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Ferrick's
Informer.


Informer #1
November 25, 1997

About Canon XL-1
The CODEC Wars
Some Hot News


Link to Canon's XL1 page

About Canon XL-1

I saw a very early unit at Video/Audio in London, and then more recently at Comdex.  My job (for other clients) is to be pretty analytical and picky.

What I like about XL-1:

The lens. No question Canon leads here.

What I don't like:

  • I still find it very tiring to hold and steady, but I have not seen the extend plate [the option with shoulder mount and XLR mic connectors] in real life.
  • I found the tiny buttons for the menu and the audio controls harder to work with than I would have expected for a unit aimed at the prosumer market.
  • I was very disappointed to learn that Canon was following the rest of the pack and not having a DV IN (UK is a PAL land, NTSC models do have DV-IN).

My concern was and is that price-wise, the mid-range [camcorders] could be under pressure from the bottom of the pro market, and as the pro units come down, the ergonomics could be an issue. Panasonic’s AJ-D200 could be at this price point [of XL-1] very quickly.

The CODEC Wars

Microsoft has licensed the Sony codec, Intel is urging OEMs to add 1394 to the designs, Apple has their own codec under way, Adaptec is a commodity I/O interface supplier. Canon is currently using the Adaptec's 8940 board for stills, has a motion unit in the pipeline. My analysis is: with three million firewire camcorders delivered, and the general availability of codecs in the hands of volume suppliers in distribution, if I were a software developer, I'd want to have a very strong offering to compete.

So far, from what I have seen, Spark is in trouble, and so is Moto DV and Firemax. Capture, codec, etc. is going to be readily available from a very low cost supplier.   Most of the above players do not like to be in a real low margin "pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap" market.

See Adaptec's Firewire page for the latest updates.
 

Pinnacle, with its Video Director, seems to be willing to be very aggressive, has broad distribution channels, and a huge customer base. If it were just Miro, then I think the story would be less worrisome. Bottom line, value add will be key.  What I mean is - if the base functionality from Adaptec is comprehensive, why should I buy from a third party unless they add a significant value?  Reputation, support, etc., usually don't last very long with a major price advantage and a major distribution advantage.   To support my point you might want to consider that this is enough of a concern for the current Adaptec OEMs that they have insisted that the versions of the cards they sell ONLY work with their software.   Now if the software was the "Big Deal" why not price it separately, and let the user buy whatever board they wanted.  By the way, Canon's software will work with any of the Adaptec boards from whomever.

Some Hot News

As Adobe announced bundling of AE and Premiere, I think that the natural phase is that AE picks up all Premiere functionality and Premiere goes away.
 
Why is 16/48 really the only VIABLE locked format?  I’m working on a separate post, bottom line is that you need to be able to fit the samples in whole numbers into the audio for a frame so you need to be able to take the sample rate, divide it by the frame rate and get a whole number. Fine in PAL, but in NTSC it gets very complex.
 
The DVCPRO format in both PAL and NTSC uses 4:1:1, DV and DVCAM in PAL is 4:2:0 but is 4:1:1 in NTSC, so to get data compatible with DVCPRO you need to interpolate the 4:2:0 to 4:1:1. (BTW MPEG-2 is 4:2:0 or 4:2:2, and does not support 4:1:1.
 
SDI is a standard digital Pro interface, so if you wanted to go from Spark lets say to DVCPRO or DigiBeta, currently SDI is the most appropriate solution.
 

Adobe: I think Steve's [Steve Mullen, on DV-L list] tip is in fact correct.   In a direct conversation with Adobe I got an indirect answer. "we have fixed the audio in After Effects"  I agree [with Steve], I'd bet that we will see AE [Adobe After Effects] with timeline support.  Premiere has become too cumbersome to support.  Good opportunity for U-Lead!

DV, DVCAM and DVC-PRO inter-operability - Real Breakthrough.  I was invited to SMPTE technical conference in NYC and met with the GM of DVC-PRO and a Top Technical guy.

So here goes.  Panasonic is committed to having the ability to play all the formats as seen by the various updates for DV, DVCAM, etc. New insight into the locked audio issue. I actually was able to take a DV-710 (a Panasonic single chip unit) recorded in DV with 16/48 (which is locked (very good  Panasonic)) and over firewire into an AJ-D230 make a digital dub (in NTSC) and get DVCPRO.

In my opinion, this is a big deal as despite what Sony would like you to think they are losing big time to DVCPRO.  I have the names and Emails and will be working with some of the developers to get this formally implemented into DV NLE products.  I can go into a long Tech list, but 16/48 is really the only viable locked format.

Next is for PAL DV to be converted from 4:2:0 TO 4:1:1.  This is an easy interpolation and is needed.   Panasonic is considering implementing it in the firewire interface, but I would recommend doing the interpolation in codec or at least before writing back the data stream.

Sony is taking a different track. Still hanging onto SX [MPEG-based Beta format], they are working on a DV firewire to SDI interface. This would be pretty neat and give an easy interface to a wide variety of systems (the Pro decks - DSR60, 80, 85 - have SDI).   Again for Fast and the likes with a software codec I'd try to do the same thing.

The SMPTE meeting was focused on HDTV. Some implications to DV.  A lot of the program material will be up  converted, while you cannot create what is not there.  The effective lines of resolutions when it is transmitted is about 520. Yes the standards all have much higher values but the transmission bandwidth makes the final lines a lot lower. There was a very detailed presentation that showed that due to the bandwidth (again HDTV is Broadcast not Satellite) limitations on the broadcast UHF channel, with 16:9 you will get lower resolution than if the old 4:3 was used again you need to stuff more bits in to the same space. But the program material looked great. What does it mean for us?

DV with low noise will be able to be up converted, not perfect, but there will be a lot of up converted material. BTW the best source (from a quality standpoint) is film. A rather interesting prediction that super 16 will see a come back as the cost will be attractive.  Here is an interesting comment: if you want to archive for the future make sure you archive the play back deck, too.

5:1 is 5 discrete digital channels of full spectrum: audio left, right, center, rear left, right and a limited (the .1) subwoofer. All DVD in the US is 5:1 and broadcasters are going to transmit this format, too, as Dolby Prologic is being phased out.
 
Lack of TC on the 5-pin.  This means that while on Sony over the LANC, you can get the timecode to work with a whole variety of editors starting with Pinnacle Video Director Studio 200 and up, so that you can have a frame accurate transport control, with Panasonic on the 5 pin you have the old limited functionality of even not being able to read the exact tape position.
 
And why is a $2.5K Optura better than a $2K TRV-7?
The ergonomics of the manual controls - you have real thumb wheels instead of just menu items, and the progressive scan for photo mode is very good.  Quality. I have a copy of Canon’s comparison of the images from PC-7, VX-1000 and Optura for still frames. The quality (of Optura) was very good. BTW the new 3 chip Panasonic that is in Europe but not USA (the DV-10 I think, that's the model) has progressive scan, too.   Technically in the other models you only use half of the pixels of the CCD for each field, combining two fields to get the picture, so effectively you only get half the pixels at a time and if the image moves during the two fields, then the two images are not a clear when combined, vs. the single image.
 

Back to my old audio issues. HD will be AC-3 audio (like DVD) but as luck would have it not one of the VCRs from anyone can support the 5:1 required.  Guess they don't even listen to their own folks.

More observations:

MJPEG is at the end of the line, for transmission it will be MPEG-2 (and maybe 4), DV codecs and the variants are the way of the future, DV, DVCPRO and Digital-S will be able to interchange data, DV will be interpolated up to 4:2:2.

Sony with SX was MPEG-2, but was caught completely asleep with DV.  Panasonic had no solution, but saw DV as a possibility and because they had no "SX" type system, could run with this one.

The only issue is tape size and reliability. Panasonic shared with me an internal memo. Yes there really are major tape issues, they make 80% of all the DV tape, this is why they insisted on MP for DVCPRO, and yes Sony's formulation is different, and yes in some instances there do seem to be problems. And Yes DV is much more abrasive. Head life, still too early to tell, but it seems that if the tension is off, the head life can be very short. As low as tens of hours at the extreme.  There are reports of some AJ-750's (early ones) used for DV play back needing heads after 250 hours. Still to early to tell. But definitely some reason for caution or at least insurance.

There is very little experience with the very high speeds of the heads, as Hi-8 is only 1800 RPM vs. 9000 in DV.

So:

I'm a big fan of moving up a level in format if practical. This is why I like the DSR-30 and the AJ-D230.

The short term solution:

If you can record in 16/48  - do it.  IMO the dubbing is pretty primitive. If you use Sony, then keep pushing your NLE vendor to write back 16/48 locked.

If there is a general interest I can go further into the details of the locking etc., but the issue is that you need to be able to get a sample rate that will be a multiple of the frame rate and will fit into the frame, and you can then lock it to it. In PAL it is easier, as 32/44.1/48 all have even multiples. In NTSC is is a bit of a nightmare unless you lock and use 48.

On the bottom end, I spent an afternoon at B&H where they had all the units set up:

Other than the PD1 for acquisition in DVCAM in a small format, I think the PC7 us outdated, the TR-V7 is better, and the PC10 (at Comdex) is a minor update.

The Panasonic DV700 is the cheapest DV Firewire entry at $1500. But it is pretty cheap and the menu access will drive you crazy and the lack of TC on the 5-pin is silly.

The 710 is, in my opinion, not worth the extra for the display that is of minimal value.

I'd not even consider the JVC or Sharp except if you just want a back up camcorder.

I still like the VX-1000, but for $2500 the Optura is the best with the best tradeoffs.

I like what Canon is doing with the XL-1 but looking at the VX-1000, the XL-1 and the AJ-D200, I'd go for the 200, although Canon will keep the folks on their toes.  Again: in my opinion, if you really want pro format then you need a real shoulder mount, and more pro quality controls. The fact that the XL-1 will not play back DVCAM tapes is a bit of a negative. (Sony was the vendor that was to supply them with the drives).


Disclaimer: Author's opinions are his own and do not in any way represent opinions of the editors.


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