Will the real professional HDV camcorder please stand up? On April 1, JVC announced the GY-HD100U, a three-chip camcorder that records video to 720p video to MiniDV tapes in two modes: the familiar 30p (30fps non-interlaced) and 24p, the 24fps format that indie filmmakers use to make digital video look more like film. The camera shoots 1280x720 high-definition video using LongGOP, 19Mbps MPEG-2—a format we've all come to know as HDV. But JVC calls this new camera a ProHD model, which begs the question, is "ProHD" just a market-savvy ploy to differentiate the new model from the existing HDV market, or does it denote a significant leap forward into the pro domain for the growing sub-$10k high-def set?
JVC national marketing communications manager Dave Walton describes ProHD as follows: "What we're calling ProHD is a system that's HD-compatible that will grow with you without locking you into one format or media."
From the outset, one of the core elements of HDV's appeal has been its physical lockstep with standard DV media. But it's positioning vis a vis professional markets has been muddled. JVC's first HDV model, the GR-HD1, unveiled at NAB 2003, introduced revolutionary technology—720p HD at DV bitrates on DV tapes—in a consumer camcorder with what most of us would call a "pro" price. At $3,499, the single-chip HD1 was double-take cheap for an HD camera (compared to existing $50k models), but a tough sell in prosumer markets accustomed to three-chip DV cameras with richer feature sets and much lower prices. Eighteen months later, Sony broke the prosumer HDV market wide open with the HDR-FX1, which combined future-proof HDV with three-chip DV chops refined enough to compete with best-in-class DV models like Canon's XL2.
The prosumer market's rapturous response to the FX1 release proved HDV had a bright future and a promising present in videography and other mid-level digital video fields, and made it virtually inevitable that more HDV models would follow soon. Of course, JVC, which got the ball rolling, wasn't waiting to see how the FX1 fared before plotting its next move; they did, in fact, show a prototype ENG-level HDV model in their booth at NAB with a $20k price point. Last fall, told me that wasn't necessarily the next HDV camera users should expect from JVC; it was shown merely to plant the thought in people's mind that if HDV had demonstrable broadcast applications, they ought to think twice about blowing $20k on an SD camera that would be obsolete in three years.
While the Sony FX1 attempts to compete in the DV market in addition to charting new HDV territory, JVC's HD100U eschews the DV format entirely (even as it records to DV tape). What it does share with leading DV models is the compact construction that event shooters demand. "The GY-HD100 is aimed squarely at the market that's buying handheld camcorders from Canon, Sony, and Panasonic," Walton says. But while those camcorders are either SD-only models, or—in the case of the Sony FX1 and Z1U—equally at home in SD or HD production, JVC is looking at a TV market that's moving increasingly to HDTV programming and keeping the emphasis squarely on HD. In responding to the evolution and demands of television, Walton sees the HD100 filling a need at the nexus of event videography and television production, particularly as cable networks expand the possibilities for TV programming and where it comes from. "Television has a growing need for independent programs," he says, "and event producers who are looking for opportunities to expand their business" are looking toward TV. "As you consider the tools to produce those programs, you are definitely considering HD."
Enhancing the HD100's potential appeal for independent producers doing TV work is its 24p support, which enables digital video to mimic film by using a comparable frame rate. JVC cites the HD100 as the first HDV camcorder to offer "true" 24p; admittedly, the FX1's CineGamma mode simulated the same effect without actually changing the frame rate. "True" 24p is a valuable feature, Walton explains, because it's "used for events, production of reality shows, TV commercials, and documentaries" to give digital video "a more polished look."
One feature JVC is emphasizing in this release is the HD100's two interchangeable lenses. A standard, detachable 16x Servo Fujinon lens designed specifically for the HD100 ships with the camera. Other available options include a 13x (3.5mm) wide zoom lens, a wide-angle converter for the standard 16x lens, and an adapter allowing standard half-inch lenses to be used on the camera. A patented Focus Assist function exaggerates the detail in the viewfinder, according to JVC, to facilitate focusing in high-definition. "You can really turn a knob," Walton says. "People have gotten used to servo knobs, but you can work this like a real mechanical lens."
Another interesting focus-related feature of the HD100 is its skintone recognition capability. Anyone who's seen HDTV has probably experienced the shock of recognition on seeing a facial closeup that HD video can deliver almost excruciating detail on the human physiognomy. The camera actually detects skin, he says, and adjusts the picture so that "facial characteristics will not be enhanced as much as the regular picture."
Other features that enhance the HD100's ProHD resumé include four-channel audio (two MPEG-1, Layer 2 and two DV/CD-quality PCM) and the ability to output a live HD signal that suggests viable broadcast appeal. What's more, the HD100 extends JVC's longstanding support of direct disk recording into the HD domain via compatibility with FOCUS Enhancements' just-announced FireStore FS-4 HD. (Walton notes that it is indeed the FS-4 that makes the best match with the HD100, rather than the FS-3 that's a popular DV-5000/5100 accessory because of the camera's relatively small form factor.) When used with the FS-4 HD, the HD100 can record to tape and disk simultaneously to provide invaluable redundancy for any event or other on-location video shoot.
Finally, JVC is also introducing the BR-HD50U, a new video deck designed specifically for use with the GY-HD100U. The new recorder/player—also part of the ProHD "system"—works in ProHD/HDV, DV, and DVCAM modes, and uses FireWire I/O to connect to NLE systems. With its ability to record a live digital HD/MPEG-2 (HDV) signal and 276-minute recording, JVC has positioned the HD50U for broadcast facilities looking to timeshift HD network feeds. The HD50U also features HDMI output for direct digital connection to display monitors; a variety of I/O connections including analog component (BNC), Y/C, and Composite (BNC); RS-422 control; and support for multiple audio formats including four channels of audio in ProHD (two MPEG and two PCM). The BR-HD50U is also expected to ship in June.