The new face of HD

This may be remembered as the year professional hd acquisition became affordable. At NAB 2006 in Las Vegas there was a bold assortment of new hd cameras at the middle and lower ends of the price spectrum - and they are more versatile than ever.
June 1, 2006

This may be remembered as the year professional HD acquisition became affordable. At NAB 2006 in Las Vegas there was a bold assortment of new HD cameras at the middle and lower ends of the price spectrum – and they are more versatile than ever.

Canon’s XL-H1 HDV camcorder records 1080 at 60i, 30p and 24p (30fps, 24fps), as well as DV, either in 16:9 or 4:3, with most selections made via external switches. Moreover, it’s the only camera in its class (under US$9,000) to output uncompressed HD SDI, time code and genlock for recording to less-compressed HD formats via a separate recorder, or direct to the desktop. Canon also announced at least one new wide-angle lens to complement its standard 20x (1/3′) HD lens. It, too, features Canon’s shake compensation technology.

JVC unveiled the GY-HD200, a new pro 1/3′ HDV camcorder that records 720p at 60fps, as well as 24fps and 30fps. The HD200 can be packaged with two new hd lenses by Fujinon – a 17x or an 18x – as well as the original Fujinon 16x. (A 13x Fujinon wide angle is also available.) The HD200 is even more functional when used with 40gb or 80gb dockable hard disks by Focus Enhancements, which display all key record functions in the camera viewfinder. ‘Direct cache’ enables pre-recording of nine-plus seconds of action occurring before hitting record. The HD200 is set to sell for under $8,000 this fall.

For its part, Panasonic showcased its acclaimed solid-state P2 HD camcorder with 1/3′ CCDs. The HVX-200 records standard DVCPRO 100, 50 or 25 to compact flash memory P2 cards. Each 8gb P2 stores up to 40 minutes of DVCPRO 100 when shot in 720p at 24fps, or 80 minutes of the same in DVCPRO 50. The high cost of P2 media – around $1,000 per 8gb – is currently a drawback, but the cost per gb should drop by half every year, as flash memory card capacity doubles.

Meanwhile, P2 cards can be reused thousands of times and downloaded to various devices such as Panasonic’s P2 store drive, which stores the contents of up to seven cards. They can also be downloaded to laptops or external drives. Alternatively, you will soon be able to capture HD directly to dockable external drives by Focus Enhancements and nNovia (via firewire) in order to bolster field recording capacity.

Remarkably, the HVX-200 records up to 21 different HD/SD formats at variable frame rates, from 12fps to 60fps. Digital film features (like ‘true 24p,’ cine gamma settings, time lapse, slow-mo) further help deliver a great film look and a lot of camera for $6,000, P2 cards not included.

Panasonic also unveiled a new cosmopolitan 2/3′ CCD HD camcorder which operates in multiple HD modes. The HDX-900′s image quality should compare favorably to the VariCam, and includes cine gamma and features like time lapse. Moreover, it can operate in PAL or NTSC/ATSC by capturing 1080i, 720p and SD at 50Hz or 60Hz. It also has direct cache for pre-recording, and should cost around $25,000 (with no lens) this fall.

Sony added two new mid-priced HD camcorders, both utilizing Sony’s xdcam optical blue laser disc system, which enables the capture of up to two hours of HD (long GOP MPEG2) at low bit rates of 18Mbps to 35Mbps. The PDW-330 and PDW-350 both emulate the Cine Alta’s advanced colorimetry, latitude and sensitivity, with slow shutter for night shooting. The PDW-350 boasts true variable frame rate for slow motion, as well as time lapse and external color viewfinder. Like the Cine Alta, the PDW-330 operates at 60i, and 30p or 24p, and sells for $16,000 (with no lens). Both camcorders have firewire, but the PDW-350 also has HD SDI, and four audio channels with XLR inputs.

Thomson/Grass Valley unveiled its versatile GV Infinity Digital Media Camcorder with 2/3′ CCDs. The Infinity is the first HD camcorder in Grass Valley’s ‘Infinity’ product line, and it aims to bring the openness, flexibility and affordability of it technology to production. Infinity can capture 1080i 60/50, 720p 60/50, 525i 60 or 625i 50, and record it as DV 25, MPEG2 or JPEG2000. The HD or SD content may be recorded to compact flash cards (8gb maximum) or to standard 35gb Iomega REV or REV PRO drives for a maximum of 45 minutes in HD, or two-plus hours of SD. It has HD SDI, IEEE 1394, USB 2.0, hdmi and Gigabit Ethernet connectors and features random access to clips, in-camera digital effects, and metadata insertion. It will run around $27,000 in late summer.

One upstart, Red Digital Cinema, dangled the possibility of owning a 35mm-quality digital camera within the next year. The sensor of their revolutionary Red One has an impressive resolution of 4520 x 2540 pixels – compared to 1440 to 1920 x 1080 for typical HD. Moreover, it can utilize existing lenses, primarily PL mount film lenses (Super 35, 35mm, or Super 16) and standard 2/3′ B4 video lenses with an adaptor. When fully realized, it will break the resolution barrier by capturing 4K-plus imagery.

An engineering model is anticipated by year’s end, but you can order a Red One online today for $17,500, plus $4,700 for the 300mm, f2.8 lens. Imagery will be captured to tapeless magazines, which cost about $1,000 per hour of 2K imagery. Red Digital won a prestigious Aim Best of Show (content creation product) at NAB 06, and designer Ted Schilowitz vows that Red One will steal the show next year.

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