Since JVC debuted its first HDV camcorder at CEATEC 2002 in Japan, HDV technology has always been oddly positioned as a "consumer" offering. Even the first "pro" HDV camcorder, JVC's JYHD-10U, was a single-CCD camera, which in and of itself disqualifies it for pro classification in these parts. Of course, that didn't mean it was unworthy of pro consideration, but for all its sharpshooting possibilities HDV was hit-and-miss on pro features (though it certainly had a pro-level price).
Sony's HDR-FX1, released in late 2004, stepped up the pro potential immensely with its three-chip technology, 60i mode for 1080-line shooting, and 24p-approximating CineGamma feature. But it was still positioned as a "consumer" device. In December, Sony announced the first HDV camcorder both positioned as a pro product and fully equipped with the capabilities pro shooters expect. And if it's half as powerful as Sony promises, the HVR-Z1U looks like a monster. Priced at $4,900—comparable to Canon's $4,900 DV-only XL2—the Z1U boasts three 1/3" CCDs with native 16:9 support; 12X optical zoom; 14-bit A/D; and the ability to record HDV, DV, and DVCAM images at 30, 25, or 24fps in either SD or HD. Its 60/50 switchability gives it versatility we haven't previously seen in an HDV camera.
Announced in conjunction with the Z1U (though sold separately) is the HVR-M10U, a new HDV/DV/DVCAM deck/VTR designed specifically for use with the camcorder. The M10U lists for $3,700.
The third component of Sony's "Professional HDV System" is DigitalMaster, specialized tape media "recommended" for HDV applications. According to Sony, these 63-minute tapes sport dual-active magnetic layers that promise greater magnetic grain packing density, yielding higher retentivity, higher output, and lower noise. If you've ever been down this specialized media road before, feel free to draw your own conclusions—or just join the endless listserv debates on the topic.