But it doesn't have to be that way. The fastest-expanding segment of the digital video market is the entry-level end, and a big part of that is VHS-to-DVD conversion, a process that should be anything but complicated. Slightly up the food chain, there's the analog camcorder market, which is equally hungry for digital conversion, DVD output, and some measure of editing and DVD menu building in between. ADS Technologies (www.adstech.com) took dead aim at that market shortly before the market even came along—when it was reasonably easy to anticipate but still too small to quantify as a significant trend, since PCs were slow and DVD recorders expensive. And now that the entry-level DVD market is flourishing, ADS boasts an impressive array of tools designed to make capturing analog video as simple and inexpensive as possible, enabling users to move on to the work of video editing and DVD authoring and recording. DVD Xpress—a $145 "breakout box" that captures analog video and audio input, automatically converts it to MPEG-2, and transfers it to the user's hard drive via USB 2—is just such an enabling tool.
The most immediately apparent difference between DVD Xpress and ADS boxes previously reviewed here—the PC and Mac versions of USB Instant DVD—is that they've made it even more compact, just slightly longer and thicker than a pack of cards. DVD Xpress accepts RCA composite and S-VHS input, ships with a USB cable for connecting to the PC, and includes a well-rounded software bundle. First and foremost among the software is ADS' own Capture Wizard (aka CapWiz), a video capture interface with a massive preview window and handy link to the other bundled tool, Ulead's estimable Video Studio 7 SE DVD.
I liked CapWiz the first time I saw it, roughly a year ago, but I like it much better now. In addition to the generous preview window, it gives you easy access to MPEG encoding parameters—Good (3Mbps), Better (6Mbps), Best (9Mbps), brightness/contrast controls, NTSC/PAL, audio frequency and bit rate, video resolution, and more. You can also capture and record in VideoCD format (CapWiz has a few settings for that too), although in this age of $100 DVD-Recorders and $2-and-under name-brand media, there hardly seems to be any point in bothering with VideoCD. But for those quasi-Luddites trapped in the early Aughts, still recording digital video to CD, it's nice of ADS to include the option.
To test DVD Xpress, I hooked the box up to my 4-head JVC VCR via the red-white-yellow RCA cable included in the package, plugged the USB cable into one of the USB 2 ports on my testbed 2.66gHz Compaq Pentium 4 running XP Home, and loaded up the software disc, which installed in a snap. I fired up a tape of enigmatic alt-rock band Wilco performing on a recent episode of PBS' SoundStage, and captured roughly 34 minutes of tuneful pop-rock, keyboard noodling, and ostentatious understatement to my hard drive at "Better" 6Mbps MPEG-2. (Ten months ago, DVD sage Chris Armbrust [www.marin-digital.com] told me never to go higher than 6-7Mbps—more is too much for players running recordable discs—and having seen the distressing results when I've distributed discs encoded at 8Mbps or above, I've stuck with his advice ever since.)
Moving on to the familiar Video Studio 7 SE DVD, I trimmed my video, added titles and chapter points for each of the eight songs (no transitions or filters necessary in this instance, but I certainly had plenty of options if I'd wanted ‘em, and anything captured from a recording of network TV with commercials excised would benefit from a transitional touch-up), and built my menus. I then burned a lovely DVD (great video and solid audio quality) to some 4X DVD+R and DVD-R media from Verbatim, using the recently reviewed (and still burning strong) Memorex Dual-X 4X dual-format DVD recorder.
Analog to digital to DVD—not so intimidating after all. Thanks to ADS, nothin' to it.
|System requirements: 800mHz Pentium 3 or equivalent with 128MB RAM running Windows 98SE-XP; 500MB hard drive space for software installation; 1GB+ HDD space for video capture and editing; 1024x768 display; USB 1.1 port (2.0 recommended); DVD±RW drive for DVD recording. |