HD Today: The Year of High-Definition Video
Posted Apr 1, 2005

We're all riding high on digital video. We shoot digital, edit digital, and deliver digital (except for those few clients who still want VHS). Wouldn't it be nice to sit back and enjoy this for a while? Well, don't sit back just yet, because someone just blew the bugle for the HD charge!

And as of Macworld 2005, no one is blowing it louder than Apple. Two key events made this January's Macworld Expo notable in terms of high-def news: the announcement of iMovie HD and Steve Jobs' sharing his keynote stage with the president of Sony.

The dominance of the iPod demonstrates that there are key thinkers that see a hole in the market and fill it with a product that so perfectly fills the need that it completely takes over. The Palm Pilot was like that. So was the Sony VX-1000.

The HDV-capable JVC JY-HD10 camcorder introduced almost two years ago was almost such a product. But even though the camera and format featured prosumer affordability, manageable compression codecs, basic edit workflow, and a delivery medium in D-VHS (as I discussed in January's HD Today, there remained no polished way to deal with and distribute HDV content. This really prevented the camera and the format from catching on. It did come with some basic software, and there were a few third-party workarounds, but the strong demand to edit the video natively in established NLEs like Vegas, Premiere or Final Cut Pro went unfulfilled.

So when Jobs announced that iMovie--the consumer video editing application that ships free on every new Mac--will now natively import, edit, and export HDV, it was very important news. Moreover, he said that iDVD (also free on new machines) will now natively handle this widescreen video and make it viewable on today's DVDs, and added that he looks forward to the integration of Blu-ray discs with software that will allows consumers (and pros) to author HD content to high-density DVDs.

iMovie may be a consumer application, but it gets more and more robust every year and there are many third-party companies making plug-ins for iMovie (now officially "iMovie5 HD"). Just like the iPod, iMovie is a magic bullet for many people. I know wedding video editors who use nothing more than iMovie. Why? It does the job! Remember, this is a business. A simple, cheap, effective tool that "does the job" we ask it to, day in and out, is a godsend. That iMovie now natively handles HDV is flat-out ground-shaking.

When discussing HDV and calling 2005 the Year of High-Definition Video, Steve Jobs had the new Sony FX1 camcorder on the table the entire show. He held it up in front of everyone. They showed it on the big screen. He said it was "absolutely stunning... you just got to get one of these."

But most importantly, Steve Jobs gave his stage over to the president of Sony, Kunitake Ando, who said, "Together, with great software products, and hardware products, we can really revolutionize the way we enjoy video at home... Strategically, it's very important for Sony to work with Apple, who really create the great applications which work seamlessly with all the Sony products."

This was quite interesting, considering that at NAB 2004 Apple introduced the first HD-over-FireWire solution with Panasonic. FCP-HD (i.e. FCP 4.5) would copy DVCPro-HD over a simple Firewire cable. This meant that Apple dealt with Panasonic and licensed their codec for use in QuickTime. When you compare Apple's codec to Matsushita/Panasonic's, it's like Mohammed making a deal with the Mountain. Now the president of Sony speaks on Apple's keynote stage? It's clear that there's an HD is starting to fire on all cylinders, and the time is now to climb aboard or be left behind.

I remember when the VX-1000 MiniDV camcorder came out. I had just finished a three-month shoot in the wilds of Alaska. We used two broadcast Hi8 camcorders. We carried around 12 NP batteries, all while skiing up glaciers, riding river rafts, horseback and more. It has very arduous work wielding 25lb. camera rigs and backpacks with extra batteries and gear in thin air on a mountain. We returned with about 30 two-hour tapes of footage. The month we returned, September 1995, was the month the VX-1000 was introduced. This 40lb. MiniDV wonder would have made our production completely different.

In the years that followed, we all realized how much of a paradigm shift the advent of miniDV created. The VX-1000 remained a top Sony product for about five years. This is amazing when you consider that other camcorders change every year or two. Sony has another paradigm-shifting camcorder on its hands with the FX1. This is the first three-chip HDV camcorder. It's available at an amazing price. I've used it. It's beautiful. But there will be better HDV camcorders at NAB 2005--you can be sure of it. JVC already showed an ENG model. Sony has a "pro" model coming. Canon won't be left behind.

If you don't believe me, believe Steve Jobs. In January 2003, Jobs proclaimed it the year of the notebook. In September 2003, PowerElectronics reported, "He proved to be right on many counts... Global notebook PC shipments will increase 20% in the third quarter of 2003." In January 2005, Jobs proclaimed this the Year of High-Definition Video. We have little choice but to follow his lead if we want to stay in the game.