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Desktop Video (part 2)


Desktop Video

Desktop video is analogous to desktop publishing, commonly abbreviated DTP.
Before DTP, if you remember, typesetting and publishing were expensive activities.
To produce a professional piece of work you had to go to a typesetter who would
mangle all your words and spelling then lay your thoughts and ideas out in a
standard typeface in a plain unchallenging layout. Want to add photographs?
Then dig deep because it is going to cost you dear. If you go to your attic
and pull out a magazine, or better still a club newsletter, dating back more
than twelve years or so you will see that it is dull, dull, dull compared to
virtually anything available today. What made the difference was the good old
Apple Macintosh computer and PageMaker DTP software. From that beginning, many
things followed, the most important of which being access to technology and
more affordable leverage into the means of distribution. Give creative people
the opportunity and there is no telling where it is going to lead. It has to
be said that the early days of DTP offered just as many opportunities to even
more people who had absolutely not one ounce of creativity and the flourishing
of outstanding new work in the print media was accompanied in the flourishing
of much greater quantities of material fit only for landfill, visually at least.
A future archeologist’s dream perhaps.

Apple have never forgotten the source for their early success and, seeking
to invigorate further their current revival, realized that affordable technology
was getting to the point where desktop video was becoming a possibility. There
were certain necessary components:

  • Affordable digital camcorders
  • A compressed video format with a reasonably low data rate and storage requirements
  • A means of piping data to and from camcorder to computer without requiring
    a specialist interface or video card

  • Fast computers and affordable storage

On the publishing side of the equation the requirement was for a means of distribution
with the following attributes:

  • A potential audience
  • Affordable access
  • Adequate bandwidth
  • Freedom from regulation
  • No restrictions on number of channels

Looking at these in turn, affordable camcorders are available in the form of
the wonderful DV – you don’t even need DVCPRO or DVCAM to be creative.
Early DV camcorders lacked appropriate inputs and outputs but current models
are often equipped with digital I/O. Curiously, European Union tax regulations
have prompted manufacturers to disable the input on many models. It is apparently
possible to ‘re-enable’ them on some models, but this is certainly
a point to watch. DV is a compressed format with a data rate of roughly 25Mbits/s.
This is a perfect combination because fast modern computers are perfectly capable
of handling this data bandwidth, and the storage requirement works out at roughly
5 minutes per Gigabyte. With drives of 18, 36, 50Gbyte and even larger, long
form production is perfectly feasible. The interface is of course Apple’s
Firewire, also known by Sony as I-Link. Firewire is a cheap enough technology
to put it on high end consumer equipment, and as a multi-purpose interface it
can be used for plenty of things other than video.

David Mellor

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David Mellor