Getting started in HD video, part 1

Everything you always wanted to know about HD video (but were afraid to ask).

Guide to HD.

These days, most people are pretty serious about digital video, whether they realise it or not. With new technology entering the marketplace — and camcorder prices constantly sliding — the archaic embarrassment of the ‘VHS-cam’ has become a thing of the past.

Whether you’re chronicling an overseas holiday for future posterity, or producing a Tropfest short in the hope of fame and fortune, there’s one thing we camcorder owners all share in common: the desire to make our videos look the best they possibly can. This is where high-definition enters the picture (and what a pretty picture it is!) Offering sharper image quality, richer colours and higher overall production values, it really is an essential upgrade for any self-respecting videographer.

Over the following weeks we’ll take you through all the essentials of high-def video; from choosing the right camcorder format, to building a non-linear edit suite. If you’re sick of living in the terminally beige world of standard-definition, this handy multi-part guide should deliver all the information you need. So without any further ado, let’s don a pair of reflective shades and step into the HD kaleidoscope!

HD 101: High-Definition Explained

HD video cameras have been around for quite a while now — over two decades in fact — but it’s only been in the past few years that they’ve become a viable option for consumers. The first commercially available models were huge and unwieldy things that could cost upwards of $5000. Most of them used a high-def version of the MiniDV format and stuck to digital tape. Since then, the options in the HD market have exploded to include a wide variety of competing formats and video codecs; we will look at each of them in turn. But before we do that, let’s talk about the concept of ‘HD’ itself. What does it mean? How does it work? And why do we need it?

Guide to HD.

An early HD-capable video camera.

‘HD video’ is a somewhat vague technical specification that encompasses anything above ‘standard’ definition (i.e. 576 lines of pixels in PAL territories). The two most common display resolutions found in HD camcorders are 720p (1280x720 pixels) and 1080i (1920x1080 pixels). As the numbers attest, the amount of pixels on screen is considerably higher than standard-definition (SD) video, which translates to sharper and more colourful footage.

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Chris Jager

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