TV news shooters and others awaiting Sony's XDCAM optical-disc camcorder system will have to be patient. The company has pushed back production and won't be able to fill orders until March because the technical undertaking has proved more complex than originally expected.
Production units were supposed to be ready at the end of this month, but the challenge has been incorporating high-resolution acquisition, low-resolution proxy video, metadata and MFX (Material Exchange Format) wrappers into a fully functional system.
The XDCAM is highly anticipated by news professionals because optical-disc technology enables stories to be edited far more quickly than on videotape and, thus, get to air more quickly. To news professionals, tapeless acquisition is the next big thing.
"Since the spring and summer passed, we've realized there was more benefit to get customer feedback now and delay delivery by three or four months," said Tom Mykietyn, a Sony group manager. "We're going to try to incorporate as much of that feedback as possible into the final product."
When it was announced last February, Sony had a big leg up on rival Panasonic, whose new P2 solid-state recording system was well behind Sony's XDCAM in terms of market readiness. P2 was more concept than reality, and it appeared that Sony would have at least a six-month lead in terms of getting actual product to market. But the delays have shortened that gap considerably because P2 is expected to be available after NAB.
Sony doesn't expect the loss of three months to hurt as it prepares for a format battle with Panasonic, says Sony's Theresa Alesso, Sony optical, display and network products group GM/director of marketing.
"We're not showing PowerPoint presentations. We're delivering products now," Alesso says.
According to Mykietyn, 60 pieces of XDCAM gear are currently undergoing field trials by broadcast stations, networks and government agencies. That much gear translates to about 18 sets, which include the camcorder and related decks.
Mykietyn says that, at any one time, about 16 users are putting the equipment through its paces either at their own facilities or at such events as Society of Motion Picture Television Engineers or Society of Broadcast Engineers regional shows.
Topping the list of concerns is compatibility with nonlinear editing systems from manufacturers like Apple, Avid, Pinnacle, Quantel and Thomson.
Sony is currently working with those manufacturers to ensure that XDCAM's "power of the proxy" is integrated into their editing systems. Working with low-resolution proxy video is seen by Sony as a way to let users begin putting together their edit decision list almost immediately after content is acquired.
Equipment for the new format will be manufactured in Sony's Kosai, Japan, facility. Currently, there are no plans to consolidate Kosai operations with any other plants in Japan.
Alesso and Mykietyn will head to Japan next month with the input from users and third-party manufacturers. If it goes as planned, the majority of the enhancements will be done via software, the assembly line will be drummed up, and more than 2,000 XDCAM units will be available in March.