A major feature that sets the Panasonic HVX200 apart from the rest of the prosumer HD camcorders is the decision to not use the HDV tape format. HDV squeezes HD video into a 25 Mbit/sec tape format using MPEG-2 intra-frame compression sacrificing image quality. The HDV format also creates hassles when editing HDV in native format on all but the fastest computers due to the nature of MPEG-2. These are just two reasons Panasonic chose instead to use their 100 Mbit/sec DVCPRO HD format (current used in their high-end VariCam HD camcorder).
So, what do you record this 100 Mbit/sec DVCPRO HD format onto?
The DVCPRO HD tape transport used in the VariCam will not cut it, too large and expensive for a small hand-held camcorder. Panasonic’s alternative to videotape: P2 cards. These are PCMCIA form-factor cards with four SD semiconductor memory cards ganged together internally in a RAID configuration. These cards can easily keep up with the 100 Mbit/sec data rate of the DVCPRO HD codec. 8 GB cards hold 20 minutes of 720P video. each.
The idea is you will record to these cards and download video from the P2 cards to a laptop in the field, archiving onto dual-layer DVD-Rs or external hard drives, eliminating the use of tape in your workflow. You can download video from an 8 GB card to a laptop in about five minutes, so your archiving can stay ahead of your recording. This also means you can now refer to clips the same way you refer to clips on your editing system. Each time you stop and start the recording a new clip is created. No more hassles of timecode breaks due to reviewing footage, no more cueing a tape to see your work and then winding to just the right place to continue shooting. You can be shooting on one card, downloading and viewing from another.
While at first this sounds very expensive, and it does require additional labor, a quick calculation on a spreadsheet yielded the following factoid: the P2 approach is only 20% more expensive that shooting HDV videotapes and archiving to HDV videotape dupes, as you will need access to an HDV deck for video ingest into your editing system if your camera is going to be out in the field shooting while the editor captures media. In addition, HDV calls for premium tape, more expensive that ordinary DV tape. It boils down to this: does this new workflow work for your specific needs.
Another option is recording onto a third party hard disk recorder, expected soon. It’s not really whether P2 or tape is better, it’s what works in a particular situation. Personally I find the P2 card approach appealing, and at least on a first shoot, it made sense unless you’re shooting four hour interviews and don’t have an assistant to dowload media to hard drives. Some people are afraid of trusting hard drives, but tapes are fragile too. No media is bullet proof. Whether tapes or P2 cards, you still need to make protection copies, that has to be part of the workflow in either case.
A photo set of HVX200 images is available.
Also see Part 1 and Part 2 of this series of posts on the HVX200, as well as the articles I wrote for New England Film: First Look: Panasonic AG-HVX200 DVCPro HD Camcorder: Part 1, The Camera and First Look: Panasonic AG-HVX200 DVCPro HD Camcorder: Part 2, P2 Workflow
I don’t have a problem in deciding that this camera is for me, but I do wonder if I should get the 24p(NTSC) version or the 25p(PAL) version. Life seems to be so much easier for those living in the US, but I live in Europe.