JVC HD Video Camera: The Future Is Now

The highest-quality low-price prosumer digital video camera you can buy is the JVC GY-HD100, a $4,000 camera that uses a new sort of format called HDVPro. It’s relatively easy and comfortable to use, and doesn’t skimp on powerful features, such as the ability to record to hard disk and tape – at the same time!
Long ago, when I first started working in video production, the cost of entry was in the millions of dollars. As a result, the only places that were doing video production were TV stations, movie studios and some “smaller” entities who could afford the equipment.

Video has been getting more democratic over the years, with cable, satellite and now the Internet providing venues for people to watch the visual produce of others. Prices have come down drastically even as technology has improved in equal measure.

Proof of that is the JVC GY-HD100, a $4,000 camera that uses a new sort of format called HDVPro.

HD (High Definition) video has been around for the last 10 or so years, but it too has had a high cost of entry. But in the last year or so, Sony, Panasonic and JVC have introduced video cameras that are purported to make HD video, but have really fallen short of the mark. These cameras have been in the $3,000 range and, while better than their standard definition counterparts, they had some serious flaws associated with the video compression necessary to make a consumer product.

So what is this camera all about? It’s about making reasonably better HD video than the first generation prosumer models were able to record. It’s also about the best recording method I’ve found yet, which is direct to a hard drive. That means you don’t have to capture your video from tape into your computer to edit. It’s already there.

Using The JVC GY-HD100

At first blush, the camera looks like any other midlevel prosumer camera with lots of switches, dials and places to plug in microphones, drives and so on. It operates in most ways like a regular old video camera. You don’t have to do anything magic to make a high definition recording, just press the button. But there are differences.

One of the things that makes this camera so nice is the amount of control you have over the images you record. We expect this in a camera at the prosumer level, but the neat trick that JVC did here is that you can record all of your settings on a little SD memory card and save them to move to another camera (JVC only), which a lot of time.

Another fascinating feature enables the camera to automatically record to a hard disk while simultaneously recording to tape. This gives an instant backup to a videographer. Recording direct to a hard drive saves so much time in the edit process because you can immediately begin using your video instead of having to capture tape to your computer, which can only be done in real time a process that is very trying after several days of shooting.

This camera is amazingly easy to use either mounted on a tripod or on your shoulder. The shoulder pad is nice and thickly padded and the camera is light enough to use all day.

Also, the microphone connections that come on the camera are full sized XLR balanced inputs. This is a good thing if you are trying to produce quality audio with your video. The camera also comes with two ways to look at your video. A viewfinder that you can adjust for close vision and a 3.5” display monitor that pops out of the camera and makes it easy to do all your menu settings.

There are a few flaws however. Some of the switches are too small. They seem designed for tiny hands, and also a little fragile. The switch for changing from standard definition (SD) to HD is not only teensy, but feels like it might be prone to breaking.

Picture Quality

I'd summarize picture quality with one word: Wow!

The quality of HD, even at this level, must be seen to understand. HD video looks like real life – or something just like it. There is an extended grey scale, a heightened sense of color. And the detail is incredible.

Regular digital video has 720 X 480 pixels of information. But it’s really only half that because our standard NTSC video is actually two frames that are interlaced, so each frame is really only a half frame.

HD at this level has 720 X 1028 lines of progressive video, meaning that the video is shot at one entire frame at a time. It can be recorded at 24 or 30 frames-per-second. 24 fps looks a lot like film and if you are converting to film, it’s a great way to shoot because you can go directly to film. The 30 frame-per-second rate has more data per second, but is not appropriate to making a film project. The JVC is true 24 (progressive) and that’s a first in this category and price level of camera.


If you want the experience of HD without spending $70,000-100,000, then this is worth your time and money. While it doesn’t record uncompressed HD video (it uses a form of MPEG-2, the compression structure that DVDs use) it does record a picture that’s far superior to the standard picture you get from the video that’s been around since the 1940s. HD is the future, and it’s here. Now.

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