NAB 2009: Sony Broadens HD Broadcast Line for NAB

Introduces lower-cost cameras and switcher; rolls out production automation software
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NAB 2009: Complete Coverage from Broadcasting & Cable

Sony Electronics' big news for NAB is a lower-priced high-definition production line aimed at mid-market broadcasters and smaller sports venues. The line includes two new studio cameras and a multi-format production switcher.

The company is also officially rolling out a software-based production automation system, first demonstrated in closed-door meetings in Las Vegas last year, that will automate various functions of a newscast and compete with existing systems like Grass Valley's Ignite and Ross Video's OverDrive.

Sony's new HSC-300 and HXC-100 studio cameras, along with the new MVS-6000 switcher, are not designed to compete with the lowest-cost studio solutions now used by stations. These solutions include taking a small-format camcorder like a JVC ProHD or Sony XDCAM EX and repurposing it for studio use with an adapter kit. Instead, the cameras are designed to provide all the features expected in a traditional standard-definition studio camera at a more accessible price point for stations and sports venues converting to HD production, says Rob Willox, director of marketing for Sony Electronics' content creation group.

Sony first tackled HD production at the high end for network news and sports production with its HDC-1500 cameras and MVS-8000A production switcher, which are used for shows like NBC's Today as well as in the largest mobile trucks. Fully loaded, they sell for more than $100,000 for the cameras and in the $400,000-to-$500,000 range for the switcher (with four Mix/Effects [ME] banks). Then came the more mid-priced HDC-1400 cameras and MVS-8000G switcher, which were also aimed at network news and big-market O&Os for live production; those units sell for $85,000 to $90,000 and around $350,000, respectively.

The new line cuts those prices by about 20% to 25%, as Sony targets broadcasters and sports venues looking to convert to HD on a smaller budget. The HSC-300 and HXC-100 studio cameras are due in May, with basic systems starting at suggested list prices of $69,900 and $45,900, respectively. Sony hasn't announced pricing yet for the MVS-6000 switcher, which should be available this month, but a fully blown 2.5 ME unit would likely list for around $250,000.

“As the HD tree spreads its branches, I won't say [broadcasters] still don't have critical requirements,” Willox says. “But they may not be capitalized as well as the networks, or they are trying to do a lot of stations at one time. This price point is more attractive than what we have [previously] done.”

Another cost-saving measure with the new line is that both cameras are designed to send compressed high-definition signals over existing triax cables, as opposed to running new fiber-optic cables to carry uncompressed HD (1.5 gigabit-per-second) video around a plant, as many high-end facilities have done. Sony won't disclose the exact transmission bitrate of the digital triax technology, but says the HSC-300 camera can be used with triax cable runs of up to 1,300 meters, and the HXC-100 with runs of up to 850 meters.

The new MVS-6000 switcher incorporates many of the capabilities of the existing MVS-8000G in a small and efficient design using Sony's new System on a Chip image processor. This technology embeds keyer and DME processing within the switcher's CPU, and enables multi-format switching, multiple key channels, transitions and DME functions to be carried out on one chip.

The most significant development for broadcasters with the MVS-6000, however, is the optional ELC (Enhanced Live-production Control System) automation software that works with it, as well as with existing MVS-8000A and MVS-8000G switchers. Like the Grass Valley Ignite and Ross OverDrive systems that have been adopted by a number of broadcasters as a way to cut costs, the ELC software uses a graphical user interface to control on-air devices including robotic cameras, audio mixers, and MOS-controlled devices such as graphics systems and servers.

Sony originally developed the ELC software several years ago for a Japanese broadcaster, and has been working to integrate it with iNews and ENPS newsroom computer systems at the request of its U.S. customers. Through an ActiveX window, a simple drag-and-drop operation allows producers to create pre-programmed command templates.

The ELC software, which comes bundled with installation and training, will probably list in the $400,000-to-$450,000 range, says Sony marketing manager Chris Marchitelli, but could scale down to around $325,000 depending on configuration.

Sony expects significant demand for the ELC product based on the current economic hardships facing U.S. broadcasters, Willox says. “We've had very strong requests from people who initially did not to want to utilize automation, who like the control over the newscast they had with their existing workflow,” he says. “But they came to realize that to be able to compete in [today's] marketplace, automation had to be a reality for them.”

E-mail comments toglen.dickson@reedbusiness.com

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