JVC, inventor of the ubiquitous VHS format, has done it again, offering an innovative high-definition consumer camcorder that is the first of its kind. High-definition enthusiasts seeking a unique accessory for their HDTVs will love it. If you own an HD television, JVC’s GR-HD1 HD camcorder will allow you to take maximum advantage of your screen’s real estate and resolution.
The GR-HD1 is a mid-sized camcorder with a 52mm diameter lens that shoots to standard Mini DV tape. The hand grip (and entire tape mechanism) rotates, making this a comfortable camera to shoot with from almost any angle. It has many friendly features; for example, you can turn the camera on from Standby by simply pulling out the viewfinder or LCD.
There are many confusing flavors of HD, so you might think that shooting with an HD camcorder would be complicated. Not with the GR-HD1. There are no menus to set and no gamma modes or interlacing options to fool with. Just move the switch to HD mode and fire away.
The GR-HD1 is clearly a consumer camera, so it would be unfair to compare it to cameras designed for professional applications. For example, it has a single CCD and no XLR microphone inputs (it uses a consumer 1/8-inch mini mike jack instead). On the other hand, discriminating shooters will appreciate the quality construction, nice lens, optical image stabilizer and manual iris and shutter controls.
The GR-HD1 shoots in three video modes: DV, SD and HD. In DV mode, the camera shoots a standard 720×480 DV image at 30 frames per second (fps) or 60 interlaced fields per second (60i) in a 4:3 aspect ratio. In SD mode, the camera shoots at the same resolution (480 lines), but shoots 60 progressive fps (60p) at a true 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio. This is not DV video, it is a special MPEG-2 format. Finally, the HD mode shoots 30p, 16:9 widescreen at 1280×720. While the camera writes SD and HD video in a compressed MPEG-2 format, the data rate is very high, over 18Mbps. In comparison, the MPEG-2 data on DVD movies you rent is typically less than 8Mbps.
HD in Action
In our tests, we found that the quality of the video was dependant on the television we used to view it, reinforcing the fact that this camcorder is intended for a user who owns an HDTV. When viewed on a standard television, the quality of the video in HD mode was not any better than the SD or DV modes, although the progressive scan MPEG-2 video does look quite different from the interlace DV video. We found that the video looked contrasty when shot in the Auto mode, but the iris, shutter and gain gave us some control over this. When we tested the camera on normal SD televisions, we also noticed that the composite output (Y/Pb/Pr) did not display the DV or SD video at the correct aspect ratio, although the S-video and RCA jacks worked just fine. HD worked correctly out of all three connections.
When we connected the camera to a $2,999 42-inch Gateway plasma television, we could see a dramatic difference between standard DV footage shot on a Mini DV camcorder and the HD footage of the GR-HD1. The 16:9 HD video was sharp and clear, but we noticed some glowing in bright areas. Even on the plasma television, however, we could not see the full quality of the raw image shot by this camera, primarily because the TV only displayed an 852×480 image, but also because of the limitations of plasma technology. When we captured HD video to our computer, we were able to objectively see large differences between the HD video and Mini DV.
We also shot some fast action video at 60 progressive fps in the SD mode. This video looked spectacular on the computer and gave us much more room to create dramatic super-slow motion effects that would not be possible at 60i (or even 30p).
We measured a wide 46-degree field of view in the HD mode, but this diminished to just 26-degrees in DV mode. The camera’s LCD displays video from all three modes in the correct aspect ratio. This is amazing, since the camera is doing a huge amount of processing; decoding MPEG-2 video and converting it for the small screen.
Since JVC’s HD format is new, you cannot edit the footage without first upgrading your editing software (by the time you read this, Adobe Premiere should support footage from this camcorder). JVC includes MPEG Edit Studio Pro LE editing software with the camera. The basic app will be adequate for most getting-starters, but experienced editors will want to upgrade their software of choice for serious editing. JVC also includes a DVD-authoring and burning application (ImageMixer DVD), although it won’t produce widescreen DVDs.
After editing your footage, you can output to DVD-ready MPEG-2. To retain the full benefit of the HD format for playback on your HDTV, however, you’ll need to output your video back to the camera or to a JVC D-VHS VCR.
HD In, HD Out
In the final analysis, there are really two important aspects to this camera: HD in and HD out. The HD in part is simple: you flip a switch and shoot widescreen HD.
The HD out part is more complex. It was clear from our examination of the video that we captured some lovely footage, we just couldn’t appreciate it without an HDTV that could display the image at 1280×720. If you own an HDTV and would like to shoot home videos in HD to play on your high-def set, JVC has what you’re looking for.
Format: Mini DV and HD MPEG-2
Lens: f=5.2mm to 52mm, 10:1 optical, F/1.8, 52mm filter diameter
Image Sensor: 1/3-inch CCD, 1.18M pixels
Viewfinder: 0.44-inch color
LCD Viewscreen: 3.5-inch color
Focus: auto, manual
Image Stabilization: optical
Maximum Shutter Speed: 1/1,000
Exposure: auto, manual
Program AE Modes: 4
White Balance: auto, manual, presets
Digital Effects: 4 effects, 9 transitions
Audio: 12-bit, 16-bit
Microphone: 1/8-inch mini-plug
Headphone: 1/8-inch mini-plug
Inputs: FireWire, S-video, composite
Outputs: FireWire, S-video, composite
Edit Interface: FireWire
Other Features: 8MB Multimedia Card, Audio Dubbing, Web Cam Function, MPEG-4 Video
Dimensions: 4-9/16″ (w) x 3-5/16″ (h) x 10-3/4″ (d)
Weight: 2.8 lbs. (sans tape and battery)
Included Software: HD Capture, MPEG Edit Studio LE, ImageMixer DVD
- HD, progressive scan
- Very easy to use
- Limited editing options
- Quality depends on TV used
- A pioneering camera that shoots HD for folks who own HD televisions.
1700 Valley Road
Wayne, NJ 07470