Blind Faith at NAB2005

You might not have noticed that it's tough to rate the image quality of a block of wood. The same applies to Panasonic's new AG-HVX200 camcorder. Okay, what I'm really talking about here is religious faith.

Way, way back a long time ago, I wrote about another block of wood, one with a power cord attached. It didn't start out as a block of wood. Originally it was a digital alarm clock sold by Radio Shack for a few bucks.

Then a manufacturer called Tice bought the clock and "treated" it (irradiated it?) in such a way that, when it was plugged in, not only would it still be a digital alarm clock, but it would also make all the electrons in the house "coherent." It wouldn't do that at once, mind you. Forget that telegraph messages crossed the Atlantic Ocean instantly back in the 19th century. The Tice clock would take several minutes to "cohere" household electrons. And, if someone else had a Tice clock plugged in nearby, well then its electrons might fight the others.

Assuming all went well, those happy little coherent electrons would increase audio and video fidelity. Pictures became sharper, with richer colors. The sound space increased. Or so, anyhow, in similar words, said Tice and those who shelled out big bucks for the clocks.

Their only problem was that the clocks still looked like ordinary Radio Shack clocks. Perchance a skeptic even bought an untreated clock and convinced Tice believers that it, too, was making the sounds and pictures better. That would never do. It would be worship of a false god. Sacrilege!

So Tice changed from clocks to blocks of wood with power cords attached. No one else was selling blocks of wood with power cords attached, and the "treatment" seemed to work about as well on a block of wood as on a digital alarm clock. You could pay a bundle for your block of wood, secure in the knowledge that no one else could just go to Radio Shack and buy the same thing for less. Phew!


I thought a lot about those blocks of wood at the NAB show this year. First I thought about them at Sony's grand ecumenical gesture.

There have been two HDTV religions for a while. There's the CBS religion, which says that 1080 is the only true HDTV, and there's the ABC/ESPN and Fox religion, which says that progressive scanning is the only true HDTV. Others may abide by one or the other HDTVs, but they ain't as fundamentalist about it. Those true believers, though, wouldn't accept pictures converted from one to the other. They're as religious as the Tice block-of-wood buyers.

Sony tried to proselytize the progressive camp by showing them conversions from 1080i cameras. "See," they said. "It looks just as good." Those worshipping progressive didn't switch churches. So Thomson, which stayed out of the religious wars by offering cameras that could switch between 1080 line and progressive, stole a big chunk of camera business from Sony.

Production trucks sometimes work for CBS and sometimes for ABC. With Thomson's (er, Grass Valley's) cameras, they could do both without fear of offending either religion.

So, at NAB, Sony introduced cameras that are both 1080 and progressive. Fox is using them to shoot an HD show on a CBS stage. The network executives praised each other. There is hope for peace in the Middle East!

Then I thought of the wood block with the power cord at the Digital Parallax Scanner (DPS) demo at Vision Imaging III (V3). Their Web site says they've won awards from several industry fish wraps, including this one. Indeed they have.

The DPS is an extra iris placed between lens and camera. The iris moves. I don't just mean it opens and closes. It moves. The hole in the center moves around, continuously.

There is a sound scientific basis for a changing perspective offering depth info. So the V3 rep pointed at a screen and said, "Look! It's 3D." I looked. I saw a flat picture with a strangely jittery background. I guess I'm just a nonbeliever.

That brings me to the purest examples of blind faith. I saw them at Panasonicland (I can't really call it a "booth," can I?). The company announced many orders for its AG-HVX200 HD camcorder. And why not? It's little. It doesn't cost a whole heck of a lot. It's got slots for two P2 cards (which, in the 8K version of the cards, will cost almost as much as the camera and record a whopping 17 minutes of HD). It's even got a DV tape drive, too.

That is to say, it looks like it's got P2 card slots and all that other stuff. For all I know, what Panasonic showed was just a very pretty block of wood. That's okay. Sony's HDV camcorder was effectively a wood block at NAB2004, and its HD XDCAM camcorder was a wood block this year.

Panasonic is a rock-solid company, and I ain't got a shred of a scintilla of doubt that it can make the recorder part of the camcorder work fine. There is just one thing about that little portmanteau "camcorder." It's the "cam" part.

Ask though I might, the best I could learn was that it would have 1/3-inch chips and a Leica lens. Hey, I like a Leica as much as the next imaginary masked engineer, but I'd surely like-a to know a little more about the camera part of the camcorder before plunking down a few bags of shekels to buy it. For instance, if the chips are HD, they're getting dangerously close to the diffraction limit for resolution. On the other hand (where I've still got five fingers), if they're not, then what's the point?

One report said Panasonic was still designing the camera part. But that didn't stop the orders from pouring in.

My hat's off. What a touching display of blind faith.