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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.

Live streaming is all performed using the H.264 codec in an MPEG-2 transport stream. Resolutions range from 1080i, which is suitable for broadcast integration, at about 5 Mbps, to 720p at about 3.5 Mbps, which is suitable for sending to a streaming server for live transrating into multiple lower-quality streams. The only SD streams were 720x480 at 60i/50i, again more suitable for broadcast than for streaming. Your only transport option for the live streaming is to send it to a specific IP address via UDP or TCP; there is no option for sending it to an RTMP address, which is the preferred technique for most live streaming services.

Note that most third-party H.264 camera-back encoders, like the Teradek Cube, Livestream Broadcaster, and LiveGear AirStream all offer more encoding and transport options. The GY-HM650 can work quite well in a dedicated environment like transmitting a live stream back to a studio, but won’t be suitable for general-purpose streaming through various live streaming service providers until these options are expanded.

Shooting Modes

The GY-HM650 has multiple shooting modes that take some explanation. First, you can configure the camera to store identically configured video to both SD cards, providing a useful archival function. You can configure the camera to shoot in HD + SD, sending an HD stream in any configuration to one SD card, and the SD stream to the other. Or, you can configure the camera for HD + Web, and store one HD and one web stream in any configuration.

As mentioned, if you’re live streaming, you can shoot in only a single format.

Getting Connected

The USB port that I referred to earlier is, of course, transport mechanism-independent, and the camera provides connection wizards that are specific to the installed hardware device. For example, JVC sent both a Buffalo USB WiFi connector and a Verizon UML290 4G LTE modem. I spent the most time working with the WiFi connector, which is less sexy but avoids all those pesky firewall issues.

You connect your camera to your wireless network just like any other device: by searching for the wireless connection and entering the password, with an in-camera wizard guiding the way. Once you’re connected, you can access the camera by typing the camera’s URL, which is accessible from the system settings. You can set the login name and password to prevent others from accessing the camera on the network.

Once connected, you can view the live feed from the camera, and access most shooting controls, including record/stop and configuration options like AE level, iris, gain, shutter speed, white balance, and others (Figure 2, below). Fortunately, you can also access some configuration options that are best entered via a computer with a keyboard, like the configurations for the FTP servers to which you’ll be transferring files. Ditto for the metadata servers from which you can download metadata.

Figure 2. Logged into the camera on my LAN.

To FTP a clip once you’ve entered the FTP settings, you choose the clip, choose the server, press the magic go button, and the file starts uploading (Figure 3, below). You can even close the upload window, upload in the background, and resume shooting.

Figure 3. Here’s something I’ve never done before: FTP’ing a clip from a camcorder.

To stream a clip, you choose your encoding parameters, then destination address and port (Figure 4, below).

Figure 4. Setting live streaming parameters.

On the receiving end, configurations vary by device or program. With the VLC Player, which I used, you open a network stream and type in the selected port in network-speak, in this case the udp://@65535 shown in Figure 5 (below). Wait a moment, and then whoomp, there it is, live streaming from a broadcast-quality camcorder. Another first, at least for me. Again, while JVC needs to add the ability to transmit to an RTMP address for general-purpose live streaming, the GY-HM650 is perfectly usable today for sending live video back to a studio. Just get a decoder that can convert the MPEG-2 transport streaming into an HD-SDI or similar signal, of which there are many, and you’re in business.

Figure 5. Live streaming within my local area network.

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