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DV Capture with Adobe Premiere 6.x
The whole point of messing around with computer video is to edit and share your own stories. But doing so requires first capturing the material from a camcorder, and this process of digitizing video and audio with a capture card has been a big hurdle -- until now. With the continued evolution of faster machines, and especially with the advent of DV digital video camcorders and the 1394 / Firewire interface, you can say goodbye to the pain and frustration of the bad old days of video capture.
DV means real video, with full-size, full-rate capture, and on standard computers. The associated 1394 / Firewire interface provides a standard connection that allows you to use your DV equipment with many different editing applications. And the 1394 interface is bi-directional, so you can not only capture from a DV camcorder, but also export your edited production back to DV tape to archive and share.
Even better, with an application like Adobe Premiere 6, you can control the DV camcorder from the application. In this article, I'll use Premiere as an example of how easy and painless it is to capture with DV, so you can cue the tape to capture a specific scene, and even create a list of scenes to be captured and then let the software run unattended as it rolls the tape and performs a batch capture of a group of clips. Easy enough?
In the old days of video editing on computers, one of the most difficult challenges was the first step of getting your video into the computer. This required converting from analog format, for example on a 8mm camcorder, into digital format on your hard disk. What made capture so problematical was the unpleasant trade-offs it required, in installing special hardware and software, and in the demands it placed on your system.
If you wanted to capture full-screen full-rate video, then you needed to open up your computer and install a dedicated video capture board. These boards convert the analog video signals from your camcorder into digital data, and therefore need to run at full video frame rate. And they pour a huge volume of resulting digitized frames into your system.
Since full-size full-rate uncompressed video is too much data for most systems to handle, you then needed to upgrade your system with a faster processor, bus, and hard disks, and even dedicated disk arrays. Another solution was to add video compression hardware to the capture board to reduce the data rate, typically using Motion-JPEG compression.
The resulting capture board solutions could get expensive, up to several thousand dollars, if you wanted high-quality analog to digital conversion, synchronized video and audio capture, and flexible near-lossless video compression. Even worse, the boards often required customized software interfaces, so you were often locked in to a specific solution pairing a capture board with a compatible video editing package, and on a dedicated high-performance computer.
The alternative was to trade off quality and full-screen full-rate performance, and settle for a lower-end board or an external USB type capture solution. At least you could use these on a normal computer, and get going quickly to capture and edit, albeit for lower-quality Web video.
The DV format, and the associated 1394 / Firewire interface connecting camcorders to computers, breaks through these restrictions and trade-offs with a totally different concept for video capture.
First, the analog to video conversion is done in the DV camcorder immediately as the video and audio are originally captured, and then written to the DV tape as digital data. This means that capture boards no longer have to mix analog conversion with digital circuits. Secondly, the media is also compressed as it is captured into DV format, so the data rate is reduced 5:1 while still maintaining high video quality, suitable for editing.
Finally, the video and audio no longer need to be "captured" into the computer at all. Instead, the process reduces to a digital data transfer along a 1394 cable, and the complexity and cost of the old capture board disappears into the savings of high-volume DV and 1394 chip sets.
As a result, the concept of requiring a special-purpose analog capture board can be greatly simplified into using a standard 1394 interface card. The processing speed and disk storage on even today's consumer PC's are capable of handling these kinds of demands, especially as the 1394 interface will be built in to more and more new systems. And the software story simplifies as well, replacing custom software interfaces to specific hardware boards with general support for the 1394 interface and DV camcorders.
The first step in using a DV camcorder with Premiere 6.x, or any other video editing application, is to check the compatibility between your operating system, application software, 1394 interface hardware, and camcorder. Unfortunately, some older software and hardware, and some camcorders, have idiosyncrasies that cause compatibility problems, so check with the manufacturers for compatible equipment (or known problems).
Your system may have some of these components pre-installed, such as an Apple iMac DV with iMovie software and 1394 interface. Newer equipment and Windows software should be compliant with the Open Host Controller Interface (OHCI) standard for interacting with the 1394 hardware.
Adobe Premiere 6.x addresses this compatibility issue by providing built-in support for a wide range of DV devices. And with Premiere's DV project presets, you can quickly capture DV material, edit it, and then export it in a wide range of formats, including desktop formats such as DV, AVI and QuickTime, and Web formats including Windows Media and RealMedia.
The first time you use Premiere with your DV camcorder, use the DV Device Control Options dialog to specify your specific camcorder manufacturer and model, like the Sony DCR-TRV11 that I am using. Then click the Check Status button to have Premiere attempt to verify the connection to your camcorder.
The status should be "Online," meaning that Premiere can successfully communicate with your camcorder and can control the tape. If the status is "Offline," then Premiere cannot communicate with your camcorder (so check the connections and make sure that you turned on the camera and set it in VCR mode). If the status is "Detected," then Premiere can communicate with your camcorder, but cannot control the tape (so check that you have a tape inserted).
Once Premiere is communicating successfully to your DV camcorder, you are ready to start recording. Premiere uses the Movie Capture dialog to control capture, playback of the DV tape, and batch capturing (under File / Capture / Movie Capture). The Settings tab in the dialog displays the current capture settings, including the video format, the directory for the captured files, and the DV device set-up.
If DV device control is supported for your camcorder, you can then use the playback controls under the video display to play, fast forward, and step through the tape. No more fiddling with little buttons on the camcorder while you are trying to capture! Now you can cue up your tape with mouse-click convenience (or, even easier, by using keyboard shortcuts).
To record from the tape, just cue the tape to the start of a clip, and click the Record button. Premiere will roll the tape and start capturing to disk. Watch the capture until the end of the clip, and then click the mouse to stop recording. Premiere will display the Save File dialog to specify the captured file name.
With the DV device control capability, Premiere can make capturing even easier. As you scan through the tape, set an In point at the starting location of a clip. Then move to the end of the clip and set an Out point. Now that the clip is marked, Alt-click (on Windows) or Option-click (on Macintosh) the Record button. Because of the reliable timecode on DV tapes, Premiere can then do the cueing and recording for you: it will rewind the tape to the In point, and then start it playing to record the clip up to the Out point.
But that's not all! Once you can mark one clip to capture, why not go ahead and mark a whole list of them? The Logging tab in the Movie Capture dialog is designed for just this. It shows the In and Out points that you have set, and then you can click on Capture In/Out to record that one clip.
Or, click on Log In/Out to start making a list of clips to be captured. Premiere then displays the Batch Capture window, with the In and Out timecodes for the clip that you just defined. You can scan through the tape to find additional clips, and add them to the batch list.
When you are done specifying clips for the tape, you can select one or more of the clip to be captured (by clicking the check mark in the left column), and then press the Record button. Premiere will step through your batch list, advancing the tape to the beginning of each clip, and then recording it. And you even can go take a break as it is working.
This batch list concept is very powerful. You can play through your tapes once to log the clips to a batch list, and then save it to use later when you want to capture one or more of them. You also can use a batch list to speed up the editing process by capturing low-resolution versions of your clips to use while editing, and then go back and recapture only the portions used in your final edit at full resolution.
Ease the Pain
The promise of DV is clear: With a 1394 interface board (or a new computer), you not only get a convenient (and high-speed) plug-and-play connection for connecting to external computer peripherals like hard disks and DVD burners, but you also get a general connection for video and audio capture from (and to) DV camcorders.
With a tool like Adobe Premiere 6.0, and the ability to control a DV camcorder from your computer, video capture becomes not only less painful, but even fun. You can scan through your tape one, moving easily with mouse clicks or keyboard presses, set In and Out points, log them a batch list, and you're all set! Whenever you need a clip, simply insert the tape, open the batch list, select the clips you want, and press Record.
In fact, working with DV tapes is so convenient that you might go a bit overboard with shuttling around the tape mechanism in your camcorder. Remember, you do not need to single-step though your tapes to pick exact frames to start and end your clips. In fact, you want to capture them with extra material at the ends so that you have the freedom to adjust the final cut or transition points when you are editing them. If you do a lot of this type of capture, you might even want to invest in a dedicated DV tape deck to save the wear and tear on your camcorder.
The promise of DV has come to fruition, so we can expect that most video software will work with most DV devices. The pain of video capture has eased, so get out and start having fun!