Sony Aims To Change Broadcast Workflow

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Sony officially ended its streak of relatively quiet NAB product introductions last week with the unveiling of its optical disk product line.

"These products are designed to change the way workflow runs in station operations," says Alec Shapiro, Sony vice president, marketing communications.

The optical-disk system is expected to attract the most attention at Sony's NAB booth in April. Using blue-laser technology (not Sony's Blu-Ray as reported in Top of the Week last week), the new optical-disk system is capable of reaching the data rates required for professional-quality recording.

Higher throughput

Blue laser allows up to 27 GB to be stored on each layer of the disk, and throughput is up to 144 Mb/s thanks to a cartridge case that has two ports into the data.

"It also uses MXF for file structure inside the disk, another change from Blu-Ray," says Hugo Gaggioni, Sony Business Solutions and Systems chief technology officer and vice president of business development. It can record in MPEG-IMX, DV, or MPEG Long GOP formats.

Sony will offer two camcorders and three recording decks based on the format. A DVCAM camcorder can capture 29.97 frames per second interlace natively or 29.97 progressive with an accessory board. The other camcorder, a DVCAM/ MPEG IMX, can record MPEG IMX material at 30, 40 or 50 Mb/s.

The MPEG Long GOP format groups 15 frames at a time and, at 15 Mb/s, offers the same quality of production as I-frame only, which handles just one frame at a time at 50 Mb/s. In the end, it will be up to users to decide whether they're comfortable with Long GOP algorithms.

The feature that holds the most promise is the camcorders' ability to record a low-resolution MPEG4-based proxy-video version of captured content simultaneously with the cap- ture of high-resolution images. Gaggioni says the low-res version can be sent at up to 60 times real time to an editing system so that an edit decision list can be created. Once the list is created, the low-res proxy video can be reimported into the camera, making the disk ready for conforming final content.

Files in the Media Exchange Format (MXF) can be sent via TCP/IP over a Gigabit port at approximately 300 Mb/s.

Another important feature is a 2.5-inch color LCD monitor that shows the first frame of video for each clip. Users can select the clips they need and have the camera send only those segments to the editing system.

"Up to 45% of the time of editing is wasted searching for images," says Gaggioni. "The quick picture search and scene selection mean users don't have to waste transmission time by sending content they don't want."

The three decks are a battery-powered portable viewer with an LCD monitor; an optical-disk studio recorder that handles both DVCAM and MPEG IMX recording and playback; and a half-rack feeder optical-disk recorder for nonlinear editing.

Cutting wasted time

Sony is aware that a radical new concept like optical-disk recording will take some time to catch on. For that reason, the company says, the format is designed to work alongside tape-based operations and can be easily connected to more-traditional tape-based facilities. Products like Sony's eVTR will serve as a bridge between tape-based and disk-based operations.

"People will need to learn to appreciate the changes in the workflow this offers," says Gaggioni. "Tape and optical will coexist as the interfaces are seamless."

Sony will also debut two new cameras at NAB. The HDC-910 studio camera uses Super IT CCDs to capture 1080i images at 60, 59.98 and 50 frames per second. It will be available in July priced at $80,000.

A new CineAlta camera, the HDC-F950 portable, also is 4:4:4 and can be connected via dual HD-SDI to the new HDCAM SR recorders or to third-party hard disks. A 3-Gb/s fiber-optic link can also be used for a camera-control unit, extending the cable length when the camera and CCU are separately powered. The new camera is priced at $115,000; the control unit, at $45,000. Both will be available in October.

HD Capability near

With new low-cost HDCAM products (see box) coupled with the new optical disk technology Sony will give NAB attendees much to think about. One of the questions that will be on attendees' minds is, if they make the jump to optical disk, will the investment become obsolete when HDTV production needs become the standard?

Thorpe says no, because the system will continue to advance. He and the others at Sony expect the optical-disk system to be HD-capable within a few years time. That may seem like a lofty goal given how long it took the industry to get to its current level.

"It took us 50 years of tape development to get to where we are today, and optical is already almost at the same level," says Shapiro. "Optical is an IT technology. Think about the speed that it's going to progress at. It will be much, much faster than tape's progression."

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