PICK OF THE
video post production moves another step closer with the arrival of the
Panasonic AVE7, here's just a taste of what it can do...
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.
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.
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.
WJ-AVE7 DIGITAL AV MIXER, £1,400
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
inputs/outputs composite &
x line, 1 x microphone
sockets, inputs - 3 x composite (phono), 3 x S-Video; outputs - 4 x composite
(phono), 2 x S-Video
sockets, inputs - 3 x stereo line (phono), 1 x mono mic (minijack); outputs - 2
x stereo line (phono), 1 x headphone (minijack)
480 x 85 x 320
accessories mains plug