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The Formac Studio provides FireWire compatibility for all video cameras, and adds TV and radio to Macs. The future may even include a hard-disk VCR for the Studio, but it’s the FireWire features that make it attractive. Video is moving in a digital direction, but there are a lot of analogue cameras out there, plus a lot of DV cameras that can only output video – not re-record it. The Formac Studio will breath new life into those cameras, because it converts plain-old analogue video into FireWire DV, allowing it to be used with applications such as iMovie. It also allows digital output to be recorded on regular analogue VCRs, and allows a £250 camcorder to be used in the same way as a £1,000 DV camcorder. The quality of the original recording isn’t quite as good – but once it’s recorded digitally, the quality won’t decline. Working the Studio is a breeze. It takes its power from the FireWire connection – so no messy power leads or adaptors are needed. Along its side are connections for video and audio in and out. Along the back are connections for S-Video in and out, plus connections for antennas for TV and radio. There’s also FireWire in and out. When we tested the Studio, we had it on a machine running Mac OS X. So, thinking it was unlikely to work, we fired up iMovie to have a look. The Studio worked first time with no problems at all. As iMovie sees it as a DV camera, the Studio is compatible without software. However, you won’t be able to control the camera in the same way that DV cameras can be controlled with iMovie. The camera is set only to play, and you can record the bits you want in iMovie. Transferring a movie from a Mac is just as easy, and you can connect Studio to any analogue VCR – though you may need an adaptor for SCART connections. Because the video on the computer is digital, you can run off as many analogue copies as you like without loosing quality. At first glance, it looks like the TV and radio features were thrown in as a sweetener, but this isn’t the case. If you plug a decent antenna into the studio, you can get on-screen TV or FM radio. This feature doesn’t currently work with OS X, but Formac is working on it. You can also record TV clips, though this isn’t something many will need to do. However, there are menu options that refer to forthcoming products that will enable you to use your computer as a VCR. By adding a type of Formac hard disk – not yet available – you’ll be able to set your computer to record shows while you’re out.
If you have an older camcorder, or even a new one that doesn’t support video input, the Studio is invaluable. It will breath new life into old equipment, plus it has a couple of extra tricks up its sleeve – such as TV and radio. You could spend a grand on a DV camcorder instead, but even that won’t give you TV on your Mac.