Flash to the Future

Panasonic says camcorder line pays for itself
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If you don't want moving parts in your electronic-newsgathering gear, you'll need big bucks in your ENG media budget. At least for now. When Panasonic introduces its DVCPRO P2 lineup in May, the recording media will cost roughly 10% of the price of the camcorder.

The camcorder costs $19,500; the media, $2,000 per 4-GB P2 PCMCIA card.

Despite the steep prices, the solid-state flash recording technology has sparked interest from broadcasters. Why? To broadcasters, the cost cutting benefits of P2—primarily in maintenance and personnel—let the system pay for itself.

But broadcasters who find the price tag of the 4-GB card off-putting shouldn't be put off for too long. There is a 2-GB version of the card available for cost-conscious buyers, and the four SD memory cards found on the P2 PCMCIA card will ride the consumer cost curve, with prices dropping as storage capacity climbs (a 32 GB version will eventually become reality). "The P2 card is more expensive today than it's going to be next year for the same capacity," says Panasonic Broadcast VP of Marketing Stuart English.

Even those who decide to make the investment can find wiggle room in the cost of the cards. "Our negotiations with a customer are around the total cost of the package," says English.

Rumor was, Panasonic would underwrite part of the cost of the first-generation cards to spur adoption—especially with Sony's XDCAM optical-disk format hitting the streets about the same time. But that hasn't happened.

As for the camera, English says the AJ-SPX800 camcorder, or "camputer" as he calls it because of its IT-based technology, has similar features to the AJ-SDX900 tape-based camcorder. It has three 2/3-inch interline transfer CCDs with 520,000 pixels each and F13 sensitivity at 2000 lux (and minimum illumination of 0.09 lux).

One important question: How many P2 cards would it hold? Some situations require more than 16 minutes of recording time. The camera and the related studio deck hold five cards each, for about 80 minutes of recording at 25 Mbps DVCPRO quality (recording time is 40 minutes at 50 Mbps). The camera will also automatically record on the next card when the current card's capacity is reached.

The camera has a sixth card slot that can be used for a wireless LAN card or a Proxy Video Encoder, either MPEG-1 or MPEG-4. English says the ability to instantly access the full-resolution clips eliminates the need for low-resolution proxy copies. That's an option, though, for workflow requiring proxies. "The speed of the system allows for instantaneous, full-resolution editing," he adds.

The speed also allows for HD. English says HD products are on the horizon, but Panasonic is waiting for higher-capacity cards. Capacity for HD recording on a 4-GB card would be less than four minutes.

Another interesting feature of the camcorder is the ability to add a voice memo to a clip. When the clips are sorted for editing, they can be searched for by keywords in the voice memos. Other features include three recording modes (continuous, prerecord or loop-record), a shot marker indication on clips of video, and a 3.5-inch LCD viewfinder.

Along with the camcorder, Panasonic has also introduced a studio deck. Like the camcorder, the AJ-SPD850 recorder has five P2 card slots. It also has a DVD-R/DVD-RAM drive, which records P2 content as data on 4.7-GB DVD disks, providing an archive or transport solution for about $2 per disk. The deck will be available in June for $15,000.

A third product is the AJ-PCD10, a multi-slot P2 drive, available in May for $2,500. The small unit can fit into a standard PC-type 5.25-inch drive bay or sit next to the PC. The AJ-PCD10 allows high-speed file transfers into the server or nonlinear editing system via a USB 2.0 interface.

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