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Know Your Panasonic Codecs! DVCPRO HD, AVC Intra & AVC Ultra
Asking a freelance director of photography about the codecs of their Panasonic cameras is like asking a mechanic about the engine of a car. Be prepared for a long technical answer. All you need to know is why a certain codec is important and correct for your shoot. Panasonic currently has two often confused codecs: DVCPRO HD and AVC Intra. The third codec, AVC Ultra, is to be released next year.
To understand these codecs you need the brief history:
DVCPRO HD: The Panasonic DVCPRO codec was developed as a standard definition competitor to Sony DVCAM. When Sony stepped into high definition they did so with their HDCAM codec, but Panasonic decided not to rebrand so they called their high definition codec DVCPRO HD.
AVC-Intra: Panasonic developed the AVC Intra Codec for two main reasons. First, they wanted to rebrand their codec for a tapeless specific codec. AVC Intra can only be shot on P2 cards, whereas DVCPRO HD which can be shot on P2 cards as well as tape. The second reason was to develop a new codec that used H.264 MPEG-4 compression standards.
AVC-Ultra: Panasonic made a major display of AVC Ultra at the 2012 NAB Show. Like many in the video production world the thought of memorizing one more codec makes my stomach churn. But with the rise of cinema-quality video Panasonic developed AVC-Ultra to handle 2K and 4K shooting, as well as develop a codec that could handle more information with better compression.
Now that the brief history of the modern Panasonic codec is out of the way, you, like many corporate producers and freelance directors of photography may ask, “What’s the difference?” Well, before handling that question we must go down that second path, the terminology that is important when talking about codecs.
Resolution: This is the most common term thrown around the video world. Pop terms such as 1080p, 720i are included in the nomenclature of retail sales and highly experienced DPs. When looking at codecs, remember it’s extremely important to know the FULL resolution numbers rather than just than the partial 720p, 1080i, 1080p, etc., because 720p can mean both 960 x 720p or 1280 x 720p, and the more lines the better the resolution.
Chroma Subsampling: Here is where it can get a little complicated, so I’ll try to simplify as much as possible. Color sampling is a ratio that looks like 4:4:4, which is basically 1 channel on luminance (brightness) the first number, and 2 channels of chrominance (the color), the final 2 numbers. The human eye detects brightness better than it does color, so your luminance will always be the same at four, but you can subsample the color for better compression. This ration can go from 4:4:4, which is digital cinema quality, to 4:1:1, which is DV quality.
Megabits per Second (Mbps): Megabits per second is the amount of information a codec can record in a time frame.
Now to the question at hand, what’s the difference in the codecs?
From the naked eye the differences seem minute but, in the video codec world and for video crews, the better each aspect of codec is from its predecessor the more versatile the codec will be. For Panasonic, DVCPRO HD has been a strong horse for many years, but you don’t get true 1080p and it has become a relatively rigid codec. AVC Intra will get you true 1080p without consuming more Mbps so a better image for a similar size but up until recently only come ENG cameras. But, Panasonic has recently release prosumer version of AVC-Intra cameras like the Panasonic HPX-250 that gives you the size of their prosumer DVCPRO HD cameras, like the Panasonic HVX-200, with the updated, higher quality codec. AVC Ultra biggest selling point is its versatility. From digital cinema quality 4K resolution it competes with the recently wealth of 4K cameras, as well as give you 25 Mbps with 4:2:2 sampling when you are looking for great resolution while giving you low data consumption.
When someone mentions Panasonic codecs don’t feel like the words are foreign, know what you need and you will get the best image possible.
Have you recently transitioned from DVCPRO HD to AVC Intra? Let us know! We would love to hear your feedback on the difference in the codecs.