REVIEW APRIL 25 , 2001
Dazzle Hollywood DV-Bridge
Bringing analog video into the DV world
Enter nonlinear editing and, with it, all flavors of data compression. All of a sudden those pristine images that took so much work to produce were being tainted by all sorts of artifacts. It drove me nuts! As hardware evolved and new compression codecs were developed, image quality began to improve, and prices started to drop. High-end professional editing gear offered pretty decent quality for those who could afford it, but consumer-grade equipment still offered pretty sad performance. As evolution continued, pros got uncompressed video, and the artifacts were gone. The promise of digital video was finally being delivered. But those with regular-sized pockets still had to deal with not only mediocre image quality but all sorts of other problems. That is, until DV.
DV brought to the average videomaker a great compromise between quality and cost. Ultra-fast and expensive SCSI disk arrays were not necessary anymore due to its ingenious 5:1 compression. Increased computer horsepower, faster IDE drives, inexpensive FireWire interfaces and new video editing software have helped to turn DV into a truly revolutionary format for nonlinear editing. It's true that DV is not a perfect format with it's 4:1:1 color handling and certain compression artifacts. But the quality is truly outstanding for the money.
As DV becomes the true standard for quality and as Macs and PCs are being shipped with 1394 interfaces, setting up a very capable nonlinear editing system has never been easier or more affordable. It's not surprising, therefore, to see professionals abandoning much more expensive technologies in favor of DV. Certainly not all footage that goes into an edit system originates in DV. Analog acquisition is still huge, and so is the availability of analog archival footage. Therefore, a good way to transfer analog video into the DV world is an essential part of the DV postproduction equation. While you can purchase an analog digitizing board for a computer and then convert the footage to a DV codec, it is much better to have the video converted to DV during the capturing process. This is exactly what the Dazzle Hollywood DV-Bridge does.
I have reviewed the Hollywood DV-Bridge on a 533 MHz G4 Mac. It was a perfect setup because the G4 already comes with two FireWire ports and is, therefore, ready to accept DV video. I have been using a $10,000 analog capture card on my NT-based nonlinear edit system, and I was wondering how well the $299 DV-Bridge would be able to handle the job. The source material I used for the review came from broadcast-quality MII raw footage, which is as good as analog gets, and it could easily show problems, if there were any.
admit that I was absolutely blown away by the results obtained from the
DV-Bridge. I have previously used a Sony DSR-PD150 DVCam camcorder to
convert between analog and DV when capturing on the G4 in Final Cut Pro
and I wasn't very happy with the results. The PD150 conversion lost a
considerable amount of luminance, resulting in images that were much darker
than the originals. I had to compensate for the level difference by boosting
the video using a proc-amp during the capture process. By the way, I have
tried two different PD150s and both gave similar results.
The next thing that I was anxious to find out was whether the conversion would introduce any objectionable artifacts. Playing back the captured footage on a broadcast reference monitor was another pleasant surprise. The video looked virtually identical to the original and, even in difficult to compress shots such as rippled ocean water, there were no visible artifacts. I have seen those a few times before on footage shot with a Sony VX-1000 DV camcorder and not seeing them on the MII captured footage was very nice. Because the video signal had been so wonderfully preserved during the digitizing process, the DV-converted footage looked absolutely great. In fact, it compared very well to the footage captured with the $10,000 card but with all the added advantages of the DV format in terms of interchangeability, storage requirements and overall usability. While other codecs may impose certain limitations, on the Mac DV can be used by any application seamlessly and it plays back at full resolution in real time on the computer screen.
Because the quality of the DV-Bridge-captured footage was so good, I tried to do something that is considered taboo in the DV world: blue screen chroma keying. Due to the format's 4:1:1 chroma processing and slight compression artifacts, DV is not considered to be the ideal format for blue chroma keying. While I could see some problems with the captured blue background on the computer screen, the same footage viewed on the video monitor didn't show these problems. So I chose some other footage for the background and used the normal chroma keying tools available in FCP. To my surprise, after a little tweaking I obtained results that were as good as those I obtained by capturing with lossless compression on a component video system. The subject I used originally was a female actor, and the key was so good that I could preserve individual hair strands. Needless to say, that is way better than I had expected. Unfortunately I could not post the results here because I don't have that actor's permission to do so.
The Hollywood DV-Bridge is a PC- and Mac-compatible stand-alone device that has S-Video (Y/C) and composite video inputs and outputs, as well as stereo audio ins and outs through RCA connectors. It also has two 6-pin 1394 connectors (which can function as a FireWire passthrough), as well as in and out connections. It comes with one 6-pin to 6-pin 1394 cable to get you going right out of the box but you must supply the more common analog cables. The Hollywood DV-Bridge also has a LANC connector in the back, which supposedly translates DV camera control codes into LANC so that your editing application can control LANC-compatible devices. Since I don't own any such device, I didn't test this capability.
Analog audio is sampled at 48 KHz at 16 bits. DV audio can be output in analog at 32 KHz at 12 bits, 44.1 KHz at 16 bits or 48 KHz at 16 bits
The DV-Bridge doesn't necessarily need a computer to work. It can convert to and from DV by itself, and it is great to convert analog footage to be recorded on a DV camera or deck or DV footage from a camera or deck to be dubbed to any analog format. It automatically senses the input source and switches to the correct mode of operation. Because it converts in real time via hardware, it lets you watch your converted footage on the fly on an analog video monitor. When connected to a computer, depending on the software, you can play back and/or edit your DV footage on the computer while watching it on a video monitor. This is definitely the way to edit, as you can only see what a video will really look like on a video monitor. If you only use the computer monitor, you may end up finding out that what looks great on your Mac or PC screen may not necessarily look good on video.
No drivers are necessary when using the Hollywood DV-Bridge with a Mac. It's truly plug and play and works right away with most DV-compatible applications. Both Final Cut Pro and iMovie see the device as a regular DV camera or deck, and capturing and playback work perfectly. As I mentioned before, you can see the video that you are working on simultaneously on your computer screen and dedicated video monitor. Using the device with a PC requires the installation of the supplied drivers.
I have read many messages on the Hollywood DV-Bridge technical support forums, and I can see that most reported problems are actually a result of user error. This unit is extremely easy to use; still, all the common rules of video do apply. As an example, many people complain about rolling images or loss of vertical sync. This seems to happen only when people feed non-timebase corrected VHS, Hi-8 or S-VHS video through the unit. In such cases the original signal may be bad enough to cause the DV-Bridge to lose reference, causing the aforementioned problems. The old "garbage in, garbage out" rule applies here, and feeding good, quality footage through the unit should definitely give you good results. If your footage is bad to start with, run it through a TBC before it goes into the DV-Bridge. Another common problem seems to be with the automatic mode switching function. It does take a few seconds to kick in, and the more impatient users seem to have a hard time waiting for it to do so. I have found that, once in a while, the switch will not work, but there's a little button in the back of the unit that lets you manually switch modes. I prefer to use the button all the time since it's faster, more reliable and lets me switch between sources instantly.
Are there any other limitations with the unit? Well, it doesn't have analog component connections. But what would you expect at this price range? Personally, I don't see any problems with using Y/C as the crosstalk is virtually nonexistent and the image quality can be very high. The important thing is to have a clean Y/C signal to start with. If you use a component video source such as Betacam SP, MII or a DDR, utilizing a good external transcoder to convert the signal to Y/C may give you an edge over the built-in encoderthat is, if your deck happens to have one. I own a Panasonic UT-2, which transcodes between all analog video formats, and I use it a lot. A unit like this can give you excellent results if you require the highest quality possible.
The Dazzle Hollywood DV-Bridge is one of those rare products that delivers outstanding results at a very reasonable price. I consider it to be a must-have if you own a Mac or a PC with FireWire connections and have at least one analog VTR or camera lying around. It is also a perfect unit for authoring DVDs on the Mac from Betacam SP or MII footage, since it will preserve the quality of the original images and should make your DVD footage look practically like your master. And, since Apple's DVD Studio Pro relies on the DV format to achieve faster MPEG-2 compression, just the time saved on the first project should definitely make this a worthwhile purchase.
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Paulo de Andrade is the producer of Film and Video Magazine online, Digital Post Production and Digital Animators. He can be reached at [email protected].