Before you jump right in and purchase a digital video camera, take a little bit of time to get to know the ins and outs of the video cameras. You may find that if you jump straight in right now without some background knowledge, some of the information may seem overwhelming. No worries, a few moments spent trying to get to know the technology, the lingo and most importantly the benefits will help you narrow down your choice to the digital video camera you need, and you can minimize the possibility of ending up paying for extra features you won’t be using.
One of the things you are going to run into is the term codec. This term refers to code/decode, which is a necessary process that allow digital video cameras to compress and store video, as well as retrieve, uncompress and disply video.
Before we approach the topic of codecs, let us get acquainted with digital video resolutions. You will likely encounter these resolutions if you were to shop for digital video cameras today. Don’t worry about interlaced or progressive at this time.
DV is standard definition, though much higher than VHS, used in MiniDV, interlaced scan.
720p is high definition in progressive scan.
1080i is high definition, interlaced scan.
1080p is high definition in progressive scan.
There are several digital video formats which are employed today. Note that video technology, and specifically digital video formats change frequently as hardware components (those things in your video camera, computer, video players) become increasingly sophisticated and are able to handle more data at a higher rate.
MPEG-1 (352×240 resolution) stands for Moving Picture Experts Group. It’s the grand daddy of them all, and the first approved codec used for video CD and the popular audio format MP3.
MPEG-2 (480×480 compression) is mostly utilized in broadcast television video and audio, as well as for DVDs, though it has seen its better days and should be on its way out in the very near future.
MPEG-4/H.264 (also called AVC) is a new format that is increasingly being employed in high-definition recording as well as on HD media such as Blu-Ray DVD.
QuickTime was developed by Apple Computer and widely used on the web as well for streaming video and audio. At one point it was a me-too standard, but has recently adapted to the changing market and is now a popular technology again.
Audio Video Interleave (AVI) is Microsoft’s ubiquitous codec. But it is heading the way of the dinosaurs and has been superseded by Microsoft’s other technology, WMV, to handle higher definition.
Windows Media Video (WMV) is Microsoft’s codec and a variation of MPEG-4. It has been used on many levels of compression to accomodate varying distribution channels such as the Internet all the way up to high definition.
Real Video/Audio, version 10, developed by Real Networks and requiring a downloadable RealPlayer, has been used for Internet applications primarily.
Analog video, such as those on VHS technology, may be converted to digital using analog-to-digital converters, which capture the video stream from the VHS tapes and convert them to digital. Note that despite the conversion to digital, the video will not necessarily display better; the fact is, the digital video resolution will be no better than that of the VHS resolution. The analog-to-digital converter cannot manufacture resolution that wasn’t there to begin with.
Connections: Firewire and USB
To transfer your video from the digital video camera to your computer for editing, or a media burner for recording, you will need to use a cable to facilitate the data transfer. Most, if not all digital video cameras today utilize either Firewire or USB2 as the means to getting the data transfered to and from your digital video camera. Firewire is sometimes referred to by geeks as IEEE 1394, which is the standards board reference for the technology that Apple popularized as Firewire. Sony prefers to call it iLink. But they’re all the same darn thing. USB2 is a technology developed by Intel, and though it has a slower throughput than Firewire, increasingly manufacturers are discovering that it is plenty fast enough to move digital video, particularly if the video is highly compressed.
Well, that’s it for now. In our next post, we will discuss digital video formats in greater detail, and you will be that much readier to navigate the digital video camera market.