Even in our postmodern world, where there is no longer a distinction between high and low culture, there’s a high/low struggle that’s waging between professional and consumer HD tools. At the high end—the rarified realm occupied by the Panasonic VariCam, Grass Valley Viper and Sony CineAlta HDCAM cameras used to capture everything from artful documentaries to lowbrow reality TV—is HD-SDI, the obvious successor to SD broadcast and film. At the low end is the fledgling HDV format, the willing heir of DV.

The HDV (read: consumer) format was ratified last September by Canon, JVC, Sharp and Sony. In technology-saturated Japan, where HD is more a part of everyday life, a consumer-format HD camera from one or all of these dominant Japanese companies was inevitable. The first HDV camera out of the gate here last fall, JVC’s JY-HD10U, is a cunning composite: small enough to throw into your knapsack but rugged enough to appeal to smaller production facilities, in-house media departments, and indies of every stripe—in short, anyone who can’t afford the big guns but still wants a shot at the native HD kingdom.
JVC wisely acknowledges this by pricing its “prosumer” camera well below $4,000. The other manufacturers who ratified the standard, likely caught in a political shuffle between their internal consumer and professional R&D divisions, are scrambling to bring out their own competitively priced HDV cameras. Many more software and hardware vendors will shortly join the HDV chorus.

Playback continues to be a critical stumbling block. Large-venue HD-resolution projectors, while getting easier and less expensive to make, still aren’t readily available for the corporate market (see Pete Putman’s column, on page 30, for more on that topic). We’re also still waiting for a high-def DVD format (as the HD-DVD and Blu-ray camps battle it out). But codecs such as Windows Media 9, a stunning piece of technology that coaxes supernatural images out of substandard laptops, are making great strides.

As you will see from our pre-show coverage of NAB, beginning on page 48, most companies will wait until April 17 or after to make formal announcements about their HDV-based products. If attending the show isn’t in the cards for you this year, you can bet that your local dealer—as eager as you are to get his hands on this equipment—will make it to Vegas. Come May, run to your dealer or borrow/beg/steal your way into the studio of a colleague who went to the show and came back with a pile of new stuff to prove it.