Sony brings 1080p to HDV

By Ken Kerschbaumer

Sony’s newest HDV camcorder, the HVR-V1U, is looking to set new benchmarks by allowing 1080p material to be acquired natively and recorded onto a 60 GB hard-disk drive recorder that attaches directly to the back of the camcorder.

Priced at just $4,800 and with the HVR-DR60 disk drive priced at $1,800 Sony believes the new camcorder fills a gap in its current product line and gives sports producers a new option when looking to get tough shots.

Douglas Spotted Eagle, managing producer at Vast Productions and a professional videographer who works on extreme sports TV productions recently put the camcorder through its paces during “Dream of Flight,” a documentary tracing the antics of a skydiver who attempted 600 dives in a 24-hour period.

“We were able to fly into a sunset and there was a lack of smear from the sun across the screen,” he says. “I was also dropping at about 90 mph and able to capture details in a spinning parachute.”

Spotted Eagle says the smoothness of 24p coupled with the color fidelity knocked him over, especially when put on a 12-foot screen. “You always hear of challenges CMOS sensors have in high latitude situations but I was sold on the camcorder,” he says. “There was no banding, smearing and every detail was clean. When I think that this is less than $5,000 it’s stunning.”

The enabling technology in the camcorder are “ClearVid CMOS Sensor chips,” three 1/4-inch chips (one each for red, green and blue) that cut power consumption and natively capture 1080p images at either 24, 30, or 60 frames per second.

“We invented a new sampling format called ‘Diamond Sampling’ that rotates the rectangular layout of pixels 45 degrees,” says Hugo Gaggioni, Sony Broadcast and Business Solutions Company CTO. “It exceeds 800 TV lines of horizontal resolution so we’re very happy with the capabilities.”

By rotating the pixels 45 degrees Sony can deliver higher resolution without introducing aliasing effects or compromising sensitivity. It also lowers power consumption, making it possible to deliver 1080p resolution in a smaller package that can record images on both a new 1.8-inch hard drive with 60 GB of storage (about 4.5 hours in either HDV or DVCAM/DV) with the use of MPEG Long GOP compression.

“Pixel shifting, an approach used by others to provide HD resolution, seems to work but it sometimes has extreme aliasing,” says Gaggioni.

The system works by beginning with a “zigzag” extraction of pixels and then converting the diagonal pixels to horizontal pixels, effectively increasing resolution to 1440×1080 interlace lines at 4:2:0 with power consumption of only 200 milliwatts.

As for the new hard-disk technology, it can record up to 4.5 hours in either HDV or DVCAM/DV mode. It also has Smart Protection, a technology that, combined with a built-in “shock absorber,” protects against forces up to three Gs. It can also detect when the unit is being dropped, turning the power off and disengaging the record head to protect the integrity of the drive for falls up to three feet.

The hard-disk, coupled with the tape-based recording, gives users flexibility and a built-in backup device. In addition, the hard-disk has a buffer memory function that allows for up to 14 seconds of video and audio signals to be continuously recorded so users never miss a shot.

Other camcorder features include a Carl Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* lens with extra-low dispersion glass; a timecode pre-set function, two SLR microphone inputs; and a camera profile feature that stores camera settings on multiple cameras for multi-camera operations using MemoryStick Duo media.