Thoughts on HDV.

Hey Everybody! This is actually something I wrote as a forum post, and then liked, so here it is on my blog. If you'd like to follow the discussion, click here.

This evening I was reviewing the procedure for getting video from my sony handycam (video8) onto the computer, and usable by a nonlinear editing system such as Final Cut Pro or Final Cut Express. One of the things I discovered is that FCE/FCP doesn't like plain mpeg4 DVD rips, so my procedure for using (any analogue video source with a composite or svideo output really) Video8 now includes using Quicktime Player to convert the .mp4 file to a .dv file.

My main concern with this is that it has become a bit of a time consuming process to prepare my video for final cut, and that the filespace advantage of using a ripped DVD file (which is about 700megs/hour) versus a .DV file (which is about 13 gigs per hour) is now gone, without any of the actual quality advantages of having imported from a real DV camera.

I've been looking at newer camcorders, and what I've seen is that while DV (and digi8 too, if I were going to go that way...) is become less expensive, so are DVD cams, hard disc cams, as well as HDV cams.

DVD cams are interesting because they seem to promise nice, DV quality, but they don't use tape. However, I've noticed that those don't mix well with the iMac. Plus, that only eliminates one (admittedly the least fun) part of the current process.

MiniDV cams are attractive because they are inexpensive (bhphotovideo.com has one for $199) but I am concerned that this format (along with all other things standard def) may be a bad investment (at least to buy new) because of the growing popularity of all things high-definition.

Hard Disc camcorders are significantly more expensive, one of the cheapest ones around is $430 and this is still standard definition. Unfortunately what I've learned is that the current hard disc camcorders are extremely difficult to use with Macintosh video software, and they're even difficult to use with PC software, but very slightly less so. The idea is good, but it's still not been executed properly I think. Add to that, these units are still standard def, which could mean in the long run, it'll be a bad investment.

This brings me to HDV. I've noticed that there is now at least one HDV camcorder for under $1000, the Canon HV-10 for $800, and the Sony HDR-HC5 for $999. Canon's upcoming HV-20 is also going to be available soon, for $1099.

This format seems to be the future, it uses MiniDV tapes (though higher-grade "HDV" tapes are available, which supposedly improve the quality of the format significantly), and it can record 1080i or 720p (I bet it can record 1080p but the low end cameras don't do that apparently.)

My question is whether or not it seems like HDV is really worth it yet, especially for those of us who might already have access to other high def equipment, if some hypothetical person is interested in getting a camcorder sometime within the next few years.

Naturally, there are not really any HD-capable disc burners within a reasonable price range yet, but for displaying HD works on the TV, there's always the component video output on the camera, and there isn't anything saying that bluray or hddvd burners won't come down in cost in the coming years.

Another thing that may be worthy of noting is that HDV is the same data rate as DV, so in the end (storage-wise) if I record an hour of video with my handycam and put it on the computer (after converting to the .dv file), and an hour of video with an HDV cam and put it on my computer, they take up about the same amount of space. (at least this is my understanding, it may or may not be correct.)

I think if I were to adopt HDV today, I'd go for the Canon HV10, it's a smaller size than the Sony offering, as well as being better in a few ways even than its upcoming big sibling, the HV20. The HV10 has the ability to record analogue audio/video from its line-in port to a DV tape, for example. In fact, just about the only down-side to the HV10 is its lack of a microphone port, but that isn't that big of a deal for me, considering I only first started using an off-cam microphone a few weeks ago. Plus, another advantage I've got is that I'd still have the old handycam hanging around if I needed to make recordings using the microphone.

I like the idea of the extra video quality that HDV offers, especially if I intend to do some sort of independent or experimental film at some point in the future, but I am unsure if it's really worth it right now, especially given the fact I've already got the Handycam... well, handy.

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