Turn Your Staff into Video Stars

Interactive e-learning incorporating online or DVD-based video is all the rage in training circles these days. So how about creating your own customized IT department training videos in-house? You can, with the remarkably inexpensive and easy-to-use PC-based video production tools we tested recently.

Even better, you can take the same tools home and turn your dull-as-ditch-water home videos into filmic masterpieces.

What do you need? It starts with a DV (digital video) camcorder. Even low-end consumer models ($900 to $1,200) can produce near-broadcast quality video. (That’s can produce – if you use them properly.) All the usual suspects, including Canon, Sony and JVC, offer multiple DV models.

Then you need a Firewire (aka IEEE 1394) port on a PC to get the raw video into the computer to edit it. Some PC models and many Macs, including laptops, have Firewire ports built in now. Or you can install an add-in card for $100 to $200.

Firewire lets you import full-screen, full-motion video, and export the edited movie when you’re finished, without losing any of the superb video quality from the camcorder.

To edit out the bloopers, order the shots, add titles and slick transitions between scenes and maybe even a voice-over or musical sound track, you’ll need video-editing software. Plus if you want to make your own DVDs (using a CD burner), you’ll need software for that too.

We looked at two consumer video editing kits that include Firewire card and bundled software:

Pinnacle ExpressDV

(about $125) from Pinacle Systems (www.pinnaclesys.com) comes with DVD creation software that includes rudimentary video-editing functions. (You can also buy the Pinnacle DVD software separately for about $75).

The Pyro PlatinumDV

(about $500) from ADS Technologies (www.adstech.com) includes one of the best video-editing programs available, Premiere 6 from Adobe Systems Inc. (www.adobe.com).

The Firewire cards performed similarly, although the ADS unit was marginally easier to install. (Neither was difficult.) The big difference was in the video-editing software included.

Premiere is an incredibly flexible professional-level product. The Pinnacle software is built around the idea of making home DVDs. It’s barely adequate for video-editing. Worse, some functions – including disc burning – did not work on my test system.

My recommendation: pay a little extra and go for the Pyro PlatinumDV.

One other option: If you want top

editing and production capabilities, consider buying the Firewire card separately and investing in Adobe’s Digital Video Collection (about $1,800). It includes

Premiere 6.0, AfterEffects 5.0 (a video and animation package), as well as Illustrator 9.0 (drawing) and PhotoShop 6.0 (photo editing).

Gerry Blackwell is a freelance writer specializing in information technology and IT management. He is based in London, Ont.