Panasonic AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD Camcorder  Review

Put it on My Card

Panasonic has bypassed making an HDV camcorder and has gone straight for the jugular by introducing its full bandwidth High Definition camcorder, the AG-HVX200. This versatile prosumer High Definition camcorder packs an array of features into a handheld design. For recording video, the HVX200 includes a Mini DV tape mechanism along with two P2 (Professional Plug-in) card slots. The P2 cards allow for true variable frame rates and recording options that Mini DV tape can't offer. These include DVCPRO HD 1080/24p and 720/60p, along with normal interlaced video. We think these features are valuable for many different types of projects. If you have a project where compromise isn't an option, look into the HVX.

First Look

The HVX200 has exceptional features to go along with its exceptional size. It's larger than all other handheld prosumer camcorders, in height and width especially. The matte black melds smoothly from end to end, starting with a large rubberized lens hood and ending with a well-placed viewfinder. All of the buttons and switches are labeled in bold white type, except for the orange markings on the lens barrel. These are easy to read by you or your assistant. Many buttons along the side appear in nearly the same place as they do on Panasonic's DVX100 series cameras. The rear of this High Definition camcorder is much different, largely because of the flip-out door that protects the P2 slots. Two audio pots (with glow-in-the-dark paint) and the Scene File dial are placed in back too. The Scene File dial is useful in that it allows you to quickly jog through many different custom presets. This is a favorite among videographers who like to create and share their own settings.

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P2 High Definition and You

A P2 card is essentially an oversized flash memory card made up of four smaller cards, each specially connected for recording video. While Panasonic's P2 card gives you more options, it also introduces new restrictions. A big drawback is storage size. At press time the storage capacity of a single card maxes out at 8 gigabytes. Unlike DV tape, your recording times vary depending on your shooting mode; 32 minutes of DV, 20 minutes of 720P/24PN, or 8 minutes of 1080i video will fit on an 8GB card. When shooting with P2, an assistant can be handy at swapping cards that fill up, and replacing them with fresh ones. Another drawback to P2 is cost. A single 8GB card will set you back $1,400 currently, though prices keep dropping. Still, P2 allows for a super-fast editing workflow. And, they're the most affordable way to record DVCPRO HD video. So, why ditch tape? Framerates and compression.

HVX Framerates Explained

The HVX200 is a true variable framerate High Definition camcorder that works much differently than a typical camcorder, and more like a movie camera does. Think of it like using Super8 film cartridges. In the HVX200's special mode "720/24PN" only the frames per second are recorded to the P2 card. In this mode the video takes up differing amounts of space on the P2 card. When you shoot video at 1/12 shutter speed, you have the option to actually record only 12 frames instead of spreading them out over 30 frames as does a typical camcorder. This saves on storage, and doesn't require as much post-production time to speed up your sunrises. What's more, you can view the effect in-camera.

Shooting in 720p mode gives you the most framerate options; 11, while the 1080i mode offers less. By using the 720/60p framerate, you take twice the number of frames per second, which makes for glassy slow motion effects. This is an intriguing feature along with a 1080i/24p mode, which records 24 progressive frames for 1080i video using 'pulldown'. On the same P2 card we shot slow-motion footage in 720p, documentary style in 1080i, and 24p DV video, all without scratching our heads.


Shooting DVCPRO High Definition

Shooting video at 100Mbps is another world compared to DV (which records at 25 Megabits per second). The difference between these two numbers is compression of color information or sound. DVCPRO HD records video with much less compression and no GOP structure like HDV. This is a benefit for pros who will do high-end compositing and color correction. DVCPRO HD also records more detailed color information than DV or HDV. Our shots looked stunning, even though the best flowers in our Northern California climate hadn't bloomed yet. Sound is another big feature of the HVX; you get four channels of pristine uncompressed 48kHz audio. Wrangling four audio tracks for each video track may seem like a task, but we found it fairly easy to manage.

Editing Considerations

Each P2 card fits into a standard PC Card slot found on many laptop computers. When the card is inserted, you can edit footage directly in most editors worthy of having 'Pro' in their title. Though, it's a good idea to copy your footage right away, so you can get that card back into the camcorder. Another option is to transfer your files via FireWire. Either way, your capture time is dramatically reduced. Copying your files can be complicated, and will be difficult if you haven't planned a specific workflow ahead of time. We'd advise you to consult your editing software publisher for best results. The big highlight here is the speedy transfer of footage, which makes us ask why we still wait an hour for each of our DV tapes to finish capturing.

Looking ahead, P2 solid state recording seems to be a smart choice for video professionals. We hope the computer industry continues to embrace the PC card slot on new machines, as P2 cards increase in capacity. Our time spent with the HVX200 was excellent. It performed without a hitch, delivering amazing color and resolution that broadcast High Definition camcorders are known for.

TECH SPECS


Image Device: 3 CCD

Imager Size: 1/3 inch, 16: Native aspect

Lens: Leica Dicomar 13X Zoom, 82mm Filter Diameter

Horizontal Resolution: 1080 lines

Video Signal System: NTSC

Scanning System: 1080 Line Interlace Scan, 720 Line Progressive Scan

Connectors: S-Video, A/V, Component Output, XLR IN (x2), i.LINK, LANC, Headphone stereo mini.

Minimum Illumination: 3 lux

Built in Filters: 1/8 ND, 1/64 ND

Exposure: Auto, Manual

Viewfinder: 0.44 inch B&W/Color Switchable

Audio: Four Channel 48kHz/ 16 bit

Internal Microphone: Yes

Speaker: Mono

LCD Panel: 3.5″, Color

Memory Card Slot: SD Memory for Scene-File Sharing, Two P2 for Video

Format: DVCPro HD, DVCPro 50, DVCPRO/DV

Weight: 1 lb, 10 oz.

Power Consumption: 14 Watts (max.)

Dimensions: 6.7 x 7.1 x 15.2 Inches

Weight: 5.2 lbs

STRENGTHS

  • 1080i and 720p switchable
  • True variable framerates from 12 to 60
  • Customizable scene files

WEAKNESSES

  • Cost of P2 media
  • Balance in hand

SUMMARY

The Panasonic HVX200 is on a good track to lure even the oldest luddite into solid state recording.

Andrew Burke is Videomaker's Editorial Assistant, a member of AIVF, and has worked in video production worldwide.

$5,995

Panasonic Broadcast

One Panasonic Way

Secaucus, NJ 07094

www.panasonic.com

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