Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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2/23/2009
11:23 AM
David Berlind
David Berlind
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Will The Perfect Social Media Video Camera Please Stand Up

I've got a bunch of interesting jobs here at TechWeb. Some jobs have titles (currently, I've got three official titles). Others don't. One of my lesser known roles has to do with our video strategy across TechWeb's Web properties and events. I wore a similar hat when I worked for ZDNet and thanks to innovative video cameras like Panasonic's AG-HVX200, we were able to publish nicely produced video without sacrificing too much of the speed of blo

I've got a bunch of interesting jobs here at TechWeb. Some jobs have titles (currently, I've got three official titles). Others don't. One of my lesser known roles has to do with our video strategy across TechWeb's Web properties and events. I wore a similar hat when I worked for ZDNet and thanks to innovative video cameras like Panasonic's AG-HVX200, we were able to publish nicely produced video without sacrificing too much of the speed of blogging. But now, in an effort to move the ball forward again, I can't find the right camera (requirements below).Thanks to the speed of USB 2.0, the majority of the new cameras hitting the market today have eschewed Firewire (IEEE 1394) ports for connecting to PCs. This makes life difficult given where we want to go with video and social media because we're currently looking at two configurations where Firewire comes in handy. One is live streaming using solutions Kyte.TV and Ustream.com for some some of our big events like Interop. The other is capturing video directly into our MacBooks using Quicktime.

In both cases, we want cameras with decent optics whose live video can be routed directly into the MacBooks. In the case of the latter, we've tried using the MacBook's built-in iSight camera but somewhere between the middle of last year and today, all of our MacBook's decided to start imitating old martial arts movies.

Whenever we try capturing video directly into Quicktime using the built-in iSight cameras, our lips are out of synch with the audio. Given how all of our MacBook have the same problem (but didn't before), my guess is that this problem was introduced into our systems by way of one of Apple's updates (either to QuickTime, the MacBook firmware, or the Leopard (10.x) operating system itself. We've played with QTSync (a utility for correcting the problem). But have had limited success. Apple: Please fix this problem. I can't imagine a circumstance where the built-in iSight camera on a MacBook should have this integration and synchronicity problem with Quicktime.

Strangely, we don't have the synch problem at all when using an external camera connected by Firewire. We have the same Panasonic AG-HVX200's here and they work pretty well. But we don't have enough of them and they're too big and pricey if we decided we wanted to scale the idea to more of our bloggers and journalists. The answer is to equip them with smaller and less expensive camcorders that can also stream video into their PCs.

But why focus on Firewire when some standalone Web cams seem capable of streaming video directly over USB? Good question. We need a camera that we can also use in stand-alone mode (not connected to a PC). One would assume that since most Web cams can stream video into a PC over USB, that most video camcorders with USB connections can do the same. But this is not the case.

Whereas most (if not all) Firewire cameras can stream video into Firewire-enabled PCs, for video to stream from a USB device into a PC running any operating system, both the device and the operating system apparently need to support a specification known as USB Video Class or UVC. All Webcams support UVC.

But the same cannot be said of all USB-enabled video camcorders. To make matters worse, finding the USB-enabled camcorders that support UVC is nearly impossible because it's rarely displayed as a checklist item on their specification charts the way it's mentioned as a feature on Amazon's page for Panasonic's $899 PV-GS320 MiniDV Camcorder or the way it's specifically listed as being N/A (not available) on Sony's spec sheet for Sony's HDR-SR10 (near the bottom). According to my contacts at Samsung, none of Samsung's camcorders support UVC.

The reason I'm pointing out Panasonic's PV GS320 is that it has a couple of other features that I'd like to see in the perfect social media camera. One of the less talked about (but increasingly stressful) properties of social networks is speed. The social networks aren't going to wait forever for you to post your video. If you don't post it in the next 20 minutes, someone else will beat you to it. Someone else who was smarter about stripping unnecessary steps out of the video publishing process.

The Panasonic AG-HVX200 stripped extra steps out of the video production process by recording directly to digital media (a PC Card) that could be accessed by a Mac (using an adapter) and many Windows PCs, skipping the often time-consuming step of transferring video from the camcorder to a PC over a Firewire or USB cable. But, whereas the AG-HVX200 is a professional grade video camera that costs thousands of dollars, over the last year, more and more camcorders have turned up with slots for Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) storage cards that are equally if not more readable by PCs and Macs.

In addition to its support for UVC, Panasonic's PV GS320 also has an SDHC slot. Unfortunately, according to a seller of a used GS320 (on eBay), the GS320 cannot record video directly to the SDHC card the way some other camcorders can. Instead, the SDHC card is apparently for storing still images (something the GS320 can do, even while shooting video).

Another one of the PV GS320's endearing features is its three sensors for capturing video (a feature often referred to as "3CCD") -- another feature that's common to professional grade cameras. Yes. There are plenty of single sensor camcorders that are capable of delivering great imagery. But, as our video engineer Matt Conner is quick to point out, it's the better-built cameras whose images can more accurately be manipulated during post production with special effects like weatherman-like chroma-keying (using green or blue screens to superimpose images behind the subject).

Where the Panasonic PV GS320 falls down though, at least for us, is that it's not an HD camera. The HD format may be overrated for producing Web-based video. But it doesn't change the fact that we're getting better looking video out of our TechWebTV group when we work in HD than not. Furthermore, when producing video in the 16:9 aspect ratio (which we're doing more of), we have no choice but to put our professional grade videos into HD mode which, to the consumer grade cameras that are capable of non-HD 16:9 video, presents post-production problems if we decide to mix and match differently formatted video from different cameras. So, to keep things consistent, we want all of our cameras to have the same basic recording settings, including HD.

Two camcorders that came very close to what we're after but were evetually rejected were JVC's $900 Everio GZ-HD3 and $1700 Fujinon lens-equipped GZ-HD7. Both are a bit rich for our blood. Especially the HD7. But both are HD cameras capable of recording to SDHC and both have Firewire which can handle the live streaming feature that might otherwise be tackled by a UVC-capable USB-enabled camcorder.

When the HD7 first came out, it didn't take long for us to figure out that its means of storing MPEG2-2 video in a TOD file prevented our video editing software (Apple's Final Cut Pro) from natively opening it without first going through a conversion step using a JVC-supplied plug-in (and here we were trying to eliminate steps from the process!). The trials and tribulations of other HD7 owners is well chronicled on threads like this one where there appears to be a solution involving a pit stop at iMovie. I hate pit stops and it makes you wonder what on earth the folks at JVC were thinking when so many other cameras on the market output video that just works. Even if the process or the plug-in works, the GZ3 and its more expensive cousin are out of the price range we were hoping for if we're going to scale this "operation" up in in anyway.

So, now that you know what we're looking for, I'm open to suggestions from readers and vendors alike. Once we settle on something, I'll be happy to write about it here.

David Berlind is an editor-at-large with InformationWeek. David likes to write about emerging tech, new & social media, mobile tech, and things that go wrong. He can be reached at dberlind@techweb.com and you can also find him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/dberlind. If you search hard enough, you can find him on Facebook, LinkedIn, Plaxo, Flickr, and Del.icio.us. He's just too lazy to supply the links here (and thinks that someone can and should solve that problem anyway). David doesn't own any tech stocks. But, if he did, he'd probably buy some Salesforce.com and Amazon given his belief in the principles of Cloud Computing and his hope that the stock market can't get much worse. Also, if you're an out-of-work IT professional or someone involved in the business of compliance, he wants to hear from you.

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