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The JVC GY-HM650 and the Shape of Cameras to Come

JVC's GY-HM650 is a new three-chip CMOS camcorder with computer-like functionality that enables Internet connectivity and a second encoder that enables shooting and storing two different formats to SD card, or storing one format and transmitting live streaming video. Part 1 of this 2-part review details the mechanics of the online and dual-codec capabilities. In the second, we'll look at the GY-HM650 as a traditional camera and test quality and usability.

The key hardware differentiator between the JVC GY-HM650 (Figure 1, below) and virtually all other ENG cameras comes down to a simple full-sized USB port, plus the hardware and software necessary to leverage its functionality. Specifically, the USB port, et al., allow the camera to communicate wirelessly, whether via a wireless network or via 4G LTE. That lets the camera stream live while storing the video at full resolution to an SD card, or to FTP existing files while shooting. It also allows you to control the camera from any computer, adjusting focus, zoom, and other parameters.

Figure 1. The JVC GY-HM650 with 4G modem in the USB port.

To implement the live streaming functionality, JVC had to add a second encoder to the camera. When you’re not streaming live, you can use this second codec to encode and store SD or web video to the second SD card, though the second stream encoding options are limited. Nonetheless, the second codec and online aspects of JVC’s new camera makes the GY-HM650 alluring to any shooter tasked with shooting on location, or for streaming, or otherwise has to quickly transfer video files from point A to point B. In some cases, this new functionality eliminates the need for an on-camera encoder/4G transmitter, which cost anywhere from $500 to $5,000 or higher.

This is the first of a two-part review. In this first part, I’ll describe seeds and feeds and detail the mechanics of the online and dual codec capabilities. In the second, I’ll look at the GY-HM650 as a traditional camera and test quality and usability.

Speeds and Feeds

The GY-HM650 is a 12"x8"x5" camcorder that weighs about 5.3 pounds including the battery. It’s a three-chip camera with three 1/3-inch 1920x1080 CMOS imagers. The fixed lens is a Fujinon 23x zoom lens, with a 35mm conversion of 29mm-667mm.

The camera can encode into both MPEG-2 and H.264 formats using MOV, MP4, MXF, and AVCHD wrappers. Inconveniently for those who have to write about the camera, the specs for each codec/wrapper combination are all different. Here are some highlights. For those shooting AVCHD-formatted video, you have four modes: HQ (1920x1080 @ 24 mbps at 59.94/50i), SP (1920x1080 @ 17 mbps at 59.94/50i), LP (1440x1080 @ 9 Mbps at 59.94/50i), and EP (1440x1080 @ 5 Mbps at 59.94/50i). When recording H.264 into a QuickTime wrapper, you can record into 1920x1080/59.95i (50i PAL) or 23.98p.

Notably, there is no H.264 mode compatible with 720p recording, so if you want 720p, you’ll have to store in MPEG-2 format. Since recording at 60fps is available only in 720p mode, if you’re shooting for slow motion, you’ll have to store in MPEG-2. That’s not terrible; I still shoot quite frequently in HDV, which is MPEG-2, but almost always shoot at 720p in AVCHD mode when available.

The only SD mode is H.264 in a QuickTime wrapper, stored at 720x480/59.94i (720x576/50i PAL) at 8 mbps in either 4:3 and 16:9 aspect ratio. Web modes are limited to 960x540 at 5 Mbps, or 480x270 at 1.2 Mbps, both at 29.97p, 23.98p, or 25p.

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