PAGE LINKS

CPUs

RAM

Monitors

Sound and Video Cards

More on Video

Microphones

AV Cards

TosLink and RCA (S/PDIF) Digital Audio

Graphics Cards

SCSI Cards

SCSI Devices

SCSI ID

Termination

SCSI vs. FireWire

More on SCSI

USB vs. Serial

More on USB

CD-ROM vs. DVD

CD Burners vs. Removable Drives

Slide and Flatbed Scanners

Video Cameras

Digital Cameras

Smart Media vs. Compact Flash

Digital Video Recorders

Lighting

VHS Recorders

TV Mirror vs. Projectors

Printers

Storage Media

Bandwidth and Multimedia

Servers

Proxy Servers

Streaming Audio and Video Servers

A2ZCABLES Video Connector Cheat Sheet (PDF)

CPUs

Whether you choose to use a MAC or a PC for multimedia productions, you must have certain minimum requirements. Processor speed should be a minimum of 300 MHz. I believe that if you are going to purchase a new machine, you do not need to buy the fastest processor. In fact, you are better off buying the "bottom of the line" and spend the money you save on RAM and expansion cards. I do not recommend the use of a laptop nor the "all in one" iMac; they are far too limited in their ability to be upgraded and expanded. One of the best and affordable machines is the Apple G4. Its best feature is its ease of access to the interior of the CPU without any tools.

MAC G4

Reference: Apple Computer

At the time of this writing, G4s are available for around $1300. "Bottom of the line" G4s come with 3 PCI expansion slots, 2 USB ports, 2 FireWire ports, and an ATI graphics accelerator. Here are the complete G4 specs. If you are going to choose a PC (Windows), you should look for similar features.

RAM

RAM Upgrade

Reference: MacWarehouse

If you don't like it when your computer crashes, buy as much RAM as you can afford. As a rule of thumb, add up the minimum RAM requirements for all the software you will be running simultaneously and double it! The largest demand on RAM will be when you are constructing Web pages because of all the different software you will need to use at the same time. I use 320 MB at home--which is barely enough. For those of you who use MAC, I absolutely DO NOT RECOMMEND THE USE OF VIRTUAL MEMORY. Virtual Memory allows your computer to use hard disk space as RAM; it is slow and is susceptible to crashing! Make sure you bring the manual that came with your computer so that you buy the correct chip. Look around for the best deal but the good stuff (good warranty)! The same RAM can vary over $100 between suppliers for the same chip! Also, INSTALL YOUR OWN RAM! You are more qualified than any technician at a computer store is! See instructional video.

Monitors

19" Graphics Monitor

Reference: MacWarehouse

Save your eyesight and buy the biggest monitor you can afford (and consider space on your desk). YOU DO NOT NEED A FLAT SCREEN. Flat screens are nothing more than hype. The minimum size monitor you should have for multimedia is 19" diagonally measured screen. You can get by with smaller, but it is a nightmare! You really need the space for seeing detail plus all of the control windows for the software. Again, shop around for a good deal from a reputable dealer. Do your homework and look at reviews before you buy. You can get a good 19" graphics monitor for around $350. I recommend ZDNet's PC Magazine to check the reviews. Search for monitor.

VGA Monitor Connectors

DVI Monitor Connectors

Reference: MacWarehouse

Sound and Video Cards

Most new PC (Windows) machines have sound cards that enable you to hear sound when you plug in headphones or external speakers. If you don't see a speaker out port on the back of your machine, you don't have a sound card. All MACs have built-in sound.

Video is much more complicated. The video card is what processes your video signal; it prepares a video signal for a monitor. Therefore, the type of monitor you have and the type of video you wish to view will determine your video card needs. All computers come with some sort of video processing--otherwise you cannot plug in a monitor! New machines, however, come with a variety of video accelerator cards. These cards allow your computer to display more colors (32-bit for example) at a fast refresh (many more frames per second). 8-bit color is 2 to the 8th power or 256 colors where 16-bit color is 2 to the 16th power or 17,772,221 colors.

DVD-ROM drives also require special video processing. If you plan to add a DVD-ROM drive to your computer, plan on a new video card as well. Shop around for a good video card. You can find a single video card that can handle DVD and AV. I highly recommend ATI: here is their Website. Also, check out this comparison guide from Tom's (PC) Hardware Guide--you may also wish to look around this site for more info on video--very cool!

More on Video

VCDHelp.com - VideoCD, SuperVCD and DVD Recordable Help!

AV Cards

AV Card (PCI)

Most importantly--for multimedia, you will need to a video card that has AV ports. AV ports are sound in/out (RCA), video in/out (RCA) and s-video ports. This is how you "capture" sound and video onto your hard drive from a camera or a VCR. You can also use it to record video with your VCR or to display video onto a TV monitor. It is not as fast as FireWire, but it is far more versatile; very few devices have FireWire--YET. Shop around for a good video card. You can find a single video card that can handle DVD and AV. Once again, I highly recommend ATI: here is the ATI Website.

Graphics Cards

IF you are a gamer, then you should have the best your computer can afford. Generally, you want to upgrade your graphics card if you need higher bit depth, higher resolution, or a faster frame rate. Before you buy, find out what type of expansion slot you have (look in your computer's owner's manual): PCI, AGP 2X, or AGP 4X (slowest to fastest, respectively). You should also check that the games you play support the special effects that the graphics card offers.

Here are some cards: ATI Radeon PCI or AGP 2X from ATI, and nVidia GeForce3 AGP 4X from Apple Computer.

RCA (Composite) Connectors

Your new AV card will have RCA (composite) and s-video inputs. Generally, if the device you are using to capture images has both composite and s-video connectors, use the s-video. Here's why:

"What's different between the composite and s-video inputs? With composite, the luminance and chrominance information of the video signal are combined into one "composite" signal. It's up to the television to then split the two back into their component form, commonly using a comb filter (or a notch filter in some televisions). The quality of the separation is dependent on the quality of this comb filter (although none of them are perfect). S-video keeps these two parts of the signal separate along the whole path, preserving the integrity of both. Keep in mind that the advantage of s-video only applies to non-composite video sources. Laserdisc and VHS both store the signal as a composite one, which means a comb filter somewhere in the chain is a requirement. DSS, S-VHS, and (eventually) DVD store the components separately, and thus are able to take full advantage of s-video inputs. The PlayStation can also be considered a "component" source."

Reference: S-Video cable reviewed @ www.vidgames.com

S-Video

Component input

Component connector

Best to Worse for Video:

DVI
VGA
Component (RGB RCA Connectors)
S-Video
Composite (yellow RCA connectors)

Note about Component:
"Component video is not really RGB. The first component, the luminance signal, is brightness contained in the original RGB signal. It is labeled "Y" and will be the green connector. The second and third components are are "color difference" signals which determine how much blue and red there is compared to the luminance component. The blue connector is "B-Y (PB/CB)" and the red connector is "R-Y (PR/CR)."

TosLink and RCA (S/PDIF) Digital Audio

Many new audio receivers/amplifiers have digital audio inputs. S/PDIF or "Sony/Philips Digital InterFace" inputs are coaxial with RCA type connectors. TosLink or "Toshiba Link," and Mini TosLink are fiber optic with special optical connectors. All are designed to carry a digital signal and are commonly found on surround sound equipment. Sound cards and USB devices for both Mac and Windows are available.

Reference: RAM Electronics Industries Inc

Male TosLink

Female TosLink

Mini Male TosLink

Microphones

To capture sound from a microphone, you must have a preamp to "boost" the signal before it goes into your sound AV card. You will notice that there are no microphone connectors (ports) on sound cards nor AV cards. There are a variety of solutions to the preamp problem. The easiest is the use of a MAC microphone--it has a built in preamp. To use a high quality microphone, you can take apart a MAC microphone and solder a microphone connector to the wires where the small microphone (inside the MAC microphone) is attached. Finally, you can purchase a preamp with sound out (RCA connector) and hook it up to your AV card--this is the only solution if you want stereo microphones!

SCSI Cards

You can already see why you need a computer with many PCI slots. Besides an AV card. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND a SCSI card. SCSI is an acronym for "small computer system interface." It is VERY FAST. When you buy peripherals, you often have a choice of the connector that it comes with to interface with your computer: serial, USB, FireWire, and SCSI. SCSI interfaces are fastest! I will discuss CD-ROM burners later: if you get one, make it SCSI!

SCSI Devices

SCSI devices are those that connect to your computer through a SCSI port. Although there are adapters that convert a SCSI cable to USB, DO NOT USE IT! I guarantee trouble. Instead, if you can't afford SCSI, WAIT UNTIL YOU CAN! SCSI devices are FAST and worth the money! Some examples of devices that should be connected via SCSI are external hard drives, external storage devices such as Zip, CD-ROM burners, and slide scanners. There are many more. The disadvantage of SCSI is that you must CONNECT/DISCONNECT WHILE THE COMPUTER IS OFF! USB and FireWire can be connected/disconnected "hot" (while the computer is on). All serial cable must be connected/disconnected while the computer is off--despite what you may have heard!

SCSI ID

SCSI devices can be chained together. There is a limit to the number of devices you can have in one chain, and each must have a different "ID." Each device has a way of setting its ID. Look at the instructions that came with your device and it will tell you how to set it. If you have two or more devices with the same ID, your computer may not boot up (start) properly. Also, if the cables are too long, your computer may not boot up. SCSI chains are tricky to get to work correctly. It's a bit like art: you must try changing the order of devices in the chain as well as change the ID numbering until you get a combination that works correctly--TRIAL AND ERROR is the only way to get them to work. SCSI IS WORTH THE TROUBLE. Don't give up on a SCSI chain.

SCSI Cable

Reference: PCWarehouse

SCSI Termination

SCSI devices must be terminated at the end of the chain. Even if you only have one device, it must be terminated. The instructions that come with your device will tell you how to terminate the device. Every SCSI device has two SCSI ports: one for the chain to enter, and the other for the chain to exit and continue on to the next device. Generally, you will need to buy a terminator and physically plug it in to the last port in the chain. Keep in mind that some devices have internal terminators (such as Zip drives) and you simply use a switch to turn on termination.

SCSI Terminator

Reference: PCWarehouse

SCSI vs. FireWire

Currently, SCSI is up to 320 MB/second! FireWire has a maximum of 400 Mbps (megabits/second) throughput. FireWire does not have the problems of termination, cable length, and ID that you will encounter with SCSI. You can also "hot-swap" FireWire devices (plug in/out while the computer is on). Unfortunately, FireWire is not as fast as SCSI and the number of FireWire devices available is limited. You can learn more about FireWire from Apple Computer.

FireWire Cable

Reference: PCWarehouse

More on SCSI (MAC and PC)

Gary Field's SCSI Info Central / SCSI FAQ Page

SCSI Trade Association: great tutorial on SCSI termination and connector selection.

USB vs. Serial

USB Cable

Reference: AllUSB USB Cable Guide

MAC Serial Cable

Reference: MacWarehouse

PC Serial Cable (note similarity to MAC SCSI!)

Reference: PCWarehouse

PC Serial Cable (note similarity to VGA!)

USB is certainly replacing serial ports on all Macs and PCs. It has more bandwidth (throughput) than serial and it is hot-swappable. Some of the devices that use serial or USB are digital cameras, printers, scanners, modems, and Zip drives. The Serial ports are quite different between MAC and PC, and both are NOT HOT-SWAPABLE. USB connectors are the same on both PC and MAC!!! The thing to remember about USB for multimedia is that USB IS S-L-O-W. USB is not a substitute for SCSI!!!

More on USB

allUSB - USB product news and information: includes a nice cable guide.

MacInTouch USB Guide

USB.org--Welcome

CD-ROM vs. DVD-ROM

Although CDs and DVD look similar, they are quite different. CD stands for compact disc (notice the C: disc, not disk). CD is an invention of Sony and is trademarked. CDs are read by CD-ROM drives and can be used to store anything that a hard drive stores with a limit of around 650 MB. DVD, also invented by Sony stands for digital video disc and is used to store large video files such as movies. DVD uses a system of video compression (making large files smaller) in order to fit whole movies on a single disk. DVD requires a special reader (DVD-ROM drive) and a special video card in order to work on your computer. You cannot play DVD movies on a CD-ROM drive. Today, there are DVD-ROM burners that have a much larger capacity for storing files much like your hard drive but they are very costly. If you don't want to watch movies on your computer then you don't need a DVD-ROM drive in order to do multimedia. For more info, you can visit Sony Digital Technologies (http://sdm.sony.com/media/index.html).

CD Burners vs. Removable Drives

If you do not yet have a Zip (removable drive), I recommend that you opt for a CD-ROM burner instead. The only advantage of a Zip, over a CD burner, is that a Zip acts more like another hard drive with a capacity of 100 or 250 MB, while CD-ROM burner make CDs that are ROMs (read ONLY memory) but hold around 650 MB. Unfortunately, not everyone has a Zip drive. Additionally, you may not be willing to hand over a $15 Zip disk to exchange files. Lending disks are like lending books--you may never see them again! CD-ROMs, on the other hand, cost less than $1 each--AND EVERYONE HAS A CD-ROM DRIVE! I highly recommend a SCSI (or FireWire) CD-ROM burner

DO NOT GET A USB BURNER! They are much too slow. USB burners can only burn at x2 speeds (some claim x4 but I doubt it). SCSI will burn at x8 or x12. So if you wish to make a 60-minute music CD, it will take 30 minutes to burn with USB and a maximum of 7.5 minutes with a SCSI or FireWire connection. THE CHEAPER PRICE FOR USB IS NOT WORTH IT!

The bottom line is that NOTHING beats a CD-ROM burner for file exchanging and backing up you files.

Slide and Flatbed Scanners

For multimedia, you may need a flatbed scanner. Its best use is for OCR, but you may need to occasionally scan photographs. I will discuss scanning resolution later. As a rule, scan at 72 ppi (pixels per inch) for Web graphics and a resolution that is twice the lpi of your printer's resolution for printing (up to a scan resolution of 1200 ppi). If you don't do much scanning, you can get by with a cheap ($100) scanner, but it will be SLOW.

Slide scanners and a 35 mm camera are far superior to any digital camera. If you need detail, go with a slide scanner. If detail is not that important--and speed is--you should go with a digital camera and forget a slide scanner. The cheapest slide scanner is around $750. Plus, you need a camera ($300-$1000+), film and developing. Slide scanners are SCSI devices.

Video Cameras

Many people overlook the use of an inexpensive "Web-cam" type camera for multimedia. Many of these new cameras are USB and will work quite well if you do not need a full screen. Another video camera that can be used is any "closed circuit" type camera fitted with RCA connectors. Most of these cameras come with coax (cable) connectors, but can be adapted with RCA connectors. Radio shack carries many such adapters. They are inexpensive and work quite well provided that you have an AV card. Both of these cameras I have described need the computer to record (they are not self contained).

Cheap "Web-Cam"

Digital Cameras

Digital cameras use CCD (charge couple device) technology to capture images and have come down in price so much that they are practically indispensable for Web page and multimedia work. Most can be doubled as a digital video camera (with an AV card). Digital cameras are "classed" by their resolution. If you purchase a camera that has a maximum resolution of 640 x 480, then you have purchased a camera that has a 307,200 pixel CCD (you multiply the resolution dimensions for exact number of pixels). A camera with 1600 x 1200 maximum resolution has a 1,920,000 CCD (this is a 2 megapixel class camera). If you are going to buy a new digital camera, get the best you can afford. Cheap digital cameras (640x480) tend to make poor photographs. I would recommend a minimum of 3 megapixels. The other thing to consider is zoom and other features such as CompactFlash, SmartMedia, and USB connectivity. Like any other technology that is rapidly changing (and so the price), do your homework by reading online reviews. Again, I recommend ZDNet's PC Magazine and Welcome to the Digital Camera Resource Page for a price and feature comparison. Get as much zoom as you can afford.

SmartMedia vs. CompactFlash

SmartMedia

The difference between these two types of memory storage for digital cameras is size and price. Although SmartMedia is small and very easy to insert into your camera, it is more expensive. In addition, SmartMedia does not have as much memory as CompactFlash. The problem with CompactFlash is that it can be difficult to insert in the camera with all of its tiny pins. I much prefer SmartMedia. And, I'm not sure, but I believe that battery life is longer with SmartMedia systems.

CompactFlash

It is possible to upload your photographs stored on SmartMedia or CompactFlash via USB even if the camera does not have a USB interface for your computer. You can get a USB card reader to do the job in a fraction of the time it will take if the camera has only a serial interface. Make sure that the CompactFlash or SmartMedia itself is USB compatible.

CompactFlash Reader

Some cameras can use either SmartMedia or CompactFlash. Also, many PDAs can use the same storage system that can allow you to share the pictures you have taken immediately. Do your homework and read the reviews!

Digital Video Recorders

Digital video cameras differ from "cam-corders" in that digital video cameras record a digital signal on a magnetic tape cassette and "camcorders" record an analog signal on a magnetic tape cassette. Digital signals do not degrade whereas analog signals are very "noisy." If you can afford a digital video camera, buy it! Get as much zoom as you can afford. Again, do your homework and read the reviews. Of course, make sure it has a FireWire connection for your computer.

Lighting

If you plan to take photographs or video indoors, you will need to light your subject. Keep in mind, however, that the built-in lighting on cameras and video recorders will make your subjects appear "flat." You can buy inexpensive lighting systems that allow the subject to be side-lit giving more detail. Most good digital cameras have a hot-shoe to connect a remote flash. Regular incandescent and fluorescent lighting can look bad if you do not compensate for it. Look for features that allow for color correction under indoor lighting if you are not going to use remote lighting.

VHS Recorders

VHS recorders are an excellent way to present your multimedia projects if they are not interactive. You can connect a VCR to the video out (RCA or s-video) on your AV card and record movies or instructional video that you have made onto a video cassette.

TV Mirror vs. Projectors

AverMedia USB Presenter

Another way to present your multimedia projects is direct projection from your computer to a TV monitor or on a big screen with a LCD projector. There are several systems on the market for TV mirroring (using a TV monitor). All but one requires a VGA port on your computer. Focus TView products are excellent and include software to enhance the fonts on your computer for TV monitors. AVerMedia is the only source for a TV mirror system that works through the USB port. If your laptop (iBook) does not have a VGA port, this is your only choice.

S-Video and RCA Output (USB In)

TV mirroring is good for graphics presentations and video but is unacceptable for computer fonts. If you are presenting anything that has to be read (such as software presentations) you must have a LCD projector--or very large computer monitor! Focus also makes LCD projectors. TV mirroring systems cost in the $100-$300 range while LCD projectors will cost $3,000 for an inexpensive model! I recommend--again--that you do your homework and compare features and prices--PAY ATTENTION TO BULB LIFE AND REPLACEMENT COST. I use the Proxima projectors--they are a good value.

Printers

Choosing a printer is like any of the other devices I have discussed so far. You really need to read comparison reviews to make an educated choice. I will mention that if you need to print photographs then you need a printer with the highest resolution you can afford. I do not recommend laser printers for personal use: they are for high volume printing. Instead get a high-resolution inkjet. The high-end Epson printers are USB and make photograph quality prints in short order. You must use glossy paper (I recommend Kodak inkjet paper). When doing your comparisons, look at print speed, resolution, ink consumption rate and replacement costs for cartridges.

Storage Media

Here is a summary of the most common storage media:

  • Internal or external hard drive: excellent but costly. Hard to transfer files between computers. Great for playing video.
  • Removable hard drive: excellent but costly. OK to transfer files between computers as long as drive is compatible. Great for playing video.
  • Tape drive: Poor choice for multimedia. Although it is inexpensive and can back up an entire hard drive, it is far too slow and difficult to transfer files between computers.
  • Zip and Jazz drive: good but moderately expensive. Easy to transfer files between computers but not all computers have a Zip or Jazz. Not so great for playing video (may appear jerky).
  • DVD-ROM: excellent but costly. Hard to transfer files unless computers have DVD drives. Great for video. This is the future of multimedia when the cost drops.
  • CD-ROM: Good and inexpensive. Excellent for transferring files. Not so great for playing video (may appear jerky).
  • Floppies: Obsolete.

Bandwidth and Multimedia

In the very near future, computers will replace TV and the telephone. This is a fact. The technology already exists, but the bandwidth (throughput of digital information) lags behind much the way battery technology is lagging in the field of electronics. If you are going to deliver your multimedia via DVD or CD-ROM, bandwidth is generally not that big of a problem. However, if you plan to deliver your multimedia via the Internet, you must realize that not everyone has a T1 connection. In fact, most of us use a 56k modem and will continue to do so for quite some time. With this in mind, you must plan your multimedia accordingly. Always keep your audience in mind and what type of equipment they will be using. Try to save every kilobyte of memory when making graphics. Think of memory as you would a limited amount of water on a desert island! Keep video short and compressed, use 8-bit color whenever possible, and use vector graphics instead of bitmaps as often as you can.

Servers

Servers are nothing more than desktop computers much like the one you are using now. What makes them a server is the software that is on them. We will take a tour of the server room for the College of education so you can see them first-hand. Some of the most popular servers (software) are OSX Server (MAC), Windows NT, and Novell (PC). There are as many different types of servers as there are uses.

Proxy Servers

I will briefly talk about proxy servers (firewalls) because it is relevant to multimedia. Firewalls are nothing more than "filtering" software to censor information from the Internet or to keep unwanted visitors from accessing information. When configuring your browser or ftp software to be used with a firewall (in a school setting), you must contact the network administrator to get the correct proxy server settings; otherwise, your software will not work properly.

Streaming Audio and Video Servers

Streaming video is achieved by a special "streaming server" that allows the viewer to begin to view video or hear audio without waiting for the entire clip to download. It is really outside the scope of this class but you need to be aware of it. Here is a description of a streaming server from Apple. You can learn more by following the link.

"There are two different streaming methods – HTTP streaming and RTP/RTSP streaming. HTTP download works by downloading an entire movie to your viewer’s hard disk and requires a Web server. QuickTime Streaming Server supports RTSP (real-time streaming protocol) which keeps your viewer’s computer in constant touch with the server running the movie. Digital data is transferred and displayed – then discarded once your viewers have watched it. RTSP streaming requires a streaming server. The difference? HTTP streaming is great for short movies and anything else available for repeat playback. RTSP streaming, on the other hand, is ideal for full-length movies and live events."
(Reference: Apple Computer)

Copyright ©2003 L Garcia