New Shooters in Town

Capturing content on files, not tape

The first nonlinear editing systems allowed an editor to jump instantly from one video segment to the next, and it didn’t take long for both editors and vendors to envision the next step: tapeless acquisition.

In fact, it was 10 years ago that Ikegami and Avid collaborated on the first tapeless camera to improve the Avid editing experience. Heading into 2006, tapeless is ready to explode.

“It’s all about efficiency,” says Grass Valley Director of Market Development Scott Murray. “New technologies can either make you money or save you money. And tapeless helps organizations do things with fewer people and do things faster.”

Tapeless cameras, in many ways, are the final piece in the digital production puzzle. Content is acquired as a file and can be dumped quickly into the nonlinear editing system.

Prices for the top four systems vary widely because of the different types of recording media each manufacturer uses. Here’s a snapshot:

  • Sony’s XDCAM records on $30 BluRay optical disks that hold 23 gigabytes (GB).
  • Panasonic’s DVC Pro P2 uses $1,000 solid-state cards with Flash memory storage.
  • Grass Valley’s Infinity can record on either Flash memory cards or $60 30-GB iOmega RevPro disk drives.
  • Ikegami’s Editcam3 camcorder records on $300 solid-state field packs.

Each has unique features and limitations. “Picking the workflow and implementing it are two different things,” says Bob Ott, VP of professional audio and video products, Sony Electronics’ Broadcast and Production Systems Division. For instance, he says, Panasonic’s P2 format doesn’t have built-in long-term storage. The XDCAM’s storage medium is inexpensive enough to be used for archiving.

Panasonic Broadcast Technical Liaison VP Phil Livingston counters that Panasonic is working with such companies as Quantum on low-cost archive systems. “We think the archive process should be transferred to the end of the post-production process so that the user is only saving the material that is worth saving,” he says. “And for long-term archiving, data-tape systems are a no-brainer.”

Panasonic’s camcorder is the first P2 unit to incorporate a DV-format tape drive. It allows those who shoot on tape to migrate to HD or shoot special effects in HD and then transfer them to the tape.

Using tapeless cameras to their full potential requires rethinking the production process. That can be frightening.

“Customers have been doing nonlinear editing for 10 years now with tape-based systems, and it works, which means they sometimes don’t want to change,” says Murray. “So we’re trying to help them stick with what they know and ease into the new workflow.”

That’s one reason the new systems allow users to connect to existing video equipment, as well as to IT-based gear like servers. Facilities can begin using the systems while changing their workflow processes at a more comfortable pace.

“What we’re trying to enable is a complete digital chain,” says Murray. “Digital gives a lot of benefits, and you can now make copies that are as good as the original. The transition from baseband to file-based workflow is happening.”

Ott, however, cautions that evaluating which format is the best requires a hard look at related issues, such as archiving. XDCAM disks can hold two hours of HD material so an XDCAM cart machine, which holds hundreds of disks, can hold upwards of 1,280 hours of HD material. The ability to download low-resolution versions of the video material at speeds up to 40 times faster than real time also is a major selling point of XDCAM. “The efficiency that gives for editing is phenomenal,” Ott says.

Implementing the new camera equipment often requires attention to other products in the production chain. Avid’s TransferManager allows the user to move content to and from devices that use different formats. XDCAM footage, for example, can be brought in via Firewire (for faster than real-time transfers of proxy video) or Ethernet (for transferring high-resolution material).

“Show Me”

The technologies continue to evolve. Murray and Grass Valley are hard at work finalizing the Infinity camera, which was introduced in September. Grass Valley is positioning the camera as the ultimate in flexibility, allowing users to record on either disk or solid-state cards and in either SD or HD resolution. It wants 100 ready for January and more by March.

Last week, Panasonic introduced its HD version of the P2 solid-state camcorder, lengthening the lead it has over competition (at least until March, when Sony and Grass Valley roll out HD-capable tapeless cameras). The AG-HX200 DVCPRO HD camcorder shatters price barriers for solid-state–based recording, giving the user the ability to capture images at 720 progressive/1080 interlace/480 interlace for $5,995. There’s not enough capacity for a documentary, but it’s good for shorter news stories, for now.

Improvements will happen. They do every day. “Our direction has been revalidated by the customers,” says Grass Valley’s Murray, speaking about the industry. “They’ve [been sold] on a great technology, and now they say, 'Show me.’ That will happen soon.”