Building a Digital Video Capture System - Part II

Other Peripherals

As far as other peripherals go, I've found that a CD burner or external Jaz drive can be very handy for moving and storing video files as long as they don't conflict with the capture system. DVD drives that require separate controllers can sometimes interfere or eat valuable IRQs (and if you've got a beefy CPU you should be able to play DVDs without separate hardware anyway). NIC cards can be problematic and you might want to disable them during capture sessions.

Putting It All Together

So, I had a chance to test a few capture systems ranging in price from $130 up to $900; ADS PYRO ProDV Platinum ($129, w/software bundle $349), the Dazzle* Digital Video Creator II ($249), the Pinnacle DV500 Plus ($699), and the Matrox RT2500 (we found the street price to be around $899, a $100 less than the MSRP). All of the systems did a reasonably good job of capturing a video stream either from a DV source or analog source. The PYRO ProDV only supports DV and the Dazzle DVC II only supports analog but the other two support both formats.

Test Beds

For the testing I used two different systems. First, HP supplied me with one of their x2000 boxes. Their basic x2000 system is comprised of a single 1.4 GHz P4, 20 GB IDE hard disk (Ultra ATA-100), 128 MB RDRAM, 48X CD, and Matrox G450 graphics adapter w/16 MB DDR all running under Win2K. The basic HP x2000 systems start at about $1,400. The system I used was more at the top of the x2000 range with a 1.7 GHz P4, 256 MB RDRAM (yes I know I said you don't need RDRAM but that's what they sent me), an Adaptec 29160 Ultra-160 SCSI adapter powering a Quantum (Maxtor) ATLAS, and a very handy HP CD-writer 9500.

The second system I used was a Micron Millennia with a P3 933 MHz CPU, 256 MB RAM, both a 10.2 GB ATA-66 Western Digital WD102BA (apps and boot drive) and a 30.7 GB Maxtor 53073U6 (capture) drive, a Matrox Millennium Flex 3D graphics adapter, all mounted on a TYAN S1854 Trinity 400 motherboard, again running W2K. The Matrox RT500 came pre-installed with this system, and if you read our standalone review of the RT2500 you will notice that we recommended getting the product in a system bundle because, it is a chore to install fully.

When possible, I tried to test all four capture systems in both PCs but ran into one or two problems that I'll get to later.

For a computer display I used my Mitsubishi Diamond Pro 2020u flat-screen CRT (I love this monitor) and played back video on a 35" Sony KV-35V65 Trinitron TV.

For a video source I used a moderately high-end Sony DSR-PD150 DV camcorder 1/3 type CCD with an approximate resolution of 380,000 pixels. The camcorder outputs DV, S-Video, and composite, and supports both DVCAM or Mini DV format cassettes. All the three DV or DV/analog hybrid capture systems had no trouble recognizing or controlling the camcorder through the IEEE 1394 port (although, since it's a Sony, I suppose I should say i.LINK port) - the Dazzle DVC II doesn't support DV capture or control.

The stripe 'flair' effect problem in Dazzle. This is primarily an MPEG compression problem.

The test video I shot was purposely done breaking every rule in the book to see how the systems would compensate. I shot jerkey, wobbly, hand-held scenes and some tripod mounted scenes. I shot indoors with poor lighting and outdoors with quick pans from bright sunlight to dark shadows. I shot trees blowing in the wind, water with ripples, and dark objects against bright backgrounds. I also did a series of hand-held shots of different fabric patterns such as herringbone, checkers of different sizes, bright red stripes against white strips, fur, hair, and all sorts of patterns that are difficult for the camcorder, the capture system, and the CODECs to handle. I also purposely put skips in the tape (stopping the camcorder, fast forwarding a bit, then starting up again) to test each system's ability to handle complete loss of picture signal and sync. All in all it was a pretty horrible video to watch but provided me with a fairly extreme test source.

Hollywood FX Copper, bundled with the Pinnacle system, adds many great-looking transitions to Premiere, like this 3D stopwatch with video mapped on its face.