Dazzle Hollywood DV-Bridge
Bringing Analog Video into the DV World

by Paulo de Andrade





Weird things happened when Digital Video gained popularity. Since the invention of videotape, companies had been spending millions to make video look better and better. Professionals were constantly awed at NAB whenever a new piece of gear produced pristine images. Quality was the number one concern and having worked for a major television network I was brainwashed into accepting nothing but pristine video. Editors developed eagle-sharp eyes and any microscopic flaw was reason for concern.

The Hollywood DV-Bridge is a very compact unit. Here we see it standing on the supplied base. The connections on the front are the inputs.
Enter nonlinear editing and, with it, all flavors of data compression. All of a sudden those pristine images that took so much work to produce were being tainted by all sorts of artifacts. It drove me nuts! As hardware evolved and new compression CODECS were developed, image quality began to improve and prices started to drop. High-end professional editing gear offered pretty decent quality for those who could afford it, but consumer grade equipment still offered pretty sad performance. As evolution continued, pros got uncompressed video and the artifacts were gone. The promise of digital video was finally being delivered. But those with regular sized pockets still had to deal with not only mediocre image quality but all sorts of other problems. That is, until DV.

DV brought to the average videomaker a great compromise between quality and cost. Ultra-fast and expensive SCSI disk arrays were not necessary anymore due to its ingenious 5:1 compression. Increased computer horsepower, faster IDE drives, inexpensive firewire interfaces and new video editing software have helped to turn DV into a truly revolutionary format for nonlinear editing. It's true that DV is not a perfect format with it's 4:1:1 color handling and certain compression artifacts. But the quality is truly outstanding for the money.

As DV becomes the true standard for quality, affordable postproduction and as Macs and PCs are being shipped with 1394 interfaces, setting up a very capable nonlinear editing system has never been easier or more affordable. It's not surprising, therefore, to see professionals abandoning much more expensive technologies in favor of DV. Certainly not all footage that goes into an edit system originates in DV. Analog acquisition is still huge, and so is the availability of analog archival footage. Therefore, a good way to transfer analog video into the DV world is an essential part of the DV postproduction equation. While you can purchase an analog digitizing board for a computer and then convert the footage to a DV CODEC, it is much better to have the video converted to DV during the capturing process. This is exactly what the Dazzle Hollywood DV-Bridge does.

I have reviewed the Hollywood DV-Bridge on a 533 Mhz G4 Mac. It was a perfect setup because the G4 already comes with 2 firewire ports and is, therefore, ready to accept DV video. I have been using a $10,000 analog capture card on my NT-based nonlinear edit system and I was wondering how well the $299 DV-Bridge would be able to handle the job. The source material I used for the review came from broadcast-quality MII raw footage, which is as good as analog gets, and it could easily show problems if there were any.

The outputs are conveniently located on the rear of the unit.
I must admit that I was absolutely blown away by the results obtained from the DV-Bridge. I have previously used a Sony DSR-PD150 DVCam camcorder to convert between analog and DV when capturing on the G4 in Final Cut Pro and I wasn't very happy with the results. The PD150 conversion lost a considerable amount of luminance, resulting in images that were much darker than the originals. I had to compensate for the level difference by boosting the video using a proc-amp during the capture process. By the way, I have tried two different PD150s and both gave similar results.
When I did the capture through the DV-Bridge, the levels were right on. Looking at the color bars on the Final Cut Pro waveform monitor and vectorscope showed that the video signals suffered no alteration during the digitizing process. That is the way it should be and Dazzle deserves praise for preserving the signal accuracy, specially in a consumer priced product.

The next thing that I was anxious to find out was whether the conversion would introduce any objectionable artifacts. Playing back the captured footage on a broadcast reference monitor was another pleasant surprise. The video looked virtually identical to the original and, even in difficult to compress shots such as rippled ocean water, there were no visible artifacts. I have seen those a few times before on footage shot with a Sony VX-1000 DV camcorder and not seeing them on the MII captured footage was very nice. Because the video signal had been so wonderfully preserved during the digitizing process, the DV-converted footage looked absolutely great. In fact, it compared very well to the footage captured with the $10,000 card but with all the added advantages of the DV format in terms of interchangeability, storage requirements and overall usability. While other CODECs may impose certain limitations, on the Mac DV can be used by any application seamlessly and it plays back at full resolution in real time on the computer screen.

Click on the image above to watch the video.
Because the quality of the DV-Bridge captured footage was so good, I tried to do something that is considered taboo in the DV world: blue screen chroma keying. Due to the format's 4:1:1 chroma processing and slight compression artifacts, DV is not considered to be the ideal format for blue chroma keying. While I could see some problems with the captured blue background on the computer screen, the same footage viewed on the video monitor didn't show these problems. So I chose some other footage for the background and used the normal chroma keying tools available in FCP. To my surprise, after a little tweaking I obtained results that were as good as those I obtained by capturing with lossless compression on a component video system. The subject I used originally was a female actor and the key was so good that I could preserve individual hair strands. Needless to say, that is way better than I had expected. Unfortunately I could not post the results here because I don't have that actor's permission to do so. But I have shown the results to my colleague Stephen Schleicher (see his impressions of the DV-Bridge at the end of this review) and he was very impressed. I have compressed another keyed segment to post here, but the subject is much easier to key and will not show you how complex the keying results can be.

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