Bob and Joy
                                      
 
     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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May 2004, Week 2 -- See Them! Moving Pictures! With Sound!

 

 

 

 
Sony Handycam  

 

   Like a few million other people on this riotous ride through space, we went shopping for a video camera recently. There sure are a lot of them.

   It's nothing strange to feel like the village vidiot when you're looking at 45 different models in one of those electronics super-stores. What is all this stuff and how do we choose? It boiled down to a couple of questions: Do you want the latest or the cheapest?

   Cameras on display at a Circuit City chain store ranged in price from $160 to $1,300. That's quite a range. At the low end you can buy video cameras that use VHS tapes for recording -- the same kind you put in a VCR to watch a movie on your TV. The cameras are relatively large and heavy but they work all right.

 

   As you move down in size you move up in price. For $1,000 you can get a Panasonic that records to flash memory cards. It will fit in a shirt pocket and the picture quality is excellent. Unfortunately, its light weight makes it hard to hold steady and there is no socket for mounting the camera on a tripod. The flash memory cards are expensive: $160 for enough storage to "film" for a half hour.

 

   At this point we're going to cut right to the chase (now that we can talk like we're in the movie business).

 

   We bought a small Panasonic for $660. It uses miniature tape cassettes for recording, has a high quality lens, great color and we returned it the next week. What's wrong, you might ask. We installed the software that came with it but it was unreadable. The computer also would not recognize the camera when we attached it. We tried it on two computers but no luck with either one. When we called technical support, we were told someone would call us right back but no one did. When we called again we were told someone would call us back within 48 hours. Again, no one did and we still couldn't figure out how to get the software working. Back to the store went the camera.

 

 

 

   We moved up to $1,000 and bought a Sony DVD Handycam. It stores sound and video directly to a tiny DVD disk on a built-in drive. You can insert that disk into a DVD player attached to your television set and play it directly. You can even play it on Sony's game machine: PlayStation 2. Disks cost $15 each and hold a half hour of video.

   This is what you might call a "point and shoot" camera. If you have little patience with adjusting lots of controls and getting the perfect shot, you might want point and shoot. We have little patience; let Steven Spielberg work on the perfect shot.

   Though users on Amazon.com said the problem was you couldn't edit videos taken with the Sony DVD Handycam, we found you could edit them just as easily as videos from any other camera. On the downside, technical support told us to go to the Sony web site to watch a tutorial on using the software, but there was no tutorial for our model. In general, technical support is getting worse, even when they shop it out to India. On to the editing ...

 

More info at web sites: www.sony.com  and www.panasonic.com.

 

Roxio comes on board

  Media Creator

   Though the company name sounds like a character in the Academy Award winning musical "Chicago," it makes video editing and recording software. We ran up Roxio's "Easy Media Creator 7" ($55 to $99 for Windows, depending on where you buy it). As the name implies, the software is not confined to editing video but can be used to edit photos, make slide shows, greeting cards, etc.

   "Easy" was the operative word here. You put a blank CD or DVD in your CD/DVD drive and start up the software. What we really liked was that all the important commands were at the top of the main screen and they stayed there. Do you want to copy files to the disk? Click on "Copy files to disc." (They use the British spelling.) Want to copy tracks from an audio CD? Click on "Copy Audio CD." Want to drag some item to the disk? Click on "Drag to disc." Using "drag to disc" you can treat a CD or DVD just like a floppy disk.

 

   If all this seems pretty obvious, you would be amazed at how many software companies make using basic commands a puzzle to be solved by going through a maze of menus. Let's try and keep it simple, guys.

 

   From then on, everything was pretty much a breeze. A new update available from their web site just last week made some things even easier to use. To add clips, special effects, music, titles, etc., you can drag those items into place on a timeline of your video. The timeline shows you where you are in the video.

 

   Two minor features we liked with this software were label and cover sheet printing. Roxio has a feature that formats label information for a "doughnut" label that sticks on the disk. You can buy these blanks on sheets you run through your printer and you can also get them on rolls that go into a Dymo label printer, one of those printers used for quick address labels. The same print routine can also print out front and back cover sheets for the jewel case holder. It also automatically prints out a table of contents.

 

   On the downside, Roxio Media Creator 7 took half an hour to install to a Toshiba laptop and an IBM desktop. The company recommends having a processor that runs at 500 Mhz or faster. It helps a lot to run the tutorials, and, like all video editing programs, the more memory your computer has, the better. Web site: www.roxio.com.

 

NOTE: Readers can search more than three years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@aol.com  and Joy Schwabach at joydee@oncomp.com.