Shoot Review—JVC JY-HD10
World's first single-chip HD camcorder is also the first tofeature the HDV format.
When I titled my January 2003 story about JVC's prosumer HDcamcorder — “Is DV Dead?” — I was beingsomewhat facetious. Little did I know that by July, a group of fourmanufacturers would announce a new HD format based on MPEG-2. Canon,Sharp, Sony, and JVC have proposed a specification for an HDV formatthat includes 720p and 1080i versions. The four companies will promotethe specification and plan to finalize the versions by early fall.
With a single megapixel CCD, the JVC JY-HD10 camcorder capturesconstant bit rate MPEG-2 material (720p30, at 17.8 Mbps) that displaysno apparent block artifacts.
The specification supports 1280×720 at 25p, 30p, 50p, and 60p— with an MPEG-2-TS (transport stream) data rate of 19Mbps. Thespecification also defines a 1080i version that offers a horizontalresolution of 1440 horizontal pixels. Interlaced 1080 recordingsupports both 50i and 60i with an MPEG-2 data rate of 25Mbps. Stereoaudio is recorded using 16-bit, 48kHz, MPEG-1 Audio Layer-2 encoding at384kbps.
The 720p specification of the HDV format is the same as implementedin JVC's JY-HD10 HD camcorder that began shipping in June.Specifically, the image data rate is 17.8Mbps using constant bit rate(CBR) MPEG-2 encoding with a six-frame, IBBP GOP. During my testing, Inever saw an MPEG-2 block artifact, even when shooting speeding skatersin Central Park. (See my “Is DV Dead?” story in the Januaryissue for more about the encoding system.)
The HD10 also supports 16:9 SDTV (480p60) MPEG-2 and NTSC (480i) DVrecording. In all three modes, the signal is recorded to MiniDV tape.While I spent very little time using DV mode, I did check out onespecial Squeeze mode. This mode uses a 941×483 window in the CCDto obtain a 16:9 image that is mapped within a 4:3 ratio to make anelectronic anamorphic image. DV shooters take note — this isalmost equivalent to using a native 16:9 CCD.
Chart 1 on p. 29 presents measured resolution in DV mode. When in DVmode, either 32kHz, 12-bit or 48kHz, 16-bit PCM recording can be used.My impression of the DV recordings was that they looked very good. Ialso confirmed that through the use of FireWire, Final Cut Pro iscapable of full control over the HD10 in DV mode.
Not covered in this review is the software bundled with thecamcorder. The JVC bundle includes five Windows XP applications. Twosupplied utilities access the camcorder's USB and IEEE 1394 ports. TheUSB utility transfers JPEG-compressed still photos, captured to thebundled 8MB SD memory card, to a PC.
The i.LINK I/O Utility reads MPEG-2-TS data to disk files. Theutility can also be used to write MPEG-2-TS files back to the camcorder— or to any D-VHS deck. The Audio Utility converts Windows audioformats to MPEG-1 Audio Layer-2 audio files so that background musicand sound effects can be incorporated into videos.
MPEG Edit Studio Pro 1.2 LE, developed by the R&D labs ofJapan's KDDI, provides frame-accurate nonlinear editing of MPEG-2-TSfiles. Edit Studio Pro generates SD and HD MPEG-2-TS files plus —for use by the ImageMixer DVD application — NTSC MPEG-2-PS(program stream) files. ImageMixer DVD creates and burns NTSC DVDs. Mystory next month on editing HDV will cover PC and Mac NLE software.
The JY-HD10 is the first prosumer camcorder to offer analogcomponent output. A bundled YPrPb cable (with three RCA plugs) suppliesanalog component output for all recording formats. A Playback menu letsyou select the type of component output you need. (See Chart 2, p.29.)
Ideally, the HD10 should be used with a display device that is ableto display 720p60 natively. (See my review of the Sanyo PLV-Z1projector on p. 72 of this issue.)
The camcorder has an “AV/S” connector (composite video,S-Video input/output, stereo audio input/output, and edit control) plusconnectors for external DC power and USB. When outputting widescreenvideo via composite or S-Video, you can menu-select whether the imageis letterboxed 4:3 or anamorphic 4:3. While you can record a compositeor S-Video signal to DV25, you cannot record to MPEG-2.
A 1394 connector outputs and inputs either DV25 or MPEG-2-TS data.SD and HD MPEG-2 are output as 480p59.94 and 720p29.97 data streams,respectively. Although it is not possible to assemble-edit MPEG-2 froma camcorder to a JVC D-VHS deck, you can clone MPEG-2-TS segments toany D-VHS using a FireWire cable.
The JY-HD10 includes a dual XLR adapter (integrated into a handle)with a mount for a shotgun mic. Without the XLR adapter, the camcorderweighs 1.5kg (ready to shoot) and is 271.5mm long, 114.5mm wide, and99mm high. I found that adding the adapter and mic made the camcordertoo heavy and unwieldy. Moreover, the XLR adapter plugs into the HD10using an ordinary 1/8in. stereo plug, which negates the virtues ofbuilding balanced connections directly into the camcorder's shieldedcase.
This is a frame grab (1280x720) made in Final Cut Pro from HD10material shot by the author in a Thai restaurant.
Frankly, I'd suggest using the included non-XLR handle (from theconsumer GR-HD1 camcorder) with the 3.75oz., 8.34in.-long Azden SGM-XSuper Cardioid shotgun mic. For stereo recording, the built-inomni-directional, stereo mic sounded very good.
The microphone input is controlled by an AGC circuit, which meansyou can't control audio level during recording. However, because thecircuit is “smart” it does not introduce audible levelpumping. Moreover, the AGC's very fast limiter prevents clipping.Analyzing audio shot on New York City streets showed only a fraction ofa percent clipped samples. In equally loud situations, but withouthonking taxis, the AGC kept peak levels under 0dB. Reasonably low audiolevels are, of course, not a problem with digital audio recording. TheHD10 includes an option to display an on-screen audio recordingindicator. (Red does not indicate clipping.)
The far-too-small 0.44in. color LCD viewfinder has 180,000 pixels,and the flip-out, 3.5in. polycrystalline silicon LCD has 200,000pixels. The viewfinder has a high pixel density and therefore should bebetter than the LCD for manual focusing. In an attempt to compensatefor the tiny screen, JVC chose a powerful lens to make it appearbigger. Unfortunately, the lens magnifies the pixel structure, makingit look incredibly coarse. It's time for both JVC and Sony to build an“eye coupler” like the one Panasonic uses for the DVX100.Thankfully, the flip-out LCD works quite well for manual focusing,except in direct sunlight.
The camera's grip rotates up to 90 degrees for low-angle shooting. Ireally liked using this feature — although I wish it had a full180-degree rotation so one could shoot comfortably with the camera overone's head. When the camera is elevated, the LCD screen is naturallyrotated down and so becomes immune to washout from direct sunlight.
When shooting HD, the camera captures 30 progressive frames persecond — half the temporal rate of 720p HD broadcasts. The NTT“SuperENC” MPEG-2 decoder/encoder chip is primarilyresponsible for the low frame rate. Some shooters will like the lowrate because it is close to 24fps, thereby providing what they considera “filmic” look. Others will dislike the look, as rapidlymoving objects — or non-moving objects when one pans too quickly— appear as “double objects.” The name for thisvisual artifact is “eye tracking,” and it is generatedwithin our eyes. The double images are not recorded to tape. Our eyescreate the artifact from moving objects within a series of images whereevery frame is repeated — as it is when 720p30 is converted bythe camcorder to 720p60 for display. (Just as when film is projectedusing a double-bladed shutter.)
A frame grab (1280x720) created in Final Cut Pro from HD10 materialshot by the author outside a grocery store at midnight.
Although the artifact can't be eliminated, you can minimize it bylocking the shutter-speed at 1/60 second — a speed equivalent toa film camera set to a 180-degree shutter. JVC recommends locking a1/30 shutter speed that masks the artifact by creating so much motionblur — from the very slow shutter — that the two objectsblur into one. While I prefer the former solution, my testing showedthat any shutter speed from 1/30 to 1/60 second is equally acceptable.Another alternative is to shoot 480p60, native 16:9, SD video becauseit is free of eye-tracking artifacts. While image resolution is visiblylower, SD (like HD) is free of both interlace and NTSC artifacts.
The JY-HD10 features an all-glass, 10X (f=5.2mm-52mm) zoom lens withan optical image stabilizer. You can control the zoom via apressure-sensitive, variable-speed control on the handgrip, or by aservo control ring on the lens. I found the ring to be of no valueduring shooting. Were JVC to reprogram the servo ring to make itsuper-responsive, one could give the ring a short, quick twist to zoomin rapidly to a subject prior to manually focusing — and thentwist to zoom back rapidly to reframe.
When shooting HD, the effective 35mm zoom range is 40.3mm-403mm. Thelens has no built-in ND filter but does offer a 52mm filter mount.Remarkably, the lens' speed remains F1.8-F1.9 throughout its zoomrange. As one might expect with an HD camera, focusing is a crucialissue. When ambient light allows you to see the LCD screen, it's fairlyeasy to focus manually using the servo ring around the lens. Outdoors,however, you have the choice of squinting into the viewfinder or usingAuto Focus. As long as the subject is not moving and you wait aboutthree seconds, the AF system is very accurate. Thus, one technique isto zoom in to the subject, engage AF, wait a few seconds, disengage AF,zoom back, and reframe.
The HD10 employs a single 1/3in., 1.18 megapixel HybridComple-mentary-Primary CCD capable of generating both interlaced andprogressive images. (For more detail, see my article “PixelCounting, Still Needed?” in the May issue.) Any camera thatemploys one — or even three — small CCD(s) with thegreater-than-one megapixel count required for HD can be expected tohave two characteristics: low light sensitivity and low lightlatitude.
Using the strict Japanese sensitivity standard, JVC Japan specs thecamera's sensitivity at 35 lux, at 6dB gain. (The video AGC can applyup to 6dB gain.) In my experience with the camera, light sensitivitywith the AGC enabled was acceptable in well-lit situations, although Ihad to use a 1/30 second shutter speed.
The JY-HD10 offers the shooter what it calls Manual Recording, whichcould more accurately be called “semiautomatic.” In Manualmode, you can set White Balance (Indoor, Halogen, Sunny, and Manual— in addition to AWB). You also have a choice among five AEmodes: backlit biased auto-exposure; programmed auto-exposure (sports,snow, spotlight, and twilight); shutter-priority auto-exposure;bias-adjusted auto-exposure; and auto-exposure lock. Because these AEare mutually exclusive functions, you really have only two practicalshooting options.
Press the Shutter/Aperture button once to enable dialing in ashutter speed of 1/30 or 1/60 second, which then allows the camera todetermine the exposure automatically by varying the aperture. (Do notpress S/A again.) In bright illumination, I recommend using an ND.6filter (two-stop reduction) to prevent the aperture from being forcedtoo far closed, which can degrade the image. The advantage of thisapproach is it minimizes eye-tracking artifacts by keeping a slowshutter speed. The disadvantage is that the AE system can cause visibleexposure fluctuations as scene illumination changes.
Alternatively, you can use an ND.6 or ND.9 filter (depending onscene illumination) in an attempt to force shutter speed under1/60 second. Then you can press and hold the Exposure control forseveral seconds to lock both the shutter and aperture. Unfortunately,there is no way to be certain the shutter speed isn't higher than 1/60second at the point of locking. This uncertainly arises because thecamera is programmed to increase shutter speed once the aperture closesto f/8. Worse, it will freely increase speed up to 1/250 second. Whileacceptable for a consumer DV camera, this is the exact opposite of howa 24p or 30p camera should function. I strongly recommend that JVCreprogram the HD10's shutter speed limit from 1/250 down to 1/60 whileraising the f/stop limit from f/8 to f/16. Then one could moreconfidently lock Exposure.
I found that if I gave the AE system a few seconds to settle, thecamera's exposure was always optimal, as the AE system seems sensitiveto the CCD's very low latitude. You might, of course, be tempted tolower exposure to prevent highlight overexposure. To do so, press butdo not hold the Exposure control and lower the exposure up to threestops — in 1/3-stop increments.
Unfortunately, the 1/3in. CCD simply does not have enough latitudeto keep overall scene exposure acceptable while allowing brighthighlights to retain color and detail. Conversely, biasing the exposureupward because the subject is backlit or in shade may prove futile. Inone case I tried increasing subject brightness and the tops of all treeleaves went white.
Once you have set the aperture, you can lock exposure. Be aware thatonce locked, the camera's very low light latitude leaves it vulnerableto fluctuations in illumination. Frankly, I found it best to lock theshutter speed and let the AE do the best job it could.
What's clear from my testing is that the JY-HD10 — like allcameras that use small, megapixel CCDs — must be used in a mannerthat is consistent with its CCD's low sensitivity and low latitude. Forexample, I got my best shots on bright, cloudy days. For photographerswho have shot 35mm slides or 16mm positive film, none of this isdifficult to comprehend. JVC, however, is responsible for the poor AEsystem that aggravates attempts to solve the “expected”exposure problems. The poor viewfinder and slow AF system further fuelshooter frustration.
The reward for accepting these limitations, aggravations, andfrustrations is gorgeous images with stunning detail. Concerns about anHD camera with only a single CCD vanish when you see the HD10's colorreproduction. It is realistic and not super-saturated, as is often thecase with prosumer DV camcorders. Color balance is realistic and isneither warm nor cool.
Viewing HD and SD material shot with the HD10 on both an NTSCmonitor and an HD monitor is a revealing experience. We are accustomedto watching video carrying a load of interlace artifacts (aliaseddiagonals, motion judder, and line twitter) as well as NTSC cross-colorand cross-luminance artifacts. The HD monitor displays an image free ofall these artifacts. However, the HD10's image is prone to low-levelnoise on saturated red — so there's still room for progress.
The HD10 has been designed to record an image without ugly edgeenhancement. While this advantage may not be fully appreciated on asmall TV screen, the lack of edge-enhancement artifacts is veryapparent when the video is projected.
If you live with HDTV at home, you'll be amazed that for under$3,500 (street) you can — taking sufficient care — shootimages comparable to those you see in the stunning PBS HD demo loop.And the PBS loop was shot with HD equipment that's 20 times morecostly.
The fine detail of the JY-HD10's HD video was very apparent on the$4,000, 19in., DT-V 1900CG HD monitor JVC supplied for my review. Thedetail was also apparent when projected to a 7ft. diagonal screen. Hometheater enthusiasts often purchase costly video scalers to create alarge-screen cinema experience from NTSC video. The JY-HD10 naturallydelivers adequate resolution for a big screen.
And it's the creation of big-screen productions, whether projectedor shown on plasma, that JVC has in mind for its JY-HD10. The primarymarket for low-cost HD production is “non-broadcast, privatecinema.” This market includes both private- and public-sectorclients who desire stunning visual quality when they present theirmessage to groups of people. If these are your clients, now is the timeto begin working in HD with the JY-HD10.
Wayne, N.J.; (973) 317-5000
Assets: Single megapixel CCD enables HD imaging; no apparentMPEG-2 block artifacts; very high picture quality.
Caveats: Use the camcorder in a manner that's consistent withits CCD's low sensitivity and low latitude.
Demographic: Shooters for non-broadcast HD and large-formatpresentation.
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