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Why Upgrade Digital Betacam?

Sony has upgraded its industry standard Digital Betacam camcorder, the DVW-790, with a new model they have named by changing the order of the last three numbers to 970. How do they come up their model numbers? I don’t know. But I can hear our bookings desk already: “Just to confirm that was a 7-90 and not a 9-70.”

You may be asking why Sony has upgraded the Digital Betacam with many people thinking high definition is on the verge of taking off. Well, for the UK market we still find the DVW-790 to be the most frequently requested camera and the demand from our clients for Digital Betacam and DVCAM continues to be far stronger than the demand for HDCAM. (I don’t include the HVR-Z1 in this discussion because we consider it an essential upgrade to the PD170P because it offers true wide screen and better images in DV, DVCAM or HDV. If you’d like more information on the Z1 please e-mail for an E-Zine sent earlier this year).

We are getting more requests for high definition than we were even three or four months ago but those requests are for the higher priced models (HDW-750 and HDW-F900) rather than for the HDW-730 which costs just a bit more than the 790 to hire, mainly because the high definition lenses you need with them cost substantially more than standard definition lenses. If I’ve lost you, please e-mail me ( to get a copy of our E-Zine on the world of high definition.

Getting back to the question of why Digital Betacam has been upgraded, I can only guess that Sony has found the demand for the format continues to be strong and since the DVW-790 has been available since the late 90s it was time for a new model. The DVW-970 does have new features that are worthwhile and I’ll point those out now.

790 – 970: What’s the Difference?

Our first DVW-970 only arrived a few days ago so our technician has not had long to test it. His initial observations are:

Offers progressive scan recording at 25 frames per second for a film look

Has 14 bit A/D (analogue to digital) conversion compared to 12 bit on the 790 meaning it theoretically should produce better images

About one stop more sensitive than the DVW-790 so more useful in low light conditions.

4 channels of 20 bit audio compared to 2 audio channels on the 790

Greater range on the colour saturation settings which means you can, if you want, set the menu to give more saturated colours than you can get with a 790

Some additional comments:

The 970, like HDCAM and the DSR-450 camcorders, uses a memory stick rather than a set-up card to store personalised menu settings.

The settings switches on the camera body are similar to those on the 790 but the menu functions are different. The menu settings are more in line with the DSR-450 (Sony’s latest DVCAM) set-up which is similar to the HDCAM menu set-up. This is considerably different from the set-up on the 790 so it will take new users a bit of time to get used to it.

The bottom line is if you are going to use the 970, allow an hour or so before you leave for your shoot to go through it with someone who knows the menu layout well. We can always help with that.


It is early days but our initial impression is that the 970 is a step up from the 790. (I just wish Sony had chosen a different number to identify its new model). It offers a better CCD block, progressive scan, four audio channels and other features the 790 doesn’t. We’ll now have to see it in use for several months to get feedback on the look of the pictures and on its ease of use and reliability.

Last Month’s Question

The response to last month’s question was the strongest we’ve ever had – maybe because a bottle of champagne was on offer to the first person to e-mail the correct answer. The question was who wrote this line: “From thirty feet away she looked like a lot of class. From ten feet away she looked like something to look at from thirty feet away.” The answer was Raymond Chandler. Several people even included the correct title of the novel in their response: The High Window. Good to know there are lots of Chandler fans out there. Or does the internet make it easy to find the answer?

This Month’s Question

Same prize as last month. A bottle of champagne to the first person to e-mail the right answer. But this month’s question is more challenging. It is from a book of speeches made by a non-European with his observations about Europe after his visit to the continent as part of a traveling show about 1899-1900. The question is who’s the speaker? This excerpt from the book of his speeches covers some of his thoughts about money or “round metal and heavy paper.” Here it is: “Without any money you could not satisfy your hunger or still your thirst, nor could you find a sleeping mat at night. You have to pay for the ground on which you walk, for the soil on which stands your hut, for spending the night on a sleeping mat, for the light which brightens your hut. You pay so that you can shoot a pigeon or bathe in the river. If you want to go to a place where people are joyous, where they sing or dance, or if you want to ask advice from your brother, you have to give much round metal or heavy paper. You have to pay for everything.”

Good luck with this one.

If you have any questions or comments please e-mail

Until next time, happy shooting.

Cal Barton,

Procam Television


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