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Seiko S351 Multimedia Producer Timing Device

Unique stopwatch for directors and producers adds and subtracts in base 60 By Charlie White

Seiko S351 Multimedia Producer Timing Device If youíre a television director or producer who always needs to know how much time is left in your broadcast or segment (and who doesnít?), youíve probably been looking for the perfect stopwatch. Seiko may have the answer for you, with its S351 Multimedia Producer Timing Device ($195 street). Itís expensive, but itís beautifully made and can add and subtract times, countdown and count up, and even tell you the time of day to make sure youíre still on schedule. We took the Multimedia Producer stopwatch into a real-world television broadcast situation, wondering if it was really worth its hefty price tag.

Okay, picture this scenario. Youíre directing a seven-minute talk show segment and youíre three minutes and 22 seconds into it. Your host flubs a line and wants to do a pickup from exactly that point. Quickóhow much time until the end? Canít quickly do that in your head? How about during a broadcast taping, when that electronic beast is breathing down your neck? Add to that a client or two or perhaps a pesky producer sitting behind you, and youíll need some hardware assistance to do that kind of base 60 math. Itís not so easy to do time calculations in your head quickly, especially under pressure. Now, if you were an ancient Babylonian, working in base 60 would be easy for you, because that was what they used for all their math. But weíre a base 10 civilization, and we just donít think like that. So, itís nice to have some handy hardware that can do that calculation for you. By the way, the answer was 3:38.

That time calculation that we just did is what makes the Multimedia Producer (which is labeled ďSoundproducerĒ on its face) worth its weight in gold. Well, maybe not quite, because the stopwatch weighs 4.2 ounces, and at $195 itís already way too expensive. Although 4.2 ounces doesnít sound like much, when you wear it around your neck with the attached lanyard, it feels a bit heavier than most stopwatches. But donít let that scare you offóthe Multimedia Producerís solid construction is one of its many appealing features.

Not only is it well-built, itís quiet, so that when you push the start-stop button or the reset button it doesnít make a sound at allóno beeps, chirps, or even hardly a click when you push them. This is crucial if youíre a floor manager in a broadcast studio. Nobody wants to hear your bleeping stopwatch announcing when it started and stopped.

The Seiko Multimedia Producer, which comes with its own handsome leather-like carrying case, is quite a versatile piece of equipment. You can select between a variety of modes, using the selector on its front left. That control allows you to use it as either a calculator, a sophisticated timer, a simple clock (a 12- or 24-hour clock which can be turned off in any mode if itís distracting you), or a stopwatch that can also give you split times.

The most useful feature is the timer, which lets you quickly punch in the minutes and seconds required in your segment and then begin timing by pushing the start/stop button. The best part is, when the countdown reaches zero, not only does it refrain from announcing itself with an irritating and noisy alarm, it dutifully begins counting up automatically. This way, you know how many seconds long your segment has run. Thatís useful.

The timer also has a convenient way of remembering the time that was last entered, so if you have to deal with, say, a host who needs to start a segment over multiple times, you can immediately reset the stopwatch and have that same segment time ready for your next take. Another neat trick is the time elapsed button, which you can push during a countdown timing to see how much time has elapsed since the beginning. Another convenience is at the end of the segment when youíve stopped the timer, you can push the time elapsed button and it shows the total time of your segment, even if it ran long.

Another great feature for producers is the calculating function. Switch the mode selector to ďcalcĒ and then you can enter the minutes and seconds that you would like to calculate. You can enter up to 99 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds. You can enter just two numbers, subtracting one from the other, or add a successive list of times and get the total of those, just like any other calculator except using minutes and seconds instead of base 10 numbers. Once youíve done your calculations, flip the mode switch to timer or stopwatch and then push the Call button, and the result of your calculations will be placed into the window and ready for either up-timing or countdown timing. Iím sure you can see how this would be useful.

Now that Iíve mentioned all of the great features of the Multimedia Producer, let me tell you what it canít do. It canít add and subtract everyday base 10 numbers. Itís also not able to count frames or add/subtract frames, a function that would be valuable to editors. But come to think of it, that function is easily duplicated in nonlinear editing software, so I guess thatís not a deal breaker. However, an inexplicable omission is its inability to count in higher resolutions than one second. Thatís right, this is a stopwatch that canít count even tenths of a second, much less hundredths. I would have appreciated the ability to subdivide each second into not only tenths, but even 30 or 24, --or, dare I say it, 29.97 -- frames. But I suppose that kind of resolution isnít necessarily important when youíre timing a television or radio show on the set. Those kind of split-second timings are probably more important in the edit suite than the sound stage. But still, how hard would it have been to put split-second resolution into a $195 stopwatch? I donít understand it. One other feature that I wish the stopwatch had would be the ability to memorize, say, 20 specific timings. Then, before a newscast, for example, the total running time of each taped package could be entered, and during the live newscast a simple button push would advance to the next segment time, ready to begin back timing each segment on the fly. Well, they didnít ask me before they designed this, but if the above features had been included, the Multimedia Producer timing device would actually be worth $195.

Summing up, the Seiko S351 Multimedia Producer Timing Device is a unique piece of equipment thatís especially made for those of us who deal in base 60 every day. The Multimedia Producer can think that through for you, freeing up your mind for other more important things. Iíve used it on the set for a few video sessions, and Iíve found it to be an excellent tool to keep track of the one thing of which none of us have enoughótime. That said, there are a few features that could have made this unit so much better. So, is it worth its steep street price? Well, I think $195 is about double its actual value. However, what the Multimedia Producer is able to do, it does very well. If you have lots of extra cash lying around, or if you can get somebody else, such as your boss, to buy it for you, Iíd say go for it. Lucky you. Recommended. 8 stars out of 10.

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