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Product Review:  

Formac Studio -
FireWire Video Center

 

By Ted Bade

 

 

 

People are excited about digital video. With a good piece of software and necessary hardware, even an amateur can produce high quality videos. For Macintosh owners, there are several very good software options, including iMovie, which is included with every newer FireWire enabled Macintosh. There are other excellent MacOS applications as well. However, if the aspiring director has older analog videos or video camera, he cannot use tools like iMovie, which require digital video inputs. Using Formac's Studio, you can input video from any source, convert it into digital video (DV), and then edit it with any DV program. Once converted, organized, and polished, you can save the video as either DV movies or return them to analog tape to show to all your friends. The Studio also offers a number of other very useful video features as well.

Ever since Apple began promoting Macs as a great machine for working with video, I have looked for a way to both convert my analog videos to DV and convert my finished DV products back to analog. Lets face it, many of the people I want to show my videos to don't have fast Macs or for that matter any Mac or even any computer. I want to be able to bring a VHS tape to my in-laws house and show them my vacation, not have them huddle over my PowerBook's screen to watch a portion of it.

I can easily store 2 to 6 hours of acceptable video on a VHS tape. The same amount of digital video would require a Huge hard drive. At a rate of 1 megabyte a second a 20 minute clip of my vacation would take up 1.2 GBytes. More then I can fit on a CD. For me, VHS is good enough, my vacation and home videos aren't historical documents; they are of value to me, to show friends and to enjoy. The Studio lets me have the best of both worlds, I can use all those great DV editing tools and then save the finished product to a regular (or S-video) VHS tape. But if I wanted, I could also use Apple's new Super drive and make my home DVDs!

Installation of the Studio package is easy. First a small set of drivers and extensions are installed along with a program called ProTV. After restarting the Mac (to install these drivers), simply plug in the included FireWire cable and you are ready to access the Studio.

The Studio can take the power it needs from the FireWire bus. However, if you are using an iBook or have other FireWire devices Formac recommends using an external power adapter. (This adapter is not included with the Studio and can be acquired from Formac of $24.) 

At this point you are ready to connect your video source to the Studio and convert it to DV. You can connect analog video either through a composite (also known as an RCA) connection or an S-video connection. Left and right audio channels in are also provided for the audio tracks.

To perform your editing, you are going to need a DV editing program. The Studio package does not include DV editing software. But since Apple has been including iMovie with FireWire Macs you might already have iMovie. If you didn't get it with your Mac, Apple was giving away version 1 of iMovie or you can buy version 2 from Apple. There are other software packages available as well.

Once the editing software problem is resolved, import video directly as if it was coming from a DV camera. Perform your magic on them as director and editor. Once done you need to decide how to store your masterpiece. 

If you have the space, storing it as a DV movie ensures the data will not be degraded in any way. However, you can easily save the movie to a standard VHS tape using either the Studio's composite or S-video outputs. Stereo audio output is also included for your sound track.

Output to a VHS tape is also easy. I used iMovie, which includes an export function, designed to export the completed video to your DV camera once complete. iMovie thinks the Studio is a DV camera. So by connecting a VCR to the composite video output of the Studio, the video exported from the Studio is recorded onto tape. If you would like to preview the output before you record it, you can also connect a standard TV (or S-video TV) to the Studio's outputs to watch it. The whole process is very simple. The Studio works flawlessly.

The ProTV software that comes with the Studio can perform some other interesting features. The Studio includes a TV and radio tuner. Connect a standard cable TV cable to the Studio's coax video in connection then use ProTV's features to tune into the cable on your Mac! You can even record your favorite TV shows, right from the cable into the Digital domain!

Similar to a VCR, ProTV will search the cable connection for channels, then provide a list. The software lets you give names to the channels, so you can refer to them as WVIT or SciFi rather then 30 or 55. The Studio can also pull video signals from a TV antenna. A radio tuner is also included in case you'd like to listen to radio on your Mac as well. Finally, if you own a fast FireWire Multimedia hard drive, you will be able to use the Studio as a digital VCR!

The Studio offers software that lets you create images for your own Web-Cam or Web Video. The WebCam periodically sends still images which you can post on a web site (perhaps your own web coffee pot or aquarium)! If you are more adventurous you can even send streaming video (Using Apple QuickTime's streaming protocols) for any one to watch. Tools are provided to add text, to blur parts better left unseen, or even add the date and time to your images.

While I found watching a TV station on the Mac's desktop a bit choppy, ProTV offers a TV Mode, which produces excellent full screen video on your Mac's monitor.

I was disappointed to find I couldn't use the Studio to send the video of a DVD playing on my Mac's DVD drive to a TV. This is probably more a factor of the copy protection built into the DVD software then the lack of abilities with the Studio. Still, it would be nice.

Conclusion:  

The Studio is a great device, it easily and intuitively brings your analog video into the Digital Domain so you can work with it, modify it, and compose it to your hearts content, and it does a great job of it! If you have the need to convert your analog video, definitely consider the Studio.

 

For more information contact Formac The Studio retails for $400, but I have seen higher street prices (go figure).

 

 

Ease of Use :

4.5

Quality :

5.0

Over All Score :

5.0

 


About the Reviewer:

Ted Bade has been using Apple computers since 1982 and Macs since 1985. Dedicated to the Macintosh, he has been a member and leader of a Computer user group since 1983. He has a degree in electrical engineering and loves to write. To date he has published a number of articles in MacHome Journal magazine, writes for iBook-User and writes regularly for H.U.G.E. a computer user group newsletter, and freelances whenever he can find the time and need. While he's not playing with his Macintosh G4 or PowerBook G3.


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"Become a professional video producer. At an affordable price! The new Formac studio gives you the capability to capture and edit videos in professional DV quality, a quality that has up to today only been provided by high-price professional equipment. Engineered for maximum flexibility Formac studio lets you record video and audio from all analog and digital sources."

 

"if you are using an iBook or have other FireWire devices Formac recommends using an external power adapter."