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Chapter Four. Using Your Camcorder Like ... > Audio/Video I/O Connections and Sett...

Audio/Video I/O Connections and Settings

You won't need to pay much attention to these: Default settings are usually best. But now and then you will need to know what your options are.

Audio Modes

As noted in Chapter 3, the DV recording standard offers four options for recording audio:

  • AES/EBU standard, stereo (highest quality)—two 16-bit channels (48 kHz)

  • CD quality stereo (medium quality)—two 16-bit channels (44.1 kHz)

  • Stereo (lower quality)—two 16-bit channels (32 kHz)

  • Four channel (lowest quality)—four 12-bit channels (32 kHz)

Most videographers keep the audio set on the highest-quality sampling, 48 kHz. The only reason to ever select four-channel mode is if you want to go back and record a separate voice-over narration on track 3 or 4. If you do this often, look for a camcorder with the one-touch audio dubbing feature.

Microphone Connectors

A critical audio feature on a DV camcorder is a tiny, seemingly mundane thing—the style of its audio input connectors.

Mini Plugs

Most consumer and many prosumer camcorders have mini audio input jacks. These accept the same little plugs you'll find on the headphones of a portable tape or CD player (Figure 4.8).

Figure 4.8. Low-cost audio gear typically uses these mini-plug connectors. Unfortunately they don't assure good mechanical connections and have trouble passing high frequencies.

There are four problems with mini plugs:

  • The mini plug can wobble in the jack, breaking the connection.

  • The tiny mini contacts don't pass high-frequency sound very well. That means bird songs and the consonants of human speech may not make it into your audio recording. If the track sounds muffled, there's no inexpensive way to fix it in post.

  • Most professional-level audio gear uses high-quality, three-prong XLR plugs (Figure 4.9). If your camcorder has mini audio jacks, you won't be able to make connections to this equipment without an adapter. And even if the adapter lets you make the physical connection, high frequencies could still be lost at the mini end.

    Figure 4.9. The XLR plug, a three-pronged heavy-duty connector, is standard in the professional audio world. Most professional camcorders accept this type of plug for audio input.

  • Most consumer audio cables aren't properly shielded, meaning they pick up noise (usually an annoying hum) from nearby sources of electricity, such as power cords.

XLR Plugs

XLR connectors are by far the best Audio In jacks to use—but you won't find them on many consumer or prosumer camcorders (not even the XL1S).

RCA Plugs

The familiar RCA plug (Figure 4.10) is still in use on many camcorders. It's actually older than the mini, but it's a bit better at passing high frequencies. Even so, it's not as reliable as the XLR plug.

Figure 4.10. Some consumer and prosumer camcorders accept RCA plugs, an older style of consumer audio connector. They're better than minis, but not as good as XLRs.

Audio Level Controls

You can control the amplification of audio inputs to the camcorder by way of audio level controls, sometimes called audio gain or REC level. Most camcorders offer an Auto (AGC) feature for setting audio levels automatically, but you shouldn't use it except in situations of dire need. AGC will boost the gain when the scene is quiet, and turn it down when a truck goes by. The result is an uneven audio track that's nearly impossible to fix in post. Even if you're shooting news style and relying on in-camera audio recording, avoid AGC if at all possible.

Video I/O Connections

The video outputs on a camcorder are fairly straightforward.


A composite (NTSC or PAL) Video Out jack can be found on just about every camcorder. It's an analog video signal on a single line you can use to view output on a monitor or to record it on a VCR. This is not a digital output. Don't use it for uploading your show to a computer.

Check to see whether the composite video output includes the alphanumeric status display. That's good if you want to run it to a monitor, bad if you want to dub a reference-quality recording onto a VCR. Some camcorders permit you to turn off the status display if you're dubbing.

Component RGB

High-end professional camcorders may provide component analog RGB video output, with separate jacks and lines for Red, Green, and Blue signals. (For more information, see “Color Models: RGB to YUV” in Appendix A.) You probably won't need it, but it could come in handy if you ever want to connect the camcorder directly to a high-end video projector or a broadcast studio control booth.


Also called S-Video, the Y/C video output is an analog signal, but it offers a higher-quality alternative to composite. This two-channel connection separates the luma (Y) from the chroma (C) signal, thereby reducing video noise. It's handy for connecting to field monitors and making quick analog recordings for reference purposes. As with component outputs, the viewfinder status information may or may not be present in the signal.

Digital I/O

You'll use this connector to upload your recordings to a computer. (For more information, see “Getting DV into Your Computer” in Chapter 3.) All camcorders that follow the DV recording standard offer digital output for uploading. To initiate a transfer from the camcorder side, connect the cable, put the camcorder in playback mode, and press Play.

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