Going Over Video Capture Card Features

Analog camcorders output video in as many as three ways: composite, S-Video, and component (from lowest quality to highest). Each uses different cables and connectors, and each requires different technology to convert the analog signal to a digital stream for storage in your computer.

You'll need to select a video capture card with analog inputs that match your needs. The three primary capture card manufacturers are Canopus, Matrox, and Pinnacle (see Figure 2.1). All their capture cards have IEEE 1394 connectivity, and most have some number of analog input and output plugs. In addition, most support MPEG-2 compression and real-time effects rendering.

Figure 2.1. The three high-quality, mid-range video capture cards: Canopus DVStorm ($1,000 estimated street price), Matrox RT 2500 ($750), and Pinnacle Systems Pro-ONE ($850). The scope of your planned projects and whether you'll use analog video will dictate your card choice.

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MPEG stands for Motion Pictures Expert Group, a standards-setting organization like IEEE. MPEG-2 has become the de facto means to "compress" DV (see the "Video Alphabet Soup" sidebar). It's the format used on DVD disks and for digital satellite systems.


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Real-time effects rendering is a true plus for video professionals under tight time constraints. Both simple and complex special effects, ranging from standard dissolves to spinning 3D cubes, require substantial processor power to display as you create them. Even today's 2+ GHz processors are not fast enough to play back those transitions in real time. They first need to render them?perform millions of calculations and record these effects to the hard drive?before they can play them back as straight video clips. Rendering delays range from a few seconds to hours. Real-time video cards take on much of that number crunching and, depending on the number and nature of the effects, can play them back immediately.


If you are creating a home video, you may be willing to forgo the luxury of a real-time card. In addition, with Premiere 6.5 you now can preview slightly less-than-full-quality versions of those effects in real time. You'll need a high-end PC running Windows XP or a powerful Mac with OS X to exploit this feature.

On the other hand, professional video producers, with clients peering over their shoulders suggesting multiple edit changes, will consider a real-time card a necessity.

Video capture card prices start at about $500 and can range as high as $4,000 for a full-featured card with Beta SP component inputs (see the sidebar in Hour 3 for more on video capture cards).

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One possible fly in the video capture card ointment: Most of these cards come bundled with Premiere. If you've already purchased Premiere separately, there's no way I know of to buy an "unbundled" capture card at a lower price. So, if you're thinking a bundled card deal works for you, you might find a way to return your hopefully still-shrink-wrapped copy of Premiere for a credit.


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If you find opening your PC a bit nerve-wracking or resolving hardware conflicts daunting, your other option is to buy a system with a video capture card already installed.

I tested the Matrox RT 2500 on a Windows XP Pro PC from Mina Systems (www.minatv.com), an authorized Matrox Integrator. It ran smoothly, right out of the box.

Another company that consistently builds high-quality, reliable DV-oriented PCs is Alienware (www.alienware.com). Its top-of-the line DV system comes fully tricked out with dual Pentium processors and a Pinnacle Pro-ONE video capture card.

Neither company offers recordable DVD drives. One strength of Premiere 6.5 is its DVD Authoring module. To take advantage of that, you'll need a DVD recorder (see Hours 21?24 for more on DVD authoring).




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