2006 ushers in the year of affordable high quality high definition (HD) capture, edit, and output, with all the pieces finally becoming widely available. Camera manufacturers large and small showed off their wears to the marketplace. The very largest electronics vendors had monstrous booths with entry pavilion theaters with breathtaking visuals. Sony Electronics featured their 4K SXRD projectors with a spectacular 4096 x 2160 pixel resolution. Sony showcased the 70 mm film Baraka, by Ron Fricke, with scenes of Japanese Macaque (Snow Monkey) and volcanoes. Matsushita Electric Industrial under their Panasonic brand headlined the versatility, workflow, and color accuracy of the AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD solid state camcorder. NHK showcased the North American premiere of Super Hi-vision with an astounding 7680 x 4320 pixels, for a near IMAX experience with digital cinema.
The entry into the HD realm starts with 720p, followed by 1080p, and then reaches into the stratosphere with 2K, 4K, and 8K systems. JVC previewed the GY-HD200U a 720p camcorder and Panasonic celebrated the 720p and 1080p AG-HVX200 camcorder. Sony delivered on the 1080i XDCAM HD series, and RED digital cinema promoted a future 4K RED ONE camera.
On the post production side, Mac based editing solutions include Avid and Apple. Compositing software is more diverse with Apple Shake, Boris FX Blue and Red, Autodesk Combustion, and Adobe After Effects. With the rapid move toward Universal applications and Intel based workstations, every software vendor is rapidly moving toward the PowerPC and Intel binaries, but no one faster the Apple Computer. Already Final Cut Studio and very soon Shake will be fully qualified on the Power Mac G5 series, MacBook Pro series, and future platforms.
In a very large North American launch, Panasonic premiered the AG-HVX200 to the public via full page ads in newspapers including the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal. At the DV Expo in Los Angeles, Panasonic contracted with filmmakers to take the VariCam sibling HVX200 through it’s paces, with footage of a college basketball game, Hollywood street scene, a frame rate exploration of a backlit martial artist, and a green screen music video.
Barry Green’s footage looked fantastic. He shot multiple frame rates at 720p and also some 1080p capture. The Panasonic booth had a 17 inch LCD display as the presentation monitor, and the footage was 80% of the VariCam. Michael Caporale showed an experimental music video shot on a green screen. The original pre-composited material looked sharp, excellent contrast, and ready for green screen removal. Caporale also shot run and gun footage of a Hollywood movie premiere, which looked bright, color accurate, and competent.
Panasonic promised sometime in the future these shots should be available on a DVD. I hope that similar to the VCR-FireWire-NLE launch some two years ago, an editing software vendor release raw DVCPRO HD from the camera, so anyone can test their NLE of choice with actual image captures.
Panasonic also announced the availability of the AG-HVX200 targeted for 29 December 2005. DV Expo featured a near 2 hour walkthrough by Jan Crittenden Livingston, the product manager for the AG-HVX200, on the design and features of this revolutionary camcorder. Included here are keypoint slides from the presentation.
At the Egyptian Theatre on Friday September 30 2005, Jan Crittenden Livingston, Product Line Business Manager for the Panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder thrilled a crowd of over 100 Los Angeles producers, directors, and high definition (HD) enthusiasts with the latest information on the upcoming DVCPRO HD product. Every aspect of the history and design methodology of this next revolution in affordable HD image acquisition became clear in the 1.5 hour lecture and hands on walkthrough of the HVX200 device.
This camcorder has extensive coverage from around the blogosphere, including HVX User, P2 Info Net, and Creative Cow P2 forum. The most interesting tidbits from the discussion and presentation in no particular order:
Panasonic showed coyness in revealing the HXV200 imaging block specifications, but rather had actual test footage from a prototype camcorder, and asked the audience to judge the final results, and not compare pixel count or CCD size. In the test footage at the booth, and some projected engineering style capture of a luscious tabletop scene of spinning desk accessories, textures, and reflective materials the image held it own. One audience member quipped that we did not actually see raw capture off the P2 card, but due to logistical reasons, the source material was transferred via analog component to an AJ-HD1200A VCR and played back on a DVCPRO HD tape, preserving the DVCPRO HD codec output.
For four days the prototype HVX200 played back a scene on P2 from the IBC 2005 Amsterdam show, with street cars during a night and daylight shot, and on the playback display, the images looked stunning with absolute clarity and image fidelity, even into the shadows. This also demonstrated the robustness of the P2 media, as hundreds, if not thousands of eager camera operators touched, prodded and cajoled the camcorder all weekend long. I left on the final day and the media and camera continued to play back the Amsterdam scene without tape wear or hesitation. The DVCPRO HD codec, based on the compression technology of DV, but at a color sampling of 4:2:2 instead of DV 4:1:1 is one step closer to the highest quality HD-D5, but at a more affordable price point. Panasonic has already announced in some future camcorder a full D5 unit, most like two years away. Currently, a HD-D5 VCR lists at $99,000 as compared to the $5995 list price for the AG-HVX200 camcorder. Another useful point during recording, using the P2 media, the camcorder will be able to remove redundant frames, so a 24p recording session will contain only the necessary information, rather than the limitation of a linear tape based system that maintained a constant tape velocity and needed to always record 60p, regardless of the variable frame rate setting. The output from the firewire interface follows this paradigm, always receiving the full 60p information stream.
This camcorder may be the best product designed for the aspiring filmmaker and documentarian. Though the camcorder is chubby and larger than DV camcorders, the weight is low and controls are well placed, and it offers specifications unavailable in any other under $10,000 HD camcorder. This camera will have four channels of uncompress audio at 16 bit 48 kHz sampling, as compared to the paltry 2 channel MPEG-1 Audio Layer II on HDV camcorder. For a small budget film, or documentary sound is over 50% of the experience, and requires perhaps more care and handling than the picture. Previously, one would need to chain a DAT or MiniDisc recorder to the camera for high sound quality, but the Panasonic rig takes care of that necessity.
Now, the faithful must wait a few more weeks. Panasonic expects to receive shipping AG-HVX200 camcorders by the end of November 2005, but I suspect that it will premiere at the Tokyo Inter BEE 2005 show in mid November, and become more widely available by early 2006.
At NAB 2005, producers and directors of photographers wondered what would become of the video cassette recorder (VCR), as solid state flash memory devices usurp the legacy tape based formats like DigiBetacam, DV, HDV, and DVCPRO 50. Sony has chosen a proprietary XDCAM format, based on a magneto optical disk, while Panasonic is going to a SD format PCMCIA card called P2.
As a VCR replacement one would have to consider these factors:
Speed must be near real time (one hour video transfered in around an hour or less)
Media should be around the same form factor as a video tape
VCR Information Technology Replacement (4 hour project, 250 GB)
Backup Time (hr)
Drive & Media Cost*
Media Only Cost*
* prices from summer 2005 survey
Today, the only viable VCR replacment on a small four hour project is the LTO series, AIT 3/AIT 4/SAIT, and the DSLT 600. In the IT industry, data centers have gravitated towards the multivendor LTO. Quantum is the sole provider of DSLT. Sony maintains a strong following for the AIT and SAIT series.