7 Reasons Your Next Camcorder Should Be DV

Ask someone using a DV camcorder why they chose DV over an analog format and you are likely to get an ear full. If you are looking for reasons to upgrade to DV, look no further. Here are a number of advantages that simply can’t be ignored.

1. Superior Image Quality

If you want the best image quality available in a consumer video format, DV is the only choice. We all want to be able to take pride in our video productions and DV provides results that rival the pros. While judging video quality is (to some extent) subjective, DV’s superior quality is quite obvious. Roughly speaking, VHS shows 240 lines of resolution, while Hi8 might show 400, but DV has the potential to display over 500 lines of resolution. While new MPEG-2 format HD camcorders from JVC have even higher potential resolution and may be the wave of the future, DV currently dominates the day.


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2. Better than CD-Quality Sound

A good soundtrack is as important to home movies as it is to a high-budget Hollywood production. Whether it is the rumbling of movie special effects or the laughter of friends and family, the sounds that go along with your video are as much a part of the experience as the images themselves. DV has the potential for better than CD quality sound: 16-bit samples with 48,000 samples per second. Check your camera’s audio settings, though, since many camcorders come default from the factory set to record inferior 12-bit, 32kHz audio. Of course you’ll definitely want to get a decent external microphone to take full advantage of the potential audio quality of DV.

3. FireWire File Transfer

DV is more than just great looking images and CD quality sound. Of almost equal importance is the way you can move digital data around. DV camcorders incorporate a FireWire port, based on the IEEE-1394 standard (called "i.LINK" by Sony).

The cool thing about the FireWire port on the DV camcorder is that it allows the camcorder to communicate with other devices, like a personal computer or standalone editing-appliance. FireWire makes it possible for a computer to control the camcorder, but more importantly, it allows the camcorder to transfer the captured video and audio to the PC in the same digital format in which it is stored. With analog camcorders, the video must be converted to a digital format before it can be transferred to a digital device, a process commonly called "digitizing." With DV, the video is already digital, so it doesn’t have to be digitized. Instead, it is simply copied from one destination to the other. While this may seem like nothing more than a matter of semantics, it’s actually very important. In all cases, analog transfer of video results in some degradation in image and sound quality. When you copy your DV video from your camcorder to a computer using the FireWire interface, there is no loss at all. Note that this works both ways. If you have video on your PC, and it is in the DV format, you can copy the video data to DV tape without losing any quality.

4. Digital Editing

DV and FireWire make it possible for you to edit your videos easily and without the losses encountered with analog video. Today a video editing computer can be less expensive than your camcorder. Many computers come with a FireWire interface as standard equipment and include software that can handle all the basic editing functions most hobbyists need. For less than $1,000 you can have a state-of-the-art digital editing suite that is the equal of any professional system. DV brings us both the low costs of mass production, and the sophistication of professional equipment. As the quality and versatility of the equipment grows, the prices decline. Once you have your video on a hard drive, the things you can do with it are limited only by your imagination and the capabilities of your editing software.

5. Archival Storage

DV is the only consumer format that allows you to clone your videotapes, a necessity if you want to preserve your work for future generations. Anything recorded to magnetic tape is subject to deterioration over time. This is true with both digital and analog recordings. Tape stretch and print-through degrade both the image and sound quality of analog tapes and will eventually cause bit errors on digital recordings. Because DV uses several layers of error correction, however, the tapes are much more stable over time than their analog cousins.

Even more of a threat than tape stretch and print-through is the phenomena known as "Sticky Shed Syndrome." Over time (10 to 20 years or more) the glue that holds the magnetic particles to the polyester base of the tape breaks down and the tape surface becomes coated with an adhesive that makes it difficult, if not impossible, to play. In some cases the magnetic material will peel or fall-off the base, leaving a clear tape and a useless pile of magnetic dust.

With analog tape you have a major problem, because every time you copy one tape to new media, you inflict a generational loss in quality. Because you can make literal clones of your digital footage, you can greatly reduce the chance of unrecoverable data loss.

6. DV is a Standard

DV is not a type of videotape or camcorder. Rather, it is a digital video format. It is an international standard that is supported by over 60 companies worldwide. The video data rate for DV25 is 25Mbps, while the total data rate, including error correction codes, subcodes, Insert and Track Information, and audio, give a total data rate of about 36Mbps. The video data rate for professional DV, DV50, is twice that of DV25, at 50Mbps. All consumer DV camcorders, both Mini DV and Digital8, use DV25.

7. Moore’s Law

Because DV is a digital format, the hardware benefits from advances in computer technology. Moore’s Law states that computer processing speed doubles about every 18 months. Digital storage capacity now doubles about every nine months. At the same time, the cost of processing speed and storage capacity drops, as new and improved devices obsolete the older technologies they replace. This affects every digital technology, driving costs ever lower. In the case of digital video, it also means that the costs and effectiveness of storing and editing our video are also constantly dropping. The 200 gigabyte hard drive you buy today will store a lot of DV footage, but the 400 gigabyte drive you may be able to buy in nine months will store twice as much. DVD burners can be used to archive critical footage as data files in the raw DV format, and optical storage density is increasing at the same rate as other storage technologies. We are rapidly approaching a time when it will be practical to store all our critical master videotape footage on optical media, eliminating the worries about tape deterioration over the long term.

Who is DV For?

DV has something for everyone. There are DV camcorders for the pro, the beginner and people at every level of interest in between. Camcorders like the Canon XL1S or JVC GY-DV500U are suitable for the most demanding professional work. For the beginner, or those on a tight budget, there are DV camcorders retailing for less than $500. If you already have a library of 8mm or Hi8 videotapes, there are DV camcorders (Digital8 models) that will allow you to continue to use your old 8mm videotapes, while shooting all your new footage in the DV format, and storing it on standard 8mm videotape. Those who want a small camcorder that won’t weigh them down will find the "pocket sized" DV camcorders ideal. It’s hard to imagine a need that isn’t filled by one or more of today’s DV camcorders.

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