Sunday, 14 December 2008

Shooting in HD for student productions

As the cost of purchasing high definition camcorders continues to fall it's inevitable that schools will begin to migrate from digital video (DV) to its superior stablemate.

One of the issues however is the growing plethora of formats. HD itself is something of a minefield, with numerous variants. There's interlaced and progressive (an i or a P suffix) which determines whether the images are composites of each other during the 25 frames that are recorded each second, or whole images progressively recorded as the camera records. Progressive is seen to offer better motion effects and therefore is preferred by independent film makers. Interlaced is more data efficient, so tends to be the variant most camcorders use. Increasingly, camcorders around the £700 mark will now offer a combination of both. The progressive version often comes as 720P, while the interlaced is sold as 1080i. This refers to the pixel width of the image. 

On top of that, some camcorders use DV tapes but record an HDV signal, others record to a hard disc inside the camera, some record to memory cards, while others still record to small DVDs. 

All of this can be a confusing mixture of options.

Earlier this year I bought a couple of HDV camcorders by Sony. The HVR-A1E costs around £1000, but offers many professional features in a small unit. I opted for HDV because it offered compatibility with our existing tape stock and is seen by many as being a reliable format for now. 

The future will be disc based, and I have been able to test some of the Canon hard drive HD camcorders. They tend to use a new recording video format called AVCHD (Advanced Video Codec High Definition). This crushes the video and audio signal right down and early critics wondered if the output would be any good? I must say that I was impressed and could see this becoming part of the school arsenal within 18 months to two years. There's still scope for the price point to fall further.

Anyway, back to recording in HDV. The first crop of students are now finishing using the A1s and I've put a couple up on YouTube. Keeping in mind that the signal has been crushed by compression software to make it small enough for YouTube to handle, I'm impressed by the streaming quality. The end results when played via DVD look stunning. 

One video below is a version of the Fray's How to Save a Life. Th other, shot at night, is a rendition of Fightstar's Tannhauser Gate. It seems you need to have the YouTube window open in order to watch the HD version. Most annoying.

So, double click on one of the videos below to open the full YouTube page, then remember to click on the 'watch in HD' option, which appears to the bottom right of the video.

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