The Price Is RightSony HDV gives broadcasters high-def advantage for less 11/21/2004 07:00:00 PM Eastern
Sony's new professional HDV camcorder and videotape recorder (VTR) destroy the myth that working in high resolution means high costs. With a camcorder priced below $5,000 and a videotape recorder at less than $3,800, HD production has become affordable.
The equipment, which begins shipping in February, gives broadcasters and cable networks a chance to dabble in widescreen and HD productions—for news, local TV specials, or commercials—without spending tens of thousands of dollars for broadcast-quality equipment. A low-priced Sony HDCAM camcorder is approximately $40,000; the deck, another $30,000. Potentially, the cost is dropping from $75,000 for a camcorder, deck, editor and monitor to $13,000. And price is just one of its plusses.
“It's a very interesting format and has some attributes, like being able to shoot in both SD and HD and up- and downconvert,” says Gordon Castle, CNN senior vice president, technology. “We're looking for devices that can help us bridge to HD.”
The HDV format, a high-definition version of the popular DV format, has already been embraced by Sony, Canon, JVC and Sharp. To date, products released in the format have been geared more toward the consumer and the low-end professional market, particularly the JVC gear. Sony hopes to change that with the HVR-Z1U camcorder and the HVR-M10U VTR. Given the low cost of the gear, its uses are almost limitless.
An important caveat: Achieving higher-resolution performance at such low prices does require some compromises. In the case of HDV, it's having 1440 pixels across the picture screen vs. 1920. The tradeoff is that the pictures aren't as sharp or detailed.
For some broadcasters, that means waiting for the next generation of XDCAM, Sony's optical-disk–based recording format. (It will be on display in an HD-capable version at NAB next spring.) This newer version will have full HDTV resolution and the additional features pertaining to audio and picture control that broadcasters demand.
But the upside to the HDV format is pronounced.
“The sweet spot for HDV equipment is production. That's where a small station could go out and produce a commercial in HD and service clients without having to spend a lot of money,” says Del Parks, Sinclair Broadcast vice president of engineering and operations. Forty-eight of Sinclair's stations are passing DTV, and 42 are passing HD signals. By the end of the year, just about all 48 will be broadcasting HD.
“[Eventually,] the idea might be to produce local commercials in bigger markets in HD and make a couple of bucks out of HD,” Parks adds.
Gordon is equally enthusiastic. CNN, which has embraced the standard-definition cousin of the HVR-Z1U (Sony's PD-170), sees it as an alternative to future PD-170 purchases. Gordon has seen a demo of the camcorder and says it seems to be compatible with existing editing systems. “We can also move the HDV content around as files,” he adds.
One big change from previous HDV units is the use of three 1/3-inch SuperHAD CCDs. “Those deliver [imaging] performance far beyond single-chip cameras,” says Bob Ott, vice president of professional audio and video products for Sony Electronics Broadcast and Production Systems Division.
On the technical side, the camera boasts versatility.
It records in interlace format and can output 1080i at either 60 or 50 frames per second. It also has a new feature, CineFrame, which makes the output look as if it had been shot on film. Other features include dual-channel audio and a widescreen LCD for use in playback and as a viewfinder.
Still, Parks says, the format's attractiveness to Sinclair is limited: The group just finished getting its standard-definition news operations up and running. “Each station will address HD news when the time is correct, and that's nothing more than market forces at work,” he says.
“Replacing all the news cameras is a big deal for a station, and each will approach it in a different way. The decision is economic, based in part on how many people are watching on 16:9 sets.”
For now, stations play a waiting game. But February is fast approaching, and with it the HDV camcorder, VTR and nonlinear editing package for an estimated $10,000. Stations may be ready sooner than they think.