Tech Toys Guide: Digital Video and Movie Making

Collectively, digital movie making, editing, and sharing are still the most difficult digital media task to accomplish on a PC. However, thanks to a new generation of software and hardware, it's getting easier all the time.

For pure digital recording, you need a good Digital Video (DV) camcorder. Canon's line of digital camcorders is exceptional, offering a variety of models in different price ranges. Consumers are best served by the Canon ZR series, which features the ZR60 ($375), ZR65MC ($650), and ZR70MC ($750) models. All feature 18x to 22x optical zoom, automatic image stabilization, and a 2.5" LCD screen; the upper two models offer SD media card compatibility with photo snapshotting, in addition to DV tape recording and FireWire output. The ZR70MC also includes a Super Night Mode for low-light situations.

Let's take a look at some of 2003's most exciting tech toys:
Cell Phones/Smart Phones
Digital Audio and Music
Digital Photography
Digital Video & Movie Making
Wireless Technologies
Cool Mobile Technologies
TV/PC Integration
Input Devices, Game Controllers, and PC Games
Video and Computer Games

The Sony DCR-TV19 ($600) is another good digital camcorder choice for prosumers. Although it features only 10x optical zoom, the camcorder's claim to fame is its small size and light weight. Plus, Sony's SteadyShot picture stabilization does an outstanding job of removing hand shake from video on the fly, using electronic motion sensors to compensate for your movement. Note that Sony uses the MiniDV format.

Most Macs come with FireWire ports as standard equipment, but many PCs still don't, so you'll want to invest in a FireWire expansion card for DV work. The Adaptec DuoConnect USB 2.0/1394 Combo Card ($65) offers four USB 2.0 ports and three FireWire ports, all on one card.

If you're still using an analog camcorder, or if you have many VHS movies you'd like to digitize into a computer-usable format, you need an analog-to-digital converter. In the past, you had to invest in a complicated internal card/breakout box combination, but thanks to the speed of USB 2.0 and FireWire, you can now buy simple external peripherals that do the same job for much less money. One good solution is the Belkin Hi-Speed USB 2.0 DVD Creator ($100), which supports full 720 x 480 resolution on modern PCs.

For digitally recording TV shows, the growing market for digital video recorders (DVRs) has never been stronger. In addition to the market leaders, TiVo Series 2 ($200 and higher, including monthly fees) and ReplayTV 5500 Series ($500-$850, including monthly fees), a selection of PC-based solutions are now available, including new Media Center PCs running Windows XP Media Center Edition 2004. Various PC makers, including Gateway, HP, Sony, Toshiba, and ViewSonic, make both desktop and notebook-based Media Center PCs ($1000 to $3200). For users with existing PCs, Snapstream Media's excellent Personal Video Station ($50) features a Media Center-like UI with optional remote control and no monthly fees. (Media Center doesn't include monthly fees, either.)

Home-video enthusiasts will also want to look at the latest generation of DVD recorders, most of which now support most popular DVD-recording formats, including DVD-R, DVD+R, DVD-RW, DVD+RW, DVD-RAM, and Mt. Ranier. (They also write CD-R and CD-RW format, of course.) The best of these DVD recorders are probably the Iomega Super DVD Writer ($180 internal, $250 external) and the Memorex Dual Format DVD Recorder ($140). Frankly, differentiating between DVD recorders can be difficult these days, so just look for the best features (8x DVD-R recording, for example) at the best price.

Finally, we're starting to see a new generation of iPod-like portable devices that play videos. The pickings are still slim, but the best units include the Archos AV340 ($700) and Archos AV320 ($500), which feature 40GB and 20GB drives, respectively. Both units offer near-DVD quality MP4 video playback and can record video directly from analog and video sources such as TVs and camcorders.

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