Sony HD: First Hands-On Looks at the XDCAM EX and HD1000U
Posted Oct 5, 2007

At a recent event held at Sony Pictures in NYC, Sony treated the press to a hands-on experience with their XDCAM EX and HD1000U camcorders. Both can record HDV, but the similarities end there.

The HD1000U is an on-shoulder re-design of a consumer HDV camcorder. It records HDV or DV (SP and LP) to a MiniDV tape. There are only a few buttons to control camcorder functions. Instead, the HD1000u takes a page from the consumer division and uses a single touchscreen LCD to access nearly all the camcorder's ablities.

The HD1000u features a new, unique combination LCD viewfinder/LCD screen. It also has a single rotating ring around the lens that can be set to control any of seven different camcorder functions, including focus, zoom, shutter, brightness, and auto-exposure shift. The larger body of the HD1000U allows Sony to do away with the specialized cables and offer standard RCA jacks for audio, video, and component video output. It has HDMI video, USB, 4-pin Firewire, headphone, LANC, power, and a 1/8" stereo microphone input. The HD1000u also has a MemoryStick slot to record 6.1 MP stills in photo mode or 4.6 MP stills while shooting video. It has the capability to shoot high-speed video for true slow motion effects, although at reduced resolution and without sound.

The HDCAM EX camocrder is a highlight of Sony's new HDNA (HD in their DNA) marketing campaign. Although it is part of their new XDCAM lineup, it is not optical-disc based. Sony does not feel the XDCAM moniker is limited to optical media. The EX line uses new, specialized ExpressCard media called SxS (S by S) which have the highest throughput capability of any flash media to date.

The EX camcorder can record in two data rates: an HDV-compliant 25Mbps CBR data stream, and an IMX-based 35Mbps VBR data stream. It can record HDV at 1440x1080, and HD at 1280x720 and 1920x1080 in numerous frame rates, including 23.98, 25, 29.97, 50 59.94. It features three 1/2" sensors with 1020x1080 resolution and very good f10 sensitivity. Sony touts a resolution of 1000 TV lines. It does not seem to offer a true 24p recording system. Rather, it uses an internal 2:3 pulldown and records 60i. Record times are calculated to be 50 minutes with 35Mbps VBR and 70 minutes with 25Mbps CBR video, on a single 16GB SxS card.

One nice feature is that it will allow the end user to mount the SxS media on their computer desktop over a Firewire connection, enabling faster-than-real-time transfer. This is great for desktop users who can't take advantage of direct ExpressCard capability. However, that connectivity requires a driver to recognize the Sony SxS media. This probably means that you can't just use any ExpressCard flash media; it has to be licensed and have the proper internal codes to work.

My brief hands-on with the EX camcorder was one of discovery. Sony's handheld form factor undergoes another evolutional development with a new LCD design, rearrangement of manual controls, and a unique push-pull manual-auto focus system on the lens barrel. SDI out, rotating grip, shot transition, user-assignable buttons, cascading media capability, and lack of a LANC port round out the notable new features.

Handheld weight balance was very good and the camcorder was not as heavy as it looks, even though it is bulkier than similarly sized HDV camcorders.

The menu system is very deep, and one model offered individual color correction and painting capability. Price for the EX was quoted as "under $8,000" which means a $7,999 list, and we can maybe expect street prices to be in the $6,995 range.

Anthony Burokas runs IEBA Communications (www.ieba.com) in Philadelphia and is HD Today columnist for EventDV.