Panasonic will try to one-up Sony at the NAB convention this week with a prototype of a camcorder that the company says will record nearly 20 minutes of video on a removable memory card the size of a dozen business cards stacked together.
With no moving parts, the unit's recording system is lighter, less power-hungry, more rugged and, Panasonic promises, easier to maintain than rival electronic newsgathering recorders with tape, hard-drive or optical-drive systems. And transferring video will be as easy as popping the card out of the camcorder and into a companion editor.
One possible negative is the cost of the memory cards. Each may cost hundreds of dollars, although the camcorder will come packaged with a few. On the plus side, the cards can be reused thousands of times. So, as long as they don't get lost or stolen, the cards can be used for years.
Unveiling the prototype this week, Panasonic may give pause to broadcasters and other newsgatherers considering the optical-disk–based camcorder that Sony is bringing to market at NAB. Sony's system is based on blue-laser technology and has a much cheaper medium. But the optical disk doesn't have all the potential benefits of a solid-state recorder.
In any event, with the two leading manufacturers of ENG gear committed to non-tape camcorders, it is clear that tape is on its way out as a professional newsgathering medium.
"The SD memory card is very compact, dense and fast," says Panasonic Vice President, Marketing, Stuart English.
Panasonic plans to show a non-working version of the camcorder in its NAB booth and a working model in its by-invitation-only technology suite. English says the camcorder will be available next spring at a "competitive" price.
The memory card is a standard PCMCIA card commonly used in laptop computers. It is loaded with four smaller, 1-GB SD memory cards—for a total of 4 GB of memory.
The unit records in the DVCPRO format. At 25 Mb/s, a single PCMCIA card with 4 GB of memory will hold 18 minutes of video; at the higher video resolution of 50 Mb/s, nine minutes.
The recording capacity of the camera can be expanded in a couple of ways. Panasonic intends to configure the unit so that it can handle multiple PCMCIA cards—perhaps as many as six. Just one additional PCMCIA slot would double recording time, if each slot contains a card.
"We anticipate three flavors of storage," he adds. "First will be the 4 GB; then, in 2005, there will be a 16-GB version, and then beyond that is a 64-GB version."
A single PCMCIA card with 64 GB of SD memory would provide 72 minutes of recording at 25 Mb/s, 36 minutes at 50 Mb/s and 18 minutes at HD data rates.
Panasonic's AJ-DE10 laptop editor, which also will be shown at NAB, has a PCMCIA card slot, permitting an ENG crew to plug a card taken from a camcorder directly into the laptop. "That eliminates digitizing time and mounts the card as a virtual hard drive," notes English.
The bump in the road may be the cost of the PCMCIA cards. Panasonic wasn't talking prices, but, given that 1-GB SD cards now sell for about $400 each, it is safe to assume that each PCMCIA card (with four SD cards) will go for several hundred dollars each next year.