This year’s DVExpo promised to be an exciting event for camera releases, with no less than five new HDV cameras on demo by the three big manufacturers. Furthermore, there are conferences on various production techniques and software for HD production. Although HD dominates the convention, you can still find DV cameras on sale and in use at various booths. Here is an overview of various exciting accessories that will vastly benefit the underwater videographer’s production studio.
The new cameras
Canon had their entire HDV range of cameras on display with a laboratory set design reminescent of an technicolor Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to show the cameras’ capture ability. Of course the latest and just now shipping XH A1/G1 were the stars of the show. The new 1080i cameras have very comprehensive controls over image and also enhanced ability for the user to make sure they get their shot. Features like peaking, instant autofocus and color control are class leading and allows the user get the look and also make sure everything is in focus.
More impressive is the picture quality of the 1080i HDV from the 3 1440x1080 CCD sensors (other camera sensors are either 960x1080 or 960x540 and interpolated to 1440x1080). The sensors are the same as the excellent XLH1 and have the highest resolution of all the 3 sensor camcorders under $9000. Furthermore, the A/G1 can be factory modified (at a cost) to allow switchability from 50/60i (PAL/NTSC). Wetpixel has test footage and will be comparing them soon against their competitors. The XHA1 lists for $3999 and the XHG1 (with genlock,timecode and HD SDI) $6999. The G1 has not yet shipped.
The Canon XHA1 with the WD-H72 Wide Angle Adapter
The Canon lab set with requisite model
In a little corner, the tiny Canon HV10 was also on display. Several indie production houses were showing projects with mixed clips from the XLH1 and HV10. This 1920x1080 CMOS native sensor was just amazing, almost matching the color saturation and sharpness at 1/8th the price. Of course, the lens is not as sharp nor is the camera heavy laden with on body controls, most functions are embedded in the menu system. Still, the OIS is very good and the resolution just about kicks every single sensor HD camcorder out there and matching a few of the 3 sensor camcorders in resolution and sharpness. Sure, lowlight is slightly limited compared to the bigger camcorders but as a cheap P&S camcorder that’s compact, as far as I’m concerned, this is the camera I would recommend.
Panasonic of course had their HVX200 with the proprietry P2 tapeless disk system on display, also similar to the Canon display with a home set with obligatory model for skin tone tests. The biggest advantage of the HVX200 is of course the P2 system and the variable frame rate 720P capture, giving the user superb HD slow motion. The P2 disk system of course removes the tape liability issue and with the 16GB cards coming soon, the system will finally be ready for longer shooting, if one does not want to rely on firewire hard disk drive captures like the Focus Enhancement FS100, with whom Panasonic is working closely with and thus will soon support 24PN for even longer recording time.
The P2 workflow is much more streamline than HDV and the DVC pro HD codec is 4:2:2 and intraframe, giving better color and fewer compression artifacts. It is also highly optimized for NLE systems like Final Cut Pro and Avid. While the camera can do 1080i and 1080p, the smallish sensors can’t handle that resolution as well as its competitors, but at 720P it is formidible in quality and features, giving users great control over the image and look.
Red, the much hyped about, mysterious 4k camera of course showed up to add more oil to the Red fire. On Nov 14th, invited guests and pre-order customers were invited to the Nuart Theater to watch more demo clips of the camera, show a model chewing bubble gum and Jim Jannard’s personal Porsche 959 in 4k compressed in ‘Red Raw’ codec (yes that is the name). They also showed a revised design of the camera body (all CAD of course since “they just started cutting metal”). However, Red promises the break in and theft of the prototypes and designs did not cause any delay and the prototype will be revealed in December (this year!) and production to begin sometime next year. Despite being a naysayer myself, I have to admit the demo clips were very impressive on the big screen (although I ask, how can they shoot without a real prototype?). I guess we’ll see next month!
Sony had on hand their entire professional HDV products on display, from the much maligned HVR-A1 to the already aging HVR-Z1. Of course the most popular and important display is the new progressive scan HVR-V1 and the hard drive recorder HVR-DR60. The new camera (which has yet to ship) is the first progressive scan HDV format camcorder, capturing 24P and 30P (25P PAL) and also 60i, DVCAM and DV. The 3x ClearVid CMOS sensor camcorder has improved image controls over the HVR-Z1 including black compress, knee control and other very useful functions. The lens is also much improved, providing over 700mm (35mm equivalent) telephoto and with digital zoom (which displayed quite nicely on the LCD monitor), it can do 30x without too much degradation of the picture.
Another feature is the V1U’s ability to use LUT to simulate ‘filmlook’ colors, which combined with progressive scan, gives a sharp and detailed picture. Of course the CMOS sensors aren’t perfect. With 1/4” sensor, the DoF is huge and difficult to crush. And the smallish sensor with progressive scan does like more light than the FX/Z1. However, what was shown were prototypes so we’ll have to reserve judgement until the production cameras come out. The HVR-DR60 is a 60GB harddrive that functions as a tapeless solution for any of Sony’s cameras. It records when you hit the record button on the camera and can be seen as a harddrive mounted on your desktop when you transfer for editing and archiving. It runs off the Sony FM battery series so having the ACQ850 charger you can charge the HVR series cameras and the DR60 batteries in one neat solution.
Sony HVR-V1U with DR60 attached
Sony’s display with HD monitors connected to their HVR series cameras
What convention for digital video be without the latest NLE systems showing off? Besides Avid showing off their new Media Composer, Sony giving seminars on Vegas and Apple on Final Cut Pro, there was also the little company Grass Valley showing Wagsy’s Canopus 4 with the NX card.
Apple did not have a booth but its presence was everywhere. Panasonic and Apple had seminars touting the ability of Apple’s Final Cut Pro to edit the DVC Pro HD codec from the P2 media in real time and FCP version 5.1.2 has a special interface for P2 media capture. Of course, most of the ‘real time” effects were done on the latest 3 GHz quad-core Mac Pro but FCP does have dynamic r/t extreme which alters the quality of the preview to ensure smooth playback. FCP was also featured at the AJA booth with their Kona hardware HD I/O r/t accelerator cards which had impressive results in r/t acceleration.
Avid showed the Avid Media Composer Software and Xpress Pro in Windows only as the universal binary versions are still in beta testing and yet to be released. Still the industry leading editing suite has much to offer in integrated solutions and powerful interface. They now have P2, 24 and 30 fps support for Canon’s 24F and 30F and Sony’s C24 and 30F and of course the powerful DNXHD codec which allows work in HD at uncompressed SD bandwidth.
Avid’s Demo booth
Grass Valley’s Canopus Edius 4 is our own Wagsy’s favorite editing software, mainly due to the very impressive Canopus HQ codec, which allows realtime conversion of HDV to a 4:2:2 bandwidth HQ codec. However, like Apple, the Edius 4 codec requires the latest and greatest machines to perform realtime functions and unlike Apple’s FCP, does not have dynamic preview, instead dropping frames or requiring rendering to view on older, less powerful machines.
Sitting at the Canopus booth for 30 mins in a test drive, the Canopus suite was impressive with the r/t previews, especially the monitor output which was also r/t for edits but not multilayers. I also found out the cards Canopus sell DO NOT help in r/t acceleration, but merely function as I/O ports for the computer. Still the Canopus HQ codec was good enough I directed Apple’s Scot Barbour to check out the competition and give FCP a more elegant solution for HDV.
Sony’s Vegas was highlighted in supporting 24p native from the HVR-V1, without the 3-2 pulldown necessary with other NLEs (Canopus purportedly supports 24P from a 60i stream but that is untested). I didn’t have time to watch the demos from the Vegas suite, concentrating more on the camera and its CMOS technology and also attending different seminars with editors and their gripes about various software issues. Still the Sony show was the most polished, using their super high resolution SRX projectors to highlight the demo clips from the HVR-V1 and aggressively giving out demo DVDs of the new camera. They sure know how to market.
Sony’s Vegas demo area
Soundtracks and Effects
In many underwater DVD productions, underwater sounds are probably left out due to the regulator noise effect on the soundtrack. Sound Ideas Online, the world’s largest publisher of professional sound effects, royalty-free music and source for a comprehensive selection of production music and production element libraries, has a 3CD and 1 DVD set called Underwater Sound Effects Series. In this series, there are many sound effects including boat, jetskis and other diving ambiance effects that can enhance an underwater production’s value. Of course the catalog of songs on the DVD collections is very impressive and comprehensive.
Sound Idea’s Underwater Series CD Set
However, often the non-studio person will want to have just a single royalty free song and not an entire catalog. This is where Stock20.com steps in. This company sells you a non-exclusive, royalty free song for $7 each. The online library has over 300 tracks at the moment and has all sorts of different genres and applications. The online store is like iTunes on a webpage and allows previews of different tracks to find the one you want. The tracks are available in .wav or .mp3. Daniel Rudd is the owner and producer for many of the tracks and coming next week, every Wetpixel member who reads this report and goes to try their website, will get a free track courtesy of Stock20. The special Wetpixel page is here. Thanks to Daniel Rudd of Stock20 for this kind offer.
Daniel Rudd (left) at the Stock20 booth
For those who want more control over their music, Smartsound Software has the powerful Sonicfire Pro 4 with a good library of different tracks and more impressive is the software which allows amazing control over the tracks including various instruments. VP Brian Dickman (pictured) gave me a demo of the software which included the ability to control each instrument in a particular track, the ability to adjust the length of the track and the software will pare down the track so you have a beginning and an end. It is much more impressive than the GarageBand looping tracks that is so 90s ...well… remix garage style. It is also works seamlessly with all the big NLEs like FCP and Avid. If you have the time and the patience to learn the interface, it is a very impressive piece of software.
Smardsound’s Brian Dickman showing off the Sonicfire Pro 4 software on a Macbook Pro
Wandering the halls of LACC
Besides the covering the products, I was also very busy attending various seminars held by manufacturers and user groups. One useful seminar was the Apple/Adobe integration techniques, where RHED Pixel’s Richard Harrington spoke about the interoperability of the software suites and had various post production solutions for editors. After Effects was also featured in AE Confidential Seminar, where Trish and Chris Meyers showed their knowledge of shortcuts and techniques in achieving great results.
Technical guru Adam Wilt and I shared a few minutes analysing the Canon offerings including the HV10 where we were testing the OIS and UI of the compact unit. He was actually looking to pick one up at the show at Samy’s.
While looking at Marshall LCD screens, I found out that Extrem-Vision’s MV7 ‘moniteur externe’ was actually a Marshall 800x480 (1.2 megapixel) monitor housed by the French company.
Marshall Electronic’s V-R70DP in the background
DVexpo is not the slickest convention compared to the National Broadcaster’s Association’s (NAB) extravaganza in Las Vegas. Still, many independent film makers find this annual convention invaluable for learning more about the craft and equipment and also learning about how other filmmakers use the new and powerful HDV cameras for their projects. Combined with very informative seminars and also Conference Sessions like Apple and Avid software certifications, it is an important week to mark on the calendar of any digital shooter, underwater or land.