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world's first prosumer camcorder aimed at High-Resolution widescreen
holds two surprises - it's single chip and it's from JVC. Oh, and it
records to MiniDV tape!
has it that, when it comes to camcorders, three CCDs are always better
than one. So, it's curious that the first prosumer-oriented High-Resolution
camcorder uses just a single CCD. It's perhaps a little less surprising
when it becomes clear that this camcorder, the GR-PD1, is from JVC -
a maverick among leading Japanese camcorder manufacturers in that it
didn't have a prosumer range at all until this new model. JVC's alternative
taste continues with the PD1 - not only is it single-chip and High-Resolution,
but it can also record in MPEG-2 to DV tape.
Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the PD1. Apart from a bulbous
2800mAh battery pack thrusting out from the back, it's a real beauty.
The body is black with silver trim, and feels reassuringly solid in
construction. Handheld comfort is greatly enhanced by a rotating grip,
making it easy to use at almost any angle.
The grip also houses the tape mechanism, camera/VCR mode control, record
button, and zoom rocker. This keeps all these important functions within
easy reach whatever the angle of the shot. With a clear, 3.5in LCD panel
offering 200,000 pixel resolution, handheld shooting possibilities are
endless, and there's a 0.44in, 113,000 pixel colour viewfinder to call
upon as well. Even when using the viewfinder, the protruding battery
pack doesn't get in the way. JVC has clearly thought long and hard about
usability - and it shows.
The headline feature of the PD1 is, of course, the much-vaunted High-Resolution
mode. In this setting, the PD1 captures video at a resolution of 1,280
x 659 pixels, with 25 progressively scanned frames per second. This
is recorded to DV tape in MPEG-2 format at somewhere between 18 and
20Mbit/sec - a lot higher than DVD. Two more progressive modes are available
on top of this. There are options for 50 frames per second in either
16:9 or 4:3 aspect - widescreen being recorded at 941 x 485 pixels,
and standard being 839 x 576. These are both recorded in MPEG-2 format
to DV tape. And, for those feeling perverse, there's even a regular
DV mode at 50 frames per second, but the resolution is still 839 x 576
Each mode is selected with a large multi-way button conveniently located
just behind the lens. Anamorphic 16:9 widescreen can also be recorded
in regular 50 frames per second DV format, but this must be selected
using the menu wheel. All these larger frame sizes are in-camera only
- as we'll see later when we discuss editing - and the effective editable
frame size is more conventional. But first, a look at how the PD1 shapes
up in terms of regular camcorder features.
The PD1 is a curious device, and a very bold move from JVC. Anyone
not intending to shoot in widescreen will find budget three-CCD models,
such as Sony's TRV950, much better value for money. However, the High-Resolution
footage is of considerably higher resolution than DV shot in 16:9 -
its 1,280 x 659 frames offer twice the pixel count. We found this resulted
in much clearer colour definition in the JVC's Hi-Res mode than when
using regular DV 16:9. Progressive scanning also helps with overall
sharpness. For authoring straight to DVD, which is one of the initial
intended uses, the JVC is certainly a major leap forward.
The real shame is that you can't actually capture and edit the whole
1,280 x 659 - although you'll still get the benefit of operating in
progressive mode. Budget filmmakers are also likely to wish the PD1
had a 24P (24 frames per second progressive) option like Panasonic's
AG-DVX100, as this would make shooting on video and bumping over to
film relatively painless. Instead, one frame in every 25 will have to
be dropped. There's no film-look gamma correction, either, as there
is with the Panasonic, although you can add this later during editing.
So, the JVC is as odd under scrutiny as it appears at first glance.
Used as a DV camcorder, it can hold its own against the best three-CCD
models, but there are cheaper options. As a result, it will be of most
interest to those who wish to shoot a significant amount in widescreen
- and that's a very exciting possibility for any serious videomaker.
The major drawback is that, to take best advantage, the JVC-supplied
software has to be used. We're confident wider support will come from
other editing software makers, but until then, the PD1 remains more
limited than it could be. Still, it's a tremendous piece of engineering,
with all the potential to kick-start a videomaking revolution toward
higher resolutions and wider aspect ratios. For that, we give it a hearty
Read the full review
in March 2004's Computer Video magazine.
Reviewed in this issue:
Pinnacle Instant VideoAlbum
In March's news:
8x speed DVD burning
Pinnacle upgrades Studio
Edius gets OHCI support
Sony PD170 recall?
Apple updates budget video apps
Toast with Jam 6
The missing link?
DVD Video get interactive
Video Forum 2004
TDK CD/DVD printer
DV<>SDI video converter
Cut-price Xpress DV
Smart mains panel