Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Video camera saga

You just gotta love technology. With it's promises to deliver faster, cheaper, more exciting things all the time, you can't help but buy in to the hype. After all, they must know what they're doing!

Well, let me tell you the long and convoluted story about our China movies. We bought a digital video camera before going to China, because we really wanted to capture parts of our trip on video. We're really glad we did, because some of the footage is pretty awesome. However, when we bought the camera, we didn't buy anything to transfer the video to our computer, where we could edit the more than 3 hours of video we filmed. We figured we'd just buy all the hardware later.

You would think it would be pretty simple to buy what we need: a firewire card that can plug into our laptop, and a firewire cable to connect the camera to this card. Over the Christmas break, I ventured into Future Shop to get the combination of card and cable, and came home with both, pretty happy with myself. Well, it turns out the card works for some laptops, but not ours. Not that our laptop is anything special. It's not brand spanking new (around a year old, which in computer terms is pretty old), it's not very fancy or anything. It just uses a PCMCIA interface that apparently no store in Canada (or at least Ottawa) carries. I spent a few good hours on the internet that night trying to figure out what the specific interface is that we need. On our slow 56K connection, it took me 3 hours to download the user's guide for the laptop just to confirm that I had the right name for the interface... I ended up returning the card to Future Shop, thank goodness for their forgiving return policy!

Sigh! So you would think once I had the name of the interface (ExpressCard, for those technically inclined), it would be a snap to get the right parts... Well, as I mentioned, I could not find a local store carrying any ExpressCard cards. Not even the Dell store (we have a Dell laptop). So in the end we resorted to buying the card online. Straight from the manufacturer, to simplify things. We figured it would take a week or two, and we would have our card. Lo and behold, we get a card in our mailbox yesterday (more than 3 weeks after placing the order), telling us that there is a package at the UPS depot, and it will be held there until the 22nd (and we got the card on the 24th!). We raced to the UPS depot, where luckily they still had the package. I guess they were dragging their feet because it was an international parcel. Lucky for us! Though I still don't know why it took the little notice almost 10 days to get into our mailbox...

So we were hoping this would be the end of the story. After all, we now have a card, and a cable, the one I had bought at Future Shop around a month ago... We were so wrong! It turns out that there are 3 types of interfaces for those darn firewire cables: 4 pin, 6 pin and 9 pin. As luck would have it, the cable I bought was a 4-to-6 pin (the camera has a 4 pin output, so that end has to be 4), but the new card requires a 9 pin. So we really need a 4-to-9 pin cable. A quick look at the websites for the various stores so far shows no availability of such a cable locally. There are 4-to-6 cables, 6-to-6, 9-to-9 and other variants, but no 4-to-9. We did find a 4-to-9 cable in an online store, but we'd rather not wait another 3 weeks to get this last part. We'll go take a look at a few local stores to see if there is maybe a way to get this locally.

Needless to say, this is a very frustrating process. All we wanted was two pieces of hardware to connect our camera to the laptop. We thought we knew the specs of what we needed. Turns out, there's more than one (or 2) types of PCMCIA cards, and more than 1 (or 2) types of firewire cables. The proliferation of standards is just such a pain in the behind for the average consumer, and there's nowhere you can find any resources to guide you with your purchase. Even most of the computer stores we went to had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for the parts by name. I can't imagine someone who's not working in high tech trying to get this stuff. Very frustrating!

Hopefully our last step in this unnecessarily long process doesn't take too long. Once I can get the video from the camcorder to the laptop, I will probably post a few short clips, to show you it was all worthwhile. Of course I will first have to find, install, configure and learn some kind of video editing software...

I think that's probably long enough of a rant for one day :)

Take care!

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