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Z One Youve Been Waiting For

Sony Announces the HVR-Z1U, HDV Camcorder By Mannie Frances

Amid all the fanfare, buzz, and security of Sony Headquarters at 550 Madison, Sony Broadcast Electronics formally announced the HVR-Z1U, possibly the most highly anticipated camera ever in its price range. The HVR-Z1U (the Z1) is Sonys latest HDV camera, following closely on the heels of the HDR FX-1, (the FX-1) a lighter version of the Z1. "What's the difference?" you might ask. Well, a lot. But let's start by talking about how Sony is now defining what HDV actually is.  

"HDV will be to the video industry, what DV was nearly 10 years ago. HDV provides shooters at all skill levels the ability to compete on a very deep level with high-dollar cameras" said Douglas Spotted Eagle, who demonstrated HDV at the Sony press event. "It's exciting to hear the oohs and ahhs of the press as they see HDV displayed on a 60 foot screen. It simply looks stunning."  (Spotted Eagle is also the coauthor of the HDV: What You NEED to Know HDV guide.) 

When Robert Ott, vice president of professional audio and video products for Sony Electronics' Broadcast and Production Systems Division, first stepped to the podium, the room was unexpectedly lively. In many ways, today's announcement was just a formality. The secret of the camera was already out! (Sony had shown a prototype of this camera at NAB 2004.) Gathered throughout the room were the top brass from Sony Pictures Digital and Sony Broadcast Electronics along with a very impressive group of notable press, representing DV Magazine, DMN, Videographer, and many more, including press from outside the United States. And while most everyone knew why they were there, very few had ever actually seen the camera. Sony announced the Z1 as a concept back at NAB in April of this year. Anyone at that show remembers how HDV got a lot of attention with very little in the way of tangible goods. Enter the Z1. Very tangible. And VERY good!

Until Sony released the FX-1, JVC was the only manufacturer with an HDV camcorder on the market. The JVC cameras are single CCD cameras recording HDV in 720 progressive frames, also known as 720p. Sony's cameras, including the Z1, are 3 CCD cameras which record 1080 interlaced frames or 1080i. In New York , Sony displayed the Z1's incredible image on a SONY LUMA  High Definition monitor. The color quality, sharpness, depth-of-field and focus were compatible with any digital camcorder in any price range. The Z1 records in HDV or standard DV modes and uses of MiniDV or DVCam, allowing anyone to take advantage of the superior image quality immediately.

"I was really impressed when I first saw the type of image quality that the Z1 captures" said Chris Hurd, president of DVInfoNet and HDV InfoNet. "And I remain impressed. Sony has outdone itself with this camera." 

Several unique features make the Z1 a very special camera, yet it is a comfortable fitting camera with intelligently designed features and well-placed controls. The flip-out 3.5-inch LCD display reveals the camera control buttons underneath. Unlike most other camcorders, the Z1 allows simultaneous viewing on the eyepiece and the LCD display. Six one-touch, customizable preset buttons allow the instant control over certain shots. It can record HDV, DVCAM and DV images at 60i, 50i, 30, 25 or 24 frames per second, in either SD or HD. This switchable 60/50 capability allows videographers to meet a variety of  needs with just one camcorder. 

Mr. Ott seemed especially enthusiastic when demonstrating the customizable effects of the Z1. The audience was duly impressed. When asked about 24p, Ott described the Cinematone and the Cineframe modes, each with their own advantages. The 'magic' found in the camera takes care of any cinema cadence 'looks' that 24p fans might demand, yet maintains outstanding resolution that has not been seen before from a small CCD camcorder. As the Sony camera records interlaced images, Sony calls its solutions 24, 25 or 30 frames (24F/25F/30F). Understanding that audio is important to all videographers, Sony has included two balanced XLR mic inputs in addition to the mini-plug input and the on-camera stereo microphone. The Zeiss lens, manually controlled or auto-controlled, provides crystal clarity and solid movement when focusing or zooming. 

"I first experienced this camcorder at Government Expo and was simply blown away at its quality. It feels like a much more expensive camcorder than it is, with solid, heavy feel to the lens and controls, while maintaining a comfortable size," said Spotted Eagle. 

Zooming in on the press reaction to the camera, it was easy to see that an impression was clearly being made. Questions about specs, aspect ratios, capture, and editing on an NLE were all handled with great precision. Ott also mentioned a strong interest by government and law enforcement agencies in the enhanced quality, quantity, and clarity of content offered by Sony's 1080i HDV format.  

Sony Vegas 5 was used to demonstrate the Z-1 HDV footage
Sony seems to have their eye on the prize- giving content creators the best quality image right out of the gate. But they havent let the details slip by. Sony's HDV production system can achieve interoperability with editing software from Adobe, Apple, Avid, Canopus, Pinnacle, Ulead, and Sobey, as well as Sony's own VegasŪ 5 software, which can fully handle 1080 HDV signals. 

When combined with the HVR-M10U VTR, the HVR-Z1 forms the core of an entry-level HD acquisition and playback solution. Sony envisions four phases of HDV adopters. Phase 1 may only be interested in SD acquisition and output. Phase 2 will capture in HDV, while editing and delivering in SD. Phase 3 captures and edits in HDV, but delivers in SD. And finally, Phase 4 adopters will acquire and edit HDV and deliver in HD using Blue-Ray technology.  Bob Ott emphasized the importance of these phases saying, "Users can upgrade from SD to HD all at once, or they can do it when it makes the most sense for their operations and budgets." 

"For Sony, a professional line of HDV solutions is much more than a new product introduction," said Ott. "It's about introducing a completely new way of recording, editing, and displaying the highest-quality images possible. Video professionals have a unique set of needs, so it makes sense they should have a unique set of tools at their disposal. Sony offers all the keys to an HDV production workflow with acquisition, a VTR, NLE software and the finest displays in our BVM and LUMA Series of LCD monitors." 

The HVR-Z1U is expected to be available in the January/February 2005 timeframe.

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Related Keywords:Sony HVR-Z1U, HDV, Sony 1080i HDV format, Sony Vegas,


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