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Easy to install
Dazzle's DVC 50 ($49.99) ships with an audio expansion cable, drivers, and free access to Dazzle's Webcast Theater, an online service that lets you post your movies as streaming video for whomever wants to see them. The device's requirements are minimal: a 300MHz Pentium II system, 64MB of RAM, a USB port, a sound card, and Windows Me. The documentation consists of a poster-sized installation guide; it covers all of the bases, but a troubleshooting guide would be nice, since you could run into problems with USB connections or video transfers.
Installation is easy; connect the DVC 50 to your computer using a powered USB port, insert the included CD-ROM into the drive, and tell Windows that the driver is on the CD. To transfer visuals from your camcorder to your PC, simply plug an RCA connector (not included) into the DVC 50's video-in port and the camcorder's video-out port. To transfer audio, attach (via the included audio expansion cable) the audio-out port on your camcorder to the audio-in slot on your sound card. The quick-start guide steps you through the process. In addition, a handy diagram on the product box shows you what goes where.
Better than EmMe
Like the similarly priced EmMe, the DVC 50 works with Windows Me's Movie Maker video-editing software. While Movie Maker offers easy editing options, it has significant limitations: It can't create industry-standard AVI or MPEG files, it can only output to a proprietary Microsoft format, and video recording is limited to a slow 768kbps. The resulting video quality is adequate for limited uses only, such as adding brief clips to presentations.
The DVC 50 does offer two advantages over its predecessor. First, while EmMe-transferred video tended to be rather grainy, especially when blown up, the DVC 50 has eliminated the problem. Even better, the DVC 50 also works with other video-editing software, which means the DVC 50 could provide the better-quality video you need, for example, to convert VHS tapes to CD format.
The only other difference between the EmMe and the DVC 50 is its connectivity. Both the DVC 50 and the EmMe have video-in and S-Video connections, but the DVC 50 lacks the V-Thru port the EmMe had. That's too bad, since the V-Thru port allows you to view video as it's being copied from your VCR and to choose, on the fly, which portions of the video you want to convert.
Dazzle's support is about as mediocre as is the DVC 50. Just like the EmMe, the DVC 50 has a one-year limited warranty. Technical support, while free for the life of the product, is available only on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. PT, and it's not toll-free. This setup is both costly and inconvenient for the user; most DVC 50s will be installed at home, so if you have a day job, you'll have to wake up extra early or rush home after work just to place a call. We've heard some complaints from readers about the quality of Dazzle's tech support, but our own calls have been uneventful. The Web site is adequate, with links to e-mail support, troubleshooting documents, FAQs, and a discussion forum.
Hooray for Dazzle; it has licked the worst problem that plagued the EmMe: its exclusive reliance on Windows Me's Movie Maker. But boo for Dazzle; the DVC 50 still works with Windows Me only. For greater flexibility and higher quality at a slightly higher price, consider the DVC 80 instead.