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Affordable Tapeless Video Capture

Here’s the second post from guest contributor Brandon who is currently attending the National Association of Broadcaster’s annual convention. Today’s topic is about tapeless video acquisition and how this tech is starting to filter down to consumer cameras. There are also many good tips here for those looking to buy a video camera. Enjoy.

“Day two of NAB 2008 found me exploring yet another hall of the Las Vegas convention center. I know you’re eagerly waiting to find out what cool stuff I found but, unfortunately, there was nothing of direct Mac relevance. Everything I found today was geared (and priced) directly toward the professional video market.

To be honest, I spent the better part of the day evaluating industrial gear cases, and I just don’t think you’d find it that interesting. Unless of course, you’re willing to spend $600 on a camera case… No? Ok, then. In the interest of keeping fresh material coming in, I thought I’d talk a little about one of the trends in professional gear that is making good progress on it’s way down from the halls of NAB to the consumer market: tapeless acquisition.

Tapeless acquisition is a technology that is just now really beginning to realize its potential. A few years ago it was only available in high-end professional cameras. We’re talking cameras that cost more than the gross national products of many small South American countries. More recently, though, the technology has found it’s way into lower-end field cameras such as Panasonic’s P2 and Sony’s XDCAM lines. These are the cameras that serve as the primary tools of documentary crews, independent video journalists and anyone else who needs to move fast and shoot broadcast-quality footage. Essentially, they are BMWs compared to the higher-end ‘Ferraris’ of the camera world. The good news this year is that we’re beginning to see pro technology (such as quality tapeless acquisition) filter down to the consumer level at a Chevrolet price point!

So what does this mean for you? No more spending $5 for a single 60-minute DV cassette. Great! But wait, there’s always a catch isn’t there? Let’s take the JVC Everio line as an example. These cameras can store up to 37.5 hours of standard definition footage onto their 30GB hard drives, so the issue is not how much drive space you will need.

The first major issue is the compression used to obtain that very tempting specification. A great number of internet reviews of the Everio line indicate that the video produced is soft and exhibits obvious artifacts. This is not exactly what I would like to see in my preserved-for-posterity memories. The other issue is compatibility for playback and editing on your computer. Unless you intend to use the bundled proprietary software to chop your precious memories into bite-sized YouTube morsels, you’ll need to carefully check the compatibility of the camera with your editing software before purchasing.

For the readers of this site, you should know that the JVC cameras don’t bundle any Mac love. While the JVC website states that “third-party software is available for Macintosh,” I spent nearly 15 minutes (all my ADD would allow) searching for exactly what “third-party software” was available. Guess what…I need to keep looking. Now, in fairness to the little Everios, every report I’ve read indicates that the ‘direct from camera to DVD burner’ feature worked simply and flawlessly — but that really takes the fun out of the whole process.

While I’ve picked on JVC cameras here, these are issues that should be considered and researched when considering offerings from any of the major manufacturers.

But let’s get back to the main benefit of tapeless acquisition. No capturing tapes! It’s really that simple. Not only do you no longer need to buy the expensive little things, you don’t have to spend all that time capturing them into the computer in order to work on your upcoming Academy Award-nominated cinematography. Assuming you do your research and get yourself a great little camera that works perfectly with your Mac, transferring video from you camera will be as simple as copying files from a thumb drive. If your camera is really cool, it will even utilize super-secret CIA scene detection technology to break your happy little trip to the zoo into distinct clips of monkeys, panda bears and tourists falling into the polar bear pit. You may not realize now how great of a time saver this is, but it is. Put it this way: the pros utilize modern indentured servitude (interns) so they don’t have to do it themselves. Most of us have to do it ourselves.

In summary: do your homework. Look for documented compatibility with your Mac and software. Pay attention to the little stickers that tell you what size CCD the camera has; more megapixels + bigger CCD = higher quality video. HD is cheap — and all HD cameras should give you the option to shoot standard definition as well, so look for HDV or AVCHD format cameras. Finally, be sure to buy a case to protect your investment…and remember: with video gear you really do get what you pay for.”

  1. Really enjoying Brandon’s peek into NAB. He’s got a good eye for what’s new, and an easy-to-follow style even a mini-Mac geek like me can comprehend. ; )

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