2006 ushers in the year of affordable high quality high definition (HD) capture, edit, and output, with all the pieces finally becoming widely available. Camera manufacturers large and small showed off their wears to the marketplace. The very largest electronics vendors had monstrous booths with entry pavilion theaters with breathtaking visuals. Sony Electronics featured their 4K SXRD projectors with a spectacular 4096 x 2160 pixel resolution. Sony showcased the 70 mm film Baraka, by Ron Fricke, with scenes of Japanese Macaque (Snow Monkey) and volcanoes. Matsushita Electric Industrial under their Panasonic brand headlined the versatility, workflow, and color accuracy of the AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD solid state camcorder. NHK showcased the North American premiere of Super Hi-vision with an astounding 7680 x 4320 pixels, for a near IMAX experience with digital cinema.
The entry into the HD realm starts with 720p, followed by 1080p, and then reaches into the stratosphere with 2K, 4K, and 8K systems. JVC previewed the GY-HD200U a 720p camcorder and Panasonic celebrated the 720p and 1080p AG-HVX200 camcorder. Sony delivered on the 1080i XDCAM HD series, and RED digital cinema promoted a future 4K RED ONE camera.
On the post production side, Mac based editing solutions include Avid and Apple. Compositing software is more diverse with Apple Shake, Boris FX Blue and Red, Autodesk Combustion, and Adobe After Effects. With the rapid move toward Universal applications and Intel based workstations, every software vendor is rapidly moving toward the PowerPC and Intel binaries, but no one faster the Apple Computer. Already Final Cut Studio and very soon Shake will be fully qualified on the Power Mac G5 series, MacBook Pro series, and future platforms.
On 24 February 2006 Panasonic, through their high-def blog site, revealed the underpinnings of the AG-HVX200 imaging block. The camcorder uses a revolutionary 3 CCD pixel shift technology to optimize three 960 x 540 imaging sensors to deliver both 1280 x 720 and 1920 x 1080 progressive images to the P2 media. Their decision to utilized 1/3 inch CCD’s required unique engineering decisions beyond the raw pixel count other manufactures report.
In the still camera arena, there are small CCD 8 megapixel cameras, but they generate so much noise and perform so poorly in low light conditions, they become unusable. a more robust 4 megapixel or larger sensor 6 megapixel camera would deliver a more usable device beyond the technical specification. As the production ramp up of the Panasonic HVX200 continues, more folks will report on any picture degradation because of the novel pixel shift or spatial offset technique. Read the blog article and decide for yourself.
At the Egyptian Theatre on Friday September 30 2005, Jan Crittenden Livingston, Product Line Business Manager for the Panasonic AG-HVX200 camcorder thrilled a crowd of over 100 Los Angeles producers, directors, and high definition (HD) enthusiasts with the latest information on the upcoming DVCPRO HD product. Every aspect of the history and design methodology of this next revolution in affordable HD image acquisition became clear in the 1.5 hour lecture and hands on walkthrough of the HVX200 device.
This camcorder has extensive coverage from around the blogosphere, including HVX User, P2 Info Net, and Creative Cow P2 forum. The most interesting tidbits from the discussion and presentation in no particular order:
Panasonic showed coyness in revealing the HXV200 imaging block specifications, but rather had actual test footage from a prototype camcorder, and asked the audience to judge the final results, and not compare pixel count or CCD size. In the test footage at the booth, and some projected engineering style capture of a luscious tabletop scene of spinning desk accessories, textures, and reflective materials the image held it own. One audience member quipped that we did not actually see raw capture off the P2 card, but due to logistical reasons, the source material was transferred via analog component to an AJ-HD1200A VCR and played back on a DVCPRO HD tape, preserving the DVCPRO HD codec output.
For four days the prototype HVX200 played back a scene on P2 from the IBC 2005 Amsterdam show, with street cars during a night and daylight shot, and on the playback display, the images looked stunning with absolute clarity and image fidelity, even into the shadows. This also demonstrated the robustness of the P2 media, as hundreds, if not thousands of eager camera operators touched, prodded and cajoled the camcorder all weekend long. I left on the final day and the media and camera continued to play back the Amsterdam scene without tape wear or hesitation. The DVCPRO HD codec, based on the compression technology of DV, but at a color sampling of 4:2:2 instead of DV 4:1:1 is one step closer to the highest quality HD-D5, but at a more affordable price point. Panasonic has already announced in some future camcorder a full D5 unit, most like two years away. Currently, a HD-D5 VCR lists at $99,000 as compared to the $5995 list price for the AG-HVX200 camcorder. Another useful point during recording, using the P2 media, the camcorder will be able to remove redundant frames, so a 24p recording session will contain only the necessary information, rather than the limitation of a linear tape based system that maintained a constant tape velocity and needed to always record 60p, regardless of the variable frame rate setting. The output from the firewire interface follows this paradigm, always receiving the full 60p information stream.
This camcorder may be the best product designed for the aspiring filmmaker and documentarian. Though the camcorder is chubby and larger than DV camcorders, the weight is low and controls are well placed, and it offers specifications unavailable in any other under $10,000 HD camcorder. This camera will have four channels of uncompress audio at 16 bit 48 kHz sampling, as compared to the paltry 2 channel MPEG-1 Audio Layer II on HDV camcorder. For a small budget film, or documentary sound is over 50% of the experience, and requires perhaps more care and handling than the picture. Previously, one would need to chain a DAT or MiniDisc recorder to the camera for high sound quality, but the Panasonic rig takes care of that necessity.
Now, the faithful must wait a few more weeks. Panasonic expects to receive shipping AG-HVX200 camcorders by the end of November 2005, but I suspect that it will premiere at the Tokyo Inter BEE 2005 show in mid November, and become more widely available by early 2006.
At NAB 2005, producers and directors of photographers wondered what would become of the video cassette recorder (VCR), as solid state flash memory devices usurp the legacy tape based formats like DigiBetacam, DV, HDV, and DVCPRO 50. Sony has chosen a proprietary XDCAM format, based on a magneto optical disk, while Panasonic is going to a SD format PCMCIA card called P2.
As a VCR replacement one would have to consider these factors:
Speed must be near real time (one hour video transfered in around an hour or less)
Media should be around the same form factor as a video tape
VCR Information Technology Replacement (4 hour project, 250 GB)
Backup Time (hr)
Drive & Media Cost*
Media Only Cost*
* prices from summer 2005 survey
Today, the only viable VCR replacment on a small four hour project is the LTO series, AIT 3/AIT 4/SAIT, and the DSLT 600. In the IT industry, data centers have gravitated towards the multivendor LTO. Quantum is the sole provider of DSLT. Sony maintains a strong following for the AIT and SAIT series.
In an all electronic workflow, producers and directors cannot rely on video tapes or film as an emergency backup. Previously, a still photography or filmaker would keep their negative or positive, and strike new prints as needed. With the advent of digital photography, and soon in affordable digital filmmaking and video production, there is no physical backup, but only the bit buckets, which when arranged properly would describe a vast landscape, a human face, or an airplane landing.
In the still photography realm, image makers have embraced the new workflow, because they realize the potential for new creativity:
Every copy of the image is an original
Since the image is already digitized, it is easily shared
Digital photos are more easily manipulated and cropped
The arduous process of scanning film is eliminated
However, since the bits become supreme, over the film strip or video tape, special storage considerations must be analyzed and scrutinized. Also, still photography describes a single moment in time, while moving images records that same scene but at 24 to 60 frames per second, so a 2 MB still frame file, can become a 48 MB file per second for video, and with Panasonic DVCPRO HD codec 60 GB per hour. How does one store that much data for archiva purposesl and retrieval in the future?
Today, we have current technology, and very soon the future will be now (Blu-Ray Disc, holographic storage, VXA 3, etc). It used to take a simple trip to the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas, to get a bead on storage, but for all practical purposes Comdex has ended, and may never return. Instead, we need to look to manufactucturer events and niche events like Macworld Expo, Storage Networking World, or AIIM Expo.
To manage and harness the growing terabyte requirements in entertainment consider these storage solutions:
During the Panasonic CES 2004 keynote address, Andrew Nelkin, Vice President of Panasonic Consumer Electronics Company first hinted that by the first quarter of 2006, Panasonic would produce an affordable high definition camcorder using solid state flash memory devices (secure digital memory card or SD cards). The magic date became Torino 2006, the home of the next Winter Olympic Games, where Panasonic traditionally has a commanding sponsorship.
Fortunately, Panasonic did not wait until CES 2006 to announce the new products, but instead had a very large presence at NAB 2005 for the professional DVCPRO HD AG-HVX200 rollout, and IFA 2005 for the consumer MPEG-2 based camcorder rollout. Both products are expected in the fall of 2005.
Unlike traditional portable video capture devices, these new camcorders have no need for magnetic tape. Video tape has it litany of problems including jams, dropouts, snags, tape breaks, curl, and video tracking along with environmental issues like susceptibility to humidity, magnetic field erasure, and simple aging. The era of the cassette is over, and the opportunity to be creative faster and more robustly has arrived.
The first generation product, with a 2 GB to 16 GB starting storage capacity, will need a new workflow. The recording medium, a reusable SD memory device, once filled, needs to be put somewhere, and a storage area network (SAN) or RAID device would be ideal to protect the invaluable electronic image capture. As the era of solid state recording dawns, notably other backup devices are either already mature or nearly ready to archive the DV, DVCPRO HD or MPEG-2 recording.
Today, DVD+R makes an entry level archive medium, with a 4.38 GB (17.5 minutes in DV format, 11 minutes DVCPPRO HD 720p/24) storage platform. DVD+R is cheap, reliable, and long lived. On the horizon, look to Blu-Ray Disc with a capacity of about 25 GB, five times the capacity of DVD+R. Also on the cusp is holographic storage at some 300 GB a cartridge.