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Friday, February 06, 2004

Panasonic DVD Recorder, the Mac & Open Shiiva - Excellent Karma! (REVISED)

A couple days ago, I wrote a long review about the Canopus ADVC-100 in bringing in and converting video files from analog to digital files on the Mac This covers the DVD Recorder and Open Shiiva portion on the Mac. The Panasonic DMR-E80H has an 80 GB Hard Drive (HDD) - Progressive Scan. It has (1) Component & Digital Audio Out; (2) Composite (RCA) inputs; (2) Composite (RCA) outputs; and (2) S-Video in and outs. There are plenty of the other specs - you can check it out at the Panasonic site. It records on: The HARD DRIVE, DVD-R (4.7 GB only) and DVD-RAM (both 4.7 & 9.4 GB). It plays back: DVD-Video, DVD-Audio, DVD-RAM, DVD-R, Video CD (VCD), CD, CD-R, CD-RW (including Mp3's). No S-VCD. Setting it could not be easier. Plug it in as you would any VCR in your AV setup. HARD DRIVE RECORDING There are FOUR settings - XP, SP, LP & EP. Your approximate recording times are: 17, 34, 68 & 106 Hours. Only the EP is not really worth your while unless you don't mind lots of artifice, pixelation and blockiness. I suspect it's only included so they can say 100+ Hours recording. If you're viewing it on a 10-year old TV, it might be fine but then why would you spend $500 on a progressive scan DVD recorder? The LP speed is fine for most viewing. As with any MPEG compression, if you stand next to the set during very dark scenes, you can see some pixelation. RECORDING Just like a VCR - time-shift record or just press RECORD. You can enter in a TITLE at that point or at any point later. It's obviously not that quick as you have to navigate like those old arcade video games to "type" but again, you can enter the title in at any time. And of course, unlike blank videotapes, you can easily jump to your playlist and see just what it is. VIEWING Let's say you've taped two programs so far (we'll just call them A and B). You have many choices. You can view A or B without doing anything else. You can view A or B while recording a new program - C. And yes, you can even be viewing a DVD-R or retail DVD while recording "C." You can also start viewing ("rewind to") the beginning of the program while it's recording. You can view anything else stored on the HDD while it's recording now and you can view DVD's while the HDD is recording. Nice. Much nicer than a VCR. The FORWARD & REVIEW functions are great - you can go from 2x to 100x. Very, very nice! You get frame shots as it's going along. The look sharp and crisp and you know exactly what you're looking at and where. One of the very few, very minor annoyances about the Panasonic is that if you know you're going to walk away from something you're watching, you can hit MEMORIZE POSITION but the feature to retrieve your memorize position is not very intuative. But it's a pretty minor thing because of the 2x to 100x fast forward/reverse - by the time you remember how to retrieve your position, it's easier just to fast forward. (You of course, can hit PAUSE and it does have a STOP function like most DVD players. As long as the power is still up, you will return to your last 'stopped' position so it's not a deal breaker - just could ever slightly better). EDITING Besides ERASE (of course), you can also choose EDIT SEGMENT or DIVIDE SEGMENT. Keep in mind you're editing with a remote control so your controls are obviously not as easy as computer-based but it's not too bad. DIVIDE SEGMENT is useful for eliminating the front & back of a recording - like a movie off of HBO or if you taped for a 3-hour block and you want to divide and re-label each individual show. Once you've selected DIVIDE SEGMENT, it brings it up in a smaller window. Just forward/play to the point where you want to split. Select DIVIDE. It asks you just to be sure it's what you want to do. YES and it takes about 10 seconds to DIVIDE it (you cannot rejoin them). Then ERASE the first segment. Then fast-forward to the end and DIVIDE again. This is one its few, minor flaws - unless I'm missing it, you cannot just jump to the end - you have to fast forward - though at 100X, it really only takes about a few moments to get there. EDIT SEGMENT lets you ERASE segments in the middle of a recording - perfect for eliminating commercials in between a show. There is also a FRAME FORWARD and FRAME BACK function so you can spend time and eliminate all the commercials cleanly. Of course, you can also record footage such as a home movie and edit on the machine but you'd be braver and much more nimble working a remote control than me. DUBBING If you're anything like me who can easily tape 20 hours a week, you will fill up that HDD pretty quickly. But what's great is then you can dub then over to DVD-R (or DVD-RAM) - it does not record onto DVD-RW. You can fit 1/2/4 or 6 hours onto a DVD-R or DVD-RAM (depending on the speed you chose to record it onto the HDD). You can fit twice as much on a double-sided 9.4 GB DVD-RAM at all the speeds listed. With DVD-R's at less than a $1 each in volume, it's a nice space & cost savings over videotapes (At shop4tech.com or meritline.com, you get them as low as $.50 each) plus additional Mac benefits - as you can read later on. Once you have recorded it onto HDD, just select DUBBING and DUB from HDD to DVD. Select the titles you want to transfer over. TWO more great things - ONE, you don't have to do it all at once. I'm mostly using the SP/LP mode with DVD-R's so I can fit 2 or 4 hours. You can dub over in multi-sessions. You cannot erase anything you've dubbed over to a DVD-R but what's nice is that you do not need to wait until you have 2 or 4 hours to fill before dubbing it over and erasing it from your HDD. 2ND GREAT THING - you can select HIGH SPEED DUBBING - takes about an hour to dub/move over 4-hours of video (LP mode). Excellent! You can also select real-time dubbing but I'm not sure why. Since it's digital, you're not losing anything. Once you've reached/decided to "close the book" on that DVD-R. Then select FINALIZE so regular DVD players can read it (presuming it can read DVD-R's). You can even select from 8 different menus templates. They're really just different colors background with the titles of the movies/shows so it's not much but it's something. You can also burn them onto DVD-RAM. When the HDD was only 40GB or less and DVD-R's were $3-$5 each, it probably made more sense to burn movies/shows on DVD-RAM (which are about $15-$40) each but with DVD-R's at $.50, it probably isn't as useful but you do get a FREE DVD-RAM disc one with your machine so you can decide for yourself what you prefer. Supposedly you can re-use (erase and re-record) it up to 10,000 times. THE MAC COMES INTO THE PICTURE WATCHING If you want to tape shows/movies off the air to watch on your Mac, this is a great way to go. Once you've FINALIZED the disc, any DVD player can read it and off you go. Better yet, if you have the room, you can simply drag the VOB files off onto your Mac. VLC (one of the all time great Mac programs) will play VOB's fine. This is also useful if you have a machine without a DVD drive but if it's on a network where you can transfer it over. VLC does not need a DVD drive. While a screen shot is going to be grainer than the actual playback, you can get a rough idea of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT taped from FOX at the LP mode. You can resize it to full screen. It's not factory glass-pressed DVD-Video quality but it's not bad for $.12 (25% of a $.50 DVD-R). But if just playback is not all you want - you can use OPEN SHIIVA or DIVA to convert it to QT. The :30 minute ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT file was 495 MB as a VOB file. It was converted to an Mp4 file by OPEN SHIIVA - 337 MB. Here's a screenshot of the Open Shiiva Mp4 - You can then IMPORT into iMovie or FCE/FCP. At some point, I may get this from Heuris - but I haven't determined from them if it's just giving me the functionality of Open Shiiva at $150 dollars or not. Since I have the Canopus ADVC-100, being able to edit a VOB is not a huge priority but if you get an answer or you're using the Heuris ConnexIT for QT - let me know if it's worth it. BTW, I did not removed the commercials so it's a full :30 minutes. A typical 90-minute movie is about 1.6 GB. To mount DVD-RAM discs on the Mac, you will need $24.95 and this from Software Architects. COST Open Shiiva and DiVA are FREE! The Panasonic lists at $699 - Amazon has it for $519, yes - we're an affiliate: Panasonic DMR-E80H. There is also a 120 HD model but it costs much more (list $1,100. It also has a card slot if viewing photographs on your TV is useful). For most people, the 80 GB HDD is more than enough and with DVD-R's dropping rapidly in price, even I still have 35 hours left on the thing. It's easy and it works great. I already have two :-) There was a recent review of the Gateway DVD Recorder which is cheaper but apparently does NOT let you view one HDD recorded program while recording a new one - so be careful what you're getting. The review alludes to the fact that the major Japanese brands (Panasonic, Pioneer & Toshiba) all let's you have the full functionality I've talked about - so be sure and get ALL the features you'll want and need. Thanks for pointing out my typos - I think I got most of them. Good luck!

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Canopus ADVC-100: The Only Way to Capture! (REVISED)

BACKGROUND: I have hundreds of videotapes and DVD's that I wanted to port into my Mac and convert to digital files - to Quicktime as a start and then later with the option of converting to MPEG-1 (VCD), MPEG-2 (DVD) or DIVX. While the ability to time-shift was a consideration, I was more concerned with having enough inputs, what kind of inputs it accepted (RCA/S-Video, etc ...) and some sort of video processing to maintain or even boost the video resolution. Ultimately, I decided on the Canopus ADVC-100 and if you want the short verdict - it's great. If you want all the details - then read on! WHAT I CONSIDERED: I did not want to purchase a PCI card knowing that the G5's were around the corner and wasn't sure of compatibility. So I decided an external box would be best as a start. The list included the: Canopus ADVC-100 , EyeTV 100 , ADS USB Instant DVD For Mac , and the Formac Studio TVR. Of course, I read everything there was on the Accelerate Your Mac website. The EyeTV 100 definitely seemed to be the most popular, the DVR software looked great and their level of support seemed incredibly personal and responsive but at that time, with only MPEG-1 as its file format, I decided against it (the Eye TV 200 is MPEG-2). The ADS seemed fine but was the reviews of the bundled software were not rated very high and I wasn't 100% positive I could capture with other software (iMovie/FCE) or that the files would be readable by iMovie or Final Cut Express. The Formac seems to be a worthy contender though the reviews for the DVR/TV Time Shifting software were also rather poor. I also read some heated forums regarding their support level. I cannot say if it's accurate or it's warranted but it was a strike against them. The main clinchers for choosing the Canopus over the Formac was a) Canopus also makes high-end pro video gear for the Mac (among other pro gear, Canopus also has the ADVC-500 video capture - great if you have $1,500); b) there are more connectors than any of the other choices. There are TWO sets of RCA V/A In's and TWO S-Video In's - one SET on the front and one set on the back of the unit (Of course, the Canopus also has DV in for bringing in your videocamera footage) and; c) it even costs a little bit less than the Formac. Read the links to all the websites to get the details on the specs and determine what your needs are. Now, the Canopus does NOT have offer time shift recording. It wasn't a deal breaker for me since I have a Panasonic DVD Recorder so anything I need time shifted, I can just bring the footage that way on a DVD and to leave the Mac on to time shift doesn't really interest me that much. Other than that feature, if you read through Canopus' specs, it is clearly the best hardware. CANOPUS ADVC-100 It's tiny! It's about 4" wide, about 6" long and about 2" high. You can read all the specs on the website link - I have a VHS VCR hooked up with the back inputs through S-Video and RCA for the audio. I have my DVD player (VCR friendly - no Macrovision) hooked up through the front inputs - same setup - S-Video/RCA audio. I also have it directly hooked up to the Mac - not on a firewire chain. As with any great Mac hardware product, it's ABSOLUTELY plug and play. Take it out of the box. Plug it in. Plug all your inputs in. Plug in the firewire cable. Fire up the Mac. launch iMovie or FCE. Switch ANALOG/DIGITAL to choose VCR/DVD (in this case) and THERE IT IS! Excellent! I also have a cable box running to my VCR so my three inputs source choices are: VHS, Cable & DVD. iMOVIE Well first a little background. I was all ready to switch to the G5 - was leery of the firewire 800 problems, I have 6 drives. Then the G5's were updated quickly and there's issue of the even faster one coming out soon. I also got a new PB and I'm going to move so I'm actually running this on the lowest common Mac in the meantime - the eMac and iMovie. Don't let anybody tell you different - the eMac is great! You do have to get the stand though. Anyway, since I'm really just clipping off portions of captured footage, iMovie is pretty much all I need. Since I have the cable box attached, I can capture and watch TV (I just can't time-shift record). iMovie is flakey so you have to save often. I wouldn't trust it to record anything "precious" that's live because when iMovie goes, it reverts back to last saved - there's no "active/timed" saves. Of course, I can also choose from my other two input sources: VHS & DVD but of course, you can hook up anything that outputs video. iMovie & the ADVC-100 Could not be simpler. Launch iMovie. Switch to CAPTURE MODE in iMovie. Click on PLAY and you get a video image. Flick a switch on the Canopus to switch between your inputs. Since Source A is my VCR (with a cable box attached), I can watch TV in iMovie, click on IMPORT to record anything. You can follow the links below to get a rough idea of the resolution. As mentioned, iMovie is flakey so save often. The only real missing feature on the ADV-100 is a brighten and contrast setting so some footage you pull can be a little dark - you can adjust in iMovie - that is the only area where the eMac lags. It does take a while to adjust brightness and contrast. If it's not that big of a deal, you can skip it and brighten it when you play it in QT movie player. The ADVC-500 has those adjustment controls plus a bevy of other options - it is about $1,100 more than the ADVC-100. iMovie TIP - at least on an eMac, do NOT select EMPTY TRASH within iMovie - everything can take up to 5 minutes to trash - instead, just select SAVE PROJECT along the way to reclaim HD space and when you are done (be absolutely sure!) - then toss that (imovie project) FOLDER away from the FINDER/DESKTOP. It'll empty in seconds versus minutes. RESOLUTION? While a screen snapshot from a video is not entirely accurate and slightly grainier - Here's Late Night with Dave Letterman captured as it was playing on CBS and saved as an Mp4. Ignore the lines - for some reason Snapz Pro left in those lines from an earlier capture. Here is the pilot episode of Cheers - DVD source - saved as an "Full Quality DV." Here is an episode of Seinfeld from - VHS source (mid 1990s - EP speed) and saved using the "CD-ROM " choice. And this was an Oprah interview of Matt Groening and a segment on the Simpsons - VHS source (from 1995 - EP speed). This is an Mp4 file. Of the iMovie EXPORT's format choices - I am choosing between: "CD-ROM" "Expert Settings" "Full Quality DV" CD-ROM is the 320 by 240 SEINFELD example you see. A 23-minute sitcom is around 80-100 MB. It's a little smaller than I'd like but a reasonable compromise of file size and resolution. It's a nice size/format for cleaning up grainy VHS footage (as compared to DVD sources). While most of the files are too large to really link to, I have included a Late Show/Dave Letterman CBS Promo from 1995 (VHS source) that is the "CD-ROM" resolution. EXPERT SETTING (MP4) - you have many options to choose, set & adjust with the "expert setting." I essentially selected the HIGHEST video quality settings. It's the largest size iMovie will output (the iMovie window size). It's a good enough of a size for me. An 45-minute show is about 1.5 to 2 GB in size. However, the Mp4 in iMovie is not particularly great - it's useful for a talk show where there is not much movement and when there is, the Codec is slightly behind and it can be a bit blocky. It might be unacceptable to you but It's reasonable enough for me. In my case, it's mostly episodes or segments of Dave Letterman so I don't need it extra sharp. FULL QUALITY DV is very nice. It's pretty much 98% of the resolution you see in the iMovie capture window. The file sizes are HUGE though. The 23-minute episode of Cheers - 5 GB. Since I have a couple 250 GB HD, it's not that big of a deal but it can add up. OUTPUT What's nice about QT is you have a lot of options to convert it to something else. I have just started experimenting with DIVX and the file sizes are great but I'm concerned about future compatibility and playback - I'd rather take up an utilitize a couple of extra DVR-R's now and have that flexibility in the future. I may also break down and get CLEANER once I get my G5. BTW, Toast 6 Titanium is brilliant. You can drag any of the variations of QT into and it will encode and convert into VCD/SVCD or DVD. Yes, you can drag all of the QT selections I've made onto one disc. And yes, it takes a whole lot of processing on an eMac so if you're burning quite a few discs. Since this eMac does not have a SuperDrive, no iDVD so I have not bothered to load iDVD3 to test out if it would encode faster (I have an external DVD-RW attached). Toast 6 also recognizes the ADV-100 as a firewire input device so if for some reason you want to skip iMovie as your capture software, you can use Toast directly. FURTHER MORE Of course, you can also input your video through your camcorder and then to iMovie (skipping buying the Canopus or other AV input device). The resolution is okay if you plan on saving all your files in the smaller 320 by 240 size. I think it's a little soft but watchable. Personally, I found it to be much too low resolution at the larger size but if you're on a limited budget, you might try that first and see if that serves your needs. The Canopus does contain a codec and signal enhancer. You might have also noticed that some tapes will not pass-thru your camcorder. You may need a VCR with a 'time-base corrector' or TBC. JVC still has a few models left that are reasonably priced with the TBC feature. ADDENDUM - DVD FILES Using Toast's DVD-Video Burn - Here's the breakdown on playback quality on the Mac created DVD-R when viewed on a DVD playback device: GREAT - no apparent loss of resolution from original as viewed on a Mac: Toast DIRECT Capture DV footage (no real editing function in Toast though). iMovie DIRECT Capture Footage - saved as "Full Quality DV." iMovie File - Saved as "Full Quality DV." MINIMALLY ACCEPTABLE - Closer to VCD resolution: iMovie Mp4 File (at the highest settings - see above) but be warned, it should only be transferred to a video DVD-R if it contains very minimal movement - but with each "cut," it takes Mp4 several seconds to "catch" up so - for long time editors - it's the "offline" non-rendered look. BAD iMovie "CD-ROM" file format. Just poor. Don't bother transferring to DVD. The results are along the same lines in creating a VCD. DV files look nice. Mp4 - minimally acceptable for editing previewing/reviewing. iMovie "CD-ROM" file format unacceptable. Half a TOAST tip - when it's processing and encoding files for a DVD-video burn, it creates TEMP AIFF files that are obviously named so before it's done processing all the files, you can COPY any of the AIFF files to another folder. It erases them after it's done with the DVD. It's really only half a tip as you can export AUDIO files from iMovie or QT but it's sort of like two birds with one stone if you want an AIFF/audio file of the project also. QUESTIONS? If there's any other questions, please feel free to ask - metroxing (at) mac.com Hope this was useful.