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Budget 4K: The Next ‘New Thing’

In January 2012, JVC announced a sub- $5,000 hand-held camcorder—the GY-HMQ10—with native 4K-resolution, which is a little more than twice the resolution of 1080 high definition. If the GY-HMQ10 becomes popular with indie film and television producers, Sony, Panasonic and Canon might focus on budget 4K as well.

4K TV is something that the Japanese (most notably NHK) have been dabbling with and publicly demonstrating for several years. While consumers may have been warming up to it as the successor to HDTV, production costs have impeded content production. So who would purchase a 4K TV when there is no content being produced?

JVC’s GY-HMQ10 All of a sudden, 3D television popped up as the “fad du jour,” and it received a lot of enthusiasm from equipment suppliers and high-end movie production since it seemed like the next easiest way to relieve the “ho-hum” that HD TV and HD movies in the home had become. Much like when color was introduced during the era of black and white broadcasts, 3D put the biggest burden for equipment upgrades on the consumer, whereas producers, broadcasters and distributors could spend proportionately less to tweak existing infrastructure to shoehorn 3D into the existing bandwidth in a way that was backward-compatible with existing HD infrastructure.

It appears the initial excitement for 3D television exhibited by developers, producers and vendors spread to the managers of movie theaters, but not consumers. JVC’s announcement may signal a push to 4K TV unimpeded by the waning novelty enthusiasm for 3D.

JVC’s radically different experiences with Digital-S and ProHD seems to have shown the company that it is easier to work from the bottom up to foster new formats into common acceptance — that is, by introducing it in a consumer package first so that the mid- to high-end production community will take notice. In addition, the HMQ10 is the first shot in a new low-budget production format war. I expect that once it generates moderate enthusiasm in the reality TV, low-budget movie production segment, other manufacturers of production gear likely will undertake production of similar products to get a share of the market.

The interesting thing is that JVC is the only one of the four mainstream consumer, “pro-sumer”/industrial to high-end video camera manufacturers that does not have a comparable digital still camera capability. And yet the Falconbrid digital signal processing (DSP) chipset present in the GY-HMQ10 enables JVC essentially to use a 1/2-inch complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) imager that would normally be found in a digital still camera, and process the full resolution of the imager at speeds that support standard video or film frame rates. Many digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras that record “full frame rate” video drop the resolution to 1080 or 720 HD in spite of the imagers being capable of much higher resolution. The reason is their DSPs cannot process more than standard HD at standard video frame rates.


Sony has taken a different approach to increased resolution by employing larger imagers like the full-frame 35-millimeter chips in its higher-end NXCAM and NEX lines. And Sony has introduced those cameras to the professional market with such features as interchangeable lenses, time code, sync signal processing and other goodies that low-budget productions often do not use, or for which they find simple “workarounds.” With the acquisition of Minolta a couple years ago, Sony, like Canon and Panasonic, now has access to the digital still camera technologies low-budget producers crave—most notably, larger imagers, interchangeable and prime “film-quality” lenses.

However, the common thread is that higher resolution video production seems to be trending to single chip technology instead of the standard three-chip infrastructure that has been accepted as “de rigueur” for professional production. The popularity of DSLR video production has shown that producers seem to prefer higher-resolution single CMOS imagers and access to film-quality glass to multiple, prism-fed charge-coupled devices (CCDs). The fact that JVC, a non-DSLR producing company, is forcing the price point for high-resolution production to drop considerably is the biggest surprise in this new trend.


JVC’s GY-HMQ10 records its processed 4K image to secure digital high capacity (SHDC)/secure digital extended capacity (SDXC) cards in 144 megabits per second H.264. However, uncompressed 4Kvideo is available from the camcorder’s high-definition multimedia interface (HDMI) ports. A number of outboard DVR suppliers claim to support 4K recording and sport HDMI input connectors. Whether or not those units can be plug-and-play with the 4K that JVC sends to the GY-HMQ10’s HDMI ports needs to be tested. But I suspect JVC’s partner, Focus Enhancements, will soon have a unit that docks to the camcorder and records the uncompressed 4K data in a ready-to-edit format to hot-swappable memory cards or inexpensive hard drives.

With appropriate workstation horsepower, most popular editing applications claim to be able to work in 4K. So the primary piece of the production puzzle that has to be solved for the budget-minded 4K-producer is real-time full 4K monitoring. As was the case with HD, that problem might be solved by using high-resolution computer displays, possibly with HDMI-to-display port adaptors, which would likely encourage the appearance of 4K liquid crystal display (LCD)/light-emitting diode (LED) studio monitors in the sub $5,000 range as well.

Inexpensive 4K for security and surveillance would be a tremendous development, especially with all the work being done in facial recognition, and it would address previous problems with security camera video resolution. DVRs and MPEG-4 security video is a vast improvement over tape, but 4K would be a huge leap forward for law enforcement and security use.

Even with 3D still trying to become “mainstream,” JVC’s approach to 4K acquisition will move 4K to the forefront, and be “the next big thing” in video production.