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Issue: Cameras - March 2006

REMEMBER STANDARD DEF?

By: Ken McGorry

They had to coin the phrase “standard definition” because a new video format, one with a lot of promise and a lot of problems, was gaining enough traction that regular video needed a new moniker. Today high definition has infiltrated the production industry on virtually all levels - from high-end feature film to corporate video. ENG, too.

This means an important hurdle has been cleared – not only has the technology gotten better, cheaper, faster and lighter, but the all-important consumer now knows what high def is, and wants it.

And users are bringing competing manufacturers together in creative ways. Mill Reef Video, a Washington, DC, producer of high-end presentation videos, takes a job creating a fantastically realistic view of tropical fish seen swimming past “portholes” in the lush lobby of a new Coconut Grove luxury hotel in Miami. Behind the “portholes” stand the latest in Panasonic’s 65-inch HD plasma displays. At the acquisition end, Mill Reef worked with Australian underwater cinematographer David Hannan who specializes in aquatic high def shot on Sony’s HDCam.

Sony has plenty of HD and XDCam news coming at NAB and Sony executives Rob Willox and Bob Ott spoke with Post in an exclusive interview in which they describe what professionals hungry for digital acquisition can expect to find in Las Vegas next month.

We see films shooting on tape and now films shooting direct to digits. Panasonic’s DVCPRO HD P2 camcorder, the low-cost HVX200, shot a new dramatic short for Star Circle Pictures. The easy-to-use camera allowed the producers of the Twilight Zone-style Samaritan to accomplish 81 setups over a shoot that lasted only two nights.

MotionFX, a production/post production house in London, has completed “scene to screen” work on Brett Leonard’s new feature, Highlander: The Source providing four of Thomson’s Viper FilmStream camera setups for an eight-week shoot in Lithuania. Besides the camera equipment, MotionFX, working with Digital Praxis, also supplied the offline and dailies workflow, as well as later post-production on-line data management.

And Dalsa will be at various NAB exhibitor booths this April, showing prospective users what you can do with 4K acquisition, and how Dalsa’s Origin camera data feeds into high-end post workflows (see story below). The company also has a technology showcase/DI stage/rental facility set up near LA to encourage the Hollywood community to dive into 4K data year-round.

Industry analyst Tore Nordahl has produced a massive work of research comparing various new HD cameras and the plethora of formats that they use. His full work, called the “HD ENG News & HDV Technology Report” is a 117-page tome now available at www.nordahl.tv. Nordahl's unbiased research can also be had in condensed form - at no cost - to visitors to the “Nordahl HDTV Report” site (www.coax.tv). The research is unbiased, but the conclusions should interest anyone who needs a new professional camera.

One major topic Nordahl explores is "What is the future of HDCam and DVCPro HD?" Here he notes that both formats are basically "digital video tape compression formats" with constant bit rates and, as such, have a limited future. Nordahl points to newer compression schemes, like JPEG2000 and AVC, as purpose-designed for disk and RAM storage and providing better bit budgets.

Nordahl also examines the industry's variations on the HDV theme in great detail, including Sony's HVR Z1, Canon's XL H1, Panasonic's HVX-200 and JVC's GY-HD100 new camera products. He also goes over the new Sony XDCAM HD camera, the PDW-F330, asking, "Is it just HDV?" (and answering yes). But Nordahl likes the Sony F330, hailing it as a "true professional HD camcorder, priced right, with image quality approaching that of Sony's HDCAM." Nordahl then conducts an in-depth comparison of the new Panasonic HVX200 with the various HDV cameras mentioned above. It makes for informative, timely reading, especially as NAB approaches, and Nordahl promises more such studies to come.

As technology speeds forward, we’ve seen digital video cameras become commonly known simply as “cameras.” So how long will it be before there are so many HD cameras in use that their HD designation becomes superfluous – and “standard definition” becomes a quaint horse-and-buggy term?