Panasonic P2 AG-HVX170

Professional SSD camcorder with 14-bit A/D conversion and 19-bit processing.

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Panasonic P2 AG-HVX170
  • Panasonic P2 AG-HVX170
  • Panasonic P2 AG-HVX170
  • Panasonic P2 AG-HVX170

Pros

  • Superb 1080i/720p image quality, improved low-light performance, manageable size, loads of recording modes and framerates

Cons

  • Prohibitively expensive (especially when price of P2 media is factored in), purists may weep at lack of tape drive

Bottom Line

The P2 AG-HVX170 is a miniaturised upgrade of the P2 AG-HV202. With the exception of a Mini DV tape deck, it offers all of the same functionality as its big brother, along with some improvements. It should prove more than sufficient for commercial production, news gathering and independent movie making.

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Since its inception in 2005, the Professional Plug-In (P2) video format has been a continued success for Panasonic. The current economic climate of pinched pennies and tightened belts has done nothing to slow its rise to the top, prompting fierce copycat-competition from the company’s rivals. In response, Panasonic has released an all-new addition to the P2 line-up, dubbed the AG-HVX170. This P2-only model eschews its predecessor’s Mini DV drive in favour of completely tapeless operation. The result is a smaller and less cumbersome device with both feet planted firmly in the future of digital video. Although it lacks the recording versatility of the Panasonic AG-HVX202, a host of additional enhancements puts this model firmly ahead of the curve.

Like its tape-equipped predecessor, the AG-HVX170 is optimised for DVCPRO HD recording in either 1080i or 720p, alongside 18 other video formats (including 480i). It uses P2 cards — Panasonic's solid-state memory media that is roughly comparable to SSD ExpressCards. All of Panasonic’s high-end broadcast-quality cameras now use this technology, with most major vendors following suit with equivalents of their own (a recent example being Sony’s SxS Pro). The benefits of solid state media over HDV tape are substantial; they include a data transfer speed of up to 640 megabits per second, the ability to hot-swap between cards while recording, less power consumption (and thus longer battery life), superior 4-2-2 colour recording, completely soundless operation and instant movie access via PCMCIA-equipped notebooks.

Another advantage offered by the P2 format is the user-friendly way in which data is stored. There’s no need to fast-forward or rewind as with tape-based media, and less chance of accidentally recording over footage; to preview a shot, you simply select the appropriate thumbnail file from the menu. Anyone who has used a consumer-level AVCHD camcorder (such as HDD or flash memory-based) will be familiar with the way P2 operates, which is essentially identical. P2 media is compatible with the latest versions of most editing software suites, including Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro and Avid.

P2 cards currently have a maximum capacity of 64GB. Like all P2 camcorders, the Panasonic AG-HVX170 comes equipped with two Professional Plug-In slots, which boosts the total onboard memory to an impressive 120GB. However, we doubt that many users will be wealthy enough to afford this much memory. At present, a single 64GB card will set you back around $4500, which puts the price of two such cards at nearly ten grand (that’s nearly enough for a deposit on a house!). As with the P2 AG-HVX202, this is a serious hurdle for AG-HVX170 owners — unless you have a truckload of disposable cash, your recording times are going to be severely limited. A 16GB card, for example, will only net you around 14 minutes of 1080i video. By contrast, an average HDV tape costs around $5 and can store up to two hours of footage.

When we reviewed the Panasonic AG-HVX202 earlier this year, one of our major criticisms had to do with the intimidating size and weight. It was simply too big and unwieldy for prolonged handheld shooting, which lead to sore shoulders and back cramps within minutes. This obviously made the device less than ideal for news gatherers and tripod-shunning documentarians. Thankfully, this problem has been significantly reduced with the Panasonic AG-HPX170. Weighing in at 1.9 kg, it’s around 2/3 the size of its gargantuan predecessor and the smallest P2 camcorder that Panasonic offers. While still a big piece of hardware, we feel it strikes a much better balance between manoeuvrability and professional heft. Holding the camera above your head no longer requires bodybuilder biceps.

But that’s not the only improvement offered by the AG-HPX170. Featuring an all-new 28mm wide-angle zoom lens (the widest in its class) and a revamped 1/3-inch 16:9 progressive 3CCD sensor, it is even better equipped than its predecessor to take stunning HD video. The new chipset has been specifically designed to combat noise and digital smear, something that the previous iteration of this camera was occasionally guilty of. The Panasonic AG-HPX170 excels in practically any environment, with a significant improvement in low-light performance. It also features an HD-SDI interface, which allows for uncompressed digital video and audio transport in a television studio environment. The level of detail in images is truly astonishing, with no obvious pixilation or ghosting during fast pans and zooms. This makes the AG-HVX170 perfectly suitable for handheld video.

Hands-on users will be more than happy with the variety of manual controls on offer. Shutter speed, zebra mode, neutral density filters (1/8, 1/64), iris control, user shortcuts, white balance and audio input selections are just a few of the functions to receive their own switches, dials or buttons. Naturally, servo rings for zoom and focus are also included on the unit, along with an iris roller button. The Panasonic AG-HVX170 is equally proficient at audio capture, recording four channels of 16-bit audio sampled at 48KHz. In addition to the shock-mounted stereo microphone, two XLR inputs and a 3.5mm jack are also included.

Note: the Panasonic AG-HVX170 can only be purchased from specialist camcorder dealers. Visit the Lemac Film and Digital website for further information.

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