HD Hits the Streets

New wave of cameras attracting news operations, reality shows
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High-definition studio cameras have been selling well for years, as stations began buying them as a way to future-proof their operations in advance of launching HD newscasts. But cameras for field production for news and other reality programming have lagged behind. Not only were they costly, but there were technical issues with transmitting HD content from the site of a news story and editing it back at the station.

That's changing. Now major station groups and networks looking to replace their first-generation standard-definition digital camcorders have been scooping up HD camcorders from Panasonic, Sony and JVC. Most are still using the cameras to shoot in widescreen standard-definition mode now while taking advantage of the new tapeless workflows the cameras can support.

But a few stations, like WRAL Raleigh, N.C., and KLAS Las Vegas, are already doing true hi-def newsgathering with digital HD microwave links.

Reality shows are also moving to HD. At the NAB Show last month, Sony announced that CBS's Survivor will use Sony's XDCAM HD optical-disc cameras to shoot the upcoming 17th installment of the series, with production scheduled to begin this summer for airing this fall. The XDCAM HD camcorders and decks are a direct replacement for Sony Digital Betacam gear that has been used since the show's launch. Sony says the reality show Cops will also use XDCAM HD to shoot all 36 episodes of the shows' 21st season, which premieres this fall.

Panasonic's HD camcorders are also playing in the reality space, but mainly in the form of its established DVCPRO HD tape-based units, not its newer P2 HD cameras that record on solid-state memory cards. Bravo's Shear Genius was shot last season using Panasonic HDX-900 DVCPRO HD camcorders, and this season TLC's American Chopper is also being shot using the HDX-900 camera.

NEW IN THE NEWS MARKET

To be sure, however, most of the focus from camera vendors at NAB was on the news market, both in their new products and sales announcements. Panasonic stressed its broad support from editing and server manufacturers for AVC-Intra, a new advanced compression system for P2 that can record HD at a more user-friendly 50 megabit-per-second data rate, and introduced a new low-cost P2 HD handheld camcorder, the AG-HPX170.

The fully solid-state camcorder, which will be available in the fall for less than $6,000, has an HD-SDI interface for connection to baseband production and distribution infrastructure, and two P2 memory card slots. Users can record up to 64 minutes of high-definition DVCPRO HD video using currently available 32-gigabyte (GB) P2 cards, and record times will double with the release of Panasonic's 64 GB P2 card in the fall.

Panasonic also announced P2 HD camera sales to ABC owned-and-operated KABC Los Angeles and station group Gray Television, which has selected P2 HD to support newsgathering at 21 of its stations. Panasonic also bragged that P2 HD will be the “official ENG format” for the Beijing Olympics this summer through Panasonic's deal with host broadcaster Beijing Olympic Broadcasting. P2 is already in use for news production at Media General, Cox, Fox and Meredith stations.

Sony has introduced a new low-cost solid-state camcorder for its XDCAM EX line, the PMW-EX3. XDCAM EX records in the same compression format as optical disc-based XDCAM HD camcorders but stores the video on solid-state SxS Pro memory cards. The PMW-EX3, which features an interchangeable lens system, should ship in the third quarter for under $13,000.

But Sony's major product focus at NAB was the PDW-700, a new XDCAM HD optical-disc camcorder that has a two-thirds-inch imaging chip and records high-definition video at up to 50 megabits per second (Mbps) with 4:2:2 color sampling. The PDW-700, which should be shipping by this summer for a list price of $30,000, represents a significant bump in quality from previous XDCAM HD ½-inch chip models, which recorded at rates of 18, 25 or 35 Mbps and used 4:2:0 color sampling. More important, the new camera will also deliver true 1920x1080 hi-def resolution, while the ½-inch cameras only captured 1440x1080.

The PDW-700, which can output HD video in either the 1080-line interlace (1080i) or 720-line progressive (720p) HD formats, uses MPEG-2 4:2:2P@HL (high level) compression technology to record on new dual-layer 50 GB optical discs. The 50 GB XDCAM HD discs, which are available now for $60, provide approximately 95 minutes of record time at 50 Mbps, 150 minutes at 35 Mbps and 200 minutes at 25 Mbps HD. The PDW-700 camera is complemented by a new, $20,000 high-end recording deck, the PDW-HD1500.

GOODBYE, BETACAM

NBC will use the new PDW-700 camera for newsgathering applications during the Olympics this summer. CBS affiliate WRAL is buying more than 30 PDW-700 camcorders and several PDW-HD1500 decks for news production, and ABC, which recently purchased standard-definition XDCAM camcorders to replace aging Betacam gear in its network news operations, could potentially upgrade to the PDW-700 units this summer if the cameras are ready by then.

Comcast is buying over 100 of the PDW-700 cameras for its networks, which include The Golf Channel, Versus and E!, along with Comcast SportsNet outlets. Mark Coleman, Comcast's executive VP of engineering and operations, likes the workflow of the optical-disc camcorders. “The media is easy to work with, and we like the fact it records in clips,” Coleman says. “For newsgathering, when you're using the satellite to send it back, you can grab the clips instead of having to shuttle through the whole [disc].”

Thomson Grass Valley has been pushing its Infinity tapeless camera for several years but just began shipping it last fall. The company has introduced a new model, the DMC 1000/20, aimed at ENG applications. The new camera offers expanded recording capacity over the previous DMC 1000/10 camera by using higher-capacity hard-disk cartridges from Iomega. The new REV PRO XP and ER media that Thomson has developed with Iomega feature 40 GB and 65 GB of storage capacity, respectively, compared to previous 35 GB REV PRO cartridges.

The XP (eXtra Performance) media offers more than 50 minutes of HD recording at a data rate of 75 Mbps (using JPEG 2000 compression), while the Extended Recording (ER) media can store more than 90 minutes of HD content at 75 Mbps—or more than four hours of SD content—on a single 65 GB disk.

The REV PRO XP 40 GB (gold) disk costs $69.99, the REV PRO ER 65 GB (blue) disk costs $79.99, and the REV PRO Digital Media Drive will list for $699.99. All will be available in the second quarter of this year.

The new DMC 1000/20 camera, which should begin shipping in June at an undisclosed price, has three two-thirds-inch progressive 1920x1080 native HD Xensium CMOS imagers, like the previous 1000/10 model, and provides for solid-state recording via commercially available CompactFlash cards from SanDisk. Thomson also introduced a companion deck, the Infinity Digital Media Recorder (DMR), which also uses REV PRO XP and ER media to play back content shot with the new camera.

So far, the only U.S. broadcaster to publicly commit to the Infinity camcorder is NBC affiliate and Sunbelt Communications station KVBC Las Vegas, which has purchased 18 Infinity DMC 1000/10 units to support news production and reports they are working well in the field. But Thomson Grass Valley senior VP Jeff Rosica expects U.S. sales to pick up, particularly with the increased capacity of the new REV PRO XP and ER media.

“It's 20 times more affordable than P2 or solid-state storage from Sony, and it has more capability but about the same price as XDCAM disc,” Rosica says.

Affordability has certainly been driving sales for JVC's ProHD camcorder line, which uses the HDV compression format to offer a professional camcorder that lists for less than $15,000 and can record HD video either on HDV tape or hard-disk storage units from Focus Enhancements. JVC's GY-HD250 ProHD camera has found favor with station groups like Scripps Television, which has deployed it in the field for newsgathering, and Raycom Media, which is using it in a studio configuration to support HD newscasts at stations including CBS affiliate WOIO Cleveland.

First-generation GY-HD250 units recorded in native 720-line-progressive, which made them popular with Fox and ABC stations. Mike Doback, VP of engineering for Scripps-Howard, says that 720p acquisition has also worked out fine for Scripps' NBC affiliates, as they simply keep the workflow in 720p through editing with Apple Final Cut Pro and then transcode the signals to 1080-line-interlace for broadcast. But JVC has now added 1080i encoding capability to the camera to broaden its appeal.

At NAB, JVC introduced a new addition to its ProHD line, the GY-HD200UB. The camcorder offers full-frame 1280x720 progressive imaging and 720p recording, and can output either 720p or 1080i high-definition signals through its FireWire (IEEE 1394) connection that can be recorded on JVC's ProHD DR-HD100 Hard Disk Recorder. Available now at a suggested list price of $5,995, it includes a 16:1 Fujinon lens and Anton-Bauer battery system, and is being positioned as a lower-cost cousin to JVC's flagship HD250 camera, which sells for $10,995.

“We've modified the encoding so it can pump out both 720p and 1080i through the FireWire,” says Dave Walton, JVC assistant VP of marketing. “If you're looking for a low-cost solution, you can slap on the hard disk and record 1080i. If your field camera doesn't need HD/SDI [output], that works just fine.”

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