Posted on November 1, 2007
Tape vs. hard drive vs. card, and AVCHD
Planning to buy some video cameras for online journalism students to use, I’m doing buyer’s research.
I had been feeling confident about the Canon HV20 — under $1,000, with both microphone and headphone inputs. But some new information has interceded. If any of you have some advice to offer, please do.
First, a lot of people (and Web sites) have been talking about the move away from tape (goin’ tapeless!). I learned to shoot on Mini DV tapes, and I’m used to capturing from tape, but I do appreciate the convenience of copying a file (from a hard drive or memory card). It’s faster.
Second, I had a chat with Chet Rhodes, assistant managing editor for news video at washingtonpost.com, and he showed me a new camera he’s testing, the Sony CX7. It records to the Sony Memory Stick PRO Duo format memory card. Chet likes the idea that a reporter can drop the card into an envelope and overnight-mail it back to Washington. Can’t do that with a hard drive. He also likes the cool Bluetooth microphone from Sony. Unlike the typical “wireless” lavalier mic, this one really has NO wires.
Third, I started reading reviews of the Canon HG10, which records to a built-in hard drive. The price is a bit higher than the HV20, but if the hard drive is going to make life easier for the students, it would be worth it.
However, there’s a fourth point: A new video format, AVCHD.
From a review of the HG10:
Editing AVCHD footage is not impossible anymore, but it’s certainly no joy. Two programs have emerged that offer a decent array of editing tools for unconverted AVCHD files (.m2t extension for PCs): Ulead Video Studio 11 Plus and Sony Vegas Movie Studio 8. There are lots of other tools out there that allow you to convert AVCHD files to MPEG2 or whatever you need, and probably a few programs we don’t even know about, but these are the big two. Unfortunately, Vegas is only available with Sony AVCHD camcorders, not Panasonic or Canon. So we’re left with Ulead.
There are further constraints. Software engineers were tearing their hair out for awhile trying to create efficient ways to deal with the tightly woven algorithms. Working with AVCHD is taxing on your computer, and you’re going to need a powerhouse processor and memory to do it with any expediency.
Well, as you might imagine, it’s not as if I can guarantee that each student will have access to “a powerhouse processor” and giant stacks of memory.
Now, back to Chet, who was kind enough to answer a couple of questions about AVCHD (which the Sony CX7 also uses). Currently his people are using the CX7 in SD mode — so they are recording in an MPEG format, not AVCHD. “Once more editing software supports AVCHD, then we might move that way,” he wrote in an e-mail.
From what I can tell at the Canon site, the HG10 records in ACVHD (MPEG-4 AVCH/H.264: 5/7/9/15 Mbps) only. So unless I’m mistaken, we don’t have the ability to edit the footage in our computer labs, because of the limitations of our hardware and software.
A PC World article from 2006 explains the AVCHD format and its limitations pretty well.
In the meantime, iMovie ’08 reportedly does support the HG10’s flavor of AVCHD. Final Cut Pro 6.0.1 offers support for AVCHD, with some limitations (such as no Firewire). I can’t find any evidence that Windows Movie Maker supports AVCHD at this time.
So I was getting all excited about tapeless video, but now it seems that with the limitations of university computer labs to contend with, I might be buying those Canon HV20 cameras after all.
Update (Feb. 23, 2008): We did buy four of the HV20 cameras, and so far, they are working out very well. One of the benefits to using tape with students is that I can make them hand in the tapes so I can grade (or at least critique) their raw footage. You’ll want to figure out how many tapes each student will need in the semester and charge a lab fee to cover the costs; buying tape in boxes of 50 or 100 is much cheaper than buying a three-pack at Best Buy.