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REVIEW : Grass Valley ADVCmini

Grass Valley has just released this sleek looking video capture device – the ADVCmini – aimed at the consumer and pro-sumer market. It’s pitched as the “best and easiest” way to transfer video from your VCR, camcorder and other video equipment to your Mac, ready for editing in iMovie and uploading to YouTube.

Televisual received a review copy, which I've spent some time putting through its paces. The first thing that strikes you about the device is its solid and well build and styled very similarly to an Apple product.

It has three different inputs running along the front and side panel – S-video, composite video and SCART, and, rather handily, comes with the appropriate leads for each of these.

Grass Valley emphasises the straightforward nature of getting the ADVCmini up and running, with just a bit of software to install and a USB cable to connect. Sure enough we were ready to capture video pretty shortly after unpacking it all. So far, so good.

But it is possible for things to be too straightforward. A case in point being the supplied ADVC Capture software, which is the only software you can use to grab video from your devices. Beyond a few sliders for adjusting video settings for saturation, brightness, etc, there’s not a massive amount you can change.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially for novice users, but if you’d like to tweak the settings a bit or specify exactly which folder videos are saved to, hard luck. What there is is a very primitive ‘quality’ slider for selecting the type of compression used, and you can decide whether video is recorded as an iMovie file (so it’s dumped in your Movies folder) or an iTunes file (so it’s auto loaded into iTunes).

Video from the video device you’ve connected to the ADVmini is shown on a preview screen, and you just press record to begin capturing. It consistently captured high quality images from an old Hi-8 camcorder I’d connected through the composite video input, and the video and audio stayed in sync, even on single recordings of ten minutes or so in duration.

The ADVCmini uses something called 3d Y/C separation to separate the composite video signals into luminance (Y) and chrominance (C ) signals, which apparently minimises artifacts such as distortion and discolouration, and also prevents audio and video from becoming out of sync.

This is all well and good, but when I tried to connect the same camcorder through S-Video, the software refused to record more than a five to ten second clip before stopping. The lack of any detailed options for changing video capture settings meant further investigation to try to fix the problem was impossible.

Nevertheless, the video captured through the composite video input was impressive and, once imported from my Movies folder into iMovie, could be edited alongside the other video clips already on my hard drive and held up well in terms of image and audio quality.

For those wanting a no frills means of digitising old video tapes and analogue camcorder recordings, the ADVCmini will do a commendable job and costs around £130. A more sophisticated update to the ADVC Capture software should be top of the developer’s ‘to do’ list though.

Posted 31 August 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Ambitious file-based shoot for Escape from Scorpion Island

The month-long shoot for CBBC’s kids game show Escape from Scorpion Island, produced by The Foundation, was quite a monster. There were over 20 file-based cameras to keep on top of, and footage for over 28 hours of programming to capture.

Shepherd’s Bush post house Clear Cut sent editor Zeb Chadfield over to Queensland, Australia to take care of handling the file-based rushes on location.

Chadfield was responsible for making sure the footage from 12 Panasonic P2 cameras (a mix of the AG-HPX500 (pictured below) and AG-HVX201AE models) and eight ‘wearable’ digital cameras and helmet cams, was accurately taken off the P2 cards, quality checked and backed up before the cards were wiped and re-used.

With a total of 28 hours of the game show being shot over the month and more than 20 cameras on the shoot, the media management side of the production was particularly challenging.

To copy rushes from the P2 cards, Clear Cut invested in a Panasonic AJ-HRW10 P2 Rapid Writer (pictured above), which takes up to five P2 cards and copies to two drives simultaneously, providing an instant backup.

Once copied, the cards are erased and ready for re-use. Clear Cut then used Avid Media Composer running on laptops to group the rushes into different folders for each of the challenges of the show.

The laptops also made it possible for Chadfield to check the focus, white balance and shot framing of the rushes to ensure these were problem-free.

Audio from “a horde of kids running round with radio mics” was recorded on location onto a multitrack device. The audio and pictures were synched together when back at Clear Cut’s West London facility and the edit was done on Avid Adrenalines at broadcast resolution from start to finish.

Posted 05 August 2010 by Jake Bickerton
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