Home Theater: Digits Triumphant Page 3

Like top-of-the-line consumer camcorders, the HDW-F900 contains three image sensors, one for each primary video color (red, green, and blue), and each contains more than 2.2 million pixels. Since the pixel count for each sensor is approximately the same as the total pixel count of a consumer-grade digital still camera capable of producing pictures comparable to 35mm film, I could well believe Sony's claim that the HDW-F900's image quality ranks with that "of a 35mm film release print derived from a 35mm [negative]."

The Phantom Menace certainly looked that good in the digital presentation I saw. Even with the "mild" data compression applied to the sensor data by the camcorder, the on-tape data rate is 185 megabits per second for 60-Hz/interlaced images - or 18.5 times the maximum data rate of the DVD format. Now that's picture quality. The camera uses a digital videocassette the same size as Sony's old Betamax tapes (you remember Beta? - the System That Would Not Die).

One of the few areas where consumer camcorders score over their professional brethren is what you get besides the basic picture-taking electronics. For example, I know of no consumer-grade camcorder that doesn't come with a lens. The Sony HDW-F900 is supplied not only sans lens, but also sans battery, sans battery charger, and sans power adaptor. Nor do you get such consumer niceties as autofocusing or compensation for handheld camera shaking. Professional cinematographers would look askance at such presumptuous mechanization.

Another area where consumer camcorders have it all over professional models is price. The cost of Sony's HDW-F900, sans practically everything, is as impressive as its specs and performance: a whopping $102,360. While that's peanuts for a big Hollywood studio - or, in Lucas's case, a big San Rafael studio - to get my hands on one of these beauties, I'll have to invoke an even more powerful Force. Dear Santa . . .