Old Tapes Go To DV And Back
Looking to bridge the analogue to digital, or NTSC to PAL divides? Miglia's Directors Cut Take 2 may help.
Upgrades can be a drag, no more so than where video is concerned. Anyone who has been mucking around with video for some years will no doubt have a shelf of old VHS, Video-8 or Hi-8 tapes collecting dust. Perhaps you would like to edit them on your computer, but haven't got a video capture card to digitise the footage. Or maybe you already digitised the video, but then found that because your capture card uses a proprietary format that the footage doesn't play on another computer system meaning you and others can't work on the footage.
Enter the Miglia Director's Cut Take 2. It looks pretty non-descript really, but it is elegant in its simplicity. A metallic, grey box, about the size of a large cigar box the DC has three switches and a microphone input on the front, and S-video and RCA connectors at the back, one set for capturing footage to your computer and two sets for outputting footage.
The DC allows you to take an analogue video signal and convert it into a DV signal and then convert that DV signal back into an analogue signal. In other words, you can digitize your old Hi-8 or VHS tapes into DV, edit with other DV footage and export your composition back out to DV, Hi-8 or VHS. Oh yes, and it supports PAL, the European video system, and the North American NTSC.
This is the kind of tool that would be ideal for home or low-budget use where you don't need to work with higher end formats than DV. The DC's strength is its ease-of-use and excellent image quality for its price (339EUR plus VAT). The fact that the DC digitises footage in the ubiquitous DV format makes it easier to share and work on footage with others.
Setting up is a straightforward affair. Once I had found the available space for the DC on the desktop, I connected the FireWire/IEEE-1394 port on my computer (if you are a PC user and don't have one of these cards they are inexpensive and just plug 'n' play) to the FireWire connector at the back of the DC with the cable supplied. I didn't need to plug the DC into the electricity socket, because my PCI card supplies power to the FireWire connector, however, some PCMIA cards don't supply power to the FireWire connector, for instance laptops which use the 4pin FireWire connector, in which case you also need the Miglia external power supply (EUR20 from their website).
I then connected a PAL Hi-8 camera to the DC using the supplied RCA cables and S-video (you can use the RCA cable for the video if you don't have S-Video) and clicked the first of the three switches on the box to turn the power on.
Windows XP immediately recognised the new device as a DV camera and launched my video-editing program, in this case Adobe Premiere Pro.
Unfortunately the DC doesn't support DV device control, which means you have to cue up your footage for capture on the output device using the VCR manual controls rather than by using your mouse. To capture you find the point in your tape where you want to start, with a few seconds pre-roll, then click play and then immediately click record on your video software and the capture process starts.
You can monitor your footage as it is streaming in and as you edit, if you hook up a television screen using one of the two outputs at the back of the DC. It's worth the effort if you plan on showing the footage on television because video looks different on a computer monitor than it does on television.
When the DC's power is on, two green LEDs come to life beside the two other switches on the front of the box. One indicates whether you are in Capture or Export mode. The other shows whether you are in PAL or NTSC mode.
I should point out that although the DC supports both PAL and NTSC video, it is not a PAL to NTSC converter. You can do PAL and NTSC conversions in many video software programs and then output that to your video recorder - although of course your VCR needs to support the video system, PAL or NTSC, that you are outputting to.
I tried a range of combos and permutations. I captured both PAL and NTSC Hi-8. I also captured PAL DV footage using an early JVC DV camera (JVC GR-DVX) that has no FireWire connector, using the DC's S-Video and RCA audio connectors. Footage captured well and looked good when output back to my NTSC Hi-8 deck.
I mixed some NTSC DVCAM footage (captured without the DC) with NTSC VHS, PAL Hi-8 and NTSC Hi-8, and then exported the edit to NTSC Hi-8. The converted DVCAM footage had a noticeable loss of colour and quality as I anticipated, but that was really due to bumping it down a generation.
The PAL Hi-8 footage looked more washed out and fuzzy having been converted from PAL Hi-8 to PAL DV by the DC, then converted from PAL DV to NTSC DV by Adobe Premiere Pro and then converted from NTSC DV to NTSC Hi-8 on output. The footage that came out at the end of this journey was better than I expected though and importantly the DC had made it possbile to compile footage on the two different formats with ease. Needless to say you will get the best results when outputting to DV and staying with one video system, PAL or NTSC.
One issue to be aware of is Macrovision's "Copy Inhibit" feature, and similar copyright protection mechanisms that indiscriminately block film pirates and innocent filmmakers trying to edit their own footage across different formats. The DC actually ignores Macrovision so this shouldn't be a problem. But initially I was getting the message "copy inhibit" when I tried to output footage from my PC to a Sony PD150 that originated on a Sony Hi-8 using the DC, whether going through the DC or not.
The problem appears to have been something to do with the settings in my Premiere project, because when I started a new Premiere project, took the same footage I had converted earlier and printed to tape, I had no problem with copy protection. The footage exported fine going through the DC.
The only other problem I can share with you is getting used to the idea of powering the DC box on and off in order to change modes, say from PAL to NTSC. Sometimes it requires you to restart your video-editing program or even reboot in order to recognise the mode change. The few occasions where I had problems with transfering video was usually because I wasn't getting into the right mode. It's an idiosyncracy of the DC that just takes a little getting used to.
"A simple power cycle is enough to reset the unit," explains Miglia's product marketing director Eric Ferraz in an email responding to a problem I had with exporting video. "What might have happened, is that the DV application was stuck in one mode. Mac OS 9, for example, will not allow you to switch from NTSC to PAL or vice versa without a reboot. Windows is normally okay, but I have seen some instances where an application relaunch was required. The power cycle is also necessary as many OS'es do not realise that the 'camera' has changed modes if it has not been turned off/on."
The manual is surprisingly sparse - seven short pages explaining how to do it all, including one page which is tucked away at the back after the foreign language sections. The DC is easy to operate, but there are occasions where I might have benefited from a little bit more troubleshooting help. That said, the web site has plenty more information including technical FAQs, for example on how to work round DC's lack of support for timecode, that may help you problem-solve.
Price for the Director's Cut Take 2 on Miglia's web site: EUR339.00 (or 359 with Miglia Alchemy FireWire card)
External power supply is EUR29.00 and available for whatever country you are in. Prices do not include VAT.