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AVCHD Format Discussion
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Old July 29th, 2010, 07:55 PM   #1
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Need Advice as I look to Upgrade

I work at a small university and am slowly building a video production program. We are pretty behind the times in equipment, and I am at a crossroads on the best next step on a limited budget.

We are using Canon GL1 cameras, which have performed well over the years. Two of my three tape decks in the editing lab need repairs or replacement.. that would coast about $2,000, and I feel it's wasted money since we want to move away from tapes. This led me to think about just getting some Firestores and card readers and going tapeless. That would cost me about $3,000 for three units.

Then I saw this new Sony NEX-VG10 and I see a lot of benefits to using them for teaching. I feel strongly that having manual zoom, focus, and iris controls is important for teaching techniques. The lack of servo zoom might be a problem, but they would be used for more film-style shooting, and learning to zoom manually can be a great asset. To get two cameras that is going to cost me about $4,000... not bad considering I'm getting 2 HD cameras instead of tapeless standard def with the Firestores. This is definitely a step in the right direction.

But here is my big problem... post production. The NEX-VG10 records in AVCHD. We are still editing with the Adobe Production Studio from 2006 (I think this was essentially "CS1"). I suspect I will need to upgrade to CS5 to make the best (or ANY) use of AVCHD... although technically we will be editing with the complimentary CS4 Premiere Pro since we aren't running a 64-bit system. That leads me to the next part- system specs.

We are running Intel Pentium 4 3GHz systems with 3GB of RAM. The graphics card is built-in, and I don't have access to the specs at the moment. Running CS4 on this system, what might I expect from AVCHD files? I do have a Sony HDV camera for special projects, and I have had good results editing those captured clips on these systems, but I don't know how the HDV MPEG format is different from AVCHD.

My budget would permit getting the cameras and upgrading to CS5. But I wouldn't have much left for hardware upgrades.

In the last two years I have focused more on live event production, putting a modest truck together for sports productions, and am now swinging back to the single-camera production side of things... a lot has changed in just two years and I'm trying to get back up to speed. I would appreciate any advice that anyone can give.

Thank you,

Zach
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Old July 30th, 2010, 12:55 PM   #2
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If you are looking to build a production/post production system for the future, I would suggest that the main issue for you is actually hardware, rather than the specific new camera you might choose.
IMO:
1) Tapeless is the standard going forward
2) Editing in native tapless formats, AVCHD, XDCam, and the others, will honestly require Win7 64, at a minimum Intel i7 CPU, at least 12GB RAM. Since you are already an Adobe user, I would highly recommend moving to CS5 Production Premium, and equipping your system with an nVidea CUDA GPU that is compatable with CS5 Mercury Playback Engine. The good news is that such a system is no longer very expensive- under $2,000 not including the nVidea card.
3) with such a system in place, you are now positioned to easily use almost any tapeless camera currently available, or combinations thereof.
3) There are lots of newer sub $5,000 cameras that would be satisfactory for your intentions. The Sony VG10 certainly looks interesting and might be quite suitable, but there is lots we don't know about it yet since it won't actually be released until September. Also, apparently Sony is intending to offer a more "pro" version of the VG10- probably $4,000 range- that might be worth the wait for a University production studio.
My inclination would be to build the system first, then see what develops in the way of camera choices.
Nowadays, even inexpensive consumer cams like the Sony CX550 offer stunning image quality, flexibility, and excellent low light performance. Once you have your system in place, you could even get started with something that modest and add the "pro" cameras as budget allows.
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Old July 30th, 2010, 02:54 PM   #3
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Robert,

Thank for your insights. Looking at my budget and all the needs that are addressing my department this year, I'm guessing I will go with a Firestore or similar solution, stick with SD for this year and hold off on any machine and software upgrades until next summer.

Your advice is sound... there is no sense in getting a camera without knowing if your post-production gear will handle it or not.

A Firestore solution will bridge the current needs, and will still come in handy down the road for tapeless acquisition on older cameras.

Thanks again! I hope to get more involved with these forums as I get back in the saddle with post-production!
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Old July 30th, 2010, 04:43 PM   #4
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Sounds like a smart move.
Going with half measures is probably penny wise & pound foolish.
You can spend the time developing a bullet proof game plan & then pursue the $$$ to execute it.
The hardware gets cheaper every year anyway :)
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Old July 30th, 2010, 09:28 PM   #5
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Don't give up entirely just yet... keep in mind that most of the tapeless cameras can still record in SD, and will look very good doing it. That would keep you on your current edit box(es) while putting this years budget into some state of the art cameras. As Robert mentioned, even the Sony CX550V is a mighty capable little unit with excellent image quality. A couple of those and maybe the VG10 when it arrives if it meets the needs.

You'll definitely need to upgrade the computer side of things, but any current quad core will probably do fairly well, and you could always get Vegas Studio (IIRC the VG10 comes with a copy). It won't be as robust as a "pro" application, but probably enough to train your students on the basics of editing.

Doing this "on a shoestring" isn't impossible, it'll just take a while to spec things out so you get good gear at each stage that will last a while and stand the test of time.

If I read the budget right, you've got around $5K...

1 x VG10, w/ Sony Vegas Studio - approx 2k
2 x CX550V - approx 1K @
1 x Core i7 win7 64 machine with an extra "big" HDD for storage... shop Dell or HP returns, should come out under $1k, or build your own, depending on skill levels.

Doesn't leave any for extra batteries (You can source FV70's fairly reasonable, and those will fit all the cameras), removable media (you'll need some fast SDHC cards, maybe let the students buy their own?), tripods and lighting.... but hopefully you've already got some of the basic peripheral gear.

Next year add another VG10 or whatever the current spiffy model is, and another edit box along with "pro" edit software...
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Old July 31st, 2010, 10:34 PM   #6
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Some suggestions on looking at upgrades within the limited budget you have.

First, while your existing hardware isn't going to be able to do much with native AVCHD files (the high def format recorded by the VG10 and CX550v), you might well be able to use Cineform NeoScene to convert the AVCHD to avi files which would then be editable on your existing hardware. I do not know if there is an educational discount on NeoScene, but retail prices is $100 a copy. (See videoguys.com, one of the dvinfo sponsors.) I'd suggest downloading a trial copy of NeoScene from the Cineform website, and running a test on some AVCHD footage. If NeoScene works on your existing hardware (and it probably will), you could upgrade the cameras while deferring hardware upgrades to more favorable budgetary times. NeoScene also works with HDV, as well, in the event you decided to acquire some HDV cams.

Second, as a university program, you should qualify for the very substantial upgrade discounts for CS5 packages as well as Win 7. You might have more luck soliciting donations of more recent versions of Premiere, such as CS3 (which I ran on an XP machine 3 GB of RAM).

Third, if you really want to keep shooting SD video for several years and are really thinking about buying Firestores, I'd suggest looking at some less expensive tapeless (compact flash card) recorder units such as the Sony HVR MRC1-K ($750) or the Datavideo DADN60 ($480). Check out the DVinfo subforums on these models. I'm suggesting less expensive devices because it seems as through these won't have a long useful life if you are looking to buy new AVCHD cams in a couple of years. (AVCHD cams come with built in memory, no tape drives and no firewire ports). I've got some MRC1K units and find that they work very well with just about anything with a firewire port. Last year, I tried one with an old vx2000 camera which is the same vintage as your GL1 cams. It worked fine.

On the other hand, if you do get the MRC units, you might want to look at getting some used HDV cams. The MRC units plug right into Sony Z5 cams and work well with FX1000s as well as older HDV cams by Sony and other manufacturers. Actually, I've found MRC units work better with my Canon XHA1 than my FX1000. Used XHA1 cams seem to be going for around $2200 right now (I've been reading the DVinfo classifieds because I'm thinking of selling mine now that I have an NX5). There are other "pro" HDV cams that seem to be selling (used) for even less.

Oh, and one other thought. If NeoScene works with your existing hardware, you'll probably want to add some additional hard drive capacity. That is because when NeoScene converts from AVCH to AVI, the files can be three to five times larger than the originals. Fortunately, drive capacity is cheap. Internal 1 TB SATA II drives are going for about $75. External firewire and e-sata drives aren't much more than that.
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Old August 1st, 2010, 06:08 AM   #7
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Following up on my previous post, it looks like the least expensive Firestore is the FSH200 which currently seems to sell for about $800. A camera mounting bracket is another $129. The Sony MRC units cost $750 but come with a bracket. (A "570" battery seems to be about $40 at B&H). You would need to buy Compact Flash cards in addition to whatever unit you get. I do not know anything about the datavideo units except that they exist and are a lot less expensive.

Getting either the Firestore or the Sony MRC seems like a large enough investment to point you towards getting HDV cams (with which you can continue to use these recorders) instead of the AVCHD cams like the VG10 you are considering.

If you've checked out the VG10 -- sort of hard since it seems to be at least a month from shipping --- then you should check out NeoScene and see if it does run with your existing computer hardware.
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Old August 1st, 2010, 12:18 PM   #8
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When you do upgrade your PCs, talk to Dell because their education pricing is amazing. Its far lower than someone can build a PC on their own.

For CS5, you don't need a fully loaded i7 system. Even an i5 system with 8GB ram would be enough as the i5 CPUs are dual-core with HyperThreading. And the Cineform Neo scene idea is excellent as it only needs to be installed on one PC and the files can be transferred to any other PC. Also, the nvidia 9800GT 1GB is only $100 and works great with CS5.
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Old August 1st, 2010, 04:49 PM   #9
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Also, Adobe includes a 32bit version of CS4 with CS5 so it can be run on XP-based machines while you wait to upgrade your hardware and OS. Personally, I didn't care much for CS4 under XP but the newer version in CS5 might work for Zach.
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