Shortly before the National Association of Broadcasters’ 2005 convention, I got a very revealing comment from JVC’s Dave Walton during a briefing on the company’s then-forthcoming GY-HD100U HDV camera: “Companies like JVC don’t develop new technology for event videographers.” Of course, JVC has made several cameras that are extremely well-suited to our market (check out Marc Franklin’s HD200 review , pp. 48-52). But what Walton was telling me was that for a company like JVC to engineer a technology like HDV (though not necessarily a specific, HDV-based product), it needs to appeal to a large horizontal market (like consumer video) or high-end vertical (like broadcast or film) to justify the development costs. Which means our industry is not going to drive that kind of development until the technology in question has hit paydirt in more lucrative areas.
I found Walton’s words coming back to me repeatedly at NAB 2007, as I faced the deluge of product and technology announcements from Apple, Panasonic, Sony, and others. Significantly, I heard event video mentioned only once during those company’s Sunday press events, and even then it was a red herring. Midway through Panasonic’s, my ears pricked up when the company announced that they had a new camera that was perfect for event videographers. Then they filled the projection screen with a brand new consumer palmcorder, and my elation at being thrown a bone was overpowered by the impulse to throw it back.
Granted, this new AG-HSC1U camcorder has the requisite 3CCDs and looks good if you’re sold on AVCHD and need a compact, low-cost ($2,099 MSRP) third HD camera, but it’s still discouraging to find Panasonic lumping event videographers in with the consumer crowd—and trying to sell us camcorders that make us look like amateurs. The good news out of Panasonic is that the P2 cards used in the HVX200—the best event-video camera ever designed without event videographers even remotely in mind—are edging ever closer to capacity viability, with 32GB versions due to ship in Q4. In the meantime, bypassing P2 in favor of the HVX200/100GB FireStore combo is a great solution.
Of course, 4:2:2 HD vs. HDV vs. AVCHD is still a hotly contested debate, and it’s increasingly taking shape as a sort of ideological war between advocates of interframe (HDV) and intraframe (DVCPRO, AVCHD) compression. Another area where the battle lines are drawn is between the use of solid-state memory and moving parts for video acquisition and storage in HD cameras. On this topic, Panasonic contributed perhaps the most unintentionally funny moment of the day, in a testimonial from a studio that shot a TV docudrama on the Mexican Civil War using P2-based Panasonic cameras. Now, I’m paraphrasing, but to my best recollection, the director said, “Because these cameras have no internal moving parts, they were perfect for shooting battlefield scenes. Even when our cameraman got smashed in the head with the butt of a rifle, the footage came out fine.”
Meanwhile, Sony announced its forthcoming XDCAM EX. We’ll see how this camera shapes up and what it sells for in late 2007 when it ships, but it has all the earmarks of an HVX200 killer, eschewing PDD for flash-based LongGOP MPEG-2 storage that Sony says will hold 60 minutes of HD video right out of the gate. Even if this camera wasn’t designed with us in mind, it removes the event shooter’s biggest objections to P2: media capacity and (most likely) cost.
On the software side, Apple made much of its ProRes 422 codec (which will enhance workflow, but not add color information to 4:2:0 sources like HDV), but the biggest news for us is Final Cut Studio 2, with FCP’s new open timeline mixed-format editing and the dazzling new color-grading tool, Color. Color traces its lineage to the $5,000 Final Touch HD acquired from Silicon Color last November. How can Apple toss a $5,000 app into FCS without increasing the price? If it boosts Final Cut's use among filmmakers editing digitally, I'm sure it will pay off. Anything the upscaled Final Cut Studio does for videographers (and I’m sure it’ll do plenty) is just a happy side effect.
Meanwhile, Adobe is in the middle of its biggest software rollout ever, though it didn’t make waves as big as Apple’s at NAB since Adobe announced all the products and posted beta versions more than a month earlier. The new CS3 Production Premium release should happen shortly after you receive this issue, but curious users will have been sampling the software in limited versions for several months by then thanks to Adobe’s open beta site, Adobe Labs. This approach has been a mixed blessing so far, yielding both buzz and backlash (beta being beta). But what I like about Production Premium so far is that many of its new features/inclusions make it seem like the rare product suite that’s actually designed with small-shop videographers in mind. Swapping in Soundbooth for Audition is a good read on our market; the return to the Mac platform should please die-hard Mac users who want to work with Photoshop and After Effects in a more round-trip friendly context; adding Blu-ray support to Encore gives users on both platforms a solid HD output option for their high-end clients; and the inclusion of OnLocation (formerly DV Rack) and Ultra should make Production Premium the ultimate corporate video postproduction suite. And I’m pretty sure that’s precisely Adobe’s intention, not just a happy side effect.
Stephen F. Nathans is editor-in-chief of EventDV.