Excerpts From the Videomaker Expo East Camcorder/VCR Panel

At this Videomaker Expo, representatives from the leading manufacturers of camcorders and VCRs convened in a room with several hundred Expo attendees. Their purpose: to hash out some of the issues that have faced the camcorder and VCR market in the previous twelve months–mainly concerning the adoption of digital video in the consumer camcorder market.

This year, Videomaker‘s Executive Editor Stephen Muratore led the discussion at the Meadowlands Sheraton in East Rutherford, New Jersey. In attendance were Mike Zorich (National Technical Director for Canon), Phil Boyle (Sony’s National Training and Merchandising Manager), Kevin Gordon (National Production & Promotion Manager for JVC), Jim Sanduski (National Marketing Manager for Samsung) and Bob Pleyer (Associate Production & Marketing Manager for Sharp). Let’s listen in on the proceedings [edited for brevity]:

Stephen Muratore (Videomaker): I’d like to start with Bob with a slightly provocative question perhaps. It’s a two-part question. Is analog video doomed, and how long does it have to live? Bob.

Bob Pleyer (Sharp): Well, that’s a good question. One of the things that we look at in marketing is really what’s happening in Japan. Believe it or not, in Japan 70 percent of users are digital users. So yes, we might be two or three years away from what Japan or even what Europe uses, but eventually, yes, everything goes away format-wise due to bigger and better things. That’s in all manufacturing. I think, we’re heading towards the digital world in all areas. So we are definitely moving towards that. Will it be a dead animal? I don’t think so. It’s going to take many, many years because there’s just so much enjoyment even from people using VHS. So enjoyment I think is a major part of it.

Stephen Muratore (Videomaker): Thank you. Would anyone on the panel hazard a definition for DV, in particular answer the question: What’s the difference between DV, DV Cam, DV Pro, and DVC? And what are the compatibility issues between those things? Any guesses?

Phil Boyle (Sony): Well, as far as Consumer DV, Mini DV, it’s a standardized format. You can record on a Sony camera and play that tape back in a Canon camera or a Panasonic or JVC. It’s a standard. On the Pro side it’s a little more confusing. There’s actually no actual standard, so to speak, on the Pro side. So say a Panasonic DV Pro versus a Sony DV Cam, they’re actually two different performing formats and not interchangeable, not compatible. So the Pro side doesn’t have the benefit of this intercompatibility that consumers have on our end. That’s the big difference there. I think as a consumer or a Prosumer, you’ve got a real advantage in the fact that you can cross from one manufacturer to another regardless of where it was recorded.

Stephen Muratore (Videomaker): Does everyone agree with that? How about compatibility between tape types? Is it true that tapes from one manufacturer can’t be used in the camcorders from another? Or that the chip doesn’t work? These are rumors that people hear.

Mike Zorich (Canon): Well, I’ll take a stab at that. Although, I can tell you what I know based on the chip. In terms of Mini DV, I have not had the experience of one brand of tape not working in a Canon camcorder, and I would suspect that everybody up here would say the same thing. I think the point that Steve brought up is the MIC chip, which is I think it’s just technology attributed to Sony which stands for "Memory In Cassette" which is an upgradable feature that you’ll find in a more expensive Mini DV cassette. And on this MIC chip, which is a physical chip you can see on the outside of a cassette, there is data that gets stored on that chip. The camcorder that you play that tape back in must have the ability to read the information on that chip. Some manufacturers, Canon being one, I believe Panasonic is another, has made a conscious decision not to build that technology into the camcorder. So in answer to the question, if a consumer uses a Sony camcorder that has an MIC chip on the Mini DV tape and records data on that chip and they play it back in a Canon camcorder, it would not be read because the circuitry does not exist there. So there has to be compatibility. If you use an MIC chip on your Mini DV cassette, your camcorder has to have the ability to read that chip back.

Kevin Gordon (JVC): The tape itself would play back, I mean, the information recorded on the chip is peripheral type of information that doesn’t affect the playback of the picture or the sound.

Phil Boyle (Sony): If I may clarify. As far as I know, this is an exclusive to Sony as far as using the chip on the DV. You’re right in the fact that any of the data on the chip would not be read on another brand of camera, but the data–the applications that we’re using the chip for are a little different. For example, one of the advantages that the chip gives us on models like the TRV9 is that you’re able to do titling on the camera in post, because you’re not titling to the tape, rather to the chip. So if you were to record-write "panel talk," and six months from now you decided that you did not like that title, you just wanted to call it "panel 98," you could. So it’s one of the ways that we’re using this chip technology. And yes, it’s a step up. You’d have to have a Sony camera to use it. But the customer who’s utilizing the chip has bought a Sony camera anyway, and it’s more than likely going to be their source either at one of our decks or at one of our cameras. So yes, you’re right. I just wanted to expand a little bit to make sure you’re not–it’s not robbing you of any type of feature performance. In fact, it’s an addition, an extra benefit for buying that particular technology.

Stephen Muratore (Videomaker): To add to the confusion, three other initials have floated around. They sort of arose on the scene at about the time people started talking about DV, which originally if I remember was DVC, digital video cassette. But these initials are DVD. And sometimes you can hear the confusion. You’ll be talking about DV and DVC at one point and have somebody respond to you about DVD as though they were the same thing. Can anybody give any definition to DVD and what, if anything, that has to do with our industry?

Jim Sanduski (Samsung): I’ll take a stab at that one. DVD, as many of you may know, is an optical format. It’s an optical disc. It looks very much like a compact disc. And what’s unique about this disc is being real compact, only about five inches in size, is it gives you upwards of I think 135 minutes on one side of extremely high quality picture and outstanding digital sound quality. It’s actually a digital format. Stands for Digital Versatile Disc or Digital Video Disc. And it’s a great device for playing back movies. And that format is out, obviously it’s been out for over a year now, and is doing very well in the consumer market and really will be the replacement for laser disc players. Eventually I think that type of technology could be applied to camcorders in a different format. Of course, five inches for a size of a disc would be too big for a camcorder. But, I think Hitachi has just publicly announced within the last week that they’ve come out with some type of optical disc that’s, I believe, eight centimeters or just about two to three inches in which you can record what’s known as MPEG-2 picture quality, which is about 500 lines of resolution and equivalent to the picture and sound quality of DV. And they expect to have that commercialized here in another couple years. So there is some relationship to optical storage in terms of a potential future camcorder technology.

Stephen Muratore (Videomaker): And then FireWire, i.LINK and IEEE 1394. Are these different things? Are they the same things with different standards? Do they work differently? Anybody?

Mike Zorich (Canon): There’s so much confusion on what is really one method of transferring picture and sound information from one electronic device to another. I’m going to run down that quick list so everybody understands what we’re talking about here: FireWire, i.LINK, IEEE 1394, digital video in and out, they are all exactly the same thing. A few years ago when the FireWire or IEEE technology was first brought to consumer awareness, that term was actually coined by Apple Computer. Quite frankly, they own it, and they trademarked it, which made it very difficult for any other manufacturer up here like Canon, Sony or JVC to utilize the phrase "FireWire" in our marketability. We had to have approval from Apple to do it. So what has happened now as a result of that, let’s call it maybe a slight miscommunication between the large manufacturers, is that some other manufacturers have decided to call it by a different name. And that’s where we have one piece of technology referred to in the industry by multiple names. So Sony is presently referring to FireWire technology as i.LINK. Canon presently markets in all of our brochures and instruction manuals IEEE 1394. It’s the same thing. What it means to you is it is a protocol for data transmission allowing you to transfer audio and video information through one cable from one electronic device like a camcorder to another like your computer.

Phil Boyle (Sony): Can I expand on that a little bit too? Right now, you’re seeing two versions of this technology out there too. Some of the manufacturers’ cards are using a six-pin connector. All the consumer cameras out there use a four-pin connector. There’s not a compatibility problem. There are little convertors that take it from four- to six-pin. Basically the difference is your power and your ground don’t have their own two separate cables because, for consumer video format, it really wasn’t necessary. Lets us get the cable a little smaller, and smaller is better. You may see FireWire in a six-pin or four-pin and some of the video cards out there. And most of them come with a little down converter, so don’t let that throw you. The beautiful thing is we’re trying as an industry to set a standard for this and that’s the i.LINK. You’re seeing that more and more. We’re using it. JVC is using it. Trying to make it more recognizable to people so there’s not this confusion. I think we’re getting closer, we’re getting better. But it’s all the same thing. It’s just great technology.

Mike Zorich (Canon): There’s one other point I want to add just for further clarification, and that is that every camcorder that I think is being represented on this panel today that’s a digital camcorder outputs both an analog video signal and then a digital video signal through this FireWire terminal. Which means that these camcorders can immediately be hooked up to your TV or your VCR via either an S-video jack, an RCA jack for composite video or digital out via this FireWire or I.LINK terminal. Maybe Kevin, you wanted to say something, you may have another perspective.

Kevin Gordon (JVC): Right. Just to follow up on what Mike is saying is that there’s many different ways to get the information out there. And as an industry which benefits everybody, we have come to kind of an understanding on how we’re going to try to market this at least with a lot of major companies so that there’s less confusion. Because obviously the more technology that’s thrown out at people, the less understanding and the more confusion there is. For the first time, we have an acquisition format that’s truly unanimous among the major companies, so we’re really doing our best to eliminate any kind of confusion. But it’s important to know that there are different ways of getting the information out: using FireWire to go to your PC or you’re using your Y/C or S-video output to go to your VCR or your TV or a composite video through the RCA cables. There’s also a way in our camcorders and some of the other manufacturers, of getting what’s called a digital serial output which goes to the serial port of your computer. So even if you don’t have a FireWire or i.LINK board on your PC, you can still get a digital image out into the serial port for digital still photos. So there’s many different ways that you can utilize this information. And we’re doing all we can to try to get this out in a cohesive manner so that people understand it. But there’s obviously still some confusion that exists out in the marketplace.

Stephen Muratore (Videomaker): Any other comments?

Bob Pleyer (Sharp): The only other thing that I’d like to mention is we have adopted at Sharp Electronics the term, i.LINK, just to cut down on the confusion.

Stephen Muratore (Videomaker): i.LINK for Sharp then. Join me in thanking our panelists for their appearance here this morning.

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