Panasonic Broadcast & Television Systems will head to NAB with a number of products it hopes will answer the call for economical products that are flexible enough to meet demands for different formats and also fit within a broadcaster's existing infrastructure.
According to Vice President of Marketing Stuart English, it's the latter demand that makes or breaks a product's promise of affordability. "You can have an economical product only if it respects the infrastructure that exists," he says. "It won't be economical if it forces a brand-new infrastructure on you."
One product designed to fit that demand is a DVCPRO HD long-play VTR. The AJ-HD1600 VTR records on a 9-micron track width (DVCPRO formats typically record at 18 microns) to give the user 124 minutes of DVCPRO recording at 50 Mb/s on a newly developed DVCPRO extra-large cassette. English says the long recording time makes the VTR suitable for syndicated HD demands. There may be some concern from the engineering community concerning the 9-micron width, but he says it should pose no problems when coupled with the VTR's error-correction technology.
"The standard mode on DV is 10 microns, so we aren't so far away from what everyone knows as doable," he says.
The VTR also may find use by broadcasters looking for HD slow-motion playback: It provides slow-motion playback of -1.0 to +2.0 in HD long-play mode. Other features include a small built-in video monitor and a format converter that can handle aspect-ratio conversion.
Panasonic's new AK-HC931 camera is designed to replace an existing studio camera with a standard-definition product that can be upgraded for HDTV demands.
"It uses HD optics and an HD imager based on three 1/2-inch 1280x720 1 million-pixel progressive-scan IT chips," says English. "It's a very compact camera that is designed for the shoulder, but it has a build-up kit for studio application."
According to English, the HD imager (which acquires 720p images) allows for very high-quality 480i imaging; changing the output section upgrades it to HD. List price for the camera is under $50,000, and it will be available in September. Pricing on the HD upgrade will be available at a later date.
If 1080i output is desired, English says, the camera cross-converts from progressive to interlace.
There's little doubt that working not only in different formats but also in different frame rates is another challenge for broadcasters. English says using the AJ-FRC27 variable-frame-rate converter with the AJ-HDC27 Varicam HD cinema camera could help meet conversion needs in working with 1080p/24 production suites.
"This system is designed to integrate 1080p/24 with variable-frame-rate field capture," English explains. "The camera can acquire images at four to 60 frames per second in one-frame increments throughout the entire range but lays down a constant 60-frame-per-second pattern on tape, comprising both new- information frames and repeat-information, or pad, frames."
English says the frame-rate converter, which has a VTR-type control panel and is a half-rack wide and 5 rack-units high, is designed for users that have 1080p-based editing stations. It extracts just the new-information frames from the 60-f/s sequence and plays those frames back at 24 f/s and 1080p resolution, realizing the frame-rate conversion entirely in the video domain, a process equivalent to off-speed film capture followed by telecine.
Panasonic is also working with leading non-linear–editing companies. Among them are Quantel and Boxx Technologies, both of which have integrated a similar frame-rate-conversion algorithm into HD-resolution editing systems.
Another new feature from Panasonic is the CineGamma option for HD cameras, addressing the issue of the difference in dynamic range of film and video. Because film has a greater dynamic range and doesn't blow out the whites in images, it is much more suitable for outside production than HD video is. English says that, with the CineGamma option (which costs $5,000), the digital-signal-processing section of the camera enables HD progressive-scan video to more closely emulate the gamma response of film. "The option can be retrofitted to existing cameras in the field and involves new hardware and software for the camera."
Panasonic also will introduce two HD/ SD-capable LCD monitors: the 18-inch BT-LH1800 and the 15-inch BT-LH1500.
"Light weight and compact size are attributes of LCD," English explains, "but the big issue has been that, if you try to use an LCD screen, you pay a lot of attention to getting a broadcast feel in terms of the things you expect to see on a CRT."
English says the LCD monitors offer those CRT features. Both have a contrast ratio of 300:1, 170-degree viewing angle and 30-ms response speed and, depending on optional input board, can display 1080/24 f/s, 1080i, 720p, 576i, 480p and 480i. The 18-inch version (list price $7,000) has a resolution of 1280x1024 SGA; the 15-inch ($6,000), resolution of 1024x768 XGA.