February 27, 2006
Even ugly days look pretty on an XL-H1
I had an XL-H1 out this weekend for some test shooting, but unfortunately only got to use it on Sunday, which was rather gloomy. In any case, I've posted an H264 of some footage from around the river, which at least gives you a sense of the depth of field and the range of the zoom. Click on the image to take a look.
If you're on a Mac with Final Cut Pro and want to see the original footage, control-click here and save it to your disk.
HVX-200 CCD Information
Those who are of a geekish bent might enjoy this article from DVXuser.com. It's an official statement from Panasonic on the design and implementation of the imaging block in the HVX-200. The brief summary is that they're using 960x540 CCDs which are intentionally misaligned from each other. This means that the Red CCD sees slightly different bits of light versus the Blue CCD and so on.
It's an interesting approach to dealing with HD on a small CCD. By using a lower resolution chip, they're able to have bigger pixels, and thus (theoretically) better low light performance. It does raise a couple concerns. Follow the jump to read more.
One of the major factors differentiating the HVX-200 from the Canon XL-H1 and Sony Z1U is the use of a progressive scan CCD. This allows them to generate a 24p image without having to do any deinterlacing.
Deinterlacing always (for most cases of "always") costs you some vertical resolution, no matter how clever the scheme. You're filling in information that wasn't captured. With the most basic deinterlacing algorithm (where you double every line) you end up with half the vertical resolution of a true progressive image. Using fancy math and whatnot, most deinterlacing routines are closer to 70% of the full resolution.
However, the chips on the Panasonic are already half the resolution of the chips on a camera like the XL-H1. So, it seems to me that you're losing much of the advantage of a true progressive chip. Yes, the chip offset should recover some of that, but the offset technique does strike me as cheating just a bit. I'm not quite sure why, maybe because I'm associating it with the kind of sneaky marketing that advertises a 3 megapixel still camera as being 8 megapixels after interpolation.
Additionally, one could make the case that the 4:2:2 moniker is a bit inaccurate when referring to the color sampling on this camera. It's perhaps more like 4:1.3:1.3 or some such. You're getting more samples in the codec, but that added sampling accuracy in the data stream doesn't necessarily correspond to sampling accuracy in the original image. I'll withhold judgement on that until I can shoot some tests and look at the individual channels.
Hey Pana, want to send me a loaner?
February 24, 2006
What's Slow Shutter all about?
When I was at Sony's XDCam HD show and tell the other day, they spent a ton of time pimping "slow shutter" as a feature. Essentially it lets you clock the shutter speed slower than the framerate, to allow for better sensitivity without gaining up the signal, at the expense of less fluid motion. But ... The XL-H1 does that, and I believe a number of other cameras do to. Does anyone know if Sony is actually doing something special, or are they really just pimping old news?
February 23, 2006
Focus Enhancements Makes Me Sad
Focus Enhancements really disappoints me. It's a company with a really good product, in the Firestore line. Maybe not the most polished interface, but it gets the job done in a usable form factor. But somehow the company is still managing to destroy itself.
We recently ordered 3 80gig FS-4Pro units. We got shipped PAL units the first time, and 40gig units the second time. Still waiting to see what happens the third time. I've had similarly disappointing experiences in the past.
I really get the feeling that it's a company suffering due to a lack of direction and focus (ironically). They make semiconductors, digital signs, asset management tools, portable harddisk recorders, etc. The company is now at risk of delisting from the NASDAQ. It just makes me very sad, because it's a company that deserves to prosper. They've got the right product at the right time, but somehow it's still being botched.
Enough ranting, I just feel like they're blowing it and it makes me sad...
I'm on hold right now
So, calling Apple with a question about running Compressor on an xServe.
Me: "I have a question about running Compressor on an xServe"
Him: "Who makes Compressor?"
Me: "You do. It comes with Final Cut Studio"
Him: "We're not selling Final Cut Studio right now"
Now he put me on hold to punish me. Fun.
-1 for Apple.
February 22, 2006
Real HDV Decks? I've gone all blurry
So, Sony just announced two new HDV decks, the M25U and the M15U. They look an awful lot like a DSR-11 and a DSR-25. They take large format and mini tapes, and have a boatload of other features that could fairly be described as rocking. The real question is, can they play back Canon and JVC tapes? Signs point to no, but we'll know more once there's more than just a press release.
February 21, 2006
More XL-H1 pornography
Just playing around a bit more with these XL-H1s. Decided to pit one against a Sony DSR-D50 SD camera. Both were in SD mode, both going SDI into a Videotek VTM-440 scope, shooting a standard (read:cheap) bars chart. Here's the screengrabs:
The XL is about a stop less sensitive than the D50, which is understandable considering the differences in chip size. Otherwise, I think the XL did pretty well. Obviously it could be tweaked a bit to have better saturation, especially in the reds, and a bit better pedestal level.
Here's an assortment of shots, all taken with the XL's still camera mode, as we were playing around.
Sony HDR-HC3 - HDV for less than $1500
Take a look at the press release about the new Sony HDR-HC3 HDV camera. It's ... not that great. But for $1700 msrp (less than $1500 retail one would imagine) it seems like a pretty decent camera for those situations where you really really need to toss a camera off a cliff.
Does anyone find it odd that Sony talks about "snuggling" in a camera press release?
The camera isn't shipping till April. NAB is in April. Maybe the HDR-HC1 will be joined by a Z3U and FX3 in April? Hmm ...
February 20, 2006
Happiness... Is an XL-H1...
Updates pending ... I'm distracted right now...
February 18, 2006
Interesting P2 Developments
Panasonic has announced a big brother to the HVX-200, called the HPC2000. 5 p2 slots and 2/3" CCDs in a traditional ENG style body. Pricing won't be available until NAB, but I'd guess between $20k and $30k. So, now we can have XDCam HD and P2 duke it out in the HD space. I'll write some more thoughts on the two later this week, having recently had a chance to play with the XDCam HD gear.
February 17, 2006
(rant) Flash Video Makes my Head Hurt
I really appreciate how easy Flash video has made doing in-browser video distribution. Look at the ways that sites like Google Video and CNET have integrated video without worrying about plugins and whatnot. However, creating the content is as painful as viewing it is easy. I've been using the On2 compression tools, which one would imagine would be quality (seeing as they created the codec) and I'm not sure I've ever dealt with a slower, more awkward application. Similarly, just trying to learn about the process for creating content is a maze of folks wanting to sell tutorials or player skins or assorted other things which don't help me.
Also, I'm frankly unimpressed with the Flash8 codecs. There was such buzz about how the codecs were much improved and on par with the rest of the industry, but they're just not. I did the same video with the same specs (resolution, bitrate, etc) with QT7's H.264 and the difference is incredibly vivid.
I think this is motivating me to put together a little video codec shootout of my own. I appreciate what Doom9 has done in the past, but they're primarily concerned with pirating DVDs, not delivering content on the web.
February 15, 2006
I spent some time this morning trying to understand wavelet compression. While Discrete Cosine Transformations are fairly straightforward and logical, wavelets appear to consist of voodoo. It's sort of like string theory, except without Brian Greene. Finally, after much googling and gnashing of teeth, I found this site which explains the process in a very understandable way. I'm still trying to chew through the math behind it all, but at least now the process makes sense. The end result is that wavelets are very cool, and I encourage anyone with an interest in compression to read the linked article. If someone wants to explain the math, that'd be even cooler.
So, I guess I need to buy another domain now...
February 13, 2006
Excellent Student Work
Final Cut 6 Rumors
It seems like we're starting to get some better indications of what can be expected from Apple at NAB. I would say it's at least 80% likely that we'll see a version bump on FCP, and presumably most of the related apps as well. Based on what I'm hearing, I expect:
- Handling of M2T files
- Native handling of MXF
- Better support in general for non-QT wrapped files
- Revamped color correction
- Revamped media management (please!)
One would hope there will be lots of other new and exciting features as well. I'd love to see some form of integration with Aperture, but I'm not sure how likely that is. Anyone have the inside scoop?
February 9, 2006
Trivia Question: What did I forget to order? Follow the jump for a hint...
February 7, 2006
The Continuing Tape Conspiracy?
I know that every field has its own set of neuroses and urban legends. Video in particular seems to have quite a few, many stemming from the transition from analog to digital video. Worrying about horizontal blanking on SDI signals so the wide variety of mysticism surrounding square waves. Videotape is another area in which a few bits of anecdotal evidence have spawned whole new ways of behaving.
More crazy conspiracy theories after the jump.
The newest cult surrounds HDV tape. Pretty much everything about the way HDV goes to tape is identical to DV. All that's different is the content of the data. Because of the higher compression ratio of HDV, there's more picture information packed into any given chunk of tape, so a dropout is more likely to cause problems. Similarly, because of the 15-frame GOP structure of HDV, the problem has the potential of spanning multiple frames.
Somehow that fact has been transformed into this idea that a single dropout will destroy the entire 15 frames, and could in fact lead to the end of the world. Therefore, it's critical that you drop $15 on the special dropout-resistant HDV tapes. I'm not convinced.
Similarly, there's the whole issue of tape lubricants (another whole rant), never mixing brands of tape in a deck, etc. I think, in the indie world at least, this sort of took off around the time of the DVX-100, which was a fairly drop-out prone camera. It's a fine rule to have, but I don't think it needs to be religion.
Anyways, I just felt like ranting. From the perspective of students, and many indie filmmakers, cost beats all other concerns. Plus, tape is dead, right?
February 2, 2006
I'll have a lot more to say about this camera in a few weeks. We've now officially ordered three of them for the Studios, along with Firestore disk recorders and some assorted support equipment. But, I just wanted to post a few things that I found particularly interesting when playing with the loaner.
Here's my laundry list of things that I hadn't found in other online reviews:
- HD-SDI output is really quite good. I ran it in to our Videotek VTM-440 HD/SD-SDI scope and the signal looked excellent, in both HD and SD modes. The internal color bar output is accurate as best I could see.
- The tactile feel of the camera is excellent. Very positive feel on all the buttons and knobs, and it feels very well put together.
- Like all XLs, it's rather front heavy. Having the integrated shoulder mount is nice, but it's not all that useful because of the weight distribution.
- The composite out gives you a downconverted SD signal, even when the camera is in HD mode. This is nice for feeding an SD field monitor. Canon support said this wasn't the case. Additionally, you can chose to output an exact mirror of what's on the viewfinder, including alerts and everything.
- The neutral density roll-in on the lens is a nice, physical motion. I appreciate that.
- The focus and zoom rings on the lens have the typical lag that comes with non-mechanical rings. Not terrible, but if there was an option of getting a manual lens, I'd go for it.
- The viewfinder is a bit lower resolution than I might hope for. Luckily, there are conveniently placed viewfinder-zoom and peaking controls, so make focusing a bit easier. Being able to set the viewfinder to black and white is helpful as well.
- I appreciate that you're never forced to go into the menus for basic control stuff. Everything that you could need on a recurring basis has its own knob or button.
- There is a bit of chromatic aberration, especially at the edges of bright objects, but I think it's the sort of thing that mostly gets noticed in blown up still frames. It wasn't distracting when watching any of the footage I shot.
Overall, it's a remarkable camera. It does 99% of things right, and the things that aren't right are non-critical in my opinion. I'm glad we're getting three, and I think it's going to take a lot of work for someone else to top it. Now Canon, build us a deck!
I'm not posting any sample footage yet, as everything I shot was rather boring. I'm also not sure what the point would be unless I posted full 1920x1080 video, and that gets messy.
February 1, 2006
The StickyPod is an inexpensive but high quality car mount for consumer and prosumer cameras. Follow the jump for my full review and some sample video.
Our StickyPod was purchased in response to an "incident" in which a camera was returned covered in duct tape. This prompted the question of "Hey, why is this camera covered in duct tape" and the unfortunate reply of "Oh, I taped it to my car."
We decided that at least with a car mount, if something bad happens it'll probably totally destroy the camera, instead of just making it all sticky. And, if you've ever scrubbed duct tape off a camera, you know that destruction is the better option.
We ended up getting the StickyPod "Pro Pack" from B&H. This includes the StickyPod, an extra suction cup, some extension arms, adjustable knuckles, and a tie-down strap. The strap is my only real criticism of the kit - it's far too short to be useful for much of anything. The included training video shows a much longer strap, so it's possible that our kit was just missing a piece. In any case, I intend to get some additional straps.
The mount itself seems very solid. Essentially it's a steel plate with four suction cups and a standard screw mount. I appreciate the simplicity. The suction cups seem to be pretty high quality, and they grip quite solidly. I attached the mount to an interior window and it held firm, even against my tugging.
The process for getting ready to use the StickyPod is pretty straight forward. First, clean the suction cups and the surface you'll be attaching it to, to ensure a solid grip. Then, attach the camera to the StickyPod, using whichever extensions and mounts that you desire. Then, firmly press each suction cup to the surface.
We did some test shooting using a Sony PDX-10 and overall I'm happy with the results. I think the biggest lesson learned is to turn off the optical image stabilizer in the PDX-10, as it can't cope with the jarring motion and instead overcompensates. Unfortunately, we didn't realize this until getting back inside. If we ever have nice weather again, I'll do another test run. Additionally, this testing was done with a Mini Cooper S, which has a ride that is rather on the stiff side. Expect less jarring motion with a more loosely sprung car.
In any case, I think it's a solid piece of kit, especially at the price. I'm not sure I would mount a camera much larger than a PDX-10, at least when combined with some of the extension arms. While the mount stayed firmly stuck during testing, I think physics will prove victorious with a significantly weightier camera. The StickyPod folks have a video of a 25lb weight held up by a StickyPod for multiple hours, but I found that the jarring motion of a car reduces the grip significantly.
In any case, click the image below to take a look at the sample video (Quicktime 7). Thanks to Mark and Adam for helping with the shooting.