Canopus has been around since the early 1980s and has made its name producing reliable video editing and processing solutions for the PC. It is one of only about a half-dozen companies that have enough intellectual muscle and resources to engineer both the hardware and the software of advanced A/V products — while keeping them affordable.
The Canopus ADVC300 digitizes analog video and can process and enhance footage via both software and hardware.
The Canopus ADVC300 is definitely advanced and affordable. It is a bi-directional analog-to-digital transcoding device, but also much more. With professional-level image-enhancement features via both hardware and software processing, this is the solution for the shop that's making the migration to DV from older formats like Hi-8 and Super VHS. But getting from A to B is not always easy nor inexpensive.
There are cheaper solutions that will transfer your footage from one format to another, but they don't have the advantage of technologies like Canopus' proprietary Line Time Base Correction (LTBC) or its Digital Noise Reduction circuitry. Together with the included Picture Controller 300 software, for the PC or Mac, the ADVC300 will take those old tapes on VHS, S-VHS, and Hi-8 and improve the video and audio as you transfer them for digital archiving. It works with the company's own editing software, Edius, as well as with almost any other NLE, including Adobe Premiere (standard and Pro on both platforms), Avid's Xpress DV, and Apple's Final Cut Pro, Final Cut Express, and iMovie. As its price ($599) indicates, it's not a toy, and it's much more advanced than the earlier Canopus ADVC100. Sony has ceased making the popular DVMC-DA2 Media Converter, and the ADVC300 is the heir apparent at this price point.
The ADVC300 box itself is a simple affair. The front has RCA composite inputs for video and a left/right stereo audio-in port. There's a Y/C port for transferring Hi-8 and Super VHS and a standard four-pin IEEE 1394 port for connecting your DV camera. A four-pin-to-six-pin cable is included, and there's a six-pin FireWire port on the back. On top there's an input-selection button for switching between analog and digital inputs, with Digital In or Analog In LED indicator lights (nice in a dimly lit edit suite).
Conveniently located on top of the unit are Up and Down adjustment buttons with a series of LED lights indicating values from -5 to +5. There are also indicator lights that let you know when you're using Canopus' special 3D Processing for Y/C or the Digital Noise Reduction tools. These controls can also be accessed and tweaked via the included software.
On the back are similar connectors for output: a six-pin FireWire port, left and right RCA audio, composite video, S-Video, a power button, as well as the input for the included power adapter. There's also an output for a YUV video monitor via a D1 connection. The box also has plenty of ventilation to prevent overheating as it processes crystal-clear 720×480 video with 16-bit, 48kHz stereo audio from source tapes that originally looked like… well, less than optimal.
The ADVC300's bread and butter is its superb ability to stabilize and enhance analog video sources before digital conversion and DV tape recording. This is what makes it worth the cost. Generating color bars with a reference signal output is another very valuable feature.
On the right project, the unit would pay for itself. You can always convert footage for others for fun, favor, or profit. After all, everybody, and I do mean everybody, has one or two old VHS, S-VHS, or Hi-8 tapes of a special event, and they'll want to make sure it is saved for the future digitally.
Previous solutions were comprised of one kind of connector at one end and another kind at the other end, and the video signal passed right through with no control. The Canopus ADVC300 is a departure from that. We want as much control over our video signals as we can get, especially if it doesn't degrade the original signal. Canopus must have been listening.
The ADVC300 thankfully has plenty of user-controlled options. On a mini-pad on the bottom of the unit are DIP switches. Flip them on or off to change options such as locked or unlocked, 16-bit vs. 12-bit audio, 0 or 7.3 IRE black levels, and output to NTSC or PAL. There's also a second set to control advanced elements like aspect ratio (4:3 or 16:9), D1 output, chroma filter, and video sync mode. I found these switches a little awkward to manipulate with my fat Irish fingers, but they don't control features you'll use everyday.
I wish there were a clear plastic cover for the DIP switches so they can't be moved accidentally as the box slides into a gear bag or briefcase. This actually happened to me. When trouble arose, that was the last thing I thought to check: “It was working just last night at the house!” With video, it's usually something small that causes trouble. No solution is perfect.
All in all, the ADVC300 is a rock-solid case surrounding an effective transcoding solution. To be sure, good Canopus hardware and encoding chips help keep signal degradation to a minimum, but the included Picture Controller 300 software is also an integral part of the process. The software helps you tweak your video's look and sound so it can stay as pristine as possible. With minimal effort, my videos definitely looked and sounded better. But the line between enhanced and over-the-top processing can be a fine one. You can easily over-filter and over-process video, and sometimes the difference is only a slight adjustment to one of the dozen or so parameters that the ADVC300 unit controls. Keeping processing subtle doesn't hurt — sometimes less is more.
The ability to use the ADVC300 with Windows on a PC or on the Mac with OS X is a godsend for those using multiple computer platforms. The Picture Controller 300 software interface is simple and elegant. It works the same way in which you might add filters to video within an NLE. Sliders let you easily add or subtract an effect, as per almost every software package you've ever used.
Use the software to control standard video functions like Brightness, Contrast, Hue, Color Saturation, and Sharpness. Most video filters and processes have 256 levels. On the audio side, you can enhance the sound and tone of your videos. There's not a whole lot to work with, but at least audio wasn't completely forgotten.
I found the horizontal and vertical edge control helpful for covering up the timecode, tracking, and SMPTE info striped up the side or along the bottom of the video frame of old footage. A few adjustments and it was gone.
One thing the ADVC300 does not get rid of, however (as was originally rumored on some user forums), is Macrovision copy-protection technology.
There's also a fairly effective Auto Gain Control (AGC) for both video and audio, which ensures that an entire video will be automatically adjusted and processed at an optimum level. Very handy. For Y/C sources (Hi-8, S-VHS) users can process in the “3D Y/C” mode, which offers improved color separation. With SMPTE colors bars from two other sources (other than the bars the unit generates itself), that mode seemed to push things a tad heavily into the blue range of color. I'd rather use it than not, though. With lots of different footage sources (VHS, Hi-8, S-VHS, DV) and lots of different indoor and outdoor scenes, the video coming out of the unit looked better than the video going in. Much better in most cases.
The Canopus software is a large factor in that. It's easy to operate — a simple solution for complex transcoding problems. With the hardware you can just plug in a deck and roll out to DV. Or, using your computer and the software, you can tweak to your heart's content.
In the “wishes” category, naturally I wanted the product to be a little cheaper. Still, at around $500 street, it is cheaper than other professional solutions with fewer features. You can also find cheaper products that claim to do what the ADVC300 does, but not with as much style or functionality. Besides, $500 should not be too much for the semi-professional or power user.
The Picture Controller 300 software greatly improves footage, and it would be nice to be able to tweak video clips without having to hook up the hardware unit. For a company with this much software prowess, that should not be too difficult. Canopus also could have made software that works under Mac OS 9.2 for the many Mac users who have yet to upgrade to OS X 10.2.7 or higher.
It would be nice to be able to use the ADVC300 as standalone hardware without any software, just like the ADVC100. It also needs a better user manual. A rackmount version would be nice, too. But ultimately, the proof is in the output. I used the unit with various sources, left it on for days, and it never failed or dropped a frame during a conversion.
The bottom line is that the processed video ouput of the Canopus ADVC300 looked better than that of other transcoders I've worked with, including some that cost two or three times as much. The improvement was measurable both with a video vectorscope and waveform monitor, as well as visually.
You likely want to forget many analog projects, but others cry out for preservation in the digital realm. The Canopus ADVC300 can do that and, moreover, improve those videos.
Tom Patrick McAuliffe is a writer, entertainer, and video creator living in Hawaii. Reach him email@example.com.
Company: Canopus San Jose, Calif.; (408) 954-4500 www.canopus.com
Assets: Plenty of user-controlled options via DIP switches on the hardware; Y/C, RCA, and IEEE 1394 inputs and outputs; Picture Controller 300 software offers several processing parameters.
Caveats: Using the software requires the hardware unit to be connected.
Demographic: DV pros with a backlog of analog source tapes.
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