1997 has been a fantastic year for new DTV products. I have been using, testing and reviewing DTV products for almost 2 years now. I can’t believe how far we’ve come in such a short time. Back when my son Max was born in August 1995, the top video capture cards cost almost a thousand dollars and were struggling to deliver 30 frames per second, ¼ screen video. 2 years later and we can capture super Hi resolution DV video directly to our hard drives via FireWire or add full speed, full screen video capture to our existing graphics card for under $300!!
Originally thisa list was broken into two parts , the top 5, the two new and then rest of the best. I have added two new products to the list, that I feel are so cool, they needed to be added to the first 5!! I felt each of these top products deserved a little more accolades then the remaining 6, although all of these products are highly recommended. You can find the complete specs on each product by clicking
Here are my picks as the top products of the year, in alphabetical order:
* DPS Spark
* Matrox Rainbow Runner
* Pinnacle Systems DC30plus w/ miroINSTANT video
* Seagate Cheetah Ultra SCSI hard drives
* Ulead Media Studio Pro 5.0
Top new products, October additions:
* Medea VideoRAID
* LA Vision Dazzle
What do you get when a founder of Micropolis and one of the inventors of SCSI RAID systems decide to create a dedicated low cost storage solution for digital video clips? VideoRAID. EIDE RAIDs that look and feel like a brick and hold a ton of storage. Best of all, the sustained thoughput is nothing short of incredible. Over 9 megs/second over the entire drive unit. How do they do it? Something about RAID technology and one drive spinning clockwise while the other spins counter clockwise. Do I understand it, not at all. Does it work, absolutely. And, best off all, it is super easy to install, comes pre-formatted and partitioned and does not require any expansion slots/IRQs/memory addresses. In other words, it is really Plug & Play, or more acurately, Plug & Record!!! With 5GB units available for under $1000, anyone can now afford top notch storage for SVHS quality non linear editing!!
LA Vision Dazzle
Finally, a video capture and editing solution that is totally external and works great on a laptop or desk top computer. Why bother grabbing boring still frames when you can capture full motion, MPEG video clips for use in presentations, websites, email, kiosks, anything you can imagine. Dazzle comes with an enourmous amount of software including a clever little MPEG cut and paste assemble editor so you can remove any unwanted footage. Speaking of footage, you will be amazed at how much VHS quality footage you can pack into your hard drive. A full minute of MPEG video needs only 10 megs of disk space!! What's the best thing about Dazzle? It costs under $200 and it is a real shipping product, not vaporware.
I have already posted my complete hands on review of the Spark for Win95, so this is going to be a short review. I think the Spark is an amazing product. It is the first affordable DV editing card. Using FireWire you can capture the DV video straight to your hard drive, edit it, then send it back out to the DV cam via the same FireWire jack. The final video is a clone of the original. Spark delivers the highest video quality of any non linear editing system I have ever seen for under $3000. Best of all, you can get the Spark ‘naked’ w/o any editing software for only $649.95!!!
Spark notes: Spark and FireWire are brand new technologies. As a result, Spark is not for everyone. DPS publishes a list of tested and approved hardware for running the Spark on there website. If you build or own one of the systems listed, you will get incredible results. Unfortunately many of our customers with non approved hardware have had a more difficult time.
Matrox Rainbow Runner
When I heard Matrox was going to introduce the Rainbow Runner my first thought was "Full screen, full motion, SVHS video capture for $250, No way!" Well let me tell you, I was wrong. Rainbow Runner delivers. The video looks great, the features are super cool and the multimedia goodies are a ton of fun. When I first got my beta sample a few months ago I had mixed results. The video looked good, but like most betas it would sometimes crash my system. In addition I felt that the software offered to few compression settings. I am happy to report that the release version works great, installs in a breeze and is very stable. Matrox also added additional compression settings for more control over the video quality. I now consider the Rainbow Runner to be one of my top new breakthrough products of 1997.
On my test system I was able to capture full screen, full motion video (704x480 at 30 fps), at a compression of 7:1 without dropping any frames. Playback was smooth and jitter free. That translates to a sustained data rate of just under 3 megs per second!!! I was able to edit and produce video easily with the supplied Ulead Video Editing software. (It also worked great with the new full 5.0 version). How strongly do I recommend the Rainbow Runner? For home/hobbyist use it is my number 1 recommendation. If you already have a Mystique already installed in your P133 or faster system, you must give the Rainbow Runner a try before you purchase any other video capture card!!
Pinnacle Systems DC30plus w/ miroINSTANT video
That the DC30plus is on my list of breakthrough products just goes to show you how Pinnacle Systems has leaped to the forefront of the affordable, under $1000 video capture card market. As recently as Memorial Day the old DC30 was the top performing card in the category. But Pinnacle Systems did some tweaking of the DC30 drivers, added a better analog/digital chip and then dropped the bomb on the industry - miroINSTANT video.
What does miroINSTANT video do? It obliterates the Win95 2 gig file limitation and finally gives digital videographers the ability to produce long form videos. Now you can play up to 1 hour of video directly from the Premiere timeline. Only transitions, effects and filters are rendered. All video footage is left intact and played from the original avi file. This not only gets around the 2 gig file limit in Win95, but it speeds up rendering dramatically and saves a ton of disk space.
The new hardware combined with the new software and utility makes the DC30plus an excellent choice for professional digital videographers. Make no mistake about it, the DC30plus gives boards costing 3-5 times as much a run for the money!!
# miroINSTANT Video Find out why this feature makes Pinnacle video capture cards the best in the industry!
Seagate Cheetah 9.1 GB Ultra Wide SCSI hard drives
How fast is the Cheetah? At 10,000 RPM it is the fastest spinning drive on the market, but RPMs alone don’t make you a Videoguy top 5 product, INCREDIBLE performance does. We benchmarked the Cheetah at over 10 megs per second sustained throughput!! We tested every one of our capture cards and got the same outstanding results. Zero frames dropped and perfect playback from beginning to end. The Cheetah was able to handle everything we could give it, including almost 7 megs per second from the DC30plus. With the Spark we got our best results, even on a system that was running Win95 on a year old P133!!
Cheetah notes: at 10,000 RPM the Cheetah requires a lot of power and cooling. To say this drive runs hot is an understatement. This is why we strongly recommend getting the Cheetah (or any Ultra SCSI drive for video) in an external configuration. Our CTI external drives have a large cooling fan, plenty of air circulation, a heavy duty power supply and a metal case. If you want the best long term performance and reliability, our CTI drives are more then worth the extra investment.
Ulead Media Studio Pro 5.0
I have always been a big fan of Ulead products. Media Studio Pro 2.5 has been my NLE editing software of choice since it was a beta. It was the first 32 bit non linear editing software for Win95. I liked it so much I invented our own custom bundles with it. I found that MS Pro’s interface was much easier to learn and the software itself more intuitive then Premiere. When it came time to revamp the website, I again turned to Ulead. All the graphics and animations on our site are made using Ulead PhotoImpact with web extensions. Let me tell you, 5.0 puts Ulead into a whole new playing field. I feel it is by far and away the best editing software for use with our video capture cards. I have nothing against Premiere, I just think Ulead has jumped over them and raised the bar significantly.
The biggest improvement in 5.0 is Smart Render, which is very similar to miroINSTANT video. It renders only the transitions, effects and filters, plus you can play video directly from the timeline. It also goes a step further. It remembers your work as you go, so when you do make changes it only renders those areas that are affected by the change. I found that working in 5.0 was much faster then any other software I had used before. Ulead also added two very cool new features; Video Paint and CG Infinity. Video Paint lets you actually rotoscope or paint on moving images. CG Infinity is a super easy to use titling program that lets anyone add spectacular 3D moving titles to your video. If you are a webmaster thinking of putting streaming video on your website, MS Pro 5.0 is again a great choice. It ships with trial version of just about every video streaming software I know of.
Best of all, anyone with MS pro 2.0 or higher, or 2.0/2.5VE can upgrade to the full version of 5.0 for only $149.95!!
The rest of the best for 1997
These next 5 products are all very exciting, but not quite as breakthrough as the top 5. Actually I cheated. I wanted to make sure I had room on the list for some 3D Premiere Plug-Ins. When I got done I only had 1 spot left, so I called it a tie for best Plug-In. So I guess my Top 10 list is actually my top dozen!!
Broadway Ver 2.5
DataTranslation has been improving Broadway rapidly over the past 6 months. The latest version 2.5 finally gives multimedia video producers all the power and features they need. My favorite new features are Video output and VDO streaming software included in the bundle!!
Fast AV Master NT driver 1.1
AV Master is the only under $1000 video capture card that works under NT 4.0. The new 1.1 drivers are much improved. You can also play back multiple avi files back to back seamlessly, eliminating the 2 gig file limit. Got NT, get the AV Master!! AV Master bundle now includes the FULL version of Ulead Media Studio Pro 5.0, making it a double Videoguy Top 10 product!!
A really great card for getting started in DTV. The first hardware bundle with MGI VideoWave, an incredibly easy non linear editing software. At under $200, beginners and multimedia producers should definitely consider it. Best of all, you get better then VHS quality video on your EIDE hard drive!!
Holiday Special $199.95
Pinnacle Video Director Suite 200
Sometimes I forget that not all DTV is non linear. VD200 is a complete linear editing package. You get all the hardware and software you need to edit, add titles, transitions and even a few digital effects. Best of all, VD200 is an external box, so you don't have to open up your PC and install any boards. If you have a Sony typr 8mm camcorder w/ Control L, Video Director 200 totally ouperforms stand alone editing systems costing over $1000!!
Holiday Special $199.95 (after rebate)
Tie for best Premiere Plug-In
I really love NLE Plug-Ins. They let you expand the power and capability of your editing. If you want to sprinkle in a few effects or filters to totally knock your audience off their feet, these Plug-Ins are the way to go. Plug-In Note: Super cool 3D effects require alot of RAM (I recommend 64 megs) and they still take a while to render. So when you get one of these packages remember to use the effects sparingly for the best overall impact.
1.Artel BorisEffects 3.0
If you want to get multiple video images flipping, tumbling and flying all over the screen, Boris is the solution. Version 3.0 offers additional 3D effects and even more control, plus an easier interface. It can also be used for flying in awesome quality title graphics and images.
2.Synergy Take 32
For well under a hundred bucks you can add 32 outstanding 3D transitions to your productions. A super easy interface and a good range of controls for each effect make this a real winner. Best of all, you can get a $100 credit towards an upgrade to the Full Hollywood FX software!! Note: Take32 and Hollywood FX are now support MS Pro 5.0!!
There you have it my top 10 new products for 1997. This article has been updated in October, the original was written in July. I fully expect and plan on updating again in January. At that time I will try to keep my Top 10 list to only 10 products. It is just so hard to do with so many super cool new ones coming out all the time!!