Cut and paste video movies. (Microsoft's Audio Video Interleaved software and Creative Labs' Video Blaster card) (Software Review) (Column) (Evaluation)
by David English
Wouldn't it be great if you could hook your VCR or camcorder to your PC and bring video directly into Windows? Wouldn't it be even better if you could save that video to your hard drive and then cut and paste the video into your Windows documents just as easily you can cut and paste words and numbers into your word processor and spreadsheet files?
Sound far-fetched? Not anymore. You can do this now by combining Microsoft's new AVI software package with a Video Blaster card (Creative Labs, 1901 McCarthy Boulevard, Milpitas, California 95035; 408-428-6600; $495). It's so easy that you'll soon have video movies with your kids waving to you as they say "Good morning, Dad" or "Keep up the good work, Mom." You could even send a Word for Windows file to your sister in Alaska with your New Year's greeting at the top of the page.
I wrote last month about Microsoft's new AVI (Audio Video Interleaved) software package. It should be shipping under the name Microsoft Video for Windows by the time you read this. AVI lets you run full-motion video in Windows 3.1 with no additional hardware--other than a sound card if you want to hear the video's synchronized sound. On the downside, AVI movies run at 15 frames per second (rather than the 30 fps that's standard for most video), your videos usually run in a 160-pixel-by-120-pixel size window (just one-eighth of a standard screen), and the files can be extremely large (even compressed, a 30-second video can use up four or five megabytes on your hard drive). If AVI goes over as well as QuickTime, a similar technology on the Macintosh, we'll soon see disk- and CD-ROM-based programs with lots of AVI files you can play with.
But what about making your own video movies? With a Video Blaster and a video camera, you can capture your own full-motion video and, using the AVI utilities, save it to your hard drive as an AVI file. You can then use your standard Windows tools, such as Media Player, to work with your new video file. You should also be able to cut and paste your videos into any OLE-compliant Windows application.
Even without AVI, you can use the Video Blaster to save individual video frames in BMP, Targa, TIF, PCX, MMP, and EPS formats and display (though not save) a full-motion video in any size--from icon to full screen. A captured image can have as many as 2 million colors, but it can't be any larger than 640 pixels x 480 pixels. You can freeze, crop, resize, zoom, and scale single-frame images, as well as adjust their hue, saturation, brightness, and contrast. A JPEG (Joint Photographic Expert Group) compression kit lets you compress your captured images to a fraction of their original size.
You also get a generous selection of DOS and Windows utilities that let you test your Video Blaster's setup, adjust its settings, and switch among its three video sources (these can be any combination of composite-video sources, including VCR, video camera, videodisc, and broadcast video) and four audio sources (microphone and line-in from the Video Blaster card, and FM and line-2 from a Sound Blaster or other sound card). You can mix the four audio sources with the software-based stereo audio mixer. And to get you started using your video in multimedia presentations, the package includes Macromedia Action, Tempra Show, Tempra GIF, and a handy utility, called MMPlay, that lets you combine animation with live video.
The Video Blaster card takes up a single 16-bit slot and requires Windows 3.1 and a VGA or Super VGA card with a feature connector. Not all VGA and Super VGA cards have a feature connector, so be sure to check with your dealer or with Creative Labs to be sure your card is compatible. (Media Vision is working on a similar AVI-compatible video card, called the Pro MovieSpectrum, which won't require a feature connector.)
In the future, you can expect to see inexpensive video cards with built-in compression chips that will dramatically speed up your AVI files. These chips will allow you to expand the size of your video windows to half or full screen and switch to the preferred speed of 30 frames per second. This compression technology will enable us to overcome the next big hurdle in the transformation of the PC into a multimedia workstation.