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The Video Guide


Chapter 3

The Video System

What You Need To Make It Work

Getting Started in Video

The school principal has just informed you that you have received funding for all the video equipment requested by your big Audio Visual Grant; the one you didn't really think would come through.

Ten months ago, you had a great idea to do vocational training tapes for your high-school students. Ever since you read that there were more TV sets in America than homes with toilets and that kids watch some 26,000 hours of television by the time they graduate from high school, you logically assumed that this was the medium to which they would really relate.

The video equipment brochures sent to you from "Whitney's Sight and Sound Center" seemed to be somewhat understandable and anyway, the salesperson assured you he would help "plug it all in." Ten months ago, it seemed a remote possibility that the Grant would ever materialize so you didn't need to worry about equipment for a while.

But it did—and now you do! THE MACHINE AND YOU

As we turn our attention to these remarkable video machines, I'm sure many of you are anticipating working with the equipment with a certain sense of fear and anxiety. Your mind is full of questions like: "Look at all those knobs and dials, how do you know which monitor to watch or which button to push? How am I going to keep all the cables straight? Those things don't look like any plugs I've ever seen before!"

These are normal reactions. Don't worry; if you had to confront a big 2-inch VTR, you would have cause to be concerned. However, small-format machines have been designed to minimize

operator confusion and error and to make operation as simple as possible. If you can comprehend a washing machine or an electric typewriter, you've got the mechanical and psychological foundation to understand basic video equipment.


Before we plunge headlong into the abyss, let's talk about something often overlooked but of vital importance, in my opinion. That isattitudeyour personal conception of and approach to technology in general. If you take the attitude that technology tends to frustrate and alienate people, you've got a good point. Technology itself, however, is merely a tool—neither intrinsically good nor bad.

It's effect on a society is determined by the people who create it, those who manufacture its products, and the people who use the products. Technology can be used to victimize and to alienate people or to free civilization from certain kinds of manual labor, thereby permitting individuals to spend more time developing their own creative potential, if they so desire.

How do we insure the positive and minimize the negative use of technology? I think through approaching existing and future technology with some sense of inner understanding or peace of mind. You can't be a hypertense, frantic individual and expect to operate a videotape recorder successfully, at least not for very long. The machine simply cannot defend itself against this kind of personality. If you hate machines, you should stay away from video, as this hatred will soon become self-defeating. The machinery will not respond, will soon break down, and any programs produced will reflect these negative emotions.



On the other hand, if you can sit down in front of the machines and quietly attempt to "feel them out" mentally, inanimate objects that they are, you might be able to develop a positive feeling for the machinery. You can do this if you are willing.

When something doesn't work or you have no idea how you're going to operate an unfamiliar device, don't just freak out and adopt a defensive attitude. Take a few minutes, meditate on the apparently insoluble problem, then approach both the job and the machine with the sole intention of working step-by-step to solve the problem. You must convince yourself that the answer is there within you and the machine, and you need only proceed step by step to find it. Refuse to accept defeat until you have given it a good try.

Now to return to the idea of your peace of mind. This is the key to successful video operation. The word technology was originally derived from the word TECHNE meaning ART. So technology should be and can be an art. Certainly most American cars and other consumer products can hardly be called works of art, but that problem lies in the insensitivity of the creators and builders to any awareness of natural beauty and to the real needs of the persons who use their products. This is not the case with most video products, fortunately. The Japanese have a strong sense of natural beauty and careful craftsmanship when it comes to designing and building videotape systems. I have never seen sloppy workmanship on Japanese video equipment. There may be design flaws, but generally an enormous amount of care is evident in video equipment construction and assembly.

Since the builders crafted this equipment with a sense of natural design and care so it would work easily for years, you must approach it as the recipient of this TLC (tender loving care) and the design expertise placed in your equipment by the builder.

Taking the Medium into Your Own Hands

As you turn to technology's tools to craft your own visualizations in the form of educational tapes, social documentaries, video art, or whatever it is that you want to do, consider what happens when electricity flows through a video system. Hundreds of minute and extremely complex solid state transistors, resistors, capacitors, diodes

and other devices respond with a sparkling life force uniquely their own. You need only take a good look inside any videotape recorder to appreciate the exquisite work of art, sculpture and design that you will see. Remember, that any successful interaction with video equipment, even on a casual level, requires that you approach the video recorder or camera as a sensitive instrument, rather than a mass of plastic, metal and wood that is just supposed to work properly all the time.

Whether or not the machine operates up to your expectations depends substantially on your own inner togetherness. If you can approach this equipment with a certain degree of inner peace of mind, half your battle is won. Otherwise, you will only build your personal problems into the machine itself and into the end product of your efforts.

If your mind is calm and centered, the videotape recorder or camera will produce good things for you and you'll feel good about it. If you experience severe equipment and production problems, perhaps you should look inside yourself and do some internal house-cleaning. But we will assume you are eager and ready to go, so let's take a look at the equipment itself.

What Makes it Work?

A basic understanding of the technical processes hidden behind all those knobs and meters is essential if the specific pieces of video hardware are to have meaning for you.




A CAMERA (studio or portable) to take pictures and a microphone to record sound.

A VIDEOTAPE RECORDER (VTR), (studio or portable) to record and play back the pictures and sound.

A TV MONITOR or TV receiver to display picture and sound.

VIDEOTAPE (reusable) to store
the picture and sound.


to join the various components together.

The purpose of a complete video system is to record and play back moving visual images and synchronized sound. Every video system has the capacity to play back picture and sound in perfect synchronization. Most video systems also have the capability to record sound and picture. Since videotape requires no processing, the recorded image can be played back immediately after recording. This can be done many times with the same tape.

Not all video components are easily interchangeable so it is best to keep each item of equipment with its own component system. For example, keep the portable camera with its own VTR and cables and the studio camera with its own VTR and cables.



The Camera—Starting with the Image

Unlike the film camera, the VIDEO CAMERA contains no tape or film and does not store the image. Instead, the video camera changes the light emitted or reflected from a physical image into an electronic signal. This signal or voltage is relayed by means of wires, lasers or microwaves to either a VTR for storage or to a TV monitor for "real-time" immediate display. If broadcasting live, the camera's picture would be instantly transmitted over the air.

inside the video camera, a fight-sensitive device called a CAMERA TUBE changes the light from a physical form to an electronic signal.

Cameras generally fall into two categories—portable and nonportable or studio type.

Often a microphone is built into the portable camera. If not, a separate microphone must be used to record sound. Also, the electronic components within the camera determine whether or not the camera's pictures will be in color or blackand-white.



The Videotape Recorder (VTR)

The VIDEOTAPE RECORDER or VTR receives the electronic picture signals from the camera and the sound signals from the microphone and stores this information on the videotape which has been placed on the VTR. Once the tape has been recorded by the VTR, it can be rewound and played back immediately through a connected TV monitor.

Since the VTR is the most mechanically complex element in the video system, its many circuits, relays, and motors must work perfectly to insure quality recording and reproduction. The VTR operator must take special care of the VTR, keep it clean, transport it gently, and treat it like the precision instrument that it is.

VT R s like cameras take many shapes and sizes depending on their intended purposes. Physically, they take two basic configurations, the portable

The major difference between a TV monitor and an ordinary TV receiver is that a TV monitor is designed to display high-quality pictures from a video camera or VTR but usually does not have the capability to play back sound or tune in broadcast TV channels. Generally, a dual function TV monitor/receiver costs about $150 to $400 more than a comparable ordinary TV set. However, it is well worth the extra money to buy the monitor/receiver if substantial use with a video production system is contemplated.

Monitors exist in a wide variety of forms and like VTR s and cameras are either portable or non-portable and black-and-white or color.

The TV Monitor

The TV MONITOR or MONITOR is the viewing element. Without some sort of monitor or TV set, no pictures can be viewed. With most video systems, especially the nonbroadcast type, the monitor will be an ordinary TV receiver and a TV monitor, and it is called a MONITOR/RECEIVER. This dual function is advantageous since it provides the capability to record off-the-air programs from broadcast TV and provides playback for a VTR or camera through the monitor.


All pictures and sound signals are recorded and stored on videotape which is placed on the videotape recorder, not in the video camera. All videotape can record BOTH black-and-white and color signals. You don't need separate color and blackand-white stock as with film. Videotape comes in three basic lengths-20, 30 and 60 minutes. Special tapes are available that will record and play for 90 or 120 minutes. Tape comes in many brands and sizes so it is important to know which kind and size of tape you need for the particular VTR that you're using, because the quality and type of tape will affect the quality of your recording. See Chapter 6—All About Videotape, and Chapter 9—Format and Interchangeability.




Finally, the various video equipment components must be joined together by means of wires and connectors. Although as many as 4 different cables may be used simultaneously with one video recorder, the cables and plugs are sufficiently unique to enable you to keep the cables and their specific functions separate. This prevents you from plugging the wrong cable into the wrong plug.

Black-and-White or Color?

The relative merits of b&w vs. color video equipment should be carefully considered before mak ing any equipment purchase. Surveillance and low-light level applications are clearly more practical applications for b&w, as is simple role playing, production of certain kinds of basic training tapes and situations where persons want to practice using video equipment. B&W is fine for recording therapy sessions, athletic and sports instruction and a myriad of other uses where communication of movement, form, shape and sound are most important.

Portability, reliability and economics are other crucial factors in choosing color or b&w. All late model b&w cameras are highly developed electronically, extremely compact and reliable, produce quality pictures under low-light situations and are almost totally automatic and super cheap ($200-$700).

Although good low-cost ($900-$1,500) small color cameras are now available for home use, they are not quite as compact, reliable and as automatic as b&w cameras because of the color camera's need for correct and adequate lighting. Also, since color video camera technology advances so rapidly, color models are likely to become obsolete much faster than b&w models.

Nevertheless, the home color cameras represent a truly remarkable breakthrough in state-of-the-art low-cost video technology. Their compactness, performance and price make them a very desirable addition to any video system, and the choice between b&w and color becomes much easier.

When to Use Color?

Color becomes a necessity if producing tapes for national distribution in a highly competitive program marketplace. Also, product promotion, industrial sales tapes, and certain kinds of training and educational material demand color. Many people find a low-cost b&w system will serve most of their needs, and a color camera can be rented easily when an occasional color production is required.

Mixing B&W and Color

The forward-thinking buyer will purchase as much color-capable equipment as possible if he thinks he may eventually want total color. Color VTRs are only slightly more expensive than b&w VTRs, and they record and edit b&w tapes better than b&w VT Rs.

Color monitor/receivers are nearly twice as expensive as b&w monitor/receivers, but usually at least one color monitor/receiver is needed for playback and recording of off-air broadcast programs or purchased prerecorded program tapes. An intelligent mix of b&w and color monitors and color VTRs can provide good present and future flexibility without spending a great deal of money.


Let's get started by examining specific pieces of video equipment, how they work, their inner mechanics, weaknesses and danger signals. Beginning at the very basic levels, we will work toward a greater degree of complexity. if you need to know only about b&w cameras, skip over the color camera part. If you know all about vidicons and plumbicons, proceed beyond that part of the camera chapter to something else. Feel free to stop and start at whatever point your needs dictate.



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