The Panasonic FZ1000 CAN output clean HDMI video
posted Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 3:33 PM EST
The Panasonic FZ1000 is a still photography and video powerhouse, but there's been a lot of confusion over its ability to output "clean" HMDI. Thanks in great part to the efforts of Panasonic USA's National Training Manager, Mathew Frazer, we can finally set the record straight on all but one aspect of this. Information on the final point should be forthcoming shortly, when I meet with Panasonic execs in Osaka next Tuesday.
First, just a bit of background: So-called "clean" HDMI output means a video signal through a camera's HDMI connector that includes no text or graphic overlays showing camera status, exposure variables, etc. It's just an image of what the camera sees through its lens, and nothing more.
There are two use cases for clean HDMI, perhaps the biggest being to record video on an external recorder, rather than internally onto a memory card. External recorders have several important advantages over encoding and storing the video in-camera. They can record at significantly higher bitrates for better image quality, and in most cases they provide higher capacity than is available on a memory card. Also, many recorders have removable disk drives, making it easy to port the data to a video editing system: Just eject the drive from the recorder, plug it into a drive bay on your editing computer, and you've moved 256 or 512 gigabytes of data -- perhaps as much as a terabyte -- in just a few seconds.
Another important use of an HDMI output is to support a viewfinder display on an external monitor. This means that the operator doesn't need to keep their eye pressed to the electronic viewfinder eyepiece while recording, and also allows a larger, clearer image than the camera's own LCD monitor.
As we'll see, the Panasonic FZ1000's HDMI output supports the use of an external recorder, but not an external monitor while recording video. Therein lies the heart of the confusion and erroneous reports about the FZ1000's HDMI capability: The FZ1000 can output a clean, 4:2:2 digital video signal, or record 4:2:0 video onto an internal memory card, but can't do both at the same time.
Initially, we'd heard that the FZ1000 could output clean HDMI, but later there seemed to be some uncertainty about this, and our own sample would only display a message on its output indicating that video recording was in progress. We asked Panasonic whether there was a way to output HDMI while recording, and the answer was no. And so we reported what we'd heard, much to the disappointment of many of our readers who'd been hoping to use the FZ1000 as either a primary or secondary camera on-set, with its output recorded on an external device.
Of course, that answer was correct, but as it turns out, we'd asked slightly the wrong question. As long as you're not recording internally, the Panasonic FZ1000 can output a clean image over its HDMI port, using the 4:2:2 subsampling standard most common to professional video work.
As mentioned above, Matt Frazer of Panasonic US confirmed many of the specifics of the FZ1000's video output for us by the simple expedient of plugging it into both a 4K monitor and pro-level digital video recorder, and noting what both reported about the signal characteristics. Here's what Matt shared with us, in his own words:
The camera will output a LIVE HDMI signal.
This signal can be made CLEAN by going to the Setup menu (the wrench menu). Go to page 3/5, and select the top option (TV Connection). Turn off HDMI Info Display (REC). You should also turn off the VIERA Link option, since some recorders don't support or play nice with CEC control.
The output is 4K or 1080p, depending on what you set as your recording resolution. [As confirmation, Matt supplied us with a photo showing the input resolution from his 4K Dell monitor, which also showed that it was clean, with no sign of focus peaking or any graphic overlays on the LCD display.]
I have confirmed that the 1080 signal output is 4:2:2. I connected the HDMI output into an Odyssey 7Q from Convergent Designs and it showed a true 4:2:2 signal. (The Odyssey will not show me bit depth, but it is safe to assume it is at least 8-bit, and I was told no 10-bit out for the FZ1000).
I cannot confirm with the equipment I have that the FZ1000 will output 4K 8-bit 4:2:2, because the Odyssey cannot accept a 4k signal over HDMI. With that revelation I am still confident that the 4K output will be 4:2:2; it would require more processing to get the signal down to 4:2:0, and you would have latency in the Live View. I don't see any of that, so I am certain it is 8-bit 4:2:2.
Many thanks to Matt for taking the time to test this for us. We've asked Panasonic Japan to confirm whether the 4K output is 4:2:2 or not, but haven't heard back as of this writing. I should be able to get a definitive answer when I meet with Panasonic execs next Tuesday in Osaka, though. In the meantime, I'm inclined to believe that the 4K output is in fact 4:2:2, since 4:2:0 would actually require more processing by the camera as Matt pointed out. I'll come back and update this article once I have a definitive answer from Panasonic Japan on this.
At the end of the day, this a huge win for the Panasonic FZ1000, as a lot of people have been eager to take advantage of its video quality and great optics in professional applications, driven by its incredible affordability. (A 4K video camera for $899, are you kidding me?) The apparent lack of clean HDMI output was keeping many video enthusiasts from buying it; this good news will almost certainly produce a bump in sales.
There is still the limitation that the Panasonic FZ1000 can't record to a memory card and simultaneously output any kind of video via HDMI, though; all it displays on the HDMI output is a message indicating that recording is in progress. Most video recorders provide some kind of pass-through connection to plug a monitor into, so people using external recorders will in most cases be able to use an external viewfinder monitor as well. Those not using a separate recorder will need to look to the more expensive Panasonic GH4 if they want an external viewfinder display while recording.
Bottom line, the Panasonic FZ1000 offers capability as either a Full HD or 4K video camera that's unprecedented at its price point.