John Ferrick welcomes the arrival of Sony’s HDV camcorders, and predicts they’ll change the way we watch and record footage
With its introduction in 1995 of the VX1000 MiniDV camcorder, Sony began a process that has since turned the world of professional and prosumer video on its head.
The VX1000 provided high-quality video capture at a price that would radically cutback the use of Betacam SP, and sound the death knell for acquisition by Hi8 and S-VHS, and for VHS and 8mm, as well.
What the VX1000 delivered was two big breakthroughs – quality that was arguably as good as Betacam SP, and a high-performance Codec that would allow for transfer in the digital domain without significant quality loss – all wrapped up in a package that was small, lightweight and cheap, especially relative to Betacam SP.
Now, a little less than 10 years later, it looks like Sony has again raised the bar to a new level with its launch of two HDV camcorders, the HDR-FX1 consumer/prosumer model and a pro version, the HZR-Z1U.
Just as when we saw the dawn of the DV age, a whole lot of arguments are being made today about HDV –about the quality not being quite there, about what broadcast quality is or isn’t, and whether or not it will make inroads in the professional arena.
Yet, despite the fact that HDV isn’t quite up to the same quality level as true HD, I believe that Sony has again created a magic blend of quality and functionality at, most importantly, an appropriate price point.
I know it’s not at the same level as full-blown HD but, in my view, the step up to HDV is more than sufficient to offer a significant visible increase in quality, and one that will be highly attractive to potential users and viewers.
The emerging HDV market – which was, remember, set in motion, but hardly kick-started, by JVC earlier in 2004 – is built upon some strong foundations that should ensure its success. Significantly, HDV uses the same tape format as DV – so there’s no waiting for tape makers to get up to speed (and sort out quality issues) in producing media for these new camcorder models.
In addition, the use of a quite heavily compressed format makes it far more practical to transfer and store files than is the case with true HD. HDV needs a combination of performance characteristics that are achievable with the current level of processor speed, data transfer and storage. HD, on the other hand, has massive storage and transfer requirements, and puts a serious strain even on multiple-processor systems.
That’s not to say that the requirements for HDV are trivial. The editing of MPEG-2 HDV involves the accurate manipulation of a complex file structure – and, just like any form of compressed footage, it must be uncompressed at various stages. Consequently, HDV editing, especially of multiple streams, is best served by a PC with the very latest PCI Express motherboard, hard disks, graphics card and RAM, and multiple processor.
Also, the fact that HDV support has been announced (if not necessarily implemented) by most of the leaders in video editing software –including Adobe, Canopus, Pinnacle and Ulead –indicates that there are many important believers out there and that the momentum being generated may be unstoppable.
Currently, though, there is one impediment to HDV’s progress in Europe – lack of penetration of TV sets suitable for watching HDV. Euopean take up of HDV sets is almost non-existent, so it could be argued that there’s no good reason to shoot on HDV if all you’re going to do is down-convert it to standard definition (SD) for anyone to watch it.
Well, that may change because of another impending market shift – the arrival of next-generation DVD players with high-def capabilities that need better TV sets to be properly appreciated. Bear in mind, too, that many of today’s computer monitors are able to accommodate 1080i – that’s why much testing of HD is done on computer monitors.
Additionally, Microsoft has made massive strides with its latest Windows Media technology that’s now able to take HD video and encode it and play it back on a PC-based package in stunning high-def resolution.
This could see a move towards the use of specialised PCs as the recording/playback platform for HD/HDV content. If you look at the amazing graphic quality of the latest games, you’ll get an idea of what’s possible. To my mind that might mean that image display is less of a video/TV industry thing and more of a computer-based experience, at least until traditional TV makers catch up.