HPX170: A First Look
by Barry Green

Okay, just got back from the show, and I've got a list of everything that I could discern as being different, new, or upgraded from the HVX200. Please note that this is only what we know SO FAR. They didn't let us dig around in the menus, so there may be other surprises in store. But at the bare minimum, these are the things that are changed, that I could find:

1. HPX170 comes with a FIVE YEAR warranty, instead of 1 year on HVX.

2. HPX170 has no DV tape drive, HVX has a DV tape drive.

3. HPX170 is noticeably smaller, it's more like the size of a DVX.

4. HPX170 is significantly lighter, about 1.6 pounds lighter (4.2 pounds instead of 5.8). Ergonomically it's a lot nicer to use handheld.

5. New CCD block is 1/2 stop faster (meaning, ISO 500 instead of ISO 320 on the HVX200.) The HVX200A also has this.

6. New CCD block is much cleaner in noise (see my article for a comparison video of HVX200A vs. HVX200). The HVX200A also has this.

7. New CCD block is better in smear resistance (for example, from car headlights). The HVX200A also has this.

8. New 13x zoom lens is smaller in diameter (72mm vs. 82mm) and with a wider angle field of view (3.9 to 51mm, vs. 4.2 to 55mm). This means that at full wide angle the zoom equivalent is about 28mm, vs. the HVX200's 32.5mm. HPX170's wide would be like using a .85x wide-angle converter on an HVX200. The HVX200A has a slightly wider field of view as compared to the HVX200, but not as wide as the HPX170.

9. HD-SDI output through a proper locking professional BNC connector (and, yes, the HD-SDI has embedded time code and audio). This means uncompressed HD at 10-bit and 4:2:2.

10. New component connector. I'm sure the quality of the component video is comparable, but the HPX170 uses a small mini-D connector (probably comparable to the one Sony uses) instead of the big clunky D4 connector that the HVX, XHA1, and JVC HD1 use.

11. A LOCKING SIX-PIN 1394 connector! If you use locking cables, that should mean your firewire card won't be pulled out! Should be great for FireStore users. No bus power on the firewire is possible though (same as with the HPX500).

12. 20 frame rate options, instead of 11 on the HVX200. Presumably the "frame rate hack" will also still work, so we should be able to get at all the other frame rates that may still be buried in there.

13. Frame rate selection buttons. The EX3 has a frame rate dial on the body, and the HPX170 can be configured to have similar functionality. There are new settings for the User Buttons, and two of those new settings are FRAME RATE+ and FRAME RATE-. This means you can change your frame rate without having to go into the scene file menus. No changing the frame rate during a shot though.

14. Delete Last Clip function is assignable to a user button, and yes, it does exactly what you wish it did. Very handy little addition, this.

15. Built-in WAVEFORM MONITOR. This is so fantastic. It's almost like having DV Rack built-in to the camera now! The waveform monitor is the ultimate tool to use for judging exposure; it basically replaces the zebras and the light meter. It lets you know exactly how the camera's exposing. Very, very cool. Also, the waveform monitor is sooo much nicer than even the one on my $3400 BT-LH80W monitor. It's a lot higher resolution. This is sweet.

16. Built-in Vectorscope! My $3400 monitor doesn't even have this. A vectorscope lets you mathematically analyze how the colors are being rendered. Nice.

17. Focus Assist stays on. The HPX170 includes the same magnified focus assist as the HVX200, but on the HVX it "times out" after 10 seconds. Now with the 170, you turn it on or turn it off with the press of a button. Minor upgrade but a nice usability upgrade.

18. New Focus Assist Graph. The big 2/3" HPX500 doesn't have the magnified focus, it uses a "histogram" to mathematically display focus (by graphing the high-frequency detail). It works very well on the HPX500. The HPX170 now includes this feature.

19. New Focus Assist Bar. This one is kind of a no-brainer focus assist -- a small little bar, a few pixels high, shows up in the lower 1/3 of the LCD. As you turn the focus ring, that bar grows longer or shrinks smaller. The more in-focus you are, the longer the bar is. So the goal is simple: turn the focus ring unti lthe bar is maximized.

20. Multiple Focus Assists. All these focus assists can be used simultaneously or individually. With all three on, your display gets quite cluttered, but if you can't get razor-sharp focus using all three of these, you need a trip to the optometrist.

21. Play Back Clips Regardless Of Format. This is a veeerrrry nice little usability upgrade. On the HVX200 you can shoot multiple formats (720p, 1080, DVCPRO50, DV, etc) but you can only play back the format that you most recently shot (i.e., if you shot 1080, then you shot 720, then you went to playback mode you could only play back the 720 clips. The 1080 clips would show up with a red number on them. The only way to play back the 1080 clips would be to go back to camera mode, change your recording format to 1080, then go back to playback mode ... at which point, you wouldn't be able to play back the 720 clips!) The HPX170 addresses this. If a clip is in a different mode from the current mode, it'll still show up with a red icon. To play that clip without jumping back to camera mode, you can now just hold down the joystick button over the clip for a second, and the camera will automatically switch into the proper mode for playback. Nice.

22. Revised ND Filter Selections. On the HVX200 you had two ND filter choices, each three stops (so, you got 1/8 or 1/64). On the HPX170 you get three filter choices, each two stops (so, you get 1/4, 1/16, or 1/64). This gives a lot more flexibility in choosing the "right" ND filter position for any given situation.

23. Security Cable Attachment Hole. Probably not a big deal, but if you need to lock down the camera so it doesn't get stolen, there's now a dedicated mounting point for a security cable.

24. Vertically-mounted battery. The battery mounts like the DVX used to. It's more recessed, and should be more resistant to any complications like the "broken battery tabs" that could affect the earliest HVX units.

25. DVX-style joystick. GONE are the 90-degree-rotated menu buttons; back is the DVX joystick.

26. LCD FLIP for 35mm lens adapters. No more magnets, or mounting monitors upside down! Doesn't record upside down, it's for monitoring only (for use during recording and during playback).

27. Iris/Focus Switch. This is the same function as the HVX's FOCUS RING user button setting, but now it's on a dedicated switch on the body. Lets you decide whether the focus ring will control the focus or the iris, your choice.

28. Time & Date Stamp on the footage. Very useful for situations such as recording legal depositions. Opens up a new market for shooters.

29. All Cables Face Rear. The HPX170 is a lot more streamlined. All the ports and cables (except for the XLRs) now face out the back, making for a much thinner overall camcorder experience.

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