Today's Best Tech Deals
Picked by Macworld's Editors
Top Deals On Great Products
Picked by Techconnect's Editors
Why would a company that specializes in removable-storage devices come out with a video-capture card? Maybe for the same reason Nabisco makes fat-filled Oreos as well as fat-free SnackWell's: because buying one fuels your need for the other.
Iomega's Buz Multimedia Producer lets you capture and output full-screen video on a Power Mac G3 at up to 30 frames per second (fps). At $299, it packs a lot of buzz for the buck. But like any other video-editing system, it's a complex beast that needs tweaking to deliver the best results, and its sketchy documentation does little to help.
On the hardware side, the Buz is a PCI card containing both video-capture circuitry and an Ultra SCSI interface that gives your Mac an additional seven SCSI addresses. This dual personality is behind the Buz's need for a genuine (not upgraded) Power Mac G3: earlier Power Macs aren't fully compatible with the PCI 2.1 specification, and the Buz card uses PCI 2.1 features to provide both video capture and SCSI on the same card.
The Buz also includes a convenience missing from many costlier cards: a breakout box that obviates groping behind the Mac to connect audio and video devices. The box's cable connects to the Buz card and to your Macintosh's audio-input and -output jacks. The box itself contains RCA audio-input and -output jacks and S-Video as well as composite-video input and output jacks.
The Buz card's Ultra SCSI interface supports internal as well as external devices. A 50-pin connector on the top of the card can accommodate an internal device's ribbon connector, and a 50-pin connector on the back handles external devices. You'll probably need an adapter cable for the latter, because the Buz card uses a tiny, high-density connector.
The Buz is also available for Windows 95 and 98, and the capture card is identical on both platforms. Download the Buz drivers from Iomega's Web site if you want to use the card in a Windows computer. You'll have to supply your own video-capture and -editing software, however, and you'll probably have to endure the hours of tweaking and troubleshooting that often accompany video editing under Windows: as I write this, I still haven't quite gotten the card to work properly in my Windows 98 machine. (You'll find an excellent resource for Buz troubleshooting at http://www.trix.com/buz/.)
The Buz comes with a generous software bundle that includes Apple's $29 QuickTime 3 Pro and Adobe's Premiere LE 4.2. (You can upgrade to the full Premiere 5.1 package for $199.) Iomega says these extras are the reason why the Mac version costs $100 more than its Windows counterpart, which doesn't include QuickTime 3 Pro and whose video-editing package is far less capable than Premiere LE.
One of the bundled utilities, RecordIt, lets you record sound clips and tracks from audio CDs and then play the tracks in whatever order you like. Using MPEG Layer II compression, RecordIt offers excellent sound quality and yields reasonably small files. You can't play RecordIt tracks on other computers, however, unless they have the RecordIt Decoder system extension. The utility might be more useful if it used the MPEG Layer III (MP3) audio format.
Despite its many hardware and software components, the Buz is easy to install. Its CD-ROM contains a lavishly produced installer and interactive guide that uses QuickTime movies to pass along tips on lighting, camera positioning, and editing. But the interactive guide says next to nothing about digitizing video with the Buz, and the skimpy manual isn't much better. Iomega gently guides beginners into the middle of a freewayand then abandons them there.
Once you get up to speed, though, you find a remarkably capable video-capture system. The Buz uses Zoran's Motion JPEG compression and digitizing chips to support capture sizes of up to 720 by 480 pixels and rates of up to 30 frames and 60 fields per second. In English: you can use the Buz to capture and output full-screen, full-motion video.
One drawback is that, like DV camcorders and many professional video products, the Buz uses nonsquare pixels. That can lead to complications if your projects contain source material, such as still images or already captured video, that was created elsewhere. The Buz's documentation says nothing about this. (For insights on dealing with nonsquare pixels, see "Set Your Video on FireWire," Create, October 1998.)
The quality of Buz video captures is excellent, particularly at the system's lowest compression setting (3:1). But you'll need a fast SCSI hard drive to capture full-screen, full-motion video at low settings. My G3's internal IDE hard drive was able to keep up with 352-by-240-pixel, 30-fps captures but dropped frames at full-screen settings.
The Buz didn't fare as well when printing to video; the contrast was too high for my taste, and you can't adjust it. Still, the Buz's output is adequate for home videos and other noncritical work.
The Buz is a bargain, outperforming cards that cost twice as much and offering unique features such as a second SCSI bus and that terrific breakout box. The Buz may not provide the "broadcast-quality" video its box claims, but it's more than adequate if you're producing video destined for CD-ROMs, the Web, or presentations.
RATING: PROS: Great value; excellent capture quality; convenient breakout box. CONS: Mediocre video-output quality; poor documentation. COMPANY: Iomega (801/778-1000, http://www.iomega.com ). LIST PRICE: $299.
March 1999 page: 46