Consumer-level digital video is no longer just a dream, thanks to the introduction of DVC (digital video cassette) camcorders from such major manufacturers as Panasonic and Sony. One of Sony’s first entries into the DVC race is the DCR-VX1000 Digital Handycam. Its introduction marks a major turning point in the development of consumer camcorders. For the first time, consumer videomakers have access to a 500-line resolution camcorder they can both hold in one hand and afford without robbing a bank.

The DV System

Before we get into the test, here’s a quick summary of the DVC technology that makes the DCR-XV1000 so special. Analog camcorders record signals as a changing voltage with a virtually unlimited number of values. Digital camcorders convert the analog video signal to a binary number, storing just “0s” or “1s” on tape. Because of this, the DV system is basically impervious to tape noise, inconsistent record levels and tape inconsistencies. When recording from one digital unit to another, generation loss is a thing of the past.

DVC camcorders record the digital signal to tape using a helical-scanning system, as in an analog camcorder. How the tracks end up on tape distinguish the digital unit from analog. The recording pattern of an analog VCR (8mm or VHS-family video) consists of only 2 tracks (fields) for every one frame of video. In the NTSC recording system, the rotating head drum spins at a speed of 1800 rpm. The digital camcorder’s drum rotates at 9000 rpm, allowing the DVC units to record 10 digital tracks for every one frame of video.

Each track consists of four sectors. Time code, index ID for searching points, and IDs for still picture recording and playback lie in the subcode sector. A video sector contains the video information and additional data for video processing, such as recording date and time, wide mode and input source information. A separate audio sector records digital sound information. The Insert Track Information (ITI) sector records signals for audio dubbing and additional data for the camcorder itself. Since the digital camcorder records video and audio signals in separate sectors, true video-only insert editing is possible.

DVC’s component color system offers three times the information carrying capacity of NTSC. The result is dramatically improved color reproduction.

The Mini DV cassette allows for 60 minutes of NTSC/PAL recording. The standard–and much larger–DV cassette records 270 minutes of NTSC/PAL video. The DCR-VX1000 plays and records only on the Mini DV cassette. Sony plans to release a digital VCR that will record and playback both the standard and Mini DV cassettes.

An optional cassette memory IC (integrated circuit) is also available for both cassettes. In addition to any standard data recorded on the tape, the cassette memory will store other index info as well. This includes a table of contents of the tape, and the dates and times of still video “photos.” With this optional chip, you can easily search for specific recordings by selecting from the data list.

There are two audio recording modes available in the DVC format; both record PCM (pulse code modulation) digital signals. A 16-bit single stereo audio mode offers the highest quality recordings. A 12-bit dual-stereo mode allows sound recordings on four channels for audio dubbing.

Back to the Test

The Digital Handycam has a sturdy die-cast, magnesium-alloy main frame and side cabinet. It has the look and feel of a professional camera, without the professional price tag. I found the DCR-VX1000 to be light for its size and extremely comfortable to use. All of the camera controls are easily accessible, sitting in a logical arrangement on the back and left side of the camera.

Most of the controls are push-button types, except for the exposure and manual focus ring.

The DCR-VX1000 boasts a three-CCD camera system which uses a dichroic prism to separate the image into red, green and blue components. Each of the three CCDs supplies a respectable 410,000 pixels.

A very responsive eight-speed 10X power zoom lens graces this model. The manual zoom rocker is continuously variable right up to where the digital 20X zoom kicks in. The rocker makes it possible to perform quick focal length changes. If you don’t want to use the 20X digital zoom, it’s simple to disable the digital zoom function in the menu system.

Pictures remain stable in the DCR-VX1000, thanks to Sony’s Super SteadyShot image stabilization system. Using a variable prism compensation system, the SteadyShot system reduces serious hand-held and high-frequency shake.

The DCR-VX1000 also offers a unique Zebra Pattern feature, which places black and white lines in the viewfinder where portions of the picture exceed a certain brightness level. You use the zebra pattern as a guide for adjusting the exposure and shutter speed. A neutral density (ND) filter cuts down the amount of light entering the lens, allowing it to function in the middle of its f-stop range even under very bright conditions.

Focus, exposure and white balance controls are both manual and automatic. Three program auto exposure modes are available for shutter priority, iris priority and natural night mode. The DCR-VX1000 offers various digital features including A/V digital fade, scene overlap and slow shutter. The digital fader lets you fade to and from black. In overlap mode, the camcorder captures the last scene in digital memory. The next scene then smoothly transitions with this still image. When using the slow shutter mode, it’s possible to record in extremely low-light situations.

The DCR-VX1000 boasts a photo mode that records a still image on tape for up to seven seconds. In this mode, automatic high-speed shutter achieves blur-free stills. The Sony uses a new frame interpolation technology which effectively prevents image shaking while in photo, digital zoom, or 16:9 wide modes.

The DCR-VX1000 records “extended data codes” onto a special area of the tape. This data includes date, time, shutter speed, iris and gain, allowing you to easily recall your settings after recording. Interval and frame recording modes are also available for single frame recording and time-lapse effects. The frame recording on this camcorder is the best I’ve ever seen.

There’s More

The DCR-VX1000 has both automatic and manual (20-step) audio record level controls. Its built-in microphone is a unique four-capsule system, which consists of two sets of microphones for each left and right channels. These sit face to face to reduce wind noise. In addition, the built-in microphone is mounted away from the camera body, which significantly reduces mechanical noise pick-up. The DCR-VX1000 has an external microphone input jack.

The DCR-VX1000 has a special IN/OUT jack for digital-to-digital editing. Sony’s optional connecting cable for digital editing conforms to the IEEE P1394 protocol. When using this cable, you don’t need to change the audio or video signal connections since the direction of signal flow changes automatically within the DV connecting cable.

With this new protocol, you can connect up to 64 digital VCRs or camcorders. Remember–you can only make perfect digital dubs or edits with the DV connector cable and at least two DCR-VX1000s. In the near future, Sony will release a digital VCR that will also offer a digital IN/OUT jack. Because this standard is actually a computer protocol, you can expect the next wave of nonlinear editing packages to offer you a way to connect your DVC camcorder or VCR directly to a computer.

In the meantime, the DCR-VX1000 has Sony’s standard LANC connection for editing. Both S-video and composite outputs will allow you to create very high quality video when transferring to VHS or 8mm-family formats. Since the DVC format boasts over 500 lines of horizontal resolution–with PCM stereo digital audio to boot–“second generation” footage looks and sounds like first.

Time code for hours, minutes, seconds, and frames is written to tape for extremely accurate editing. The time code format is compatible with Sony’s popular RC time code. When working with edit controllers that read time code, simply choose RCTC for the DCR-VX1000.

The Sony offers an edit search feature. This function allows the user to scan the recorded video before recording. While using the edit search mode, you can also monitor the recorded sound by plugging headphones into the DCR-VX1000’s headphone jack.


Phenomenal Performance

In spite of its advanced features, the DCR-VX1000 is simple to use when in full automatic mode. The iris priority setting changes quickly with varying lighting conditions, but the change is very smooth and the iris does not hunt when bright subjects pass by. The manual focus ring is very responsive and extremely accurate.

The 10X optical zoom works wonderfully, responding predictable to the zoom rocker. Coupled with Sony’s Super Steady Shot Stabilization system, the 20X digital zoom is remarkably clear and stable. I found the stabilization system capable of reducing both simple handheld shake and high-frequency movements (like those that result when recording from a moving vehicle).

Playback quality of detailed subjects is phenomenal. When shooting bright colors and intricate subjects, the DCR-VX1000 records and reproduces every detail with no color bleed or image blur. Recorded colors are lifelike and vivid, and the VX-1000 reproduces astounding textures. Resolution chart tests proved the Digital Handycam to be delivering 500-plus lines of horizontal resolution. An internal time base corrector delivers very stable picture playback and dead-perfect stills. I never saw any dropout.

The viewfinder itself is a 180,000-pixel, high-resolution LCD. I found it to be exceptionally clear for a color LCD.

In the viewfinder, an information subpanel shows the basic camcorder functions as a footnote without obscuring the picture in the main LCD.

Changing mode settings with the menu system is a snap. You simply slide open the battery cover and press the menu button to display the menu in the viewfinder. Choosing digital effects was just as easy, and making time-lapse recordings with the interval recording mode was a cinch.

The DCR-VX1000 produces fantastic-sounding stereo audio. The manual audio input controls work very well, and are easily adjusted using headphones while recording. As you adjust the dial, the sound level changes between 0 (no sound) and 10 in 0.5 steps.

I tested the DCR-VX1000’s LANC protocol, and found that both the Videonics Edit Suite and FAST Video Machine would control the Digital Handycam as a source deck. There are no analog video inputs for recording to the DV cassette, hence you can’t use the DCR-VX1000 as a record deck without another Digital Handycam and DV connecting cable.

As a source deck in an analog system, the Sony’s extremely high-quality video is still a benefit. When I recorded playback from the Digital Handycam onto a Hi8 record deck using its S-video output, the end result looked like a perfect first-generation master.

In the near future, Sony plans to introduce a DVC VCR that will accept the DV connecting cable from the Digital Handycam. Until then, you can still dub high-quality video from the Sony to consumer–or even broadcast–formats. The DCR-VX1000 looks and acts just like a pro.

Final Word

The DCR-VX1000 Digital Handycam is an awesome camcorder. Its ability to record and play back digital video that looks this good is a major achievement for the world of consumer video. The DCR-VX1000 offers high-quality video acquisition, five star performance, and cutting edge technology.

Technical Specifications

DCR-VX1000 Digital Handycam

Format

  • DVC (digital video cassette)

Lens

  • Eight-speed 10:1 optical zoom, 5.9-59mm focal length, f/1.6, inner-focus, tele-macro, 20:1 digital zoom

Image sensors

  • Three 1/3-inch CCDs, 410,000 pixels each

Viewfinder

  • 0.7-inch color LCD, 180,000 pixels

Focus

  • Auto, manual override

Maximum shutter speed

  • 1/10,000th of a second

Exposure

  • Auto, manual with adjustable iris/gain (20 levels), three Program AE modes

White balance

  • Auto, manual

Digital effects

  • A/V digital fader and overlap transition

Audio

  • PCM stereo digital audio, auto or manual record levels

Inputs

  • DV Connector, microphone

Outputs

  • DV Connector, Y/C video, analog video, stereo audio, headphone

Edit interface

  • LANC

Other features

  • Super SteadyShot optical image stabilization, 4-capsule microphone with digital audio signal processing, still photo mode, interval and frame recording, RC-compatible time code read/write, zebra pattern exposure indicator, edit search, wireless remote control, 16×9 aspect record mode

Dimensions

  • 4.3 (width) by 5.75 (height) by 13 (depth) inches

Weight

  • 3 pounds, 4 ounces

Video Performance (approx.)

  • Horizontal resolution (camera)
    • 500 lines
  • Horizontal resolution (playback)
    • 500 lines

Performance Times

  • Pause to record
    • 0.0 second
  • Power up to record
    • 3 seconds
  • Fast forward/rewind (60 min. tape)
    • 2 minutes, 35 seconds

Power Flex

ES2000 Hi8 Camcorder
Canon USA, Inc.
One Canon Plaza
Lake Success, NY 11042
($1599)

The Canon ES series of camcorders has a new champion–the Hi8 ES2000. With the ES2000, Canon introduces their new FlexiZone autofocus/auto exposure system. FlexiZone is a unique system that allows the user to select an area of the frame for prioritized autofocus and auto exposure. For now, you select this area manually. In the not-too-distant future, you’ll select it with your eye position.

The ES2000 is a great-looking unit. Its finish is gunmetal gray, with a tough powder-coated feel. It has some design changes from its predecessor, the ES1000. Though the ES2000 still places the lens and stereo microphone next to the transport, the lens rides above the mike and the built-in light is absent.

You’ll find twelve different controls located where your left hand can easily get to them. They control both camera and VCR functions, depending on mode. Button response is very good, and the color viewfinder indicates all of the active control functions.


Can’t Touch This

Don’t let this camcorder’s compact size fool you–the ES2000 boasts a whopping 20x optical power zoom lens. This is the greatest optical zoom range of any camcorder lens available, spanning from 4mm wide to 80mm super-telephoto. Forget your binoculars–you can take the ES2000 to the ball park and record the action up-close.

The ES2000’s lens offers seven different zoom speeds, the slowest taking 20 seconds and the fastest just four seconds to cover the full range. After minimal practice, I was able to verify the different speeds. The zoom control is fantastic and remains smooth in any speed. Overall, Canon’s 20X zoom system is excellent.

The ES2000 has a 0.6-inch color viewfinder with a high- resolution LCD. Detail is very good, allowing you to focus manually with accuracy.

The ES2000’s optical image stabilization (OIS) system employs Canon’s Vari-Angle Prism technology. I found this to be very effective in compensating for handheld camera shake. OIS was particularly useful, providing excellent compensation while shooting at the critical telephoto end.

With the ES2000, Canon unveils its new FlexiZone autofocus/auto exposure system. This new image control system allows you to pinpoint the area of focus or exposure anywhere within the viewfinder. This allows you to keep the subject properly focused and exposed, even when the subject leaves the center of the frame.

You can choose the FlexiZone AF/AE option from the Program Auto Exposure dial. A moveable frame appears in the viewfinder, which you then position with your thumb on a concave controller rocker. This takes a little getting used to, but the results are worth it.

I used the FlexiZone autofocus system to keep some off-center subjects in focus. When the main subject I was shooting moved from one side of the frame to the other, I was able to maintain sharp focus by moving the FlexiZone control frame in the viewfinder.

The ES2000’s FlexiZone auto exposure system worked equally well. With auto exposure engaged, “EXP LOCK” appears in the viewfinder and the camera adjusts the exposure to suit the area currently inside the control frame. This worked well when recording scenes with dark and bright areas. With FlexiZone AE, I was able to pinpoint the area of the scene that was most important for exposure. Pushing the FlexiZone AE button again cancels the function. This button is conveniently located behind the zoom toggle.

The FlexiZone system gives you that much more flexibility in a tight shooting situation when you really need to control focus and exposure. The concave controller does respond well with practice, but it can be a struggle to control at first. Fortunately, the optical image stabilization feature kept the camera shake to a minimum while I manipulated the concave controller. With a tripod, the ES2000 remained stable and the FlexiZone system was easier to work with.

The ES2000 has four Programmed Auto Exposure modes in addition to the FlexiZone and full auto Easy Recording modes. The four special exposure modes include sports, portrait, spotlight and sand and snow. Icons on the Programmed AE selector dial identify the different programs. The knurled dial, located on the left side of the camera, is easy to adjust with your left hand while shooting.

Flex Test

Directly above the Programmed AE selector are the black fade and backlight compensation (BLC) buttons. The black fade control allows you to fade to black, or to fade in from black. Sound fades with the image. The BLC button compensates for backlight situations by opening the iris 1.25 stops.

The manual focus select button and control wheel sit directly under the Programmed AE selector. The manual focus control wheel is very responsive and easy to adjust while shooting. You shouldn’t need to use manual focus too often–autofocus on the ES2000 is extremely quick, locking onto the subject with a minimum of hunting. White balance is continuous auto only, using a 64-zone evaluation system.

There are seven high-speed shutter modes that range from 1/100th to 1/10,000 of a second. The shutter control button is within easy reach of your right thumb for quick adjustment.

An alphanumeric titler allows you to superimpose a title of up to 32 characters (2 lines of 16) onto your video. The ES2000 will hold the title in its memory, allowing you to program it in before the event. Creating titles in this camera is easy–you just push the Title button and maneuver the FlexiZone control lever to add characters.

A Tally/Sensor button turns the tally light and infrared sensor on and off. You need to lift the viewfinder to expose this switch. Next to the Tally/Sensor switch is the Line-in record button, which allows you to tell the camcorder to record video and audio signals from an outside video source. This is a change from the ES1000, which had an auto-sensing feature that detected signals coming into the unit when in VCR mode. I like the fact that I have control over record functions with the newer Line-in button.

The ES2000’s record search function lets you easily locate a previously recorded scene to record over. The record review button allows you to play back the last segment of the recorded scene in the viewfinder. In addition, the ES2000 offers a wireless remote control so you can sit back and control most camera functions from a short distance.

This model has both headphone and external microphone jacks. The built-in mike picks up very little motor and button noises, a problem that plagued the earlier ES1000. The ES2000’s automatic windscreen does a good job at preventing wind noise from interfering with the sound track. Hi-fi stereo sound is dramatic, with crisp, detailed sound. Playback is spectacular!

The ES2000 is comfortable, compact, and great fun to shoot with. On the image quality front, the ES2000’s resolution, color reproduction and accuracy are excellent. My only reservation lies with the unit’s lack of RC time code. Still, I give the ES2000 two thumbs up.

Technical Specifications

Canon ES2000 Hi8 Camcorder

Format

  • Hi8

Lens

  • 20:1 optical zoom, 4-80mm focal length, 7 zoom speeds, f/1.6, inner focus, tele-macro

Image sensor

  • 1/4-inch CCD, 410,000 pixels

Viewfinder

  • 0.6-inch color LCD, 113,000 pixels

Focus

  • TTL autofocus with FlexiZone control, manual

Maximum shutter speed

  • 1/10,000th of a second

Exposure

  • Auto, FlexiZone auto, four Program AE modes, switchable backlight compensation

White balance

  • Continuous auto, no override

Digital effects

  • None

Audio

  • Stereo AFM

Inputs

  • Y/C video, composite video, stereo audio, microphone

Outputs

  • Y/C video, composite video, stereo audio, headphone

Edit interface

  • LANC

Other features

  • Fade, titler, record search and review, optical image stabilization, line-in recording, remote control

Dimensions

  • 4 (width) by 4.2 (height) by 8 (depth) inches

Weight

  • 1.8 pounds

Video Performance (approx.)

  • Horizontal resolution (camera)
    • 430 lines
  • Horizontal resolution (playback)
    • 400 lines

Performance Times

  • Pause to record
    • 0.5 second
  • Power up to record
    • 2 seconds
  • Fast forward/rewind (30 min. tape)
    • 1 minutes, 35 seconds

Digital Frontier
DCR-VX1000 Digital Handycam
Sony Corporation
1 Sony Drive
Park Ridge, NJ 07656
(Around $4000)

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