Jason Lindquist (jlindquist) wrote,
Jason Lindquist

The state of home video recording

A whole bunch of years back, I bought a Sony digital camcorder, in the Digital 8mm format. It seemed like a good idea at the time, my folks had an (old, mono, low-bandwidth) 8mm, I figured the tapes must be interchangeable, we'd been happy with the quality, and hey, it's digital! FireWire port and everything! The thing's worked quite well. The picture quality smokes the crap out of even high-bandwidth 8mm, it imports painlessly into iMovie. The tapes aren't *completely* interchangeable... you have to use the metal oxide media in the D8 hardware. But they'll play back both standard and Hi8 tapes, digitizing them on the fly, so they import over FireWire just as easily as digital source material does.

About five years back or so, our basketball coach decided to invest in a camcorder for the program. We ended up with a moderately-priced Hi8 unit. The D8s were still much more than he wanted to pay, much less the MiniDV that was becoming very prevalent. I've never been really happy with the image quality, but I didn't care to leave my own unit in the hands of my coach. I had work I wanted to do with it, and I didn't trust it would be taken care of. Besides, the tapes only ran 60 minutes. He couldn't bother to get the JV kids he usually stuck with camera duty (at the last minute and with no instruction) to do the job right. Most of the time, they never paused the tape, and if it ran out, they were just going to walk away instead of changing it. As it was, they walked away without packing it up and bringing it to the bus. (No penalties for that. Then again, "no discipline" was our biggest problem.)

Since then, our JV coach was promoted into the head job. Last year, he thought about upgrading to new equipment. We looked at MiniDV stuff like the football program uses, but ended up not buying anything. This week, I started looking again, just to see what features and prices have become. Damn, things sure changed... last year, you could get MiniDV cameras for under $500, but a lot of nice features had fallen off them. No infrared remote controls, no LAN-C recording remote jack, and often, USB2 but no FireWire. Now? Breast Buy doesn't even sell MiniDV cameras in their stores. NewEgg lists very, very few. The HD and high-end SD cameras all record to hard disks or (SD) directly to mini DVDs. The low end is disk or flash, either built-in or SDHC cards. No infrared remotes except for the high-end HD cameras, no FireWire, and no LAN-C--so no tripods with the controls in the pan/tilt handle, which isn't a problem for basketball, but it's a deal-breaker for football end zone cams.

What's really laughable about the consumer-level cameras is the blatant mislabeling. Several had "H.264" stamped on them, and used the term in their literature. H.264 is the codec used in MPEG-4. You find it in Blu-Ray players, the PSP, iPod, iPhone, and many other consumer portable video players. I was curious what kind of file formats the cameras used. Could I just stick the SD card into my iBook and drag the files into an iMovie H.264 project? That would sure make for faster import than today's real-time FireWire setup. And SD cards are sure easier to carry around than videotapes. So I stopped at Breast Buy this morning with a 2GB SD card, and took some test recordings from a JVC Everio GZ-MS120B and a Panasonic SDR-S26. The JVC claims to record "MPEG-4 AVC/H.264". The Panasonic didn't say anything on it, but Newegg lists it as MPEG-2. I get the card back to my office, and I find it full of .MOD files from both cameras. They're both recording MPEG-2.

Well, that kills iMovie, but it does make the whole process scriptable. If I go this route, once I ID which files are the start of each quarter, all I need to make DVD images is dvdauthor and some shell scripts. If I can figure out the timestamping properly, maybe I can write a scorekeeping app that can generate subtitle files to merge onto the DVD. Turn on subtitles, and you get a scoreboard display. If I need to actually edit, maybe MPEG Streamclip will do the job for me.

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