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Video Trends 2008: Mobile to High-Def (2/08)
by Douglas Dixon
Video has never been more accessible for consumers -- and more confusing. It's even easier to use -- and harder to understand and master. It's all about "one-click" simplicity -- and an overwhelming profusion of options.
The tends in digital video for 2008 reflect these challenges and contradictions, as equipment manufacturers and software developers bring more and more technology to the market, while trying to balance the tension between ease of use and powerful functionality.
In particular, the industry is balancing the simultaneous consumer enthusiasm for both high-def video and low-res video -- with the parallel development of both HD video -- with new camcorders, formats, software, and media offering stunning video quality -- and Web and mobile video -- low-res clips on YouTube and the iPhone.
So let's look at some of the developing trends and some representative current products to see how the consumer video market has been developing, and to anticipate what's coming in the next year.
Acquiring Video: Mobile Phones
We love watching video, and have graduated from TV and movies to online video -- especially for younger consumers. We also are creating our own videos, what's called user-generated content (UGC) -- and lots of it. The mobile phone is blowing past traditional cameras as the photo-taking device of choice, and soon the majority of mobile phones with be video-enabled -- to both shoot and to watch videos.
Meanwhile, digital cameras are shooting better-quality video, at full standard-res. These devices typically shoot in variants of the MPEG-4 format (often called MP4, 3GP, and H.264), which is becoming better supported by editing software.
The real problem will com in how to save, store, archive, access, and share all this content that we are generating. Expect more emphasis on built-in file-sharing and YouTube-uploading in video software. And look for more home digital storage and media server options to back up and archive our electronic memories.
Meanwhile, the options in digital video camcorders are exploding, with an amazing profusion of recording options, as Mini-DV tape is augmented by 3-inch mini-DVD disc, hard disk drives (HDD), and solid-state memory (SDHC) -- as well as various combinations of the above.
Find the Panasonic HDC-DX1 DVD camcorder
and Panasonic HDC-SD1 memory card camcorder on Amazon.com
- Mini-DV tape camcorders are proven and reliable and inexpensive. They can record for a solid hour, interfaces well with existing software, and uses low DV compression which is easy to edit. The physical tape also serves as is an inexpensive archive. However, tape is clumsy for fast access and searching, and the mechanical tape transport mechanism weighs down the camcorder and can cause alignment or other problems over time.
- DVD disc camcorders -- actually mini-size discs -- are really convenient for consumers -- just pop them into a set-top player or computer to watch your clips (though you may need to wait for the camcorder to finalize the disc). However, the variety of DVD formats is confusing, and the storage capacity even with double-sided discs is limited for higher-quality formats. These cameras record in the more compressed MPEG-2 format used on DVDs, which has lower quality and is clumsier to edit. The disc also can serve as a relatively inexpensive archive. DVD camcorders can grow in capacity with the future adoption of the high-def disc formats (HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc).
The 8 cm (3 inch) mini-DVD discs are available in single layer (1.4 GB) and dual layer (2.6 GB) sizes. For example the Sony Handycam DVD camcorders record directly to DVD-R/-RW/+RW/+R media formats (www.sonystyle.com). The Sony DCR-DVD standard-def camcorders start at $399, and can fit 20 to 60 minutes of SD video on a single-layer disc, or 35 to 110 minutes on dual layer. The Sony HDR-UX HD camcorders record 1080i AVCHD video, and can fit 15 to 25 minutes of HD video on a single-layer disc, or 25 to 45 minutes on dual layer
- Hard Disk Drive (HDD) camcorders have become more popular as storage capacity has grown into the multiple 10's of GBs, and prices have come into the range of the alternate formats. The greatest benefit is immediate access to your video -- just attach the camcorder to your computer to access the clips.
However, with HDD camcorders the media is not removable -- once you fill the camera in the fields you need to hook it up to a computer and a bigger disk to copy off the data and free up the internal storage. As a result, you will have to plan to think more about how you will store and archive your material. In addition, like DVD camcorders, HDD camcorders typically use more aggressive compression than DV -- like MPEG-2 -- in order to squeeze more video onto the disk.
For example, the JVC HD Everio GZ-HD3 has a 3-CCD sensor, shoots HD video at 1440 x 1080 resolution in HDV format (MPEG-2 TS), has a 60 GB hard disk (and can record to SD cards), and can store 5 to 7 hours of video (at 19 to 27 Mbps), for around about $1,300 (www.jvc.com). Standard-def Everios with 30 GB of storage can record from 7 to 37 hours in MPEG-2 format (at 4 to 8.5 Mbps).
- Solid-state memory is coming on fast as almost the best of all worlds for camcorder storage, at its capacity keeps doubling and prices keep dropping. Memory cards offer the instant-access convenience of hard disks, and the easy removability of tape and DVD.
The new SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity, www.sdcard.org) format expands the SD card format to higher capacity of 4 GB and beyond, and faster speeds beyond 2 MB/s. Larger and faster 8 GB cards are now available (albeit at a significant premium compared to 4 GB at around $55) -- including Kingston (up to 6 MB/sec transfer rate for $139, www.kingston.com/flash), and SanDisk (up to 9 MB/s read, 10 MB/s write for $239 with USB reader, www.sandisk.com/SD). And in August, Toshiba announced a 16 GB SDHC memory card for October, and a 32 GB SDHC card for January 2008.
For example, the Panasonic HDC-SD1 AVCHD camcorder records in highest quality mode at 13 Mbps, so each GB of storage can hold around 10 minutes of video (www.panasonic.com/consumer_electronics/sd). As a result, a tiny 4 GB SDHC card at around $55 can hold 40 minutes of HD video, and 8 GB at around $110 can hold 80 minutes -- or more DV or HDV video than a DV tape. And the Panasonic Palmcorder standard-definition SD camcorders like the rugged SDR-S10 ($399) record MPEG-2 video at 2.5 to 10 Mbps -- or some 12 to 50 minutes of video per GB of storage.
The trend to HD has accelerated because these consumer recording formats can be upgraded naturally to high-def video -- recording similar amounts of video to the same physical media, but now in HD.
DV camcorders can be upgraded to HD with the HDV format (HD MPEG-2, www.hdv-info.org), designed to fit an hour of HD video on DV tape. And other MPEG-based camcorders can be upgraded to HD with the AVCHD format (MPEG-4 H.264/AVC, www.avchd-info.org), designed to pack HD onto mini-discs, hard drives, and memory cards.
Meanwhile, interfacing to your computer is getting easier as well. DV camcorders originally used the FireWire/IEEE 1394 interface, but USB 2.0 has become more common as it is built in to new computers. With DV tape, you typically "capture" digital video by importing it from your camcorder into your editing software. With DVD disc (and the disc-like AVCHD format), the software opens up the disc's contents so you can extract the desired clips. But with the hard drive and memory card camcorders (and with a card reader), you can directly access the camcorder's storage like an external disk to preview and copy the contents directly to your computer.
Look for video software to become more flexible in handling all these new formats -- both opening the digital files wherever they are found (USB to camcorder, memory card, local hard disk), and displaying the saved clips in useful ways (not just each shot as a separate file, but the whole collection of shots).
Video Playback Software: Web and HD
As video file and media formats have proliferated, the traditional DVD player applications have expanded their scope into general media players. The past year has seen the addition of support for high-def discs and HD formats (AVCHD), as well as refinement of convenience features for playback -- which will continue into future versions.
CyberLink PowerDVD Ultra consolidates support for the new HD disc formats, HD DVD and Blu-ray ($99, www.gocyberlink.com). It goes beyond simple movie playback to support next-generation disc features including Picture-in-Picture movie mode, networking, interactive interactivity (BD-J and iHD), bookmarks, and advanced disc navigation. And it supports high-definition audio formats including Dolby Digital Plus, Dolby TrueHD, DTS-HD and 6.1-channel surround sound.
It also has some nice playback features, including one-click DVD dialog looping, moveable DVD subtitles, and power-saving settings for notebooks, including automatically activated DVD time stretching.
InterVideo WinDVD 8
InterVideo (now Corel) WinDVD 8 is available in two versions, Gold for $39, and Platinum for $59 with support for the latest audio/video technologies, including MPEG-4 AVC / H.264, DVD-Audio, and advanced Dolby audio (www.intervideo.com).
As a universal player, it plays streaming formats (Real Player, Quick Time, Windows Media), mobile formats (MPEG-4 AVC H.264 Main Profile, 3GPP/3GPP2), and HD formats (DivX 5.2 Pro, HD Audio, WMV-HD).
Both applications also have media sharing features, with Universal Plug & Play (UPnP) file sharing and media playback between PCs and set-top players.
Video Editing Software: Simplicity and Power
Today's consumer video editing software provides amazing capabilities at around a $100 price point -- importing a profusion of formats, real-time editing and effects, export to mobile and Web, and burning DVD and high-def formats. At the same time, these applications also package impressive technology for automating editing, clean-up, enhancement, and music creation.
The trend is clearly towards integrated video editing tools that include both traditional video editing and DVD authoring in one application. At the same time, companies like Roxio and Nero also offer broad suites of digital media tools for video, audio, and photo capture, editing, and sharing -- plus disc tools for burning and backup.
The conflicting trends of simplicity and power in video editing software are demonstrated by the decisions that the developers have made in upgrading their products. Major themes over the past year have been adding support for editing HD formats (HDV, AVCHD), exporting to mobile devices (especially the Apple iPod and Sony PSP), and burning to the new high-def disc formats (Blu-ray Disc and HD DVD).
Pinnacle Studio 11
For example, Pinnacle Studio 11 is available in three versions -- with the core Studio editor for $49, and Studio Plus for $99 as consumers step up to advanced editing and HD formats (www.pinnaclesys.com). Studio Plus adds advanced editing, effects and authoring options, plus end-to-end HD video editing workflow, including native HDV and AVCHD editing, and HD DVD disc burning.
Plus, there's the Studio Ultimate suite for $129 that lets more advanced users expand their palette with third-party professional audio and video effects and enhancement tools, plus a chroma key green screen backdrop for shooting your own video overlays.
Studio also is well optimized to take advantage of multi-core processors, to break up the software tasks to work faster and keep your system more responsive, especially while working with HD video and exporting the finals rendered movie.
Ulead VideoStudio 11
Ulead (now Corel) VideoStudio 11 also integrates video editing with DVD authoring (www.ulead.com/vs). The core VideoStudio is $89, and the Plus version is $129 with support for HD editing (AVCHD, MPEG-2 HD, HD DVD, Dolby Digital 5.1 surround audio), and enhanced portable device support (MPEG-4, H.264 for Microsoft Zune, Apple iPod, Sony PSP, YouTube, mobile phones).
An important theme of HD editing is to not confuse users with the details of file formats, resolution, and compression algorithms, and instead just import and edit the desired files. VideoStudio has such a multi-format timeline, allowing you to mix any and all supported formats on the same timeline. Plus it also offers a Smart Proxy feature to help edit video even on mid-range machines by converting clips to lower-resolution versions for faster editing.
VideoStudio also has an interesting option when you want to get some other work done while it's busy exporting a long movie -- a Safely Pause Rendering to free up PC resources.
Sony Vegas Movie Studio+DVD 8
In contrast, Sony Vegas Movie Studio+DVD 8 has two separate applications: the Vegas Movie Studio 8 editor and DVD Architect Studio 4 for DVD authoring (www.sonycreativesoftware.com). It's available in two versions, the core software for $79 and the Platinum Edition for $119.95, with HD video capture and editing, 5.1 surround mixing, and professional video effects.
The Platinum Edition adds features including HDV capture and editing, 5.1 surround AC-3 encoding, ATRAC import/export, and export to Apple iPod and Sony PSP. It also expands creative editing options with primary color correction, more video effects and transitions, additional DirectX audio effects, and surround sound mixing.
CyberLink PowerDirector 6
CyberLink PowerDirector 6 supports high-definition video editing as well as DVD creation with widescreen 16:9 video content and menus at $89 (www.gocyberlink.com). It can import formats including MPEG-2 HD and WMV-HD, and export to HD MPEG-4 AVC (H.264).
But one major focus of PowerDirector is pushing ease of use with a variety of Magic automatic editing tools to clean and fix videos, and even create a finished movie from a collection of clips. These provide a quick and easy first-cut solution, with the option for you to make further refinements if you wish. PowerDirector also enables the growing trend for personal video blogging by going beyond just exporting to Web formats by connecting directly to online sharing and storage through YouTube and MediaMax.
2007 was an exciting year in video camcorders, with highly portable tapeless camcorders -- the size of a soda can -- storing on memory cards. You now can go anywhere and shoot HD video for under $1000 -- and dropping.
And it has been a difficult year in video software, as a flood of new technology has been integrated into the products -- multi-core processors, Windows Vista, HD video, portable devices, Web video, and high-def DVD. 2008 should be a year of consolidation and integration, fleshing out full support across all these areas -- multi-format editing and export, importing HD from many different devices and media, direct Web import and sharing in Flash and other formats, and import / burning of high-def DVD formats again to different media.
However, as we continue to shoot and edit more videos, we also start running into the same problem that has developed with digital photography -- just keeping all those files organized and accessible. The new Apple iMovie '08 is moving in this direction as part of the iLife '08 suite, available for $79, and included with new Macs (www.apple.com/imovie).
iMovie '08 adds a new video library to display all your clips, featuring the Events grouping mechanism also in the new iPhoto, to automatically group clips by Events, based on the day they were shot.
Portions originally published in Camcorder & Computer Video magazine, 23, 6, December 2007.