In the hopes of locking up the HD marketplace, Sony is unveiling a new mid-priced version of its popular XDCAM at NAB in April. The camera fills an important void in the company’s HD product line. Estimated at between $17,000 and $20,000, the new XDCAM is priced between Sony’s low-end HDV, with camcorders costing $4,000, and its high-end HDCAM, running $40,000.
“XDCAM is a way to fill that gap,” says Alec Shapiro, Sony Broadcast’s director of marketing.
Price is one variable; speed is another. The XDCAM disk can transfer low-resolution (or proxy video) up to 56 times faster than real time, a key part of Sony’s sales pitch.
And with more than 50% of televisions in the U.S. expected to be HDTV sets by the end of 2006, Hugo Gaggioni, Sony Broadcast chief technology officer, says the market will be primed for HD news, a potential sweet spot for the HD XDCAM, which will probably be available in early 2006.
Until then, Shapiro says stations will be focused on getting their plants ready for HD. “Broadcast stations are still very much in the SD world,” he says. “They’ll need a total infrastructure change for HD, and we think field acquisition will be the last piece, not the first piece.”
A REFINED XDCAM
In addition to showcasing its HD model, Sony is unveiling several other products at NAB. For instance, the SD version of XDCAM, which will be on display, has been refined. Sony has shipped more than 5,000 XDCAM units since its introduction in April 2004. This year, the NAB exhibit will highlight the growing maturity of the product line.
The biggest change from last year is how quickly stations can edit with proxy video. “Companies like Avid will show how easily the editing can be done,” says Shapiro.
Once ingested into the nonlinear editing system, personnel can begin assembling story clips.
When the XDCAM disk arrives at the facility, the high-quality content is inserted in place of the low-quality content for on-air playback. Sony will also demonstrate the ability to send proxy video live from the camera via Wi-Fi to laptops or directly to the station.
Bob Ross, CBS SVP, East Coast operations, is a believer in the XDCAM wireless transmission capability.
“The cameraman can be up on the camera stand with 12 other people and the reporter or editor can be somewhere else putting notes into a computer related to the video,” says Ross.
Those notes can then be transmitted back to the cameraman and attached to the video file. “You don’t need to put that information on a disk or USB card and marry it to the video later,” he adds.
A second bonus: The video can be sent back to the station, where the producer can download and edit at the same time it is being shot in the field. In a competitive news environment, that can mean being first to air with a story. And if a station wants to blast live footage straight to the Internet, it can.
Also new for the broadcast community is the HDW-S280 half-rack HDCAM VTR, designed for newsgathering and outside broadcast applications. It can record and playback in 1080/24p as well as 1080/60i. There is no 720p option, since it doesn’t have a downconverter. (It is priced at $39,000.)
Another new product is the Anycast Station. Last year at NAB, the company introduced it as a live-content system packaged in a briefcase. Complete with monitor, production switcher and camera controls, Sony believed it was a perfect fit for churches and disc jockeys. But once broadcasters examined it, they began requesting broadcast-style features.
“We spent the past year redesigning it,” says Shapiro, “and believe it’s a much more robust product.”
Anycast is like a production studio in a suitcase. It can handle multi-camera recording and even broadcast content to the Web with a built-in encoder and server. Other features include a video switcher with 16 wipe patterns and an audio mixer which can handle six channels. No announcement yet on prices or ship dates.
For those stations and sports broadcasters looking to add HD point-of-view shots, Sony has revamped its HDC-X300 compact HD camera. It weighs less than three pounds without a lens and is useful in stadiums or in keeping track of road conditions.
Unlike the original unit, which only had an HD/SDI output and limited cable runs to 900 feet, the new camera, the HDC-X310, has an optical-fiber interface and permits runs of 3,300 feet. The camera will cost $17,000, and the interface another $3,500.
Sony will also address the Hollywood production community, from both the TV and movie sides. Each group appreciates the ability to shoot video at 24 progressive frames per second, matching the frame rate of traditional film production.
Sony wants 24p to be one of the buzzwords at this year’s convention, so it is extending 24p capability across its product line—from DVCAM to HDCAM. The DSR-450WS (a widescreen version of the DSR-400) can record 24p, 30p or 60i images. And it will cost less than $18,000. (The DSR-400, for 4:3 production, will run $10,800.) “We also will have upconversion kits for 720p and 1080i resolutions so our customers can evolve their operations and infrastructure,” says Shapiro. Cost of those boards will be $4,500, with a fall delivery.
While 24p works for those who shoot hourlong dramas and movies, it is of no help to the live production community. That is why Sony is introducing the HDC-1000 studio camera and HDC-1500 portable camera. Both record 1080-progressive lines at 60 fps, a step the company believes will help broadcasters produce sports in either 1080i or 720p.
Available this summer, it will be able to shoot in 24, 25, 30, 50, and 60 frames progressive. Says Gaggioni, “The camera sensor costs an arm and a leg to develop, but we’ll leverage it across many products.”