Video for the rest of us

7th January 2000 at 00:00
Apple is now doing for desktop video what it did for desktop publishing, reports John Davitt

Home video would be a daily part of education if only we could manage it more easily. Teachers would jump at the chance of using video as a review tool and students would learn afresh as they turned essay into video clip. The trouble has been in the editing. Filming is a fairly straightforward affair but sorting the dross from the gold at the edit stage has been too complex and time-consuming. But things are about to change.

Computers and camcorders are finally speaking the same digital language. The appearance of DV (digital video) cameras was the first good news, rapidly followed by Apple and other manufacturers agreeing on a connection design and standards for transferring video from camera to computer known as IEEE P1394 or FireWire. FireWire is a socket on your camera or computer that talks video, and Apple has been building FireWire into most high-end G3 machines.

To transfer video and control a camera from your computer all you need is a FireWire port, a cable and some software. Apple is about to launch the European version of its state-of-the-art video editing software Final Cut Pro. This professional tool has a fairly substantial learning curve. For PC users Digital Origin (formerly Radius) provide EditDV, a pack with software and a PCI card which provides a FireWire socket and some moviemaking software.

However, even with FireWire and DV cameras things were still too complex for beginners - until Apple launched its iMac DV. This machine is built specifically to make and edit video and it's the machine that a thousand media studies departments have dreamed of. Every iMac DV comes with two FireWire ports and a copy of iMovie software. With this computer, software and a DV camera (with FireWire port and lead) you can be making movies in 10 minutes.

iMovie is stunning software. It provides full control over your DV camera so you can wind forward and back till you find the scene you want. Click the capture button and your scene appears in the movie timeline. Additional sounds can be recorded live or added from a library or even from CD. Captions can be typed and added to bounce, scroll or appear in more subtle fashion at the place of your choice. Transitions such as dissolves and wipes are just dragged to the point where two clips meet to be automatically implemented or "rendered". The software senses when you turn on the camera and tells you "camera connected" - he dance of a thousand leads is over. Hail the dawn of video editing for the rest of us.

iMovie captures video at 24 frames per second and lets you review the emergent action frame by frame. Unwanted footage can be removed just by splitting the clip at the playhead and deleting the unwanted portion. It's like word processing for video.

The self-control of this software is exemplary - up till now most video editing software simply confused users with the complexity of their features. Here you simply toggle between camera view and clip assembly on the hard disk. When finished, footage can be exported as a QuickTime movie file, and the software guides you through the choices. These range from email movies, which at 200k per 10 seconds of clip can be sent as an email attachment or posted on a Web page, to high-end large-screen movies suitable for storing on CD-Rom.

iMovie also allows full-screen playback during any project - it's like seeing your work on TV, and the ideal way for students to pr`emiere finished work. If you have a DV camera which has "digital in" capability (Sony and Panasonic have some models) you can send the final movie back to blank tape. Output quality is as good as the source - nothing is lost in the editing. Finished movies can be ported to any NT network and run as streaming QuickTime files.

So the millennium hinges and we welcome the digital video age. For any school wanting to add video content to its intranet this is the technology to buy.

Getting started

* Make sure your DV camera has an IEEE P1394 or FireWire port. If you want to send movies back to DV tape you will need a camera with digital-in as well as digital-out.

* Choose a small, child-friendly DV camera if possible but use a tripod for important footage. I used the Canon MV20; small enough for a six-year-old to manage with a built-in screen and FireWire port, and retailing at approximately pound;1,200.

* Start a club where students can pass on the wisdom and so create a team of video savvy students.

* Enlist the support of the media studies department in creating key movies of special events.

See sample clips and digital video discussion group at: Stand: TESONLINE January 7 2000 hands on Flight of the contour: five minutes was all it took for geography student Dominic to create an aerial pass over his model island using iMovie(view it at

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