Tim Smith (Camcorder Training Specialist) gives expert video advice on: What is an HDV camcorder and how does it work?; Can I watch my videos on a Hi-Def TV?; What equipment do I need to shoot HDV? and more...
What is the difference between "Standard Definition" and "High Definition"?
If you haven't purchased a camcorder for a while, you're going to find that there's another new format of camcorder in town called high definition. So you've got to decide whether or not you want to shoot in standard definition or high definition. Let's talk about standard def for a second. Standard def really is a simple format designed for today's television sets but not the TVs of the future. They're going to deliver an image which will play on any television that's been made for years and they'll look very good. But standard def are not future proof. You're not going to be able to play these in high resolution later on when your television gets better. You'll still always be able to see them in standard def but if you're really in the market for a camera that's going to be future proof, you may want to consider one that will work with standard def as well as high definition.
What is "HDV"?
One of the camcorder formats that you are going to be able to choose from now on is called HDV. It is probably the most popular of the high definition formats that are out there. HDV camcorders use the old standard tape that we used on standard F, called mini DV, but record at a much higher resolution to that tape, and still get a full 6 minutes. HDV, standing for High Definition Video, is a format used by many manufacturers that will deliver up to 18 lines of resolution. This matches that 18 lines set that you just purchased, to give you the highest possible picture quality and the easiest connection between your HDV camcorder and your new HDV television set.
What is an HDV camcorder and how does it work?
Well, it's really not that different than standard def in terms of the parts. It's still a lens, a transport, and an iris. But, it uses the HDV format to record up to 1080 lines of resolution. So you get much better picture quality because of the formats on HDV. If you see one that's marked HDV you know you're buying a high-definition camcorder. What HDV means to us as manufacturers is that our lenses have to be better, our chips have to be better, the ability to record a better image to that tape has to be better. We've also had to come up with what's called algorithms: ways to compress all that information and still put it in a format that can be delivered in high-definition. That's essentially what HDV is. It's a compression format that allows you to take all that information, put it on and store it in a very small space, and then unpack it and deliver it to a television set to deliver a really crisp, sharp image, even on lower-end equipment. So if you're looking for high-definition, HDV is a very viable format.
What are the pros and cons of using an HDV camcorder instead of a DV camcorder?
If you're stepping into the world of high definition, some of the things you need to think about is high definition offers an awful lot of resolution. So things that we haven't thought about in the past have to be considered. Lighting is more important in HDV, flattering angles is more important in HDV, wrinkles tend to show up more, islands tend to show up more. High defintion is great, but it also can be a double edged sword. So you really want to spend more time thinking about the subject you're shooting, trying to flatter the subject as much as possible, and consider the detail is really just pops off the screen in high definition, wherein years passed things that we could have slipped by as more flattering become a little less flattering sometimes in HDV, so you want to consider that. These cameras can produce terrific images, but it's still up to you to make everybody look good. If money wasn't the issue, why not buy an HDV camcorder. You can always shoot in standard defintion, if what you have at home isn't ready for it, you can either shoot in standard defintion or, even better, you can acquire in high defintion, but output it in standard defintion and then future proof it. So, I mean, if you are in the thousand dollar market, you should be looking at a high definition camera. I mean, you're paying a little bit more but you're future proofing yourself.
Can I watch my videos on a Hi-Def TV?
Let's say you're in the market for a Hi-Def TV, but you've got a camcorder at home. Well, you probably have a standard-def camcorder, and the good new is high definition television sets are all set to accept standard-def signals. What you might find though is that your standard-def signal, called a four by three, is square, it's not rectangular and that high-def TV you bought was. So what you're going to see on the left and the right is just black bars to fill in that space. Newer camcorders, even standard-def, will allow you to shoot wide-screen environments, and maybe fill that up, depending on which camera you have. Or, maybe you've bought a new camcorder recently and you decided to go to high definition camcorders, well those are perfectly set for high definition televisions as well. One of the things to consider though is that you may have bought a 1080, or what's called a 1080-I, high resolution camcorder, but your television may only be a 720-P. The TV will take that 1080 signal and scale it just fine to play on 720, but you're not really getting full resolution out of that camcorder. To do that, you really need a high definition television set, which is rated at 1080-I.
What is the difference between "720p", "1080i" and "1080p" HD formats?
When you're looking at televisions, some of your choices are going to be high definition 1080i or high definition 720p, or even in some cases high definition 1080p, so lets spend a second on that. 720p means 720 lines of resolution, p standing for progressive, and progressive delivering whets called a solid frame of information to the set; probably the most detail you can get in things that are moving very fast. 1080i is over a thousand lines of resolution, so that's better picture quality but it's interlaced the way, meaning that two fields of information or half of the frame is delivered at a time to the picture that you're viewing. With that, although it can give you better resolution, sometimes you can get a little bit of what we call artifacting or misinformation as the fields come together. It's not major, it's still a better picture than 720p, but it tends to be less effective sometimes when you're viewing something like sports or something with high motion. Then, probably the Holy Grail for these things is what we call 1080p, and that really doesn't exist in a consumer world yet. That's really just something that you're finding on very high end equipment. A 1080p television set at home may work well with computer games and graphics types of games, but nobody's delivering information for home viewing at a 1080p format as of this point.
What equipment do I need to shoot HDV?
To shoot HDV, you are obviously going to need a high-definition camcorder. It may be an HDV camcorder; that's probably the most common. You are going to look for tape. Your tape choices are going to be Mini-DV tape or HDV-Mini, and there are some subtle differences there. There is tape specifically formulated for shooting high-definition video called HDV Mini-DV tape; that's what I would recommend in terms of the best integrity, although you can always use the old Mini-DV stuff to shoot in HDV - it works just fine. To view in HDV, you are going to need a high-definition television set and a high definition monitor. If you're going to edit the HDV video, you should consider software which will handle high-definition as well. You still need the same components to shoot HDV - camera, editing system, and something to watch it on - but they all have to be geared toward high-definition.
What is the most important thing to know about buying an HDV camcorder?
So, you're in the market for an HDV camcorder. You're going to have a lot of choices. I think that one of the questions you really need to ask is, "Which flavour of HDV is it?" HDV can encompass either a 7-20 or it can be a 10-80. Typically most manufacturers have gone 18 but there are manufacturers that are recording 7-20 HDV. So there are really two flavours of it and that's one question you really need to bring up to your salesperson; which one are you getting? So, if you're looking for best picture quality, try to find an HDV format that records in 10-80. If you have a very specific application like sports, you may want to consider a 7-20 format by whichever manufacturer is producing 7-20.
What's the biggest mistake people make when buying a new HDV camcorder?
I think probably it's that they spend too much time focusing on the format. Not that they don't want to. You do need to do that. But not at the expense of everything else. You still have to consider the things you've always considered: What kind of lens is on it, what kind of chip is on it? How good is the image going to be? Not based on the format, but based on the quality of the product that you've bought. The format itself is only capable of delivering what the camera can give it. So if you're buying a low-end, high-definition camcorder, you're probably getting low-end lenses, or maybe low-end chips. That's going to affect the image. Just recording on a high-definition format doesn't mean you have the best picture. So you really need to look at the camcorder as an entire package--not just a format.