A new generation of high-definition camcorder is soon to hit the
streets, and if initial trial tests of the Sony HVR-V1U are any
indicator of what’s to come, hang on to your production budget. Over
the course of several weeks, I shot some extreme sports footage with
this pre-production model, one of only three out in the field right now
(mass production will begin shortly with delivery expected in December).
After having had the camcorder in very stressful situations for about
tendays, I subjected it to airdrops from 13,000 feet above ground
level, freezing temperatures and speeds of up to 180 MPH to see what
sorts of problems I could create. Nothing happened, just great images
in all modes. I tested the auto-modes for progressive, as this seems to
stump some camcorders, but it just kept on kicking out great pictures.
The only thing I could truly find fault with is the on/off switch. Like
on some other camcorders, it seems to be upside down, levering up
rather than down for camcorder mode, and doesn’t lock in this position.
The HVR-V1U uses a new method to extrapolate pictures from a CMOS
imaging system. Using three true progressive 1/4 sensors, the Sony
HVR-V1U uses an imager block that by traditional definition is 960 x
1080. However, by placing the pixels at a diagonal 45-degree angle,
Sony has developed a means of generating/interpolating pixels that are
not part of the sensor block, as the resolution may now be measured on
the diagonal; the company calls this "diamond sampling." More
important, because CMOS sensors may contain individual address points
for each pixel, unlike their older CCD counterparts, they manage the
data in an incredibly intelligent way. As a result, the actual
resolution of the ClearVid imager in the HVR-V1U is a robust 1920 x
1080, fully progressive front end. No pixel shifting, no upsampling, no
combining imagers, no splitting and rejoining- just a straight
progressive image at full resolution in 24p or 30p.
The camcorder uses the industry standard 2:3 pulldown, but doesn’t
require advanced pulldown as a benefit of the long GOP system used by
HDV; there’s no decoding overhead, like with DV. The camera offers,
unofficially, around 800 lines of resolution as we shot with the EIA
Resolution chart. This was very impressive, particularly when compared
to the resolutions you get with other camcorders of the same price.
Sony obviously listened to feedback before releasing this camcorder as
well, removing the built-in microphone that’s usually found on all
camcorders regardless of brand in the lower-cost bracket. Removing the
mic accomplishes two things: First, videographers will likely use a
higher quality mic placed near the source and second, even if the
included short shotgun mic is used for recording, shooters will be more
cognizant of audio in their productions.
One of the features I truly love is the "smooth-slo" recording feature.
Although at a cost to resolution, the camcorder can buffer up to 12
seconds of super slow motion that is fluid and sexy-sweet. You’ll need
to plan shots carefully with only 12 seconds, but for that golf swing,
capturing a rotating wheel, or slowing down a hummingbird, this is the
tool to do it.
Some small functions or features may change in the shipping version. As
it stands now, however, this is a powerhouse camcorder with a price to
satisfy even the most reluctant "I want HD but want true progressive at
full resolution" shooter. No camcorder offers greater resolution at a
sub-$15,000 price point. That factor alone, coupled with true
progressive 1080 resolution, will put this camcorder squarely in the
eyepiece of the low-cost HD revolution.