Home Theater: Digits Triumphant Page 2

Now, high-definition digital video, even HDTV, has been around longer than Hollywood's newly intense interest in the Sony camera. Cinematographers, in fact, raised considerable controversy over its 16:9 aspect ratio. What happened to persuade filmmakers of Lucas's stature to favor high-def digital? The answer reveals how traditional values can still influence the adoption of a cutting-edge technology.

What made Hollywood take notice was the HDW-F900's incorporation of a 24-frame-per-second (fps), progressive-scan shooting mode that produces video recordings whose frame-to-frame rate corresponds to that of most film footage, which is usually shot at 24 fps. This correspondence is extremely important in film production, since it allows film- and video-derived images to be freely intercut and overlaid without costly - and picture-degrading - conversion of one frame rate to another. It also makes it easier to transfer the completed movie to other media, like DVD and videotape, even if these use different frame rates.

Ironically, the Sony camera's 24-fps/ progressive-scan mode is inferior in one important aspect to at least one of its other shooting modes: the 60-Hz/interlaced mode used in traditional camcorders, including consumer models. In interlaced scanning, the picture is always "live" instead of being "frozen" every 1/24 second. This makes for a far smoother portrayal of motion than 24-fps film can provide. Sony's product brochure cites the camera's 24-fps mode as having "the same motion footprint as footage shot on film" but doesn't point out that in such footage, medium-speed pan shots and moving objects tend to flicker or look jerky. Look for this effect the next time you watch a movie on DVD - or, better yet, in a movie theater, where it tends to be more visible.