VIDEO CAMERA 1994

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REVIEW

 

MIDI TEST

 

HEAD

PICK OF THE MIX

 

INTRO

Broadcast-quality video post production moves another step closer with the arrival of the Panasonic AVE7, here's just a taste of what it can do...

 

COPY

Reviewing Panasonic's WJ-AVE7 has been a nightmare! Don't get us wrong, this highly sophisticated production mixer is much better than sliced bread, and just about the most fun you can have with your trousers on, but it is next to impossible to adequately describe what it can do on paper. So our first piece of advice is to get down to your nearest Panasonic dealer, ask to see an AVE7, press the demo button, and watch what happens!

 

This is probably a good time to get that other tricky matter out of the way, the price. Yes, 1,400 is an lot of money, more than most people pay for their camcorders in fact, but look at it this way, the AVE7 is an incredibly  powerful post production tool and until fairly recently there would have been little to compare it with, outside the studios of your local TV station. In that context the price is actually quite reasonable, especially for anyone who earns their living out of making video-movies, and compared with other top-end production mixers with similar specification, good value for money, but we'll look at the competition in more detail later on.

 

The AVE7's most important feature is its digital synchroniser, that's what earns it the right to be called a video mixer. Normally it is impossible to mix two free-running video sources together, if you try you will get a mess because the TV, monitor or VCR gets very confused as it tries to lock onto two sets of synchronisation pulses. Professional and studio video cameras get around this problem by having an external sync facility, any number of cameras or VCRs can be locked to a central sync generator or timebase, and their outputs can be easily mixed or cut together. You can't do that with domestic equipment, so a few years ago, in a classic piece of lateral thinking, Panasonic came up with the idea of  locking one video signal to another by slightly delaying one of the signals, so that it stays in step with the other one. The synchroniser on the AVE7 has three input channels, though only two of them can be mixed together at any one time.

 

Digital mixing opens up an enormous range of possibilities, and Panasonic have sought to exploit as many of them as possible on the AVE7, starting with a set of 96 wipe patterns. There's the usual assortment of geometric shapes and patterns plus some very unusual and rather eye-catching venetian blind effects. Wipes can either be controlled manually, (auto take), from the large central slider, or automatically with a variable time delay of between 0 and 10.2 seconds. The same slider and timer are also used to control video and audio fades and mixes, which can be to or from the second audio source, black, white or a background colour. Audio mix can also be controlled manually, from the bank of sliders in the mixer section.

 

The AVE7 generates six different digital effects, four of them with several levels of intensity, they are:

* still -- the picture is frozen but the audio track continues

* strobe -- five speeds with the image refreshed at 0.18, 0.46, 1.18, 1.66 and 2.5 second intervals

* mosaic -- the picture is made up of increasingly coarse coloured blocks, available in five different sizes

* paint -- four-level solarisation effect increases colour contrast to give the picture a cartoon-like quality

* nega -- changes picture from negative to positive, and vice-versa

 

Digital processing is also behind the PIP or picture in picture facility. The AVE7 generates one or two sub-screens. The single PIP can be positioned anywhere in the main picture,  it can show the second input channel or the same input channel, plus any effects. The PIP can be given a border or drop-shadow, to make it stand out. In the twin PIP mode the two screens show both input channels against a coloured background, they can be positioned between the top and bottom of the screen. Both single and double PIPs can be faded, or mixed, either from the main picture (in the case of a single PIP), or the background colour.

 

On the far right of the top panel; is the superimpose section. Superimpose works on one video input channel, but the effect is applied to the whole picture, which could be a mix of both channels, and include wipes and digital effects as well. It works by setting a key level, a level of brightness at which the superimposer replaces bright areas of the picture with the second input channel, a solid colour or white. The effect can also be reversed, so that everything in the picture below the preset level takes on the colour or second input. The edge of the colour can be given a wide or narrow border, in a contrasting colour, or one of three different drop-shadows.

 

In the bottom left hand corner are the positioner and colour correction controls. The joystick can be used to alter the colour balance of the picture, useful for correcting minor white balance errors, or moving the position of wipes and PIP screens. There's also a colour saturation control which adjusts colour intensity from monochrome to normal.

 

The audio section is in the bottom right hand corner and the front of the console. There's a set of four sliders, one for each input channel (three stereo and one mono microphone), a bargraph display on the top edge of the panel gives a relative indication of audio output. On the front edge of the console there's another slider, to control headphone output level, and sockets for a microphone, headphones and an optional title generator unit (WJ-TTL5).

 

All of the AV inputs and outputs are on the back panel, there's two AV source inputs, one camera input, one auxiliary stereo audio input, and two sets of AV outputs. The AVE7 is S-Video compatible, so in addition to the bank of phono sockets there's five Y/C connectors.

 

THE RIVALS

We couldn't hope to cover more than a fraction of its potential in such a brief overview, suffice it to say the various effects and can be combined in countless different ways, the only limits are the users patience and ingenuity. So what else is available? At the moment the only serious rivals to the AVE7, i.e. equipment with digital synchronisers, are Panasonic's other production mixers, the slightly simpler (and cheaper) AVE5, which it replaces, and the more comprehensive WJ-MX10 and MX12, though both are getting on a bit now. Direct comparisons are difficult but the AVE7 gives both of them a very good run for their money when it comes to versatility and range of effects. The Sony XV-D1000 has a lot in common with the AVE7, though Sony have given it some very sophisticated facilities, including an effects memory and sequencer, plus multiple PIP displays, but at 3,000 it costs more than twice as much as Panasonic mixer and is beyond the reach of most domestic users. The biggest threat to the AVE7 could come from the eagerly awaited Videonics Digital Video mixer, which boasts four input channels and a number of very elegant-looking broadcast-type effects; we're told it will cost less than 1,500, but it has been over six months since we first heard about it, and at the time of writing the PAL version still hadn't materialised, so we'll have to reserve judgement until it does.

 

SUMMARY

The AVE7 is an excellent piece of kit, it works extremely well, it's comparatively easy to use, realistically priced and confirms Panasonic's position as the leading manufacturer of advanced post-production equipment for serious and semi-pro users. However, the shadow of the elusive Videonics mixer looms large over the market so for the moment we'd caution those interested to wait and see because this looks like it could turn out to be a very interesting year indeed for video post-production.

 

PANASONIC WJ-AVE7 DIGITAL AV MIXER, 1,400

MAIN FACILITIES

digital mixing, digital effects (still, strobe, mosaic, solarisation, neg/pos), superimpose, wipe generator (96 patterns), 8 background colours, single/twin picture in picture, colour correction, 4-channel audio mixer, manual/auto AV fader

 

VIDEO

System                         PAL

Video inputs/outputs            composite & S-Video

 

AUDIO

inputs                           3 x line, 1 x microphone

 

GENERAL

Video sockets, inputs - 3 x composite (phono), 3 x S-Video; outputs - 4 x composite (phono), 2 x S-Video

Audio sockets, inputs - 3 x stereo line (phono), 1 x mono mic (minijack); outputs - 2 x stereo line (phono), 1 x headphone (minijack)

Dimensions:                    480 x 85 x 320

Weight                            3.0kg

Standard accessories    mains plug

 

---end---

R.Maybury 1993 1412

 

 


 

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