DJ 101: Laptop DJ Setup – Storage and Visuals

CAPACITY CROWD

With large laptop internal hard drives, you can store thousands of 320-bit MP3s (though many DJs use only larger-size CD-quality WAV or AIFF files). Video files take up much more space (normally 50 MB per minute for usable quality), so an external hard drive is essential. Sending video signals also takes more bandwidth than audio, so while a USB 2.0 drive is good for audio; FireWire 800, E-Sata and USB3 are better connections for video. For video drives, pay attention to drive speed (7200 RPM is essential), chip set (Oxford allows for quick read/write and multistreams) and buffer (bigger is better — go for 16 MB or 32 MB). The 2TB external drives have fallen to low prices now, and 3TB are becoming reasonably priced.

SIGHT FOR THE SOUND

Every club has a different video system, so having multiple video-output options is important. DVI can be converted to HDMI for a solid digital signal. VGA is the best of the analog video signals, looks fine on most systems and can easily be down-converted to S-Video or composite video for older setups. It’s a good idea to have all conversion plugs on hand — DVI, VGA, S-Video and composite — so you’re ready for whatever the club has.

If you’re VJing for the first time, the important topic of content always comes up. This is a question of style, as well as availability. While some VJs use music videos, others prefer to play visualizations to accompany their track. You can find video content anywhere, and there are legal issues with usage and re-editing that I don’t have the room to go into here. Finding music videos is often a challenge, especially for current releases. The best place to start is with video pool subscription services — most notably Promo Only which offers DVDs as well as the online POOL service. Check back on those message boards for the many different ways to rip files for use on a computer system.

Regarding video content, the primary concern should be quality, not quantity. Yes, YouTube has lots of great videos, but the compression on some clips and audio quality doesn’t sound great in a club. Depending on the software that you use, MP4 compression has become a standard though many DJs use Mpeg-2 compression as well. VJs also talk about pushing things to the HD level, as well. While that’s definitely on the way, I don’t see many clubs jumping on the HD bandwagon right away, due not only to expense but also to lack of content and usable equipment.
Lastly, keep in mind the brightness of videos. Videos that are excessively bright or set on a white background might make the club too bright and will upset the lighting technician.

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