Panasonic to show solid-state camcorder

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Matsushita Electric Corp. of America's Panasonic will try to one-up Sony Electronics Corp.
at the National Association of Broadcasters' convention this week with a prototype of a camcorder that the company
said will record nearly 20 minutes of video on a removable memory card -- the size
of one-dozen business cards stacked together.

With no moving parts, the unit's recording system is lighter, less
power-hungry, more rugged and, Panasonic promised, easier to maintain than rival
electronic newsgathering (ENG) recorders with tape, hard-drive or optical-drive
systems. And transferring video will be as easy as popping the card out of the
camcorder and into a companion editor.

One possible negative is the cost of the memory cards. Each may cost hundreds
of dollars, although the camcorder will come packaged with a few. On the plus
side, the cards can be reused thousands of times. So, as long as they don't get
lost or stolen, they can be used for years.

Unveiling the prototype this week, Panasonic may give pause to broadcasters
and other newsgatherers considering the optical-disk-based camcorder Sony
is bringing to market at the NAB show. Sony's system is based on blue-laser technology
and has a much cheaper medium. But the optical disk doesn't have all of the
potential benefits of a solid-state recorder.

In any event, with the two leading manufacturers of ENG gear committed to
nontape camcorders, it is clear that tape is on its way out as a professional
newsgathering medium.

"The 'SD' memory card is very compact, dense and fast," Panasonic vice
president of marketing Stuart English said.

Panasonic plans to show a nonworking version of the camcorder in its NAB
booth and a working model in its by-invitation-only technology suite. English
said the camcorder will be available next spring at a "competitive" price.

The memory card is a standard PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) card commonly used in laptop computers.
It is loaded with four smaller, 1-gigabyte SD memory cards for a total of 4 GB of
memory.

The unit records in the DVCPRO format. At 25 megabits per second, a single PCMCIA card with
4 GB of memory will hold 18 minutes of video -- at the higher video resolution of
50 nbps, nine minutes.

The recording capacity of the camera can be expanded in a couple of ways.
Panasonic intends to configure the unit so that it can handle multiple PCMCIA
cards -- perhaps as many as six. Just one additional PCMCIA slot would double
recording time if each slot contains a card.

"We anticipate three flavors of storage," English said. 'First will be the 4-GB. Then, in 2005, there will be a 16-GB version, and then beyond that is a 64-GB
version."

A single PCMCIA card with 64 GB of SD memory would provide 72 minutes of
recording at 25 mbps, 36 minutes at 50 mbps and 18 minutes at HD data rates.

Panasonic's "AJ-DE10" laptop editor, which also will be shown at the NAB confab, has a
PCMCIA card slot, permitting an ENG crew to plug a card taken from a camcorder
directly into the laptop. "That eliminates digitizing time and mounts the card
as a virtual hard drive," English said.

The bump in the road may be the cost of the PCMCIA cards. Panasonic wasn't
talking prices, but given that 1-GB SD cards now sell for about $400 each, it
is safe to assume that each PCMCIA card (with four SD cards) will go for several-hundred dollars each next year.

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