HDV is a consumer format. Sony itself has said so. So why have they made so many “prosumer” cameras? Because there is a market for it. But the format is anything BUT professional. Can a guy grab a camera, shoot his friends skateboarding, edit this and throw it up on YouTube or make a DVD? Sure they can. And just because SURVIVORMAN shoots with HDV cameras doesn’t mean it is professional.

Bear with me as I rant a bit about this format…

I knew there was a reason I didn’t want to work with the HDV format. I read all of the issues on the various forums…GOP format makes rendering take forever, 4:2:0 color sampling, start and stop makes new clips (time code breaks in essence), highly compressed (HD signal on the same tape as DV…wow). Oh, there are people who offer solutions like “capture as ProRes to stay out of the GOP format and get into a better color space when editing.” OK…fine, I hear you, But that too has issues.

Here, let me explain what issues I am faced with.

Issue #1: Timecode breaks confuse the crap out of the deck.  THE PROFESSIONAL DECK…the HVR-1500.  It hits the break, then backs up, then goes forward, then backs up…does this little square dance for a minute or two until it decides that can’t find the new in point (who the hell knows WHY?  It’s right there!) and then it bombs out.  This happens all the friggin time.  No, we don’t shoot time of day. This is just regular INT GEN timecode. It’s as if the deck hits the break, tries to capture right from where it left off, but because of the break it can’t figure out how to pre-roll properly. Very odd for a “professional” deck. OH, and for the record, we are connected via HD SDI to AJA Kona 3 capture cards with RS-422 deck control. Also tried firewire deck control with similar results.

And it isn’t a Final Cut Pro issue. I have researched this issue and it pops up in Avid and FCP forums. I have called people who shoot this format and they have the same issue. It is a format and deck issue. Their solution? Dub the tapes to make one long unbroken code…either to another HDV tape or to another format. Waste of time and resources if you ask me.

ISSUE #2: This company shoots many scene at 8fps. Recording 8fps onto the 29.97 fps tape, so it looks streaky and blurry.  This worked for while until TWO TAPES came in that we couldn’t play on any of the decks.  Plays back black, both out to the monitor and to the FCP capture tool.  We could see the image if we fast forward or rewind, but not play.  Someone suggested that this is a timecode issue…that somehow the timecode track on the tape is fubar (look it up in the wikipedia). But the tapes weren’t damaged, not visibly anyway. So I suggested that we try playing them back in the camera that they were shot with.  One tape played fine in the camera, and was dubbed to a new tape, but the second tape doesn’t even play back in the camera…nor any HDV camera that we have.

To all those people who say that when you shoot to tape you don’t lose footage…I say HA! Sure you can…always could. I have had plenty of experience with tapes that have had issues where they didn’t record timecode to the tape (damaged record heads, dirty heads). And anyone who has shot tape knows that dropouts are VERY common.

So…why did we shoot HDV? Well, the typical arguements. “Tape is cheaper than those P2 cards,” “I am wary of tapeless formats because you might lose footage (debunked),” “we won’t need a field technician for offloading cards, with multiple hard drives,” “oh, we can just capture to ProRes to avoid the GOP issue.”

OK…let’s look at this.

-“Tape is cheaper than those P2 cards.”

Initially…sure. But after a while all those tapes add up. P2 you use again and again and again. And you are only assessing this as a PRODUCTION COST…not an overall project cost. Let’s factor in a few more things. DECKS. You need to buy or rent decks to capture this footage. With P2, or SxS, no decks required. Direct import into the computer. This not only saves money on decks…but MAN does this save TIME! Now not only can you import on one machine…you can import on MANY machines. You can import on all six edit machines if you need to. Manpower time…saved. Therefore less money is spent on their overtime…or extra time. And P2 imports faster than real time…MORE time is saved.

So with HDV, you saved a little money during production, but then added a lot of money in post…deck rental and cost of paying your employees more for the extra time needed.

And one HUGE headache with tapes…prioritizing. Two projects, tapes came in for both…both are under the gun to work with this new footage. Who gets their footage first? Now you have editing sitting on their thumbs while they wait for more footage…adding a day or two to the editing days…and THAT time is a lot of money.

-“I am wary of tapeless formats because you might lose footage”
This is a ridiculous statement. Raise your hands if you lost a tape full of footage during production. OH, I have. Ever experience tape glitches or dropouts on tape? I sure have. And I have seen digital hits on P2 and SxS too…it happens. Ever have a tape ERASED via a big magnet, or a degaussing machine due to carelessness? I have. Solid state solutions work if you are careful and back up the cards before erasing. Yes, that is an extra step, but if people are paying attention, it works great. Whenever someone ISN’T paying attention, that is when you lose footage. Taped and solid state.

-“we won’t need a field technician for offloading cards”
With tape, no you don’t True. But the cost of that person during production…that body…cheap compared to the hours you pay one or more assistants in the post process to capture tapes.

-“We can just capture to ProRes to avoid the GOP issue.”

This brings up ANOTHER cost issue. HARD DRIVES. DVCPRO HD P2 takes up very little space. Capturing everything as ProRes…in a shared storage environment? Duuuuuude. For one guy that extra firewire drive isn’t much. But to go from 12TB to 18-24TB on a SAN? Not cheap. Not by a longshot.

Now, capturing HDV as Offline RT…possible I suppose. Something we are considering. But then we STILL have Issue #1, the deck cha-cha-cha about the timecode.

Sorry about this. This is my first full on HDV project. The one time I was saddled with an HDV project I captured HDV as DVCPRO HD and that made my life EASY. I logged and captured…and since it was a small project I didn’t run into too many issues.

HDV gets an even bigger THUMBS DOWN from this editor. A format that is consumer, and should stay consumer. IMHO.