HDV:What You NEED to Know
revolutionary camcorder, in that it is an affordable HD camcorder whose
main unique feature is the storage of HD data at a variety of frame rates
and resolutions on a solid-state media card known as "P2." In
other words, it's tapeless for HD recording. These cards
may be placed in the camcorder in a group of two, allowing for a variety
of recording times varying from four to sixteen minutes dependent on user-selected frame rate and resolution.
The price point of the camcorder brings it into the realm of affordable HD/low-cost HD, being in the same cost category as the Sony HVR Z1U and the JVC HD100. Adding a couple of P2 cards puts the HVX 200 in the same cost category as the Canon XLH1. Given the price and features of the HVX 200 camcorder, it's easy to assume that a number of Vegas users will want to work with this product. The main thrust of this tutorial is about getting the media into Vegas, but a bit of background seems important, without attempting to provide a review of the camcorder.
When our HVX arrived, we shot as much
video as we could in the 16 minute allotment of time the P2 cards
allowed us in 720p, 24 frame native mode (there are lots of modes for
this camera, but maximum recording time is found when using the native
modes). Once the cards were full, we were ready to transfer the video
from the P2 card to the computer hard drive.
~Simple Is as Simple Does....
OK, it's almost embarrassing to explain
the problem. On the P2 card is a record protection switch. We knew the
record protection was definitely off, as we could see video in the
thumbnails displayed on the camcorder and the camcorder would play files
back with no problems. Yet for some inexplicable reason, this protection
was preventing the laptop from seeing the card. Merely moving the
protective tab to the left and back to the right again, made it so the
card could be read. Go figure. Once that was done, the card was
completely readable by both Mac and PC laptops, and try as we might, we
could not reproduce the problem. Had we been smarter, we might have
tried recording and reading both cards instead of just one.
The Vegas Connection...
~Dropping into Vegas
Sony Vegas does not have native support for the DVCPro HD format that the HVX records to P2 cards (most NLE's don't). So how do you get this footage into Vegas? Here's the workflow, which is what this article is supposed to really be about.
1. Record to P2 with the HVX.
2. Place the filled P2 card into the laptop PCMCIA/Cardbus slot or into a P2 reader (or use USB or Firewire if you can get it working. Panasonic Tech support confirmed today that this is often problematic).
3. Open the Panasonic P2 Viewer software and choose which clips you want to keep or delete. The P2 viewer does not offer choices that help save or transfer files, it's merely a way of looking at the file, inputting metadata, and viewing existing metadata. Delete clips you don't want. And here is one place you can delete all media from the card if you wish. Use this application to make notes, voice references, text data, etc. to be saved off with the file for search and find functions, shoot notes, etc. This is one of the beautiful features of this camera, until now found only in very high-cost camcorders.
4. Transfer the clips you wish to keep to the computer hard drive. The transfer is slightly less than 1:1. (four mins of vid = 3.5 mins of transfer)
5. Wipe the P2 clean so you can shoot more with it again.
Getting the footage into Vegas (and most other NLE's) requires more effort. Vegas does support MXF full resolution import to the timeline, but only for XDCAM, not XDCAM HD or P2, so you'll need to convert the footage in Raylight before Vegas will read it correctly.
Raylight is a software conversion application available from the good folks at DVFilm in Austin, TX. Raylight can be used for conversion of the DVCPro HD media found on the P2 card, to a format that Sony Vegas and other NLE's can properly read for editing and output. Download the demo to try it out for yourself. They also offer a demo .MXF file from the HVX that you can work with. You can also download an .MXF file here.
When you install Raylight, you'll find a file in the Raylight folder called "RayMaker.exe.
Copy this file to the folder(s) where
your MXF files are, and double click the RayMaker.exe icon. This will
open the converter, and it will convert all files in the folder. If
you've shot footage using 24p, it will offer the opportunity to remove
advancded pulldown at conversion.
The file will begin to convert. The conversion is fairly fast, so while the conversion is not the most efficient workflow, it's quite functional and not a lot different than converting HDV to CineForm file format using either CineForm Connect HD or VASST GearShift.
One caveat with the Raylight process is to be sure you never move the MXF files from the folder used for the conversion. The Raylight converted files need to reference the MXF files. If they are deleted or renamed, the Raylight links will be lost. If you need to move, rename, or change drive letters for the files converted, you'll need to re-convert the files after they've been moved.
In the options for Raylight, you can
select one of three different conversion qualities. Red, or the lowest
quality, isn't useable for anything in terms of quality but will give
fast playback. Yellow or blue
are what you'll want to use for actual HD output, and you'll want a
reasonably fast computer. A dual core AMD 4800 played back the yellow
grade files with no problem, and the blue grade files playback at nearly
full frame rate. The webpage for Raylight indicates that they'll be
working with CineForm fairly soon, so this should allow for high quality
images with high quality playback frame rate. My own tests and those of
CineForm have shown the CineForm codec to be of higher quality,
especially better for compositing and multi-generations, so this is
Once done, you're good to go, the HVX footage will appear on the Vegas timeline, and it's ready to edit. The overall workflow isn't much different than working with HDV, other than with HDV, you can choose to edit natively (not recommended) or to use the CineForm codec to edit with. CineForm is by far the most efficient means of working with either HDV or DVCPro HD, so we can only hope CineForm will shortly be available in the Raylight package.
To export, you'll want to use the BEST setting in Vegas for good results. This does slow renders a bit, but is well worth the difference in quality. One experiment we tried is converting the 720p files to 1080p30 in Sony Vegas, and at BEST setting, it still went fairly fast on an AMD 4800 dual core system, and the quality was very good when viewed on an SXRD 60" monitor and a Sony 234B monitor.
Overall, the HVX-200/P2 transfer experience started out a bit rocky, but once it was all set, it was all smooth. As third-party products come onto the market, it's likely that the workflow will streamline itself a bit, and become more efficient if the P2 format catches on in the advanced hobbyist or low end professional markets. As tapeless formats begin to take hold, the process of converting, transferring, transcoding, etc for a while. Given the speed of change on the part of the camcorder manufacturers, shifts in standards and hardware, it's not reasonable to expect NLE manufacturers to be completely up to speed all the time. Additionally, some of the codecs and SDK's come with high costs that software manufacturers may not be willing to immediately invest in, which is another reason I expect transcoding and conversions to be common in the short term. In the case of the Panasonic, Sony, and other camcorders that offer .MXF (Material eXchange Format) file formats, even though these formats share an extension, they aren't exactly interchangeable. Metadata from the various formats isn't entirely cross-compatible, further making it a challenge for NLE manufacturers to be on top of all the formats. So, while converting the files might seem like an additional step, it will likely be with us for a while.
OK, now it's time to call Panasonic
again. This time, I asked my assistant to call the product manager. The
product manager wasn't available, so we ended up talking to a man named
Alex. I mention Alex, because this guy was the epitome of great customer
service. He didn't have all the answers, and isn't a support
person, but knew more about the camcorder and P2 than both of the tech
support people we'd talked with. Alex told us "If I don't have the
answer, I'll find someone who will." Lo and behold, he did. Our
sincere thanks to Alex.
*** You can also find current information on P2 at P2Info.net.
BOOKS from VASST