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Formac Studio

Analog to FireWire Video Converter for the Mac By Paulo de Andrade
A few months ago I reviewed the Dazzle Hollywood DV Bridge. The response I got from our readers has been overwhelming. There's a lot of interest in devices that can convert analog video to FireWire and vice versa, especially when many users are adopting DV as their format of choice. So I was anxious to review the Formac Studio, a seemingly more robust and more expensive ($399) alternative to the DV Bridge.

The Formac Studio is supposed to do all that the DV Bridge does and more. In addition to the analog to FireWire conversion, one of the interesting features of the Formac Studio is a built-in TV tuner that lets you watch and record TV programs on your Mac. While I see this as a purely consumer-oriented feature, it may be useful whenever you are waiting for a longer render or if you want to follow some important news.

The first impression you get from the Formac Studio is that it is a very solid device. That's partially because of the unit's design and size, as it is considerably larger than the DV Bridge. It also uses a thicker plastic shell, making is heavier and, apparently, stronger. The Studio has some nice little touches such as a built-in speaker that compensates for the usual delay caused by the analog to digital conversion and lets you monitor your footage without an audio lag. The unit ships with a very thick FireWire cable with two coils designed to keep interference down.

I now know the reason for those, and you will too in a moment.

One thing that worries me is that the unit doesn't come with a power supply. Formac states that the Studio can draw its power from the FireWire port on the Mac, as long as it's the only FireWire device connected at the time. Otherwise they recommend that you use a power supply. Since chances are that you'll be connecting other FireWire devices such as a camera or a drive, specially as FireWire devices are becoming so popular, I see absolutely no reason why a power supply shouldn't be included with the unit in the first place. Considering that power supplies cost just a few dollars, Formac should have saved its customers some aggravation by including this necessary component.

The Formac Studio ships with ProTV software that lets your watch and record TV programs on the Mac by using the Studio's built in tuner. All you have to do it connect an antenna or cable to the back of the unit, and you are set. The software is very cool, but it does not turn your Mac into a fully-featured PVR (Personal Video Recorder). In addition to video, you can also listen to FM radio stations.

The first Formac Studio review unit that I received exhibited some RF interference on the video that it captured and played back, ruling it out for professional use. I sent that unit back, imagining that I had received a defective one, and anxiously waited for a new unit to arrive. To my disappointment, the new unit exhibited the same problem, though slightly less intense. What this means is that whatever footage you capture with the Formac Studio will have a faint RF interference permanently imprinted over it.

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