PapaJohn Productions
 
Newsletter #120 - Oct 14, 2006
High Definition Camcorder
Sony HDR-HC1
 

 
I'd been itching to try a new High Definition camcorder... and thanks to a friend, Norman F Carver Jr. who is among many things an accomplished photographer, architect, writer, and digital artist, I got a chance this week to test his Sony HDR-HC1.
 
HDV Camcorder
 
Shooting Video - ChoiceThe camcorder is a hybrid in that you can shoot either HDV 1080i or DV format, toggling between them as you want. Switching from one to the other is as easy as touching the LCD screen control.
 
It was a good time to do it. I wasn't sure how I'd get the HDV files from the camcorder to the computer in my XP system, but I had just installed the latest beta version (SP2) of the Vista operating system... which features include using high definition files with nothing more than the new Photo Gallery, Movie Maker and DVD Maker software apps bundled with the operating system.
 
Shooting ChaliceMy first subject was a pewter chalice in the corner of my office, where I put some loose change. With the camcorder on a tripod and zoomed into it, I wanted to see how well it would capture details of the chalice and the money in it.
 
After that, I aimed out a window and videoed some wet rustling leaves in a tree, another zoomed in close-up subject.
 
I shot the two scenes first in HDV and then in DV, toggling between the two formats and not leaving any spaces on the tape.  
 
The camcorder does a great job, and it was a fun learning experience... I'll use this newsletter to share it with you as best I can.
 

 
To illustrate the difference between watching DV versus HDV, let's assume you had a screen with enough resolution to see the full video... which I don't... so I'll show you a cropped segment.
 
Here's part of a frame from the clip shot in regular DV format. It's enlarged to align with the actual size of the HDV 1080i snapshot that follows. The enlargement is to show the differences you can expect to see when viewing the same content shot in either format on a large screen monitor or TV with enough resolution to show the 1080i video in all its glory.
 
Part of a DV snapshot enlarged to 1080 size...
DV Cropped Segment
 
.... and here's the same (but a larger cropped area) to show what you get with the HDV format option.
 
Part of a HDV snapshot at actual 1080 size...
HDV Cropped Segment
 
This newsletter won't get into the differences in quality, features of the camcorder, or editing of high definition content. There's lots of online info that can better show you those.
 
I'll explore the steps used to get the video clips from the camcorder tape to the computer, and beyond that into Movie Maker... in XP or Vista.  
 
 
... before getting into it further, a couple notes...
 

 

Notes...
 
There's an interesting new blog related to the HD subject, with this first post of 9/13/06 kicking it off:
Welcome to “The HD DVD Insiders”, Microsoft’s new HD DVD blog. This is our forum for our passionate employees to talk about the format, our VC-1 codec, and what we’re doing to provide consumers with the world’s best HD content.
HD-DVD Insiders Blog
 
 
Vista Corner... downloaded and installed the RC2 release... my main issues with Vista right now are:
 
The 180 GB external hard drive that was stopped working last week finished the job this week, and is now unusable... hope I don't miss what was on it. I pulled it from the case, tried using it as a second drive inside a computer, and a day of error checking by Windows XP found nothing but bad sectors.
 
 
.... back to the main topic...
 

 
The Sony HDR-HC1 Camcorder
 
The cover of the manual sums it up well... with both DV and HDV logos. As we've seen coming into this issue, you can toggle between standard DV and HDV 1080i when shooting, and playback will toggle automatically. 
 
 
First Impressions
 
It feels familiar and comfortable in that it:
On the unusual side, it doesn't come with any software to capture the video... no disc at all... no trial version software.
 
The manual says to use a firewire (iLink) cable to copy movies to a computer, and says to use editing software capable of copying HDV signals for HDV clips, and editing software capable of copying DV signals for DV clips... it refers you to the operating instructions of the software you choose.... with no suggestions.
 
It also says that some editing software on the computer may not work correctly, and that the computer may hang up or not recognize the signal if you don't do things right or the software doesn't work.
 
The manual has a few pages about using "Click to DVD" software on a Sony VAIO series computer. All the computers at the library for my training sessions are those. With one, you should be able to go directly from the camcorder to a DVD... any HDV footage is automatically downsized to regular DV during the process. That's not what I want to do... my goal is to get the full HDV clips into Movie Maker.
 
That leaves us wide open and on our own for what software to use on XP or Vista... and how to do it. The playback works fine on the camcorder's LCD screen, so obviously any issues or difficulties I encounter trying to get it to the computer will be fully my responsibility to figure out. The fun begins!!!! This is the meat of this newsletter.
 

 
Selected Specs
 
To help figure out how to approach the importing/capturing, here's some selected info from the manual, mostly the specification section...
 
Audio recording
Video recording - NTSC 1080/60i specification
Tape speed - about 18.81 mm/sec... the same speed for either HDV or DV
 
Recording time - 60 minutes for HDV or DV
 
Image device
Optical zoom - 10x
 
The camcorder can playback either DV or HDV... mixed on the same tape.
 
It can also play back pictures recorded in HDV 720/30p format, but not transfer them by firewire (not tested as the camcorder doesn't have an option to record HDV 720p)... there's not much to test if it can't transfer it by firewire.
 

 
Importing Clips - Vista
 
Let's start with Vista, using the latest beta release (RC2) which supports the importing of HDV from a camcorder.
 
Vista's Photo Gallery is the default app for the import process. You can start with Movie Maker also, but it'll use the same process. 
 
Here's what the first window looks like when importing the clips recorded as DV. Note the option to import to multiple WMV files, a new feature in Vista. For my tests, I'm capturing to DV-AVI, and the multiple file option isn't there. 
Vista - Capture DV
 
Vista - Capture HDV FootageAnd the same window for the HDV footage. The only option is importing to a single file.
 
Note the size estimate for the HDV files, a bit less than comparable DV-AVI files for DV.
 
The size differences are due to compression. It's like having BMP versus compressed JPG pictures.
 

 
Vista - capture DV choices
 
The next window when importing DV gives
you three choices.
 
The 2nd choice of going directly to a DVD is new with Vista. Sounds like the Sony manual referring to "Click to DVD".
 
I opted for the 3rd one just to get the DV-AVI files from my two scenes.
 

 
Import Options
 
When Capture HDV choicesimporting the HDV scenes in Vista, the first two choices are the same... but the option I wanted was the third one, which isn't there... no option to import selected parts.
 
The lead in statement implies it's an option, but it isn't.
 
My first shots on the camcorder were on an already used tape that had only about 10 minutes of tape left. It was from my mini-DV camcorder.
 
When I saw the option not being there, rather than sit through 50 minutes of Vista looking through the tape to get to my new shots, I shot the scenes again, this time using the first part of a new tape. 
 

 
Stopping the Import
 
Vista HDV - stop captureWhen the import process was past the footage I wanted, it kept going at real time speed. Vista was going to go through the whole tape looking for more HDV clips.... that would take another 50+ minutes.
 
I stopped it... there were two choices... to Cancel or to Stop.
 
Both choices gave a caution or warning which gave me something to think about. The message when cancelling was more ominous than when stopping, so I stopped it. I had another clue that the cancelling wouldn't be a good choice, as I was watching the creation of the video file... which was tagged as being a temporary one. Cancelling a process usually results in temporary files being deleted.
 
It's not an elegant way to present the option to capture only some of the footage, but it worked for this newsletter test. It wouldn't be good for real work when its importing just the tail end of a tape, or something from the middle.
 

 
Video File Creation
 
Vista HDV file being builtAs the HDV import happens, you can see the file being created... the dvr-ms_tmp extension led me to believe two things...
  • Vista was serious about deleting it. If I cancelled the import instead of stopping. It would have wiped out the temporary file.
  • The file format when using Photo Gallery in Vista is dvr-ms, a Microsoft MPEG-2 derivative... the same extension for recorded TV shows when using Media Center software on XP.
While waiting, I copied the 300 MB temp file to my XP computer, renamed it to a dvr-ms extension, and tried playing it. WMP gave an error message. I knew the file wasn't complete enough to play... it hadn't been closed yet.
 
I waited a bit more as the blank part of the tape was being searched. The file didn't get any bigger. After I stopped the process, the file had the dvr-ms extension and other temporary files were deleted.
 

 
Vista - Clips in Photo GalleryThe import process for the DV footage on the same tape was kind of normal, so I won't go through it.
 
I had to jog the camcorder setting from Auto to DV to kick start it. Until then Vista treated the device as an HDV camcorder.
 
DV importing ends with typical DV-AVI files.
 
Note again that Movie Maker in Vista doesn't need to be involved in the importing. You can start with it, but the default when plugging a camcorder in is to do it in Photo Gallery.
 
See the different shapes of the HDV and DV clip thumbnails in Photo Gallery. HDV is always widescreen while DV can be shot as standard or widescreen.
 
Vista - HDV Clip PropertiesAnother note about Vista... checking the properties of the imported HDV clip shows it as 720x480. Copying the clip from Vista to XP and checking its properties shows it as 1440x1080!!!! And it plays fine on the XP system.
 
Let's go over to my laptop and do the same importing there, but using Windows XP.
 

 
Capturing Clips - XP
 
Note the terminology shift... we 'import' in Vista and 'capture' in XP. Forgive me if I get the two mixed up at times until I get in the groove of Vista.
 
Movie Maker worked as usual with the camcorder set to playback DV... but it and other video software didn't connect with the camcorder when it was set to play HDV 1080i.
 
After some internet research, I downloaded and installed a fully functional 30 day trial version of Sony's
 
Vegas Movie Studio+DVD Platinum Edition 7.0
 
The installation was quick and easy.
 

 
Capturing HDV with Vegas
 
Vegas - select deviceThe first step was to select the device type/device to capture from, in this case the camcorder set to HDV mode for playback.
 
Vegas - select format
 
 
Vegas knows the camcorder can be used for DV or HDV, so you need to pick the format.
 
After that, right click on the blue window that shows the word 'Stopped' and choose Capture > Start.
 
Vegas - start capture
 
 
 
The captured files came in as .m2t files, an MPEG-2 derivative... not .dvr-ms as they did in Vista.
 

 
What To Do With .m2t Files?
 
The .m2t files wouldn't work in any of my usual video software or conversion utilities.
 
They worked in Vegas but my goal was to get them into Movie Maker 2 for use as source files.
 
I made a movie project in Vegas and saved the movie to a different format. I rendered it a number of times using different formats and codec options... searching for the right one to work in Movie Maker. This screen shot shows it rendering to an .mpg file...
Vegas - rendering
 
... after a number of test renderings, I settled on an AVI file using 'Video for Windows - not stretch video to fill' for compression.
 
You may appreciate the difficulties of taking full frame snapshots from a movie file... hard enough for regular sized ones, even more so when the frame size is larger than your computer monitor.
 
Movie Maker 2 did that final step, getting the snapshots to show you the differences in visual quality. With the 1440x1080 AVI files from Vegas, the MM2 snapshots from them in the collection were full size.
 
The HDV files were in MM2... on the timeline... where I edited them, and saved a movie using one of my custom profiles, one that emulates the properties of 1080i videos. We got there!!
 

 
Conclusions and Closing
 
The HDV files went from the camcorder to Movie Maker in Vista as .dvr-ms files, and from the camcorder to XP as .m2t files... either way, they remain some form of an MPEG-2 file.
 
Movie Maker in Vista should be able to use them directly in a project. Movie Maker in XP needs them converted to something else.... like the AVI files I made in Vegas.
 
It was a fun exercise to make this newsletter. For me, the camcorder goes back to Norm tonight and I return to my usual low rez DV work. I don't want to get too attached to it. By next week these HDV clips will just be a fond memory.
 
The sample scenes I shot were quiet... I didn't test the audio. Maybe another newsletter someday.
 
As Vista and High Definition camcorders move into the hands of the users, things will get more complex, and more interesting... I hope this newsletter helps you as you think about going forward.
 

 
Have a great week...
 
PapaJohn