Make no mistake, HDV is not HD, which is still the domain of broadcast- and cinema-quality cameras retailing anywhere from $55,000 to more than $100,000 [see sidebar, "Shooting True HD"]. HDV picture quality—while noticeably better than standard DV—doesn't approach the real thing. But the introduction of the sub-$4,000 JVC JY-HD10 in late 2003 brought the next best thing to a price point that appealed to videographers, and Sony upped the ante in September of this year with the introduction of its HDR-FX1 Handycam, a 3-CCD, 1080i camera set for November availability with an MSRP of $3,700. And while true HD video—uncompressed 1080i, a long way from MPEG-2 720p or Sony's version of 1080i—remains out of reach for many videographers, there are a few (mostly, those who do broadcast work and corporate communications) who are shooting HD right now.
There's something to be said for setting your own standards for innovative video; we can all benefit from advancing the image and professionalism of the field. But in practical terms, with technology investments at stake, it largely comes down to client expectations, and given the low consumer-installed base of HDTV, how many event video customers are really clamoring for HD video?
As consumers become more video-savvy, watching television programs in true HD broadcast format, they're going to demand more from their event videos. (The Consumer Electronics Association projects that fully half of all new TVs purchased in 2004 will be HDTV sets.) On the other hand, even high-density DVD (Blu-ray or HD-DVD)—promising the capacity to deliver high quantities of HD video—is still a few years away. Clients who want their weddings or other video to have staying power—or those who insist on "the best of the best," regardless of its practical implications—are demanding high-def. So maybe the real question is not whether you can afford to upgrade to HDV, but whether you can afford not to.
"My feeling is simple: HDV is here, it works, and it's ready to put your company in the world of HD at a fraction of the cost of what was available last year," says Jim Rough, who owns Our Wedding Video in San Antonio, Texas. "To wait for the next big thing is only going to hurt your company's ability to create separation and market share."
HDV went public in October 2002 as a prosumer-friendly, compressed hi-def solution when Canon, Sharp, Sony, and Victor Company of Japan (JVC) announced their support for the format. On the post-production side, Adobe, Canopus, Sony Pictures, and Ulead were all on board, and were soon joined by Apple, Pinnacle, CyberLink, and a handful of other companies. And while we've seen a slew of HDV-compatible capture and editing software in the intervening months (more on those later), we're still waiting on most of the camcorders.
As of press time, the only manufacturer with cameras on the market is JVC, which shipped the consumer-level GR-HD1 and the pro-level JY-HD10 soon after the September 2003 announcement. Most videographers now shooting HDV opt for the JY-HD10, which boasts a single, 1/3" progressive-scan CCD with 1.18 million pixels (1.14 million active). The camera shoots 1280x720 resolution 16:9 video at 30 frames per second (fps) progressive in HD mode (also known as 720p), using MPEG-2 compression with a six-frame group of pictures. It also shoots SD (720x480, 60fps), and both modes employ MPEG-1, Layer 2, 384Kbps, 16-bit stereo audio. When it was announced, the HD10 boasted a $3,995 list price, but now can be found for as little as $2,049.
In addition to plenty of features aimed at the amateur (owing to the camera's origins in JVC's attempt to reach high-end consumers in Japan), the camera records timecode continuously throughout a tape; most prosumer camcorders reset the timecode to zero every time you play back a scene and then resume shooting. The camera also overrides the digital zoom when in HD mode, and features manual white balance and a built-in color bar generator.
Sony's new HDR-FX1 ups the ante as the first 3-CCD HDV camcorder on the market, and the first to shoot at a 1440x1080 resolution, (the 1080 qualifies it as 1080i, although 1080i HD usually means 1920x1080). The camera, which records in a new proprietary Sony HD codec, features an on-chip micro-lens that increases the light focusing rate, a default 16:9 widescreen recording mode, and a shooting range from 32.5mm to 390mm with a 12X optical zoom. The HDR-FX1's LCD display, located toward the front of the unit on the same eye level as the viewfinder, offers 250,000 pixels.
Sony is hyping the camera's "Cineframe" capability. While the camera doesn't record in true 24p, Sony claims its Cineframe 24 mode offers a "film like" feel by recording 1080/60i, but capturing 24 different pictures in 60 field pictures, interpolating the intervals with time and space positions. Sony also promises a professional version of the camera in early 2005, with a price point of under $7,000. Though the HDR-FX1 is compatible with standard MiniDV tapes, and will play back tapes recorded in both 720p (like those from the JVC HDV camcorders) and 1080i modes, Sony also announced its own HD DVC tapes, which will retail for $18 apiece.