Review: Panasonic HVX200 DVCPRO HD Camcorder

We at Technology Evangelist have been trying to decide on what HD camera to buy.  Do we go with a pro grade format such as DVCPRO HDHDCam or D5 HD (uh, probably not D5 HD), do we go with a consumer grade format such as HDV or one of those nifty cameras that records direct to MPEG 4 HD?

We at Technology Evangelist have been trying to decide on what HD camera to
buy.  Do we go with a pro grade format such as
or D5
(uh, probably not D5 HD), do we go with a consumer grade format such as
HDV or
one of those nifty cameras that records direct to MPEG 4 HD?  To help us
make this decision we have been using a slew of different cameras and tape
recording technologies.

At the 2006 CES I was able to procure a high-end Sony HDCam camcorder: the
This is a $50,000 camcorder without the lens or any options, so it??????s a wee
bit expensive.  During the last two interviews we??????ve conducted I used a
prosumer camera, which runs about $5,000 or so. 

Tonight I was able to get my hands on the ever elusive Panasonic
DVCPRO HD camcorder and play a bit.

So what does this all mean?  Why do we care about the format?  I
an article a bit ago about HDV, why I hate it, and why I prefer it over
standard DV.  What I didn??????t talk about was DVCPRO HD and how it??????s
becoming more and more affordable.  While HDV is a very highly
compressed format at 25Mbps, DVCPRO HD is not nearly as compressed and runs
at 100Mbps.  In English this means that the picture quality of the
DVCPRO HD format should, in theory, be better than that of HDV.  The
less you compress a picture, the better it looks (in general, but there are
a lot of variables such as
and whatnot).  The biggest advantage of DVCPRO HD is that it??????s an all
, meaning that you can edit on every frame.  HDV is a
long-GOP format which means most of the frames are virtual and you can??????t
edit on them without a LOT of magic behind the scenes.  Long-GOP
basically means that the time it takes to edit will increase greatly, the
time to export will increase greatly, the time to compress into other
formats will increase greatly and the potential for messed up frames
increases greatly.

DVCPRO HD is a far better format than HDV.  It??????s less compressed, you
can edit on any frame which makes it very fast to work with and it can be
used in professional environments.  Until very recently DVCPRO HD
cameras were VERY expensive, starting at about $65,000 for the
Varicam.  Enter the HVX-200, a $6,000 prosumer camera that records
the very same DVCPRO HD signal that the Varicam records.  Cool. 
Well, mostly cool.

  First let me list the problems I found with the camera.  Want to
record HD on your new HD camera?  One would think you could record that
to tape, but Panasonic only put a
deck on the camera (MiniDV tape can not record DVCPRO HD).  If you want
to record HD you must use one of the new
which are inserted in the back of the camera.  P2 is a new
format that Panasonic has come out with that records your video directly
onto a card which has no moving parts.  It??????s basically a bunch of SD
cards slammed into a PCMCIA card.  The nice thing about the format is
that you can record over and over again without dropped frames (tape
typically has 4 passes before you should throw it).  You can also move
that card right to the PCMCIA card slot on your laptop and transfer directly
off the card.  VERY cool!  Problem is that P2 cards only come in
up to 8GB flavors which stores 8 minutes of HD video, and they are very
expensive at around $2,000 per card.  Ouch.  So P2 is not an
option for us, and we can??????t record HD onto tape since the camera won??????t let
us.  There is a workaround, and I??????ll get to that in a bit.  A
couple of minor gripes I have would be where the XLR audio inputs are, at
the front of the camera.  If we want to run ENG wireless mics, I have
to run cables up to the front rather than having a clean system in the
back.  The lens is not only non-removable, but all of the focus
controls are servo driven so it??????s not as smooth as a pro grade lens. 
To make matters worse, for reasons I simply don??????t understand, the eyepiece
is a color LCD and they also have a color LCD pop-out screen.  If
you??????re going to put both a pop-out screen and an eyepiece on the camera,
make the eyepiece black and white so we can focus easier.  It??????s much
harder to focus on a color LCD, especially the cheap ones that Panasonic
decided on.  The filters for color balance are a bit hidden as well,
but that??????s just something that I need to get used to, it??????s neither good nor
bad.  I??????m not sure why they didn??????t just stick with a standard format of
sticking the filters by the lens, but hey, I can deal.

  There was a lot about the camera that I did like.  The entire
system is very easy to use.  I don??????t want to be the ONLY camera
operator for all of our shoots.  I want a system that I can train users
on.  Pro-grade cameras take a long time to learn because nothing is
automated.  The HVX-200 has a good balance of automated control with
the ability to go to full manual.  This means that I have the control
over the camera that I want for a shoot, but the automation that I would
want when newbies are shooting.  Outside of the time and price, I
really like the P2 format.  It??????s slick and easy to use.  If
Panasonic had 120GB cards for $500.00 today, I would buy 4 of them in a
heartbeat.  I think P2 is a fantastic format, it??????s just a couple years
ahead of its time.   I LOVE all of the formats that the camera
will allow me to shoot
in:  480i60
24p/30p/60i.  This means that I can get the format and framerate I want
all in one camera.  SD, HD or both, 24p for shots that look like
movies, or 60p for real life looking shots.  I have it ALL in this
camera.  The picture quality was fantastic.  Not as good as the
Varicam, but one would expect that.  I believe this camera??????s picture
quality looks better than the Sony HDV camera lineup, which is hard to
beat.  The size and weight of the camera are both nice.  Good feel
with it being small enough to travel with, but large enough to get a stable
shot.  All in all, great design minus some small flaws.

  A few closing items I would like to remark on.  Panasonic claims
that this is a
camera, and it is?????? sorta.  The camera will record 1080 progressive
lines at 24 or 30 frames per second.  However, as soon as you try and
get that off of the camera, it??????s going to shoot it back out to 1080i60 or
1080 interlaced lines at 60 fields per second.  If you look at the
picture below you can see how they are doing that, basically each frame is
divided into two fields and then shot out of the camera.

This is nothing more than a hack and I don??????t buy it.  While it will
look better than a 1080i camera that records interlaced to the tape, we
still have to deal with the problems of interlacing while editing and
distributing.  Unfortunately to get true 1080p images we??????re looking at
the Sony CineAlta which is crazy, scary expensive.  I??????ll do more
testing, but I believe at this time I would suggest shooting in 720p and
scaling up to 1080p.  It??????s too early for me to say that for sure, but I
believe that??????s where we are at.
After hashing this out a bit, the 1080i60 signal is edited as a
true 1080p30 or 1080p24 signal on your NLE using pulldown.  Looking at
the above image, this would be meshing the two fields into one frame for
30p, or 2:3:3:2 pulldown for 24p.  This is the same process that the
DVX100 uses and it works.  My mistake.

  Finally, how do we solve the P2 problem?  I need to record
more than 16 minutes of DVCPRO HD and I don??????t want to spend an arm and a
leg to do it.  The solution is simple, elegant and sexy:  the
hard drive recorder.  This is a box that is designed
specifically for the HVX200 and will plug directly into the firewire port
allowing us to record the raw DVCPRO HD file directly to a hard drive
mounted to the camera.  Our recoding time just jumped to well over 2
hours and as an added bonus we can edit directly off the hard drive
without transferring the footage to another device!
The FS-100 does not have a removable drive like the FS3
does, and as such we are limited to the 100GB drive installed, which is
about 90 minutes of recording.

  At this time I believe this is the camera we are going to work
with.  It??????s small enough to transport, has a great picture, pro-grade
audio inputs (even if they are at the front of the camera), and it??????s not
too expensive.  Having said that, what do you think would be the
right choice?  Should I be taking a look at a different camera? 
What would you spend your money on?  Please help us out and leave

The opening day of CES: Treo 700, Wireless USB and Wireless XGA

It’s the first day of CES and we have a roundup of three really cool technologies: Palm Treo 700, Wireless USB and Wireless XGA.

There are thousands of products on the CES show floor, and we have many, many interviews just waiting to be published. We will be posting each interview one-by-one as unique posts over the coming weeks. During the CES show itself we will be bringing you a 5 minute update of the top technologies we see each day. Fear not, expanded coverage continues after the show.

The higher resolution feeds will be made available as soon as possible. Upload speed in the hotel is very poor, so it takes several hours for each video to make it online. EVDO is not much better, so we’re stuck with lag time. Next year I would like to bring my own OC192 trunk. Due to the limited bandwidth, 480p, the iPod Video feed, and the MP3 podcast are the only files available at this time. While we’re shooting CES Day 2, I’ll start the upload of 720p and 1080p so you can get the content in its full HD glory. [UPDATE] 720p is online, 1080p is uploading now.

We have added the Video iPod feed. Apple still needs to approve the feed directly in iTunes, but until then you can use the link below to subscribe in iTunes using the ‘Advanced’ menu. I hope Apple will approve the feed within 24 hours (but it’s out of my hands).

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