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June 02, 2008

Table of Contents

In the Studio: Focus Enhancements MCSDI-1
Zacuto Rolls Out Its "Z-Focus" Follow Focus Accessory for HD Video Cameras
Red Giant Software Introduces Trapcode Horizon
Toon Boom and FableVision Announce the Release of Animation-Ish
LaCie Doubles d2 Blu-ray Burn Times to 4x Speeds
Automated DVD Duplication for Under $500: Disc Makers Forte Standalone DVD Duplicator
Mammoth HD Footage Library - Expands the MHD/RED Footage Galleries

In the Studio: Focus Enhancements MCSDI-1

Technology seems to keep pushing the envelope, making things smaller, cheaper, faster. Sometimes, it’s a good thing; at other times, it’s a royal pain. This is one of those "good thing" moments. Focus Enhancements is now offering a device called the MCSDI-1. This isn’t a product that will serve every videographer situation that every videographer will have. But when the time comes, you’ll be glad (as I am) that they made this puppy.

The MCSDI-1 is a small box that can attach underneath your video camera, and then to your tripod. But it’s a box with a lot of power. It can take composite, component, audio, and HDMI input from either an SD or HD source (such as an SD or HD video camera), automatically detect the format, and output that video and audio uncompressed through an auto-switch SD/HD SDI port. All of this for a price tag of only $699.

What’s really cool about this device is its size and affordability. It allows smaller, cheaper cameras to function with an uncompressed signal in a broadcast type of environment. Instead of having four big, expensive, SD broadcast cameras, you can have four smaller, more affordable prosumer HD cameras giving you the same, if not better, image performance.

The price of expensive broadcast studio productions just came down quite a bit!

figure 1 From Box to Broadcast

Imagine this scenario: Small college broadcast school, on a tight budget because it’s recovering from a hurricane (yes, I’m writing from the Crescent City). It purchases four Canon HV20 HD cameras at $700 each. Each has an HDMI cable coming out of it to an MCSDI-1 box mounted between it and a tripod. Each of those four MCSDI-1 boxes has an SDI cable that feeds into a main control HD switcher, such as the Focus HX-1. Now you have an HD broadcast studio set up for around $16,100. That’s about the single unit price for some full-size broadcast cameras alone.

Re-imagine this scenario using a JVC HD100, Sony EX1, or Panasonic HVX200 cameras. All these cameras capture uncompressed HD signals—since compression only happens at the moment the signal is recorded to physical media such as P2 or SxS cards, or tape—and with the MCSDI-1, you can get those uncompressed signals out of the camera and into a switcher for live-switched delivery. And no one says you can’t also record compressed video to those physical media at the same time!

The point is, today you can get amazingly great image quality from the composite outputs of prosumer cameras, bypassing the internal codec compression schemes that throw away image data. And this can be done with HD cameras that capture higher-resolution images than an old-school SD broadcast camera, but cost much less. By using the MCSDI-1 with a setup such as the 4-camera HD studio switcher I described previously, you can achieve amazing HD video resolution on a much tighter budget.

figure 1 How it Works
So how does the MCSDI-1 work? About as easily as your toaster at home. The input side of the box has video inputs for component, composite, and HDMI. It will automatically sense what it is being fed and adjust appropriately. That could be SD analog or HD analog in 1080i at 50/59.94/60 fps, 720p at 50/59.94/60 fps, or digital HDMI. Audio is captured via stereo RCA ports. LED lights on the side of the box show the status of the video signal—be it SD, or one of the flavors of HD—as well as audio status, power status, and the like. A set of dip switches next to the LED lights allow you to manually adjust the audio input to high or low impedance at -8dBu, +4dBu, or 0dBu, with a sample rate of 48kHz and 24 bits.

The output is even simpler. It’s an auto-sensing SDI port with embedded audio that will output a signal matching the one coming into its input ports. Using an RG11 cable, you can have runs up to 1148" for SD, and 656" for an HD signal.

Another really cool feature is that if a valid signal is connected for 10 seconds or more and becomes severed, the MCSDI-1 will output a noncalibrated test pattern to that last valid input signal it had. When the camera stops sending a signal, and the unit remains on, you’ll have a test pattern for verification during set redressing.

For convenience, the MCSDI-1 comes with what Focus calls a cable routing kit. These are two cable ties that have an eye on one end and accompanying screws. There is a screw hole for them on each of the MCSDI-1’s sides to hold them, and you can wrap them around your camera’s cables to keep them from hanging all over and getting in the way. A very nice touch, I must say.

Broadcast on Budget
All in all, the MCSDI-1 is a really small, light, simple device that packs a ton of potential in bringing down the cost of studio setups for the independent producer. Independently produced interview shows are now closer to affording multiple-camera live shoots with much higher-quality video.

I passed this unit by some local broadcast professionals to see what they thought, and they were very impressed. They all agreed it could bring the cost of live HD broadcast down for the academic, independent, and professional broadcast organizations. In testing it on an HVX200, I found the image quality a bit superior to what I captured via DVCPRO-HD compression and played back on a 62" HDTV screen.

There’s not really much to the unit itself, which is part of its genius. It fills a niche need, works simply, is rugged and reliable, and provides high-quality output to boot. For those that produce multicamera live-switched events, the MCSDI-1 can boost you to uncompressed signals from lower-priced cameras, increasing your final product’s quality, and decreasing your overhead. A clear winner for those that do this kind of work!

Ben Balser (benb at bbalser.com) is an Apple Certified Trainer based in southeast Louisiana. He teaches Final Cut Studio for LA Tech College and the N.O. Video Access Center.

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Zacuto Rolls Out Its "Z-Focus" Follow Focus Accessory for HD Video Cameras

Zacuto, a leading provider of HD video cameras and accessories has released their own follow focus unit – the Z-Focus. Zacuto chose an important event - the 2008 NAB show - to introduce this important new addition to their full line of products. The Zacuto line is allowing cinematographers to use low cost, lightweight HD camcorders for their filmmaking.

The Zacuto design team has thought through all the important issues - allowing their follow focus to be used with any camera and integrating easily with other Zacuto support accessories.

The Z-Focus mechanism employs a set of gears that connect to and spin the focus ring or Zacuto zip gear on the camera lens, thus producing an extremely accurate follow focus that allows the operator or assistant to pull accurate focus. The integrated magnetic white disk allows the focus puller to create distance marked for repeatable focus pulls.

Notable Features of the Z-Focus

  • Completely gear-driven design for slip free, accurate movement.
  • Worm gear adjustment screw to allow user to tighten gear play
  • Interchangeable drive gears
  • Magnetic dry erase marking disk
  • Standard accessory port for Zacuto or Chrosziel follow focus whip or speed crank
  • Lightweight design
The Z-Focus is supplied with Industry-standard 15mm lightweight rod mount. An available accessory, the FF-Adapter (Z-Focus Studio Adapter $255) – converts your Z-Focus to 19mm/15mm Studio rods (perfect for RED camera packages.) This accessory makes the Zacuto Z-focus work exclusively for studio rod spacing and for the use of other studio rod equipment.

Also standard is .8 pitch drive gear. However, Fuji .6, Canon .5 and a 1 inch wide .8 pitch drive gears for photo lenses can be specified when ordering.

Z-Focus (Z-FF-1) is priced at $1,110. Click here for more information regarding Z-Focus.

Click here to visit Zacuto's online store.

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Red Giant Software Introduces Trapcode Horizon

Red Giant Software, publisher of a line of professional digital video tools, including Magic Bullet, Knoll Light Factory, and all Trapcode products, today released Trapcode Horizon. This new Adobe After Effects plug-in is a unique mapping tool that ties the After Effects camera to a 3D world. After Effects users can use Trapcode Horizon to create photorealistic backgrounds and QuickTime VR-like experiences.

Red Giant Software also made available Composite Wizard 1.4 and Image Lounge 1.4. These new versions add support for Adobe Creative Suite 3 and Mac Intel. Each product updater is available for $49 USD. To learn more, please visit these links:

Trapcode Horizon: Key Features
  • Gradient and Image Map Modes: Choose from gradient or image map modes in the plug-in, each offering a unique way to provide interesting backgrounds. Gradient mode offers both point and line generation. Point mode generates smoothly blended color regions from up to 8 points on the virtual sphere, while line mode creates converging lines of colors that are perfect for generating a sky gradient.
  • 3D Camera Integration: Horizon ties automatically into the After Effects 3D camera, so that the background image is always correctly drawn from the active camera's field of view. The automatic camera motion means that other 3D effects like Trapcode Particular and Form will move correctly with background and provide the viewer with a much-needed orientation in 3D space.
Click here for additional information.

Pricing and Availability

  • Trapcode Horizon is available for $99 USD.
  • Updaters for Composite Wizard 1.4 and Image Lounge 1.4 are available for $49 USD each.

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Toon Boom and FableVision Announce the Release of Animation-Ish

Emmy award-winning Toon Boom Animation Inc. and educational publisher FableVision today announced the release of Animation-Ish, an innovative software program that allows people of all ages to unleash their creativity through easy, "do-it-yourself" animation.

The program is hosted by New York Times Bestselling children’s book author/illustrator and creativity advocate Peter H. Reynolds, FableVision’s founder and chief executive officer. The program brings to life the "ish" philosophy that art pieces don’t need to create a mirror image of reality to effectively convey ideas, popularized by Reynolds in his best-selling books "The Dot" and "Ish" (published by Candlewick Press). The books are printed in over 20 languages around the world. Reynolds uses a playful, low-stress approach to coach children and adults to think "ishfully" about their art and be brave about expressing their creativity and originality.

"Too many people say, ‘I can’t draw.’ I constantly remind kids and adults that their creations don’t have to be perfect, they just have to be ‘perfect-ish,’ which is where the name Animation-ish came from," said Reynolds. To help users overcome their possible reluctance toward drawing, Reynolds personally guides users through the program with dozens of video clips featuring drawing tips, and samples of his own artwork.

Animation-ish features include the following:

  • More than 50 "Inspire Me" video clips with Peter H. Reynolds
  • Three animation skill-levels
  • "Project Vault" with Reynolds’ drawings and starter ideas
  • "Share" feature for exporting into multiple formats
  • 24 lessons written by teachers for teachers
  • Additional lessons written by teachers available online
  • Additional tutorials by Reynolds and the animators of FableVision available online
"Working with FableVision on Animation-ish was fantastic, combining our expertise in developing easy-to-use animation technology with their inspirational approach and creative philosophy" stated Joan Vogelesang, President and Chief Executive Officer at Toon Boom.
Running on Mac and PC, Animation-ish is offered in two versions: retail and educational. The price for Animation-ish is $59.95 for a single copy. The Educational version which includes a printed Classroom Edition User’s Guide is offered at $499.95 for a 10-computer license, or $999.95 for a 25-computer license. Information and a preview of the program is available here.

www.toonboom.com
www.fablevision.com

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LaCie Doubles d2 Blu-ray Burn Times to 4x Speeds

LaCie announced today that is has doubled burn speeds to 4x for it d2 Blu-ray Drive and has updated the aluminum alloy case and software suite. The drive records, rewrites and reads 25 gigabytes (GB) or 50GB BD-R (recordable) and BD-RE (rewritable), as well as DVD±RW DL and CD±RW. The LaCie d2 Blu-ray Drive come fully equipped with Roxio burning software and dual FireWire 400 and USB 2.0 interfaces.

"In early 2007, LaCie was the first vendor to ship worldwide an external solution for professional Hi-Def video recording for both Mac and Windows. Since that time, Blu-ray technology has proven to be the dominant source for video recording and playback," said Patrick Salin, LaCie Business Development Manager. "Burning up to 50GB of data can take a reasonable amount of time, so doubling burn speeds not only increases work performance, but provides a cost-effective, long-term archival process for storing data to sturdy scratch-resistant media.

LaCie d2 Blu-ray Drives come with full-featured Roxio software including Easy Media Creator® for Windows, and Toast® Titanium for Mac. Easy Media Creator and Toast Titanium products are easy-to-use burning applications that provide a timesaving solution for regularly backing up important files at an impressive data transfer rate.

Blu-ray 50GB discs offer 10x more capacity than a single layer DVD. This increased capacity gives professionals the freedom to choose much higher bit rate codecs when mastering content, ultimately improving picture quality. For increased audio quality, Blu-ray technology allows for up to eight channels of 192kHz/32 audio streams.

Availability
LaCie d2 Blu-ray Drives are available now and widely available via LaCie's specialized dealer network at the suggested retail price of $649.99. For more product information, visit www.lacie.com.

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Automated DVD Duplication for Under $500: Disc Makers Forte Standalone DVD Duplicator

Disc Makers Forte is an easy-to-use standalone unit that does not require a computer. Priced at $499 MSRP, the Forte is the only automated duplicator in the world available for under $500. The Forte's 20x DVD±R/40x CD-R drive features an ample 25 disc input/output capacity, perfect for those small to medium sized duplication jobs. The machine boasts a 160 GB hard drive that stores up to 31 full size DVD images.

Throughput is blazingly fast, with duplication rates of 7 DVDs, or 14 CDs per hour. Its small footprint and quiet operation makes the machine suitable for any workspace size. Beneath the compact, space saving design, the Forte houses a rugged built-in fan for long lasting cool operation and professional grade robotics. Advanced control features offer users the option to duplicate CDs/DVDs in both single and multi master modes.

Available now at www.discmakers.com, the Forte has an MSRP of $499.

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Mammoth HD Footage Library - Expands the MHD/RED Footage Galleries

Mammoth HD's RED 4K Library expands with the addition of several new offerings. The much sought after 'clean' energy source is high lighted with the footage of Iceland's Geothermal power plant -electrical energy from volcanic steam vents. This environmentally friendly power production is featured in MHD's RED Energy Libraries.

Also new to the Mammoth HD RED Libraries are new series on San Francisco/Golden Gate Bridge, Iceland Scenics, Spring Flowers, Rwanda, Modern Dance, Washington DC, Italy, the Oregon Coast, Lifestyle with Club Disc Jockeys and more......

For the Digital Display and Signage Industry - Mammoth HD opens the MHD/RED Vertical Gallery - featuring RED footage in a vertical HD format.

The Mammoth HD RED libraries feature footage "Shot on RED" a 4K acquisition camera - shooting at 4096x2048 pixel depth allows resolutions from feature/indie film production and when down-sampled make beautiful HD for broadcast and other video projects.

Coming Soon to the Mammoth HD RED Libraries - new Underwater Footage from the Caribbean, Hot Air Balloons and lots more....... The Mammoth HD Library now feature over 610 Collections and over 300 hours of SingleClip Material - including RED 4K/3K/2K and Vertical HD for Digital Signage and Display.

For more information on the collections and the Mammoth HD Hi Definition Footage Library, and to see the previews of all the Mammoth HD collections and clips, please visit the Mammoth HD website.

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