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 Format Wars 2003 Title

 

With snow beginning to fall here in Boston, and camping season ended, it’s a good time to reflect on and share what we have seen our clients buying over the last year. With the majority of video being edited on non-linear systems, recording formats are not as important as in the past. Older, tape-based edit systems required three VTR decks, video switcher, effects generators and audio console just to start. Now a properly equipped PC and a single VTR is all that’s needed. 

It seems, for many, the determining factor in new purchases is cost and value, with the realization that this may just be a temporary solution until the industry shakes out. The DVCAM format seems to have really taken hold because it’s so cost effective and has near Betacam quality. These camcorders range from three thousand to twelve thousand dollars (w/o lens). That’s less than one-third the cost of a new broadcast Betacamcorder. For Macie Video, with new business about fifty percent camera set-ups and fifty percent maintenance and repairs, we get to see a lot of new cameras. The Ikegami HL-DV7 DVCAM camcorder, which I wrote about a year ago, has become the favorite of our clients and far outsells the competition. 

Another hot SD (standard definition) camcorder, introduced into the market just six months ago, is the Panasonic AJ-SDX900 camcorder, with a street price in the low twenties. What has made this so popular is that it’s not just another camcorder that records NTSC video, but one that records in normal 60i (60 field /sec), 24P (24 frames/sec) and 30P (30 frames/ sec). In its DVCPRO50 recording mode you not only get great quality, but a great format to up convert to HD broadcast or HD Cinema. Video is not just for broadcast anymore. Both DVCAM and DVCRO25 are very similar formats. A DVCAM tape will playback in a DVCPRO deck and visa-versa. Tamberelli Digital Video in New York City has five of these cameras that rent like crazy as well as dozens of Ikegami HL-DV7s. In the New England market there are at least fifteen AJ-SDX900s that I know of in rental houses, freelancer’s hands and production facilities. 

As far as HD formats go, I am seeing camcorder sales take off. On the East Coast, it seems the most purchased camcorder is the Panasonic AJ-HDC27 720P Varicam, which records on the DVCPROHD format. This is partially due to the 720P HD requirements of most sports organizations, and of course the value of its sixty thousand-dollar street price. Sports is definitely the driving force for HD production around here. The other big feature is the ability to dial frame rates from 4fps to 60fps in single frame increments. Its market not only includes broadcast TV, but also digital cinematography as well. On the West Coast, the Sony HDCAM format CiniAlta seems to be the most popular. The bigger budgets can afford this more expensive camcorder. 

The most popular camcorders with our prosumer clients are the Sony DSR-PD150 and the Panasonic AG-DVX100, which is also capable of 24frame operation. One thing seems certain, the days of the single format are over. There are just too many applications (cinema, broadcasting, cable, DVD, tape distribution, and even web streaming), for a one size fits all. The good news is that equipment costs are down from what most of us are used to. When you factor inflation, recording HD with the Panasonic Varicam really doesn’t cost a lot more than the broadcast betacamcorders in the early nineties. 

We at Macie Video are determined to keep up with the changing needs of our clients. While Betacam service is still the bulk of our every day service, we have been recently authorized by Panasonic for its DVCPRO25 & 50 product service, and will begin to service these products in early 2004. As far as HD goes, we have recently invested in a HD waveform monitor / vectorscope and shall soon be extending are camera set-ups to both Sony and Panasonic DVCPRO HD Camcorders. In the Prosumer division, about 25% of our business over the last two months has been with prosumer DV and DVCAM products. We are beginning to service both Panasonic and JVC DV camcorders and decks as well. JVC has also recently authorized us for warrantee service. (We want to be there when the new JVC HDV format takes off.) 

So, while many of us had hoped to retire either shooting or maintaining Betacam, I guess that’s out of the question. 

As another year comes to a close, I’d like to express my deepest gratitude to each and every one of our loyal clients for trusting us with the care and maintenance of your gear. May the good Lord richly bless every one of you with health and prosperity in the New Year! 

Take care,
Roger  

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