Gear & Now: Calm Before the Storm
Posted Jan 3, 2007

Some people think of January as "Break Your New Year's Resolution" month, but those of us in the video biz know it's really "Get Ready for Trade Show Season." Which means a whole whack of new products and solutions will be announced or unveiled very soon, if not any day now.
So, what with attendees of CES, Video 07, Macworld, NAB, and the like all gearing up for new gear, it's time for Gear & Now to look backwards, not forwards, and mention a cross-section of interesting, recently released products, including some that may have missed our topic-specific columns over the past year.


figure 1Getting a Leg Up
For instance, after our mid-year roundup of DV and HDV camera supports, Manfrotto made a couple of significant announcements concerning new tripods in the old 3001 series: the 190XB (left) and the 190XPROB (note the "Pro" in the middle of the model name). Both have improved leg-angle release and quick-action leg-lock mechanisms.

The Pro model has a folded height of 22.4'' and a maximum extended height of 57.5'', and supports a maximum load of approximately 11 lbs. with its own 4 lb. weight.

One of the more noteworthy features is a new center column, which on the Pro version can be rotated to a horizontal position, simply by extending the column to its highest position. You don't have to remove the head or disassemble the column, so switching between setups goes much faster than with previous models.

Designed for compact MiniDV and HDV cameras, the company's new 560B Fluid Video Monopod has fold-up stainless steel feet for additional stability on uneven ground. And you'll need it, because the monopod is upside down! That is, it features a fluid mechanism for smooth shooting and movement—not in the head, but rather in the base, where an internal fluid cartridge allows for smooth tilt and panning movements. Its lock-off knob holds fast the current angle setting for added stability. The 560B extends to a maximum height of 65.3'' and folds down to 26''.


figure 1Recording Sneaky—Even Snake-y—Audio
LightSnake, from SoundTech Professional, is a great idea in cabling—a direct microphone-to-PC cable with embedded analog-to-digital converter and signal booster. The LightSnake USB microphone cable connects with any standard microphone at one end (1/4'' or XLR), and plugs directly into a PC USB port at the other, eliminating the need for a lot of the other cables and boxes normally associated with digital sound recording.

An embedded 16-bit analog-to-digital converter with audio signal boost ensures extremely low audio loss and a 48/44.1KHz sampling rate provides high audio quality while recording.

The Snake, a 10' shielded cable, is fully compliant with USB 2.0 (and earlier) specs, and is compatible with digital audio manipulation programs from companies like Apple and Sony. The sound is good, and the look is cool—the cable lights up at either end when sound is transmitted. It began shipping late last year; suggested retail price is still around $70.


figure 1Zaxcom recently began shipping its new ZFR800, a handheld wireless recorder, and TRX900 (left), a handheld wireless microphone with an integrated timecode and remote control receiver-plus-internal recorder.

Because the audio is recorded directly to the body pack, there's little chance of missing anything, even if the sound mixer or camera operator wasn't expecting important dialog. Cable runs can be eliminated, which is another advantage for event shooters. Each battery-operated TRX900 system has a timecode receiver to help make sure all units are synchronized with each other and with the camera.

Zaxcom uses its own mobile audio recording format, one that is supposedly fault-tolerant—audio can be recovered from the memory card even when recording is stopped abruptly due to power loss. This patent-pending option records up to 12 hours of audio directly to an internal memory card for later use and the direct recording reduces concern over audio loss due to RF or EMI interference during transmission.

The ZFR800 and TRX800 feature a frequency response of 20Hz to 20KHz, a dynamic range of 107dB, and distortion of less than .01%. The TRX800 is available for $1,850 and the list price for the ZFR800 is $1,250.


figure 1Spare Power to Spare
After the column on video batteries and power sources, Dolgin Engineering updated us on its two- and four-position simultaneous battery chargers (left). The four-slot 400 charger takes on batteries from Sony L, Panasonic CGP, and Canon BP, as well as JVC BN-style batteries (using separate adapter plates) up to six Ah. Average charge times for a typical 5600 mAh battery is around 3.5 hours (all four positions).

Batteries can be swapped in and out of any of the independent charger bays; a digital LCD indicates capacity and discharge information in volts, mAh, and percentages. An optional battery cycle, discharge, and test module is available, as is a 7.2V DC campower output unit. Both chargers are compatible with worldwide AC standards, and come with a 12V DC power adapter.

The TC 400 retails for $495, the 200 for $259; the optional discharge unit is $99, and the campower option ranges from $99 to $169.


figure 1Bebob Engineering's Coco-DVL Power Converter (left) draws voltage from Sony NPF970 series batteries, and can simultaneously power a camera and a 12V accessory (light, on-board LCD monitor, or audio receiver). There's a 7.2V 4-pin connector and an optional wireless receiver mounting plate.

The Coco snaps on in place of the battery, which attaches to the converter's convenient docking plate. It transfers 7.2V of power and Info-Lithium data from the battery directly to the camera while converting 7.2V to 12V for accessories. The run time of a camcorder (in record mode) and a 10W Lux light is rated at 135 minutes.

Teamed up with the company's Lux-DV camera light, the Coco-DVL works well with camcorders of almost any size. The light weighs less than 8.8 oz. (250g) when fully equipped with two barndoors, flip-out 56K dichroic filter, and power cord. Lux-DV 20W bulbs feature a built-in mirror and diffuser and can equal a 35W bulb in usable output. The combination Coco/Lux kit is priced around $695.

Light Touch for Heavy Keyboard Users
Bella Corporation's new DV Keyboard 3.0 literally shines a light on fast, productive computer data entry solutions. It has three power ports for Bella's optional NeoLite, a dual-LED task light on the end of a 12'' gooseneck. Plugged into the keyboard, it shines a nice soft illumination on the keyboard or work area surrounding it.

There's a sensitive jog/shuttle controller for precise control over audio and video clips, two convenient USB 2.0 ports for connecting high-speed devices, and the familiar sticker sets that can be used to customize a keyboard for specific software applications, from editing programs to office applications. International symbols on the keycaps, with most European letters and symbols, have been added.

Pro Series keyboards are priced around $180, and are available for popular editing programs including Adobe Premiere Pro, Apple Final Cut Pro, Sony Vegas, and Avid Xpress, Media Composer, and Liquid (see Todd Gillespie's review for more details).

Lee Rickwood (lrickwood@goodmedia.com) is a media consultant and freelance writer.