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VideoSpigot Review

I thought QuickTime was obviously cool when it first came out. It’s hard not get all goggle-eyed when you first see movies running on a computer screen without any special hardware. Of course, like the joy of owning your first car, it fades with time and reality sets in. The questions of use and function comes to mind. Just what is QuickTime really good for? The two most obvious choices are entertainment and training. The big question then becomes how to make movies, since that requires additional hardware.

Along came SuperMac with a digitizer board for the home and low-end market. For less than $500 you can get the Video Spigot in either a PDS version for the LC or a NuBus version for the Mac II family. This board is not intended as a board for doing full screen captures or real time video captures, but it does a great job of capturing video and making it into QuickTime movies in the common sizes that run on all the Macs. That means that you can make movies on your Macintosh.

In addition, the VideoSpigot comes with Adobe Premier (for a limited time only). Adobe Premier alone costs as much as the price of the VideoSpigot (somewhere between $350 and $550 depending on the source), so the two together make an irresistible deal if you plan to have anything to do with QuickTime. Premier is the first full featured QuickTime editor to reach the market, and it has the ability to use some of Photoshop’s modules, which makes it an incredibly powerful package. It also has 24 built-in transition effects, such as wipes and fades which make for very professional looking movies. You can even annotate your home movies if you are so inclined.

I purchased the NuBus version of the VideoSpigot for home use in my Quadra 900. The board itself is simple to install with only a simple RCA jack on the back which can be connected to your VCR’s dubbing output through standard cables. If you are going to do audio input you will need a sound digitizer, such as the MacRecorder or the audio input that comes with most new Macs. The VideoSpigot comes with an application called ScreenPlay, which must be used to control the board and capture the video. As of this time, SuperMac is testing their "vdig" QuickTime extension, which will allow any standard QuickTime-compatible application to record video off the VideoSpigot, but that isn’t available yet, so we are stuck with ScreenPlay.

ScreenPlay is a simple program with only a couple of buttons. The Live button allows you to watch whatever comes into the VideoSpigot. Next to that is a Record Button, labeled simply with a red circle. Clicking it causes the program to record video to disk. Clicking it with the option key down causes it to record to memory, which will allow greater speed, but for a limited time. Next is the stop button which is labeled simply with a blue square. Finally there is a cropping tool, which allows you to limit the area recorded or displayed. The only other item on the screen is the grow box which allows you to expand the window to one of three allowed sizes – small, medium, and large – where large is one quarter of Apple’s 13" RGB monitor.

ScreenPlay has a couple of options which you can set. You can adjust the color and hue with a couple of dubiously-labeled sliders. I found them very unclear in function and virtually useless, although I did wiggle them until my picture was sufficiently clear and about the right color. Later I realized that this is about the same thing I used to do with the color and tint dials on my TV before there was Automatic Fine Tuning. The preferences you can set allow you to set the disk for ScreenPlay to record to, turn the audio recording on or off, and modify the number of frames recorded per second.

I have obtained quite decent results with the VideoSpigot. The movies come out quite large from ScreenPlay, but in Premier I significantly dropped their sizes by trimming off the ends and changing the sound quality from 22 KHz to 11 KHz. I can easily record at 15 frames per second on my Quadra, except at the large size I can only record 11 fps (frames per second). Your mileage may vary.

My only complaint is that there appears to be a small black band on the side of my video. It appears on both the live picture and the recordings. I have not attempted to contact SuperMac about this, which shows it’s not a very serious problem. I did get some great service from SuperMac though. When I bought my board it didn’t work properly. I contacted SuperMac and went through a couple of gyrations of software double-checking before they drove someone out to my office with a replacement. Now it all works fine.

The VideoSpigot and ScreenPlay can also make stills from the video source. You simply drag the picture and a still peels off of the screen. You can control the size as a preference. You either drag one the same size as the screen, the large screen size, or a full screen still. In order to capture full screen stills, you need a still video source. I haven’t played with this feature much since you cannot get very good stills from a video source. Video signals are a much lower quality than a full screen computer image. Nevertheless, the ability to record a full screen image appeals to many people, and ScreenPlay provides it. I would personally use a digital still source for my attempts, except that my digital VCR is in another room and not connected to my Mac. Maybe someday.

All in all, the VideoSpigot is the ideal home digitizer. It cheaply provides sufficient quality to enable you to completely fill all of your disk space with pointless QuickTime clips. If you are inclined, you can also use Premier to assemble your clips into an actual QuickTime movie. Go for it. You could be the next Steven Spielberg, assuming you can get Harrison Ford to star in your video.

SuperMac — 408/245-2202

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