Panasonic HPX250 Camcorder Review

We really like the Panasonic AG-HPX250. It’s a professional level product in an ergonomic, efficient and easy to use package. In many ways it’s the ideal hand-held camcorder in the 5k price range that can be used for everything from corporate video to reality TV to documentaries.

When we first got our hands on the Panasonic AG-HPX250 we thought it felt a little cheap, almost too light for a professional grade camera. However, after using it for several months we’re very pleased with the performance and grateful for the run-n-gun friendly body especially compared to its chunky ancestor, the HVX200. The HPX250 (and recently updated HPX250PJ announced at NAB earlier this year) is  better balanced and provides a variety of improvements to the buttons, i/o connections and overall speed of access to controls. The flip out LCD looks really good.  The battery pops in and out easier.  The P2 card slots are vertical.  The product team did a nice job making lots of subtle improvements compared to previous designs without losing any of the Panasonic camcorder product family mojo. It's a better product that's easier to use.

When it comes to handheld camcorders, the HPX250 and updated HPX250PJ are like the younger siblings in the family that get everything the older siblings never had. The HPX250 is the camera the HVX200 always wanted to be. Don’t be fooled by the abundant use of plastic in the design. The HPX250 packs a punch with a versatile lens, excellent low light performance and a plethora of format, codec and frame rate options. Even the built-in sound is a little better.

One of the most important features of the HPX250 is the AVC-Intra 100/50 codec support. The AVC-Intra 100 codec is arguably one of the best available on any camcorder. The full raster 1920x1080 progressive frames in a 10 bit 4.2.2 color space offers more flexibility to push the boundaries in post and makes getting clean keys much easier.

We recently tested the HPX250 using the AVC-Intra 100 codec while working on a simple “how to” video. We tested the footage on three separate workstations (HP, Dell, Supermicro) using three separate NLE packages (CS6.5, Edius 6.5, Vegas Pro 11) all running Xeons, plenty of memory and either Quadro 2000 or 4000 card. The AVC-Intra 100 codec does require a modern workstation to run smoothly and we noticed better performance on our faster systems.

On shoots that require faster turns in remote locations where the laptop is the edit suite we might opt for the DVCPRO HD codec as it’s much lighter on resources. We also like the option of using the AVC-Intra 50 codec if we think we may have a long day without the luxury of enough P2 storage. The HPX250 has plenty of options to balance quality, capacity and editing requirements.

At NAB this year Panasonic announced the microP2 card, essentially a robust storage card in the SD form factor. In spite of the antiquated PCMCIA form factor the P2 card has a large stable of “believers” that have gotten comfortable using the cards. In years of shooting with the HVX200 and now the HPX250 we’ve never had one fail. We also don’t know anyone in our creative circle that has had a P2 card fail. Flash memory has forever changed the way we capture and share our stories.

The microP2 card or some other “micro” format will have a profound impact on the professional handheld camcorder market. The lighter, better, faster, and (we hope), cheaper mantra will continue. We’re looking forward to meeting the HPX250’s younger brother.

Visit Panasonic for more information and all the specs on the AG-HPX250 and updated AG-HPX250PJ.

Boris Continuum Complete 8 Review

Boris Continuum Complete 8 is an extremely useful plug-in suite of visual effects available for major NLE platforms offered by Adobe, Apple, Autodesk, Avid and Sony. Depending on your NLE of choice, Continuum Complete 8 provides anywhere from 145-200+ effects. But more importantly the effects are useful and inspiring if not a bit intimidating with comprehensive controls that allow truly infinite possibilities.

Boris FX has been around since 1995 and this is the first time we've immersed ourselves in their plug-ins. At first, it's a bit overwhelming. There's a lot to digest in this suite and every plug-in has lots of sliders and settings to tweak. We highly recommend checking out some of the tutorials by John Rofrano on YouTube, especially the Beat Reactor tutorial which we found extremely helpful.

The lineup of effects includes motion tracking, image restoration, cartoon, film effects, 3D particles, HD "UpRez", lighting effects and a lot more. Each plug-in includes a variety of presets. For example, if you want the "Charles Schwab" cartoon look, you can quickly dial that in.

We were able to figure out most of the effects by playing with the controls until we started to see something we liked on screen. The online tutorials are very helpful to jumpstart this process. If you're the type of editor that prefers presets and a few knobs to play with Continuum Complete may frustrate you but if you prefer maximum control you'll appreciate the option to tweak every setting. There are lots of presets but we'd like to see even more practical staring points.

This first example combines two lighting effects triggered by the Beat Reactor. The Beat Reactor only works with AIF files which was a minor inconvenience. This is one of our favorite new tools and we'll be spending a lot of time perfecting its use. This sample shows what you can do with very little effort.

This next example is from a mini-DV shoot several years back that we wanted to repurpose in HD. The UpRez filter was very helpful and the results are convincing. We have hundreds of episodes of a technology show we produced on Beta back in the day and we'll see if UpRez can help us archive it in "HD."

In this next video we used both screen capture software and the camera to grab screen shots.  We noticed an additional flicker in the video we didn't see on the monitor while shooting.  The Boris "Flicker Fixer" plug-in was super handy to help clean this up.

As with any effects package, the best approach is to simply download it and start experimenting. Boris Continuum 8 will keep you busy for days just getting familiar with this powerful suite of plug-ins. The value of the package will become apparent once you start to identify your "Go-to" plug-ins that help clean up, add sizzle and generally bring your visuals to life.  We found the performance and preview capabiiity of Continumm Complete 8 to be good on a test Superrmicro workstation with dual xeons, 12 cores, 24GBs, a quadro 2000, running Win 7 Pro 64bit. We had a frozen screen here and there but found the experience mostly stable and predictable.

We're just getting started and we'll share more as we peel back the layers of this suite. Certainly put this on your list of plug-in suites to consider for your NLE of choice.

To compare the complete lineup of plug-ins across NLE platforms go here.

To learn more about Boris Continuum Complete 8 go here.

Best PCI sound card: Lynx versus RME versus Digital Audio Labs

Our first professional sound card was the original Digital Audio Labs Card-D running in a Win 3.1 486 box with Sound Forge and we were simply blown away. For the first time we experienced what professional quality audio on a PC was all about. Goodbye and good riddance Creative Labs.

Over the years, we’ve used cards from a variety of vendors including: Aardvark, Echo Digital Audio, Digidesign, Digigram, Digital Audio Labs, EMU Systems, Lynx Studio, M-AUDIO, RME Audio, Turtle Beach and more. These cards have been installed on both Mac and PC systems, desktops, workstations, laptops and various operating system. Some of these vendors have gone out of business but many still offer quality solutions to meet just about any budget.

In our testing and real world use we’ve settled on three primary suppliers of audio solutions for our PC based NLE systems that we use to get actual work done. Our preferred vendors include Digital Audio Labs, Lynx Studio and RME Audio. We’ve found that all three have consistently delivered quality performance at a reasonable price.

Among our preferred three vendors, the best sounding PCI audio card we’ve tested and abused for 5 years is the Lynx Studio Two B. It’s simply transparent with an incredible signal to noise ratio and beefy, natural analog sound. The Lynx Studio Two B is our preferred card for laying down tracks, voice over, mixing and pretty much any audio task. Our ears have not heard a better sounding PCI audio card. It also has some of the best shielding technology and does not pick up noise and interference inside the PC.

Coming in second is the Digital Audio labs CardDeluxe. It’s got the same beefy analog, full frequency sound as the Lynx Studio, but is not quite as quiet and transparent. Depending on the PC or workstation you may pick up more noise with the CardDeluxe than the Lynx Studio. Our biggest concern with Digital Audio Labs and the CardDeluxe is it seems the company may be winding things down and the web site is completely out of date and there is very little activity.

Coming in third is the RME 9632. While this card still sounds good it does not have the transparency of the Lynx Studio or CardDeluxe. We would rather spend a little more money and get the Lynx Studio Two B for superior sound. RME is likely to keep improving and has a solid user base that raves about its products. Good value for the money but to our ears not the best sound.

Visit Lynx Studio Technologies for more information.
Visit RME Audio for more information.
Visit Digital Audio Labs for more information.

Testing platforms:  HARDWARE: HP xw8400 workstation, Dell T7500 workstation, Supermicro 7046A-3 workstation. Intel Xeon CPUs. OS: Windows 7 Pro, Windows XP, Windows 98.  SOFTWARE: SawStudio, Universal Audio Plug-ins, Sound Forge, Sony ACID, Sony Vegas, Adobe Audition, Adobe CS5, Edius 6.5 and varous windows apps and utilities.



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