As I wrote in my “first look” back in July, the US$995 AW-HE2 is not a camcorder, but an intriguing camera with a live 1080p (or 720p) output at selectable framerates, together with extensive remote control capabilities via IP or infrared. I am extremely impressed and equally baffled as to why it is missing the most desired possible framerates, while including more obscure, virtually non-distributable ones.
Available formats and framerates
The original press release for the AW-HE2 stated that: “Video output formats via HDMI include 1080/60p/50p/59.94i/50i/30p/25p and 720/60p/50p, with stereo audio”. (Yes, the AW-HE2 also has a built-in stereo microphone.) Despite offering “30p” (they likely meant 29.97p) and 25p in the original press release, those two framerates are currently missing from the available outputs over HDMI. At first, I suspected that the AW-HE2 camera might output those framerates as PsF over HDMI, but my testing proved otherwise. Sadly, the camera actually offered only 1080/59.94p/50p/59.94i/50i/ and 720/59.94p/50p, and are missing 29.97p and 25p.
What’s wrong with 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p?
Actually, 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p are great for shooting organic slow motion footage when later played back at whatever the final framerate is (i.e. 23.976p, 24.000p, 25p, or 29.97p). However, 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p are not generally distributable formats. What do I mean by that? Well:
- 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p are not distributable at their original progressive framerates via any of the standard worldwide over-the-air television broadcasting systems.
- 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p are not distributable at their original progressive framerates via the original Blu-ray video standard, which are the ones covered by most current Blu-ray players that are in users’ hands.
- 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p are not currently distributable at their original progressive framerates via YouTube, Vimeo, or Vimeo Pro.
- 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p are not currently distributable at their original progressive framerates via most of the multiple millions of tablets and smartphones that are currently in viewers’ hands.
- Unlike spatial resolution (which is partially determined by pixel count, and is easily scalable), temporal resolution (framerate) is not easily downscaled without drastically changing the look. If you downscale 59.94p-to–29.97p (or 50p-to–25p), the result is jarring, because the original relationship between framerate and shutter speed —which in combination determine the temporal look of the video— is destroyed (unless you carry out an elaborate frame-by-frame process in After Effects). Your clients won’t be happy that it looks so different on the small screen than on the big one. Consistency is vital!
What other purpose might 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p serve?
Beyond the slow-motion application mentioned above, 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p can also be useful for reframing during editing on a 720p project/timeline, for distribution as 720p. However, even 720p distribution at 50p or 59.94p is quite limited, since it is currently for over-the-air HDTV on networks like ABC, ESPN, Fox News, Fox Sports, NRK, VRT, and otherwise for Blu-ray distribution. On the web, Vimeo and Vimeo Pro will forcibly change your 50p or 59.94p into 25p or 29.97p by dropping every other frame while re-encoding, which (as stated above) will be jarring compared to the original, since original temporal look is destroyed.
To clarify my position:
I am not saying that it was bad for Panasonic to include 1080/50p and 1080/59.94p as an option for some users. I am saying that it was crazy not to include the most desirable 1080p framerates (29.97p, 25p, and optionally 23.976p), since they are the most distributable everywhere: over-the-air, on Blu-ray, on popular web video services like YouTube, Vimeo, and Vimeo Pro, and on virtually all modern tablets, smartphones, and iPod Touches.
Yes, I know that some technically-challenged representatives of some 1080i TV stations will tell you that they only accept 1080/50i or 1080/59.94i (interlaced), but that is nonsense! If they tell you that, you just need to give them a PsF version of your original 1080/25p or 1080/29.97p. They will see it as 1080/50i or 1080/59.94i and accept it, but it will retain all of the quality and temporal look as your original 1080/25p or 1080/29.97p.
And yes, I know that the Blu-ray spec says that it doesn’t accept 1080/25p or 1080/29.97p. The same thing applies here. In fact, good software like Adobe’s Media Encoder will automatically create a PsF version whenever you encode for Blu-ray and it detects that the original is 1080/25p or 1080/29.97p.
More good things about the AW-HE2 before I answer the Panasonic product manager’s question
Although in a completely different price and sensor size range, the AW-HE2 shares a similar feature with the Sony NEX-EA50 (which I covered in September 2012): the capability of zooming digitally, yet losslessly. Beyond zooming, the AW-HE2 can also pan and tilt using the same digital approach. I only got to test the AW-HE2 briefly with my friend Diego Pocoví before being put into a holding pattern while I awaited confirmation from Panasonic about the missing progressive framerates. During our brief initial observations, Diego and I were both quite impressed with the picture quality, even in low light. My original plan (and hope) was to receive either instructions or a firmware update from Panasonic, put the camera into the originally announced 1080/25p or 1080/29.97p mode, do detailed tests, and publish videos with this article. I awaited the response for months, and after several followups, the one I finally received was that —for now— there was no 1080/25p or 1080/29.97p availability, that preliminary press releases are subject to change, that they couldn’t understand how I would use the camera in those modes anyway, and that I must return the camera immediately. Thus, I made no recordings or further tests, and sent it back immediately. Ahead in this article, I’ll answer the Panasonic product manager’s question, but for now I’ll tell you more about this intriguing camera.
Many of our readers may be familiar with the term PTZ, which stands for Pan/Tilt/Zoom, and for decades has been used to describe some security, teleconference, and video production cameras. What is fairly new now is the —e— prefix, which stands for electronic. Unlike traditional PTZ cameras, which use an optical zoom and a motorized base, ePTZ cameras do everything electronically, without any moving parts (or associated sounds).
The US$995 AW-HE2 is very small and light. The dimensions are 80mm x 118mm x 138mm (3 5/32 inches x 4 5/8 inches x 5 7/16 inches), and it weighs approximately 244 grams (approximately 0.538 pound). The AW-HE2 comes with a pedestal and can also be tripod mounted.
The AW-HE2 uses a 1/4.37 sensor that Panasonic calls Full-HD MOS, with a stated spatial resolution of 3.9 megapixels. Panasonic says that with this resolution in the sensor, the AW-HE2 is able to achieve approximately 2x iA zoom losslessly, with separate digital zoom of 4x, although this 4x zoom would be lossy in 1080p mode. As explained earlier, I was not able to make the subjective tests I planned with the AW-HE2 is to determine how much aliasing is visible when using the lossless iA (2x) mode, given that Sony prefers to have more oversampling and therefore uses a 16.7 megapixel sensor to achieve lossless 2x digital zoom at 1080p in their NEX-EA50, which I reiterate is a completely different price range.
Connections and signals
The AW-HE2 offers both HDMI output (for full raster at whatever selected framerate and spatial resolution is selected) and an Ethernet port, which allows both controlling several of the camera’s functions remotely while monitoring it, although at either 640×480 (640×360 in 16:9) or 320×240 (320×180 in 16:9), up to 29.97 fps. So the Ethernet port is obviously for previewing and controlling, not for actual use of the video. Diego and I used that Ethernet port to set among the available modes on a laptop computer, while observing the camera’s HDMI output on a video monitor.
Is the AW-HE2 segregated or worldcam?
There are at least two variants of the AW-HE2: the AW-HE2P (sold in the US) and the AW-HE2E (sold in Europe). However, it doesn’t seem to be Panasonic’s intention to segregate the usage of this model (beyond warranty coverage and AC power cables) since the unit I had briefly did offer both 50p and 59.94p. I am glad about that.
How I’d use the AW-HE2 in a pro multicamera situation at 1080/25p and 1080/29.97p
As soon as Panasonic adds 1080/25p and 1080/29.97p over the HDMI output, I would use the AW-HE2 with professional video mixers (“switchers”) that accept this type of a signal. The first three professional video mixers to come to mind which can accept native 1080/25p and 1080/29.97p are the Blackmagic ATEM Production Studio 4K in 1080p mode (US$1695 + optional controller), the Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K in 1080p mode (US$2495 + optional controller and monitors), or any of the current NewTek TriCasters with SDI input used with a 1080p session (starting at US$9995 + optional control surface and monitors). In fact, the latest TriCasters (starting with the TriCaster 410 at US$9995 + optional control surface and monitors) can even control the movement of PTZ cameras directly.
In picture (above): Blackmagic ATEM 1 M/E Production Studio 4K, shown without optional control controller or monitor(s)
In picture (above): TriCaster 410, shown with optional control surface and monitors
Ironically, several Panasonic professional video mixers I have seen can accept native 1080/23.976p (which is not available either from the AW-HE2), but those same Panasonic professional video mixers don’t accept native 1080/25p or 1080/29.97p according to their published specs. However, even those Panasonic video mixers —and others like those from Datavideo and Sony that officially accept 1080i— would work fine with the AW-HE2 if Panasonic added the option of 1080/25psf and 1080/29.97psf, since the signal would appear as interlaced to the video mixer.
How to connect HDMI cameras to video mixers that only accept SDI?
Even though they are available from AJA, Blackmagic, Datavideo, and possibly others, my favorite HDMI>SDI converter remains the US$299 Átomos H2S, since it is the only one I know that can also remove pulldown (i.e. convert PsF to pure progressive) when appropriate, in addition to its inboard test patterns and flashlight (aka “torch” in some regions). External pulldown removal is no longer necessary with the NewTek TriCaster with its latest software in most cases, but the other features in the H2S still make it my favorite HDMI>SDI converter.
Unless you are an interlaced lover (Yuch!), are among the very few who can actually deal with 1080/50p or 1080/59.94p in one of the cases mentioned earlier, or work for a TV network that broadcasts 720p, I would wait before purchasing the AW-HE2. I am optimistic that Panasonic will see the light and add the missing framerates (at least as PsF), and —if they are willing to lend it to me again— at that point, I’ll happily create some 1080/25p or 1080/29.97p recordings to publish here with a followup article.
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My latest book (paperback + ebook)
My most recent book is available in two languages, and in paperback as well as an ebook. The ebook format is Kindle, but even if you don’t have a Kindle device, you can read Kindle books on many other devices using a free Kindle app. That includes iPad, Android tablets, Mac computers, and Windows computers. Although generally speaking, Kindle books are readable on smartphones like Androids and iPhones, I don’t recommend it for this particular book since it contains both color photos and color comparison charts. The ebook is also DRM-free.
In English, it is currently available in the following Amazon stores, depending upon your region:
- Amazon.com, for the US and other countries in the Americas that don’t currently have their own Amazon store, or anywhere if you simply prefer it
- Amazon.br for Brazil
- Amazon.ca for Canada
- Amazon.de for Germany
- Amazon.es for Spain pero a lo mejor lo preferirás en castellano, a continuación)
- Amazon.fr for France
- Amazon.in for India
- Amazon.it for Italy
- Amazon.co.jp for Japan
- Amazon.com.mx for México
- Amazon.co.uk for the United Kingdom
Or in your favorite bookstore by requesting ISBN–10: 1456310232 or ISBN–13: 978–1456310233.
En castellano, está disponible actualmente en las siguientes tiendas Amazon, según tu región:
- Amazon.com para EE.UU. y todas las Américas donde no existe ninguna tienda particular… o en cualquier parte si simplemente lo prefieres
- Amazon.com.br para Brasil
- Amazon.co.jp para Japón
- Amazon.de para Alemania
- Amazon.es para España
- Amazon.fr (Francia)
- Amazon.in para India
- Amazon.it para Italia
- Amazon.com.mx para México
- Amazon.co.uk para el Reino Unido
o en tu librería preferida al solicitar el ISBN–10: 1492783390 ó el ISBN–13: 978–1492783398.
Allan Tépper’s other books, consulting, articles, seminars & audio programs
Contact Allan Tépper for consulting, or find a full listing of his books, articles and upcoming seminars and webinars at AllanTepper.com. Listen to his TecnoTur program, which is now available both in Castilian (aka “Spanish”) and in English, free of charge. Search for TecnoTur in iTunes or visit TecnoTur.us for more information.
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