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Audio Options

When you're on location or on the set, your main concern with audio is usually getting a clean track of the person who's talking. Most of the sophistication of audio—including sound effects, stereo dimension, and music—is added during postproduction.

Another reason not to worry about your camcorder's audio capability is that you don't need to use it. To achieve the best audio quality, some videomakers use an external DAT recorder, not the camcorder's built-in audio. (For more information about external audio recording, see "Should You Record Separate Sound?" in Chapter 7.)

However, there are several audio features you should think about. As we've already mentioned, professional DV recorders have audio lock for timecode-accurate soundtracks—a feature consumer camcorders lack. (For more information, see "Using a Clapper Board and Timecode" in Chapter 7.) Also, higher-priced camcorders do use better electronic components and professional-style audio connectors, which can make a difference in sound quality.

DV Camcorder Audio Recording Modes

Four standard audio-capture modes are built into every DV camcorder to help you get that clean dialogue track. They are the same whether your camcorder is a consumer or professional unit, so paying more for your camcorder won't give you better audio specs.

DV camcorders sample audio by pulse code modulation (PCM), the same method used in computer music synthesizers. Options for PCM sampling rates are expressed in thousands of cycles per second (kHz) and the number of data bits per sample:

  • Studio-standard stereo (highest quality)— Two 16-bit channels sampled at 48 kHz. T
  • Studio-standard stereo (highest quality)— Two 16-bit channels sampled at 48 kHz. This is default mode, and you'll rarely have a reason to switch away from it. When you get into the editing suite, ideally all your audio sources should be at 48 kHz.
  • CD-quality stereo (medium quality)— Two 16-bit channels sampled at 44.1 kHz. At one time you needed this lower-quality format so you could match the frequencies of CD sources, such as music and sound effects. These days, desktop editing software easily resolves any differences in sampling rate, and it will sound better if you up-convert the CDs to 48 kHz instead.
  • Stereo (lower quality)— Two 16-bit channels sampled at 32 kHz. Don't use it. Stay at the highest, default rate.
  • Four channel (lowest quality)— Four 12-bit channels (typically, left and right stereo sync sound, plus two channels for dubbing) sampled at 32 kHz. You'll use this mode when you intend to go back and do a voice-over recording on another track—for example, adding commentary to a news clip. It's also handy for doing the same thing while you're in the field.
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