HDV: What You NEED to Know by Douglas Spotted Eagle and Mark Dileo--Book Review by Doug Graham
Posted May 2, 2005

Not since the introduction of the DV format and the FireWire interface has there been so much talk about a new technical development in video. Since the introduction of Sony's breakthrough HDR-FX1 HDV camera, HDV seems to show up everywhere you look-on the Web, in seminars, on show floors, and in the trade magazines.

According to its proponents, this new format is designed to bring high-definition video within reach of the small producer and dedicated video hobbyist. According to its detractors, it's not "true" HD, having made too many compromises to fit the required data for high definition into the 25 megabit per second (Mbps) limitation of DV tape. Who's right? Who can give you the straight dope?

Here's a little book (128 pages) that purports to do just that. The authors, Douglas Spotted Eagle and Mark Dileo, are recognized experts in video technology. Douglas is a composer, performer, videographer, writer, and lecturer. What he really is, though, is a teacher-and he and Mark have assembled this book to teach you about the new HDV technology.

The book can't help but be biased, of course. Its publishers, VASST and the Sundance Media Group, have close ties to Sony, offering seminars and books aimed at helping users get the most out of Sony media software. But Douglas and Mark do a good job of pointing out both HDV's good and bad points.

What You NEED to Know first lays out the DV and HDV specs so you can compare. Then the discussion moves quickly to other factors that are important to consider, such as interlacing vs. progressive scanning, frame rates, colors space, and picture resolution. In the next chapter, the authors cover both screen and pixel aspect ratio, and compare DV and HDV audio.

Next, we have a discussion of FireWire cards, then the book moves on to more meaty fare: the production chain from shooting to distribution. The authors discuss the problems of shooting in the widescreen HDV format, and audio acquisition, and suggest ways to view HDV in the field and in the studio without spending $6,000 for an HD monitor. Much of the remainder of the book consists of a fairly detailed overview of the current crop of HDV camcorders and editing software. Some may say that the authors' pro-Sony bias shows here, in their very favorable review of the Sony HDR-FX1 and HVR-Z1U … but on the other hand, they are two terrific camcorders. I think Douglas and Mark have given a fair shake to all the major products.

It's those "major products" that are the book's unavoidable shortcoming. In a few months, there will be a whole new crop of HDV products and software upgrades, and this section will be out of date. But the value of the rest of the book will sustain it, and continue to serve its readers even as the relevant products give way to successive generations. So my advice is to order your copy now, if you're even considering moving into HDV in the next year or so.

HDV: What You Need to Know will get you up to speed on the new format, and—at least for the time being—provide a timely overview of what's on the market today. Then, if you follow the product reviews here in EventDV and other trade publications as new items appear, you'll be able to wade through the jargon, the techno-speak, and the hype and make an informed choice about HDV and where it fits into your own work.