HD Today: High Time to Go HD?
Posted Jun 27, 2007

This winter, I attended a few local professional videographer meetings, and then the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual convention in Las Vegas. Having some time to reflect on what I’ve seen, I’ve noticed a dichotomy that warrants examination.

At one videographer meeting (the March gathering of Greater Philadelphia’s GPVA), I watched 2005 EventDV 25 honoree Jenny Lehman talk about using numerous cameras—most of them static POVs set up ahead of time. It was a compelling demonstration of how a few extra bucks nets you some interesting views of your event and requires little extra effort.

I spoke to several local videographers during the networking part of the meeting and found that almost no one there is doing HD. The few I found were young and new entrants to the field. Their first camcorder purchases were HD because they saw no sense in purchasing a DV camcorder now. Those with no HD were mostly established freelancers or studios with a significant investment in cameras and edit systems set up for DV or DVCAM.

There are two very important aspects of DV that make it the current best choice for event video. First is that in most cases, it’s paid off already. This means that all the dollars coming in are profit (unless they’re paying for other equipment, subcontract shooters, etc.).

Second is interchangeability between Canon, Sony, JVC, and Panasonic. DV tapes are generally reliable and, for the most part, the tapes that work in a camera or deck from one manufacturer will work in most or all comparable devices, regardless of the manufacturer.

Every now and then there are some head-clog issues, but the DV format is well standardized over FireWire and there’s less concern as to what camcorder a freelancer uses as long as it’s DV.

figure 1At NAB, I saw a completely different story. It was so different and so crucial that I felt I needed to take a picture (left) to convey what’s next. Panasonic has a wide range of DV camcorders, from the venerable 100 series to smaller and larger shoulder-mount camcorders. Panasonic had a wall set up with three of their best DV camcorders on one side, and their one just-announced "professional" AVCHD camcorder on the other.

This "professional" AG-HSC1U differs from the the consumer model in length of warranty and the color of the plastics, and the gamut of the recorded image was tweaked to match other pro Panasonic camcorders. Oh, and it costs $700 more than the consumer model and comes with an SDHC (SD High-Capacity) flash media storage device.

This model has even less consumer/pro differentiation than Sony’s prosumer camcorders (like the virtually indistinguishable FX1 and Z1)—and that’s saying something.

So, on one side we saw three of Panasonic’s best-selling DV camcorders. On the other they showed a tweaked consumer camera with different color plastics. There were upwards of 20 people around the AVCHD camcorder and none checking out the DV camcorders.

I was there for about 20 minutes, and the battle to see the HSC1U never abated. Meanwhile, no one asked a single question about Panasonic’s DV camcorders. It was like they didn’t exist any more.

So let’s put this together. Those who are established and have gear see no need to go HD. Those who are new go HDV or AVCHD. These people are your competition. NAB draws a wide range of users, but primarily they are professionals. And none of the professionals looked at DV. They only looked at the tiny new HD camcorder.

So, when it comes time to invest in the future, do not base your decision on the fact that none of your customers have asked for HD yet (if that happens to be the case), because that’s not what is important. What is important is that your future customers may not pick you because your competition is offering HD and you are not. They did the upsell and took your customer from you.

In due time, Panasonic will introduce a real professional AVCHD camcorder. Then those pros will really have something to sink their teeth into, and the competitive argument to go HD will be even harder to resist.

Anthony Burokas of IEBA Communications, a self-confessed "gadget guy," has been an event videographer for more than 15 years. He has shot award-winning video internationally and is technical director for the PBS series Flavors of America.