Adobe OnLocation CS3 review

Adobe added a number of applications to the CS3 Production Premium bundle (web ID: 117832), but one wasn’t available until the full retail release – OnLocation CS3. Its ancestor, DV Rack, could be purchased as a standalone version, but this iteration is only to be found with the full CS3 Production Premium or Premiere Pro CS3.

OnLocation’s heritage is from Serious Magic, a company Adobe added to its portfolio in 2006. As its name suggests, the application is aimed at working with video in the field rather than the editing studio. With this in mind, it comes on its own installation disc with its own serial number, so you don’t have to install it on the same PC as the rest of your Production Suite apps. In fact, OnLocation’s primary host is intended to be a laptop for easy mobile deployment.

Fire up the software, and you’re greeted with an interface that isn’t at all reminiscent of Adobe’s current standard GUI, as OnLocation’s components try to look like the studio kit they ape. For those experienced with such equipment, this will be a boon, but people coming from a more software-orientated background in video making may be put off. In particular, the Field Monitor’s configuration menus, although mouse controlled, look like the ones you see in a camcorder and nothing like a Windows dialog. OnLocation consists of a container window into which 13 components can be loaded. These can be moved around and docked as desired, but aren’t resizable. So some component combinations can be a bit messy, too.

The primary component is the Field Monitor, which can be 4:3, 16:9 or 720p. Hook up a camcorder via FireWire and you’ll be able to preview its output – either the live stream in camera mode or whatever’s being played back from VTR mode, although there’s no remote control over the latter. There are full instructions on how to use the colour bars to adjust the Field Monitor, so it provides a more accurate view of what your camcorder is recording than its own LCD.

The Field Monitor works in tandem with the DVR-1500 direct-to-disk recording controller, which can capture video from DV, HDV and DVCPro HD sources via FireWire. DV can be recorded in AVI Type 1 or Type 2, or QuickTime. HDV and DVCPro HD can be captured as either MPEG program or M2T transport stream.

The DVR has lots of useful features. Apart from being able to immediately review your recordings without having to shuttle a tape backwards and forwards, it can record DV timecode. This is compatible with Adobe Premiere Pro, but also Apple Final Cut Pro if you record QuickTime. The Shot Saver feature pre-buffers up to 30 seconds, so if you hit record a few seconds too late to capture something the file will still contain the event, plus a little preroll.

Recording can be triggered in a number of ways, too. You can either synchronise this with the camcorder – so you get identical footage on tape and hard disk – or start things off from OnLocation. There are also motion-sensing, stop-motion and time-lapse facilities, although when working with HDV these are available only with the MPEG recording format, not M2T. You can also only load one instance of the DVR-1500 component, so OnLocation can’t be used to grab a multicam shoot. For this, you’d need multiple laptops with multiple copies of OnLocation, one for each camera. You can hook up multiple cameras and switch between them, but one FireWire card is required for each one.

The other side to OnLocation is its monitoring toolset. The SureShot camera setup module works in tandem with the supplied test cards to help you fine-tune your focus, exposure and white balancing on the camcorder for the best shots. For the backroom engineers out there, live Vectorscope and Waveform monitors are available for video, plus the Audio Spectrum Analyzer II. These tools can alert you to any problems with the signal, although you need to know what to look for. You can then adjust the camcorder settings accordingly. The Spectra 60 Video Analyzer gives you a reading of intensity distributions in different colour spaces. There’s also an Automated Quality Monitor, which notifies you of video and audio clipping according to thresholds you set with sliders.

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