Web Informant #358, 4 February 2004:

Buy a Macintosh for your videos




I have a little bit of sympathy for Janet Jackson. As someone who is less than concerned about my outfits, not to mention having horrific color blindness, I have had my own wardrobe malfunctions from time to time. And, while my wardrobe mistakes haven't been broadcast on global TV to hundreds of millions of viewers, it got me thinking about the troubles I have had in dealing with my own video productions and how hard they are to get on the air.


One of my hobbies, if you can call it that, is to mine the archive of unwatched family videos and produce short five- or 10- minute segments that can be seen over and over and enjoyed for the memories that they represent. We have all filmed these endless movies of family holiday gatherings, our children's precious moments, and so on. The trouble is that once you film them you almost never watch them, or watch them rarely more than once.


Digital editing comes to the rescue, and while it is a time-consuming affair, it is a lot of fun. You can compress these hours of boredom into a few short minutes, and you can impress your family and friends with your production values. You still have to sit in front of the computer and watch the movies in real time, but at least then you have the satisfaction of removing those awkward moments and boring scenes where nothing much is happening.


The trick here is to have a Sony Digital 8mm video camera, so you can view your old analog 8mm tapes but still use the digital editing software to cut and paste scenes and provide the special effects, titles, and audio tracks that make the movies come to life. Sony is one of the few vendors left that make a Digital 8 camera -- most of the others have gone the way of the dodo. On their web site they are selling four models for under $500. You need a Digital 8 camera rather than any other media (such as miniDV) because the camera can play back both digital and analog 8mm tapes. (It can only record digitally of course.) If you are like me, you have invested dozens or hundreds of hours in the old analog 8 tapes. You could buy an analog to digital converter but the cost for a new camera isn't much more.


So over the past several weeks I have been doing a lot of video creation, taking a friend's old analog 8mm movies and turning them into DVDs, using an Acer Aspire laptop with a built-in DVD burner. In the process, I have tried several different Windows video editing tools, only to walk away from the process tremendously dissatisfied and feeling that maybe it is me, or maybe I need someone like Justin Timberlake to just rip the covers from my eyes and see the naked truth.


As they said in the MTV control room on Sunday night, Houston, we definitely have a problem here. And the problem is that Windows isn't a decent video-editing platform. (The Acer, by the way, is a great machine for watching DVDs.) The software is substandard; the APIs are too difficult; the underlying operating system contains too many variables and places where someone can easily mess things up. All it takes is one DLL out of place and you are hosed. I spent about an hour on the phone with one software vendor's product manager, and at the end of the call they admitted that their software couldn't do the job.


The conclusion that I have come to is if you want to produce videos on a computer, buy a Macintosh and use iMovie. This is one of the best pieces of software that I have used in my entire career. It just works, and works well enough that the amateur videographer can get the job done. You don't need to be an expert in video drivers, codecs, or to understand how to perform major surgery on your operating system. You just plug in your camera, fire up the software, and hit the record button. That's it.


All recent Macs come with firewire built-in, which is the connector of choice for doing videos. You don't need to worry about finding a special firewire card or having to update drivers for particular Windows OS versions that aren't firewire-friendly (such as Windows 98). As I said, it just works.


The same is true for Apple's iPhoto software, by the way. You don't need to load camera drivers, or mess around with the software that is supplied by the camera vendor. You just plug in your camera, and go upload your photos and you are done.


There is one exception that I have found in my travels with digital photography, and that is you might need to upgrade your Mac OS to at least System 9 -- older versions won't work on some of the newer cameras. But once you do that, you are good to go. And while the System 9 versions of iMovie and iPhoto don't have all the bells and whistles of the newer OS X versions, they are good enough and you don't have to upgrade to use them, something that is more common in the world of Windows.


My colleague Gayle is one of our fellow editors here at VARBusiness -- where we use Macs to produce our magazine. She was shopping for a new PC. Ironically, she was close to buying a great HP Windows machine, but luckily was convinced to stick with a Mac. She's had the new Mac for close to a week and is very happy, and has been enjoying the ins and outs of iPhoto versus the old Windows-based software that she used to use. It is ironic that even people who use Macs for their work would consider Windows first, but such is the nature of the Redmond mind control when it comes to what applications we should use best.


Apple is far from perfect: I wish they would have a desktop G5 for less than $1,000 without a monitor, or a iBook that came with a DVD burner. Both are missing from their current product lineup. And they still haven't figured out what their enterprise sales strategy is, despite having a decent line of servers and storage devices. But when I go back into my editing room, I use my Mac and leave the Windows closed. Maybe someday someone will invent a wardrobe-matching program for me and prevent future malfunctions. After all, a guy can hope.



Entire contents copyright 2004 by David Strom, Inc. 

David Strom, dstrom@cmp.com, +1 (516) 562-7151

Port Washington NY 11050

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