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Choosing a Capture Card

The next piece of equipment you need (besides a camera) is a computer equipped with a capture card. This element in the mix is just as critical as the camera. Here, the capture card will quite possibly play a role in two separate aspects: the connection between the camera and your computer and a vital tool in the processing of your video signal. As you flip through any of the audio video publications, you will see numerous ads and articles about video capture cards. In general, they all do the same thing: transfer the video signal from your camera (or videotape for prerecorded content) and then convert it into a digital media file that is recognized and usable on your computer.

There are many different makes and models—too many to go into in this article—but here are the basic features to be keep in mind. First and foremost, make sure you get the right kind for your computer. Is it Macintosh- or PC-based? Is it a PCI board? There are many logistical aspects. The most important feature is the type of video and audio connections on the board.

If you haven't worked in video before, you will quickly get an education on the various types of video and audio connections available. The most basic type is a composite signal, typically a single RCA-type connector. Higher-end boards may allow for s-video and component input connections, which produce a better-quality image, but have the price tags to go along with them. Again, this is one of those areas that you do not want to skimp on. If you are getting into webcasting for the sheer joy of it, I would be the first to say save yourself a few dollars, and you should be able to get away with a lower-end capture card.

If you are considering webcasting on a professional level, or if the quality of your production really counts, a high-end capture card with component input is worth considering. Growing in popularity and availability are the DV type connections (IEEE-1394) that are commonly known as Firewire. Many consumer and prosumer (somewhere between professional and consumer level) cameras with DV formats, (DV, Mini-DV, DV-CAM, DVC Pro) have these Firewire connections built right into the camera. If you install a Firewire card into your computer (some Macintosh models come with these connectors already built in), all you need is to connect a single Firewire cable between your camera and your computer to digitally transfer high-quality video and audio to and from your camera and computer.

In general, audio follows the same principles as video, in which capturing and transferring the highest possible signal throughout the entire process up until encoding the file for the Web is the best rule of thumb. Whichever capture card you choose, keep in mind that its compression features and capabilities will also affect the next stages of your Web-casting production.

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