How does the quality of Panasonic's DVCPRO HD camcorders compare to Sony's HDCAM format camcorders?
The Sony camcorders have twice as many pixels and 300 more lines resolution than Panasonic, so it may initially seem a superior format. However, DVCPRO HD can produce almost indistinguishable pictures from HDCAM (when not viewed on The Big Screen).
This is because the data-compression rates of the two systems are not that far apart, (in fact the Panasonic Varicam uses 20Mb/s less compression than the Sony HDW750 or 790). As the Sony CCDs have twice as many pixels, then during compression they are also throwing away twice as much information as Panasonic.
This factor can mean that Sony camcorders require greater error-correction. When recording motion, the cameras have to predict what the next frame will be and during rapid movement, they will get it wrong more often. These mistakes then need rapid error-correction, which can leave digital artifacts in the picture. As Sony have twice as many pixels to predict for each frame, so it also has a greater chance predict more pixels wrongly. This produces more visible errors. So for progressive filming of action, Panasonic's Varicam or HDX900 camcorders will produce smoother pictures than an HDCAM camcorder.
However, for a relatively static image, the extra few hundred lines of the Sony can make a perceivable difference in resolution when viewed on a large screen. So, the two formats are more closely comparable than it might initially seem, but each camcorder is suited to a different situation.
What about Panasonic's solid-state format - P2 HD?
A cutting edge format is Panasonic's P2 HD which uses flash cards to store the data. The cameras have no moving parts and the workflow into the post production domain is quick and easy, but the current limitation is the flash cards. The cards at present only store 8 minutes but multiple cards allow continuous recording.