JVC’s GY-HM650U HD camcorder has a variety of communications options.
The JVC GY-HM650U is designed to break new ground for mobile newsgathering. It offers the ability to record two codecs simultaneously on separate SD cards: one at full HD resolution and another with more compression for the Web. It also transfers footage wirelessly back to a television station via built-in FTP and WiFi connectivity. It’s a full-featured, 1/3-inch CMOS three-chip HD camera with a variety of recording codecs and resolutions, along with a wide-ranging zoom lens that’s well suited for news coverage.
The camera has a list price of $5,995.
The GY-HM650U is well designed for maximum versatility. It covers all the commonly used HD and SD formats: 1080i or 720 in 59.94i or 29.97p and 23.98p, NTSC or PAL. It can record in HD 720 or 1080i as QuickTime MPEG2 (35/25/19Mbps) or H.264, MP4 (MPEG2), MXF (MPEG2), or AVCHD 1080 60i. It can also record SD in H.264. Each of these formats is stored in separately labeled folders on the SD card used.
Slots for the two SD memory cards are located in the rear of the camera. These can be made to run consecutively for longer shooting time, or one can be used to make a backup recording.
In backup mode, card B records constantly, while card A records only when the record button is activated. This is useful for interviews, when one might miss an important comment, or when covering an unpredictable event in a stakeout assignment where a sudden action could be easily missed.
Perhaps the camera’s most innovative feature is the ability to record in two different codecs at once. The GY-HM650U is designed to shoot in any of the HD codecs on card A, while giving you the option to shoot in a more compressed codec, such as H.264 for the Web or for proxy editing, on card B. This saves transcoding time if you anticipate uploading any of the footage to an Internet site.
The GY-HM650U also allows you to stream what you are shooting live, with simultaneous recording to memory cards. You can stream live at selected resolutions and bit-rates (independent of the recording mode) at 1920 x 1080 (3 or 8 Mbps), 1280 x 720 (1.5 or 3 Mbps) or 480i (0.3, 0.8, 1.5, 3 or 5 Mbps).
The camcorder also supports an enhanced Web interface for remote viewing of camera images, and wireless remote control from a smartphone, tablet or PC.
However, the core of the GY-HM650U is a solid, full-featured HD camera. It sports three 1/3 inch 2.2 megapixel CMOS image sensors that deliver a crisp HD image with faithful color rendition. The Fujinon zoom lens is fast and has a focal length range equivalent to 29 to 667 mm.
The GY-HM650U can shoot variable frame rates to attain slow or fast motion, and has an adjustable shutter speed. It’s also equipped with XLR audio inputs, and SDI and HDMI outputs for monitoring or recording on a different recording device if desired. The unit has both a sharp 920k-pixel LCD display and a 1.22-megapixel eyepiece viewfinder, which is useful for critical focus and viewing in bright light.
JVC has wisely placed the most highly used controls on the camera as physical switches or buttons. You can easily access white balance, zebra, iris and ND filters without having to go into the menu. The menu has also been simplified for quick use. A nice feature is that you can change recording formats instantly without having to restart the camera.
Upon picking up the camera, my immediate reaction was that it’s superbly designed in terms of ergonomics and very lightweight, but constructed with sturdy materials. It balances perfectly, allowing it to be held easily with the right hand, leaving your left hand free to access numerous physical buttons and controls on the left side of the camera. The LCD screen swivels out and can be pointed to the front, rear or side.
I’m a big fan of physical controls, and JVC has placed all of the important ones in easy reach: white balance, zebra, gain, OIS, ND filter and others. It also has real iris and focus rings on the lens for accurate calibration and makes the menu less cluttered.
JVC has worked out a logical and easy-to-navigate menu system that’s one of the best I’ve seen on any camera. You can run the LCD screen and the eyepiece screen simultaneously for quick checks on focus.
I tested most of the codecs for visual quality.
First I shot in the higher quality formats: QuickTime MPEG2 (1920×1080 60i and 24p) and MXF (same settings) and AVCHD at 60i (the unit does not allow 24p with AVCHD). In tandem, I recorded web versions on card B. When recording in a different codec simultaneously on card B you have two options: QuickTime (H.264) or AVCHD. In QuickTime you can choose two resolutions, 960 x 540 or 480 x270. AVCHD is locked at 1440 x 1080 in 60i LP or EP. For the most critical work, the GY-HM650U can record in a mode called UHQ (Ultra High Quality), which uses H.264 at 35 Mbps.
The image quality across all of the codecs I tested was impressive. A typical file size reduction from the full HD on the A card to the web-size file on the B card amounted to about 1/23 the size. Yet the sharpness was more than adequate and the color surprisingly faithful to the original.
I compared several clips between full-res HD and the highly compressed web files on card B. The first was an MP4 1920 x 1080 file on card A (415 MB) and a QuickTime H.264 480 x 270 version on card B (18 MB). Given the massive amount of compression, the H.264 web version looked very good. The image was naturally less sharp, but the color rendition was identical and it would be perfectly fine for a web post or for proxy editing. I tested a second clip shooting XDCAM EX at 35 Mbps on card A (160 MB) and H.264 on card B (7 MB) and achieved the same results. The full resolution HD is excellent, and the compressed web file was perfect for web posting, proxy editing or streaming.
The full HD codecs offered by the camera are all very good. The main advantage is that you can choose which one you like best. I found that the XDCAM EX offered excellent HD images—which is to be expected—as it offers the highest bit rate. I’m generally less enamored by the AVCHD codec, largely because it’s less NLE-friendly. And on the GY-HM650U, the AVCHD codec is also the most limited, in that it only records 1080 60i or 50i.
One of the best things about this camera is that you have many choices for an encoding format. Most camera companies require that you work with their own proprietary codec. JVC’s GY-HM650U breaks through that thinking and allows the user to choose the codec that works best for the particular application. And the dual codec capability is a brilliant addition. Transcoding H.264 is a very common practice for distributing media, and it is also notoriously slow. This camera does it instantly.
JVC’s GY-HM650U is one of the most versatile and cost-effective cameras on the market. It’s ideal for newsgathering, as it was designed from the ground up to deliver excellent footage in a variety of formats. The live streaming feature allows for quick dissemination of breaking news.
Recording in dual codecs enables you to create instant web versions of the footage, and the camera’s full-resolution HD formats are suitable for high-quality television production. The design, access to physical controls and ease of use make it an excellent choice for a mobile news team or for documentary production.
Geoff Poister, Ph.D., is a member of the Film and Television faculty at Boston University and a regular contributor to TV Technology