JVC GRPD1EK Mini DV Cam

JVC, having produced one of the first ever mini consumer DV cameras, may have become a relative stranger to the DV camcorder market but is hoping that its new model the JVC GRPD1EK will put it back in the frame.

Pitched between the domestic and professional market, the GR-PD1 looks and feels like a broadcast DV camera, but is light, quick to use and a lot cheaper than a Sony PD150/170 or Canon XL1. The GR-PD1 is more advanced than the standard domestic camcorder, and by a long chalk. This is a full progressive video camera, with a hybrid complementary primary filter, high definition optically stabilised zoom lens. The included software from JVC enables non-linear editing and DVD authoring. Buy this if you want to make 16:9 widescreen DVD movies, without transferring DV footage to film. It takes photos and acts as a web camera too.

The GR-PD1 records in MPEG2 to Mini DV, keeping the overall camera size to a minimum. Decked out in silver and black, it looks the part. A strong top handle makes one handed operation a breeze- its great for sweeping shots at hip level, and light enough to hold at odd angles- just 525g. JVC have clearly spent time and money on usability studies here.

Apart from a battery stuck on the back of the camera like an afterthought, the design is intuitive. A groundbreaking rotating handle allows the right handle and console to pitch 90 degrees for filming at odd angles. The button cluster moves with it, keeping recording/zoom and mode options buttons within easy reach. It also makes using the viewfinder a lot easier during extended periods.

The 3.5in LCD panel boats a 200k pixel resolution, with tilt and swivel and the 0.44in viewfinder 113k pixels, both in colour. The viewfinder is hampered a little by the battery, but the rotating grip, with easy access to the main controls, helps overcome this. The physical task of shooting with this camera is comfortable and above all, practical.

When not is use, the viewfinder slots itself into the camera rather neatly. A wide range of video recording and image adjustment keys are tucked in behind the LCD screen, together with a four-pin FireWire socket and serial component connector sockets. Strangely, the microphone is located on the middle top of the camera, pointing up, rather than on the front of the camera, pointing towards the subject. There is a mount at the front of the handle for an external microphone- a must- the on board microphone is hopeless. The handle also is removable, with option to hot shoe light or microphone in direct.

Transfer is easy, with full DV in and out ports, but there are a few gripes with the software. We couldn't get the captured footage out and into Final Cut and the JVC software is all new to us. The easy answer was to pop the DV tape into a back up camera and edit from there. Unfortunately, that defeats the object. Also, there is no streaming possible outside MS Windows.

The capture options are more advanced than a standard point-and-shoot, an adjustable 25 or 50 frames per second. This high quality consecutive capture ensures sharpness and a more impressive frame. What is more, the 1.18 megapixel chip offers three recording modes, at up to a max of 1280 x 659 pixels, supposedly with 16:9 ratio widescreen shooting. This is a key issue in the specs and worth fully investigating.

The camera is pitched as the best tool for producing DVD, with progressive scan and Hi resolution capture. Yet all this comes from a device with only one chip- (most of the competition is decked out with 3 CCD chips, such as the Sony TRV950). The colour definition in hi-res mode is excellent, far better than standard 16:9, and the progressive scan helps sharpen the overall image.

Indeed, the pixel count in the high-resolution mini DV is double that of standard DV shot in 16:9. The other two capture options are standard size 4:3 DV footage, which is fine, digital stills, and MPEG-1 recordings. Both these are adequately executed, but the strength of this camera-and the justification for the extra layout- are the widescreen and progressive scan options. Still images are captured to an extremely high standard, but we could only squeeze 8 jpegs onto the memory card. Still, nice to get a free MMC, even if it is only 8 MB. There are two modes for stills capture, standard and advanced, with resolution up to 800K.

Verdict

Yes, the battery looks as though the designers remembered it at the last minute, and the camera can't function outside the JVC software, but this is still an empowering device for filmmakers (as opposed to happy go lucky camcorder users).

Unfortunately, it is not possible to capture and edit the full image at 1,280 x 659 pixels. Another gripe- the camera has auto or manual options throughout, setting it apart from the competition, but not for recording sound. Infuriatingly, there is no manual sound adjustment, compounded by the microphone angle and position.

Yet, aside from this and the often confusing capture options, the GR-PD1 is set to change the shape of video film making, helping budding film makers create widescreen DVD movies, with great potential for shooting in wider aspects and wider ratios.


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