Two students at Purdue University in Indiana say they’ve figured out how to get 4:4:4 color and much higher resolution out of a 4:1:1 DV camera. Juan Pertierra and Jeremy Jacobs founded a company called Reel Stream, which is developing the Reel Stream Andromeda – essentially a hardware mod that taps into the raw analog-to-digital data coming from a camera’s CCDs, increasing color and image detail.
Pertierra claims the Andromeda can capture 12-bit RGB color info in 30- or 24-frame progressive scan mode on a standard Panasonic AG-DVX100. The native capture size is 773×495, but Pertierra claims to have increased the frame size to 1546×990.
"The key is to tap into the signal after the CCDs capture the image, but before it gets processed," notes Pertierra, who is working on his Masters in Electrical Engineering. Over a year ago, Pertierra says, he discovered that a DV camera’s internal processing downconverts the higher-quality capture to a 4:1:1 DV format. "Seventy-five percent of the color information in every DV video frame is discarded to decrease the amount of data [that is recorded to tape]. As it is, the effective dynamic range of the data is reduced by almost half in order to comply with NTSC/PAL video standards."
A separate record switch on the interface box sends the non-color-corrected camera output via USB 2.0 to a laptop or desktop’s hard drive in Reel Stream’s proprietary format. Reel Stream’s software can then convert the raw image data to uncompressed frames or a QuickTime codec, from DVCPRO HD to standard DV, say Reel Streams developers.
A full public beta of the system probably won’t be available until NAB 2005. Even then, if you want one, it’ll cost you – Jacobs can’t say how much, but he does plan to offer an installed system for less than the price of a new camera. And finally, while the Andromeda doesn’t actually modify the camera internals, the camera must be opened to install the system, which all camera vendors frown upon. (Panasonic reps agree: try this and kiss your warranty goodbye.)
But if Reel Stream can deliver, the low-end DV camcorder could become an indie filmmaker’s best friend.