from $400 to $4,000 (or more). Professional designers who are new to video production and plan to create and edit content for their clients should consider cameras in the $2,000 to $3,000 range. Some of the most popular cameras in this range are Canon GL2, Canon XL-1S, Sony DCR-TRV950, and Panasonic AG-DVX100. For best pricing, search for cameras on some of the Internet shopping sites such as www.DealTime.com, www.Shopper.com, or www.PriceGrabber.com.

Professional videographers may have equipment that uses a D1 tape format or Digital Betamax. Our interest is in the affordable mid-range products (around $800 to $3,000).

If you have an analog camcorder and analog video tapes, or if you have VCR tapes that you want to import into your computer, there are several ways you can convert the analog video to a digital video format (DV):

  • Connect a FireWire analog-to-digital converter between your video source and your computer. A few affordable converters are Hollywood DV Bridge from Dazzle (www.Dazzle.com), Studio from Formac (www.Formac.com), and Director's Cut from Miglia Technology Ltd. (www.Miglia.com).

  • Connect your analog video camera to a digital video camera, record your analog video onto the tape in the digital camera, then import the video into a computer from the digital video camera. Some digital camcorders allow you to pass video straight through to the computer.

  • Connect your VCR to your digital camcorder (most digital camcorders have an analog, or A/V, in/out connector), and record the VCR video onto a tape in the digital camcorder.

There may be some loss of quality in the conversion from an analog source, and the quality of the converter itself may affect the conversion results.

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