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All Things HDV Buyer's Guide

All Things HDV Buyer's Guide

Time for our annual HDV issue, and we've broken our buyer's guides into 3 segments: HD & HDV Camcorders, Editing Software and Monitors.

Time for our annual HDV issue, and we've broken our buyer's guides into 3 segments: HD & HDV Camcorders, Editing Software and Monitors.

Camcorders

With so many high definition camcorders now on the market, along with Panasonic's DVCPRO HD becoming more affordable, as well as the new AVCHD camcorders, the choice on which camcorder is right for you can be a difficult one. We break down the camcorders to help with that difficult decision.

Affordable ($799-$1,500)

There are now a number of more affordable high definition (HD) camcorders, which use a variety of compression formats (MPEG-4, AVCHD, and HDV) than ever before, but all of them are more consumer oriented. As low-cost HD becomes more popular and common, expect prices to drop further.

MPEG-4
Sanyo's handheld VPC-HD1a Xacti Media Camera ($799) is the entry-level camcorder in terms of price, and offers 720p video via MPEG-4 compression, captured to SD memory cards, which are sold separately. This small camcorder can fit easily in your hand or pocket, which makes travel easy.

AVCHD

The release of the AVCHD consumer camcorders from Sony and Panasonic added more affordable HD camcorders for both the hobbyist and prosumer. These DVD- or hard disk-based camcorders include Sony's new CMOS-sensor HDR-UX5 ($999) and HDR-UX7 ($1,299), both of which record footage to DVD. Both camcorders also feature 5.1 stereo surround sound.

Panasonic's offerings include the HDC-DX1 ($1,399), which burns to DVD, and the HDC-SD1 ($1,499), which records onto an SDHC memory card. Both units have three CCD chips, which allow for improved color reproduction, and 5.1 stereo surround sound.

The AVCHD format specifications allow for 1080i, 720p and standard definition recording modes, although not every AVCHD camcorder supports all these shooting modes.

HDV
The JVC GR-HD1 was the first low-cost HD camcorder to hit the market, in the spring of 2003. It is a single-CCD camcorder that records in 720p resolution to Mini DV tape, which is standard on all HDV camcorders.

Canon introduced the 1-CMOS HV10 ($1,499) as a low-cost consumer-oriented and handheld HDV counterpart to its higher-end HDV camcorders. This camcorder can record in 60i, along with 30F and 24F, which the high-end units can do. The "F" means full frame, and is very similar to how progressive video works. There is also a native 1920x1080-size sensor. At the time of publication, Canon announced the HV20, which has a new design and an HDMI connector.

Sony introduced the 1080i HDR-HC5 and HC7 in January 2007, which are very similar to its AVCHD offerings, except these CMOS-sensor camcorders are HDV and record to Mini DV tape.

Moderate/Low ($2,400 to $4,000)

Most of the camcorders found in this price range are considered consumer, but they still pack a solid punch in terms of features and functionality. Most of these camcorders are HDV.

Sony
The Sony HVR-A1 ($3,100) is a professional, 1-CMOS HDV handheld camcorder that records in 1080i60 resolution. Because it's from Sony's pro division, this camcorder offers more features than the consumer HD camcorders, along with pro tech support.

Sony's two consumer camcorders that have three chips and more professional-style manual controls are the 3-CCD HDR-FX1 ($3,700), similar to the professional HVR-Z1 and the 3-CMOS HDR-FX7 ($3,500), similar to the professional HVR-V1. While the FX1 has the edge in terms of more professional controls and 3 third-inch CCDs (compared to the FX7's 3 quarter-inch CMOS sensors), both camcorders offer excellent 1080i video capture to Mini DV tape.

Canon
Nearly a year after Canon introduced the XL H1, the company revealed two smaller yet similar HDV camcorders, including the XH A1 ($3,999), a 3-CCD camcorder capable of 1080i recording to tape. The unit is more affordable than the identical XH G1 because it doesn't include HD SDI out, which is a pure digital, uncompressed video-only output. Like its siblings, the XH A1 can record in 1080i60, along with 30F and 24F, with an option for 50i and 25F recording.

JVC
JVC showed off its new Everio hard drive-based camcorder, the GZ-HD7, at this year's CES. Shooting in 1920x1080i or the slightly lower resolution 1440x1080i is possible, and the footage is stored on a 60GB hard drive. This is not HDV, but something new for JVC.

Moderate/Semi-Pro ($4,500 to $7,000)

Many of the camcorders listed below are very similar to the Moderate/Low units, but include features that raise the bottom line.

Sony
The HVR-Z1 ($5,950) 3-CCD camcorder can record in either 1080i60 or 1080i50 modes. There aren't too many differences between the Z1 and the FX1, but the Z1 offers more image controls and balanced XLR audio inputs, to name the major differences.

The HVR-V1 3-CMOS camcorder offers both 1080 progressive and interlace capture. It can shoot in 60i, 30p, and also the very popular 24p, for film-style recording. The progressive signal is "packaged" into a 60i "stream," meaning the final output is interlaced, while retaining the progressive look. This makes it easier for consumers with older televisions to watch the video without any problems. This is known as 3:2 pulldown. The V1 is similar to the FX7, but has far more professional-style controls.

JVC
The professional JVC HDV/ProHD camcorders, including the HD110 ($6,550), offer 720p recording and the ability to switch lenses. The HD110 can record in 30p, 25p, and 24p while in HDV mode and 60p, 50p, 24p, and 60i in DV mode.

Canon
As described earlier, the Canon XH G1 ($6,999) is very similar to the XH A1 and the higher-end XL H1, except like the H1, it offers HD SDI, Genlock, and Time Code output, known as the Professional Jackpack.

Pro ($8,000 to $9,000)

These are the HD camcorders that are geared strictly for the professional, relying primarily on manual controls, though they include automatic controls if you need to fall back to them.

Panasonic
The Panasonic AG-HVX200 ($5,995) is the only DVCPRO HD camcorder in the sub-$10,000 category. Though the base price is around $6,000, this doesn't include the P2 cards, which are needed for recording HD. A Mini DV tape transport system is included, but it can record only DV footage (not HDV).

P2 is a card-based technology Panasonic developed to keep the camcorder's costs low. While the prices are dropping, two 8 GB P2 cards, which can hold about 8-20 minutes of HD quality footage each (depending on shooting format), can cost around $1,200 each as of this writing. These cards are necessary to shoot in HD.

The AG-HVX200 is similar to the revolutionary AG-DVX100 DV camcorder in look and design. It can capture footage in 1080i 24p, 24pA, 30p and 60i, along with multiple frame rates in 720p mode, from 12 fps to 60 fps. This can give the user smooth slow- and fast-motion effects.

Canon
Canon's HDV equivalent to its XL family of DV camcorders is the XL H1 ($8,999). Like the JVC camcorders, this camcorder also includes the ability to remove the lens and put another on. The XL H1 also has a significant number of film-like image settings, and a Professional Jackpack (HD SDI, genlock, and time code output).

JVC
The JVC GY-HD200 ($8,995) is designed more for electronic news gathering (ENG), along with digital cinematography and other forms of videography. It is very similar to the HD110, but has more features, including the extra ability to record in 60p and 50p in HDV mode.

The GY-HD250 ($10,995) is also similar to the GY-HD200 and GY-HD110, and is the most professional of its ProDV camcorders. This camcorder features HD SDI, genlock and time code output.

Camcorder Conclusion

When deciding which HD camcorder to buy, consider whether you truly are a hobbyist or a prosumer. Many of the smaller HD camcorders are ideal for both, but prosumers may need the extra features found in the higher-end HD cams. Always keep your end needs in mind when choosing a camcorder.Happy shooting.

Now that you've thought about that HD or HDV camcorder, you need to plan how to edit your high definition images.

Software

What do all the editing applications that support high definition video have in common? They all contain ways to capture HDV footage using an intermediate codec, changing the HDV footage to a more standard and universal high definition (HD) format, which is easier to edit with.

The reason is that HDV's compression, which is very similar to how video is compressed for DVDs (MPEG-2 TS, or transport stream), is hard to cut natively on an edit system. This is why the manufacturers of most of the major editing software provide an intermediate codec or offer one as a plug-in. The footage encoded with the intermediate codec can be converted back to HDV upon playback to camera or VTR, though with uncompressed HD, the file sizes can easily quadruple.

Apple-based Apps

Apple Computer
Apple computer has three major applications, one professional (Final Cut Pro), one consumer (iMovie HD), and one in the middle (Final Cut Express). Whereas iMovie HD and Final Cut Express rely on the Apple Intermediate Codec (AIC), Final Cut Pro version 5 and higher allows clean editing of native HDV .m2t files.

Final Cut Pro also has excellent integration with DVCPRO HD, which can be captured via FireWire (also known as iLink or IEEE 1394) and edited as if it were captured with an uncompressed HD card.

Also note, Apple regularly provides small updates to Final Cut Pro to support new camcorders. For example, a recent update was issued to support JVC's new camcorders with 720p24 modes. Make sure you check updates regularly.

Lumiere HD
If your system is a bit slow, try a proxy editor, like Lumiere HD, which captures and demuxes (splits) the audio and video in HDV, and allows you to select a different video codec. I recommend using DV (digital video). It can often times support new cameras before Apple does.

Apple and Windows

Avid
Avid released its latest version of Xpress for Apple and Windows editors, which allows the use of cutting in native HDV, and mixing other video formats, like Final Cut Pro. Avid has an excellent intermediate codec, which allows for smooth editing and playback.

Adobe
In January, Adobe announced that its Premiere Pro software would be returning to Apple computers with Intel chips, after a four-year hiatus.

Though Premiere Pro can support native m2t editing, it's highly recommended you capture using the CineForm intermediate codec (which Cineform calls a Compressed Digital Intermediate), available for Windows and then cut in uncompressed HD. Ensure you have enough disk space, as one hour of HD can be anywhere from 40 to 60 gigabytes vs. 13GB for one hour of HDV footage.

The Matrox RT.X2 is an input/output card that provides real-time HDV, HD, and standard definition (SD) video capture, but also uses an intermediate codec to help keeps things running smoothly. It comes with a copy of Adobe Premiere Pro for Windows.

Windows-based Apps

There are many different editing software titles for cutting HD, but all of them recommend using either a proprietary intermediate codec or a plug-in, like the one from CineForm, for editing HD.

Sony Vegas
One of the more popular Windows editing programs, Vegas provides a streamlined way of editing all flavors of HD and other video formats. Cutting in native HDV isn't a problem, though many editors prefer using an intermediate codec.

Use CineForm's HDI to edit more smoothly, and output back to tape in native HDV. If you have an older system, you can use a proxy editor, like the one from VASST called GearShift, which is similar to Lumiere HD.

Avid
Avid Liquid (the new name for Pinnacle Liquid Edition), which is for Windows only, is also capable of cutting native .m2t. Like all the various Avid editing software products, the design and functions are similar. There are just different features in the different versions.

Canopus
EDIUS comes in two flavors, software-based (Pro) or hardware- and software-based (NX). If you choose to edit with the software-based solution, the footage will be captured and cut with an HDI called HQ, which was developed by Canopus.

The hardware-based package, NX, gives more power to the editor, by allowing I/O hardware to capture the HDV footage, changing it to the HDI HQ for editing.

HD Editing Software Conclusion

With so many choices, there are several things to consider. Are you using an Apple computer or a Windows-based system? Whichever one you prefer to use, most of these products can be downloaded as a demo to try out. Most editing software shares a similar graphical layout, which helps make things easier if you happen to edit on different platforms.

To shoot and edit with high definition, you'll need to beef up with HD monitors, too.

Monitors

Watching your footage, while shooting or editing, on a calibrated monitor is vital for getting good video, whether you're shooting in high definition (HD) or standard definition (SD). But some HD and SD monitors can cost thousands, which can price many out of buying one of these necessary tools for video production.

We hope to help outline some good, affordable alternatives, along with the big boys. One important specification to check before getting out the plastic: make sure the resolution of your future monitor matches or exceeds the resolution of your source material. This is particularly important if you're going to be working in 1080i today (or 1080p tomorrow.)

Affordable ($229 to $500)

Looking for a good monitor to check HD footage that is also affordable isn't too hard. In this price range, you'll be looking primarily at consumer-grade, 4:3 aspect ratio CRT (cathode ray tube)-based sets with component video inputs, though similar LCDs are getting easier to find, and prices are getting lower every day.

The one major drawback in using an SDTV to monitor HD is the color space factor. The color space of high-definition video is different than standard-definition video. Anyone who works in Photoshop has seen this when exporting a file for standard definition (NTSC) video-the colors shift in the video itself due to the differences in color spaces.

If you need an HDTV in this price range, an LCD would probably be your best bet. Many of the new, smaller LCDs (up to 17 inches) support both 60Hz (Hertz, or cycles per second) and 50Hz, something important if you're shooting with the Sony HVR-Z1u, which supports 60i and 50i shooting. However, you should be aware that CRTs generally have greater color accuracy than LCDs.

Moderate ($500 to $1,000)

A CRT-based HDTV would be ideal in this price range, and many of this type of HDTVs can be bought from a litany of major manufacturers (see the Manufacturer Listing). Prices on many 1080i widescreen CRTs have come down, and a widescreen TV is better than a standard, 4:3 model, which is the most common.

Low-end professional LCDs generally start around $800, but they are only available in SD, not HD, in this price range.

Pro ($1,000 and up)

For around $1,000, JVC offers a 10-inch multi-format monitor, the DT-V100CGU, which supports 1080i/p, 720p and SD video (with optional accessory).

In this price range, a consumer-grade 1080p LCD HDTV might be a good investment. There are also some excellent plasma HDTVs, as well, though 1080p plasma displays are outside this price range. Watching HD that you shot on a 37-inch and larger LCD may be great at home, but taking it on set or in the field may be too awkward.

That's why a portable, professional monitor is ideal for viewing HD and HDV footage, but be prepared to shell out at least $3,000 for an HD display. There are also HD SDI-equipped monitors for an additional price. This is an ideal connection to have if you own one of the more expensive HD camcorders that have HD SDI outputs, such as the Canon XL H1 or XH G1, or the JVC GY-HD250.

From there, most professional HD monitors from the three biggest professional video manufacturers (Sony, JVC, Panasonic) start at $4,500 and go up from there.

Conclusion

When you are selecting a monitor or HDTV, don't forget to keep in mind what flavor of HD you're shooting in, 720p or 1080i/p. For field production and editing, the smaller and more portable, the better. Consider using a small SDTV, but keep in mind the caveats of color space.

Also, if you're editing native HDV .m2t files without additional hardware, you won't be able to see your footage play back on your external viewing monitor. You'll need an add-on card to convert your footage on-the-fly to HD, which will be seen and heard on your monitor and speakers.

Heath McKnight is a filmmaker and writer. He recently co-wrote "HDV: What You NEED to Know," volume 2, from VASST.

Sidebar: HD/HDV TERMS

  • HDV: A low-cost alternative to uncompressed HD (high definition), developed in September 2003 by JVC, Sony, Canon, and Sharp. The HDV format records high-definition MPEG-2 transport streams to Mini DV tapes.

    HDV uses long GOP (group of pictures), which contains an I-Frame, or Intra-Frame compressed image, once every 15 frames. The P- and B-Frames (or Predictive and Bi-Directional) will reference images and data that don't change from the I-Frame. For instance, if a person is walking outside, the only part of the frame that is re-drawn and not referenced to the I-frame is the person who is walking. This keeps the data small enough to go to Mini DV tape.

  • AVCHD: Advanced Video Codec-High Definition; another type of compression for HD production. Instead of HDV's mandate of recording to tape, AVCHD records to either a DVD disc, a Hard Drive Disk (HDD), or a memory card. Developed by Sony and Panasonic in mid-2006, AVCHD is compressed to MPEG-4 using H.264 encoding, and it has some similarities to HDV, such as a 4:2:0 sampling.
  • DVCPRO HD: An HD codec developed by Panasonic that includes both 1080i/p and 720p, but when going to tape or P2 card, the 1920x1080 signal is down-sampled to 1280x1080, and 1280x720 is down-sampled to 960x720. This keeps the overall "size" of the HD signal small. Upon output to TV, DVD, etc., the signal goes back to its original sizes.
  • P2: Professional Plug-In; a storage device developed by Panasonic as a low-cost alternative to a more expensive DVCPRO HD tape deck. Each card is about the size of a credit card and can store, as of early 2007, up to 8 gigabytes (GB) of video each.
Tags:  May 2007
Heath
McKnight
Tue, 05/01/2007 - 12:00am