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BEYOND TAPE: Panasonic's P2 and Sony's XDCAM
by David Fox
News is increasingly reported live from wherever it happens, even if it is often only at videophone quality, but, to deliver the full story, edited pictures are still needed. Except for the few news organisations using Ikegami's hard disk-based Editcam camcorder, this inevitably involves editing from tape, or waiting to transfer tape material to disk. As they always do, news editors wanted something faster.
As they always do, broadcast manufacturers have heard the call and come up with new, competing formats. News crews will soon have the option of recording straight to (optical) disc (from Sony) or to solid-state Flash memory (from Panasonic or Ikegami).
(HARD) DISK OR (OPTICAL) DISC
Both technologies should improve workflow, be more robust than tape, and be quicker and simpler to edit from, but which format should broadcasters choose?
"Formats are no longer as relevant as they used to be, because of open standards and interoperability," says Miles Flint, president, Sony Business Europe.
Certainly, post-production manufacturers, like Avid, will work with both. Thomson Broadcast & Media Solutions has endorsed Panasonic's P2 memory card format, but its president, Marc Valentin, says: "Customers have asked us to integrate also with Sony's DVD disc, so we will also be doing that."
In future, Sony may also offer solid state recording. "But we don't feel it's there yet," says Flint. "The optical product we have now it the result of several years of discussion with customers, so we are convinced it is the right way to go."
"No single media provides all the benefits," admits Yoshihiko Yamada, vp Panasonic AVC Network. He believes P2 will have an application in post, "but archiving will move to optical disc." Panasonic is part of the Blu-ray consortium, for high-capacity DVDs.
CHIP OR DISC?
Alain Pecot, general manager for product marketing, Sony Business Europe, admits that solid state is good technology. "But, there is a real issue of the cost of solid state, which does not really add up." While it is an ideal technology for stills photography, what if you want to keep rushes. "[Panasonic's] solution for archive is disc, so, basically, it comes back to the same thing."
"Solid state is OK for short pieces, but what happens when it's full and something big happens. It's expensive, so you don't carry lots of spares. And what about a documentary producer going abroad, and shooting 30 or 40 hours for an hour programme. What do they do with that material?," asks Olivier Bovis, XDCAM product marketing manager, Sony Business Europe. Also, if something goes wrong, how do you recover the information from solid state. "With tape or disc you can usually recover something," he maintains. "If you look at them from a business perspective, the difference is clear." Until memory reaches the same price as tape, he believes it will be too expensive.
Although Flash memory has considerable advantages, such as no moving parts to go wrong. "At the moment it's a bit expensive. But it is a way forward, as Flash gets cheaper, without changing the camera," says Juergen Gottwald, marketing manager, Ikegami Electronics (Europe), which has just introduced a solid state FieldPak for its Editcam 2 hard-disk camcorder.
Ikegami offers a 10GB Flash module, but its initial cost (in late 2003) was almost $10,000, compared to a 20GB hard drive for Euro500. "But, we expect the price will go down soon, as Flash memory is used in so many applications," says Gottwald, who believes it will help future-proof the Editcam and extend its appeal. "Some customers are still hesitating about hard disks, because they don't trust their reliability, even though we have had good experience with it." The memory pack records any format Editcam supports, including DVCPRO 50 and MPEG IMX/D10.
Pecot believes that the disc format will be used in many types of application, but that news will see the biggest benefit. "They wanted to be quicker and cheaper, but especially quicker," he says. Also, being able to pre-edit will save time sending rushes back. "The newsgathering people are the ones who can see quickly the most benefits," he says. "It is quite a change in the way of working. It is a solution that delivers some benefits in terms of being quicker, faster and, in some cases, cheaper."
It is being adopted by Germany's WDR, and Danish regional station, TV 2/Lorry, whose managing director, Dan Tschernia, believes the system will allow it "create an efficient working environment where workflow is optimised." Other users include: CNN, NBC and China's CCTV.
Solid state has also received backing by broadcasters, including: TF1, France, ZDF and MDR, Germany, the Sogecable Group, Spain, and ITN, the BBC and Reuters in the UK. "There is no question in our minds that solid state memory delivers a level of reliability and robustness heretofore unseen in field and studio digital video recording," says Andrew Setos, president of engineering, Fox Entertainment Group. He believes its "extremely high transfer rates" and its ability to sustain multiple and random simultaneous access offers "a fundamental change in workflow."
Keith Cass, ITN's head of technology, sees the format as ideal for news acquisition in harsh environments and believes that, because there are no moving parts, "the cost of ownership will be reduced."
THE CASE FOR DISC
Sony's new XDCAM range is "designed to retain the advantages of
tape-based acquisition, principally low media cost and reliability, while
adding the benefits of non-linear media such as instant access and high-speed
data transfer and strong recycling capability," explains Bovis.
There are two XDCAM camcorders and three decks available using Blu-ray technology, with prices starting at Euro7,000. Each single-sided 23.3GB Professional Disc costs about Euro30, about the same price as a 90 minute DVCAM tape, and records 85 minutes of DV or 45 minutes of MPEG-2. Unlike tape, the disc can be recorded on at least 1,000 times without any problems, and the disc can be reformatted quickly. "We are much closer to the IT world," says Pecot. Users can create playlists on the disc, improving its integration with nonlinear editing.
"We are bringing a solution that will bring a new way of working," says Pecot. "We have products that deliver the benefits of these file-based IT environments, but can also retain the same way of working as people use at the moment," he says. MPEG can be recorded at 30, 40 or 50Mbps, and users can use MXF, or iLink (FireWire) for DVCAM. It can do up to 5x realtime transfers, but also records low-resolution proxies of images, allowing an hour of material to be downloaded in under a minute, so that users can do a rough cut and only transfer the selected images to the nonlinear editor.
"The integration with workflow, and the high-resolution/low-resolution capability has wider relevance, but news is the initial target," says Flint.
In Japan, Blu-ray recorders are available on the consumer market for HDTV recording. Sony's Professional Disc systems are not exactly the same as the consumer product, as they use a cartridge for improved protection.
It had been claimed that blue lasers wouldn't work at very low temperatures, but tests by Germany's WDR have shown it working successfully at -30 degrees, as well as at 50 degrees. It was also subject to intense vibration, and it worked. "It has a shock absorber, and an electronic buffer, so it gives a fully stable picture," explains Pecot.
It also has ten-second loop record, which allows it continue recording while changing discs (it has enough data throughput to catch up quickly). It has very similar power requirements to tape. Each product comes with simple software for logging, and saves the metadata onto disc. It will also record thumbnails, GPS data (if a unit is plugged in) and other simple metadata automatically. "It's a technology with a lot of potential," says Pecot, such as for reality shows recording hours of material needing a quick turnaround.
Following accelerated tests, Bovis expects the Professional Discs to have a 30-year archive life.
Because it has an IT-based front end, P2 "will deliver major cost savings," claims Yamada. This is why Panasonic is calling it ING (IT News Gathering). Although it uses DV/DVCPRO compression, it uses standard IT components and open interfaces. "ING demonstrates the way that IT technology is transforming the broadcast industry. Video is no longer video, it is data," he states.
Initially, ING comes with either 2GB or 4GB of Secure Digital (SD) memory on a PC card. The P2 (Professional Plug-in) card stores up to 18 minutes of DV or 9 minutes of DVCPRO 50. The five P2 slots in the camera are hot swappable, enabling continuous recording.
Being Flash memory, it retains data without power. Cards are planned storing up to 128GB (holding 144 minutes DVCPRO HD, 285 minutes DVCPRO 50 or 576 minutes DV). These should be available in four to five years, as memory technology doubles capacity about every year, which Panasonic believes will be perfect timing for the widespread adoption of HD in Europe. However, initially P2 cards will be expensive (at least $500 per GB).
"The arrival of solid state is equally significant for news as the arrival of tape [and its takeover from film] was," says Yamada. The P2 camera has rolling record, so is effectively always recording, and because it is data, any Internet cafe is an ingest point.
P2 is fast too, with up to 640Mbps throughput and has low power consumption: about two Watts, compared to 7W for tape or disc and 5W for hard disk.
Avid is backing both Professional Disc and P2, but has worked with Panasonic to ensure that solid state works perfectly with its nonlinear editors. "With native support of MXF media, it's instantly understood by Avid's editing solutions," says Avid CEO, David Krall. "So, it just plugs in. It's the magic of industry standards."
"Avid has been working with Panasonic to ensure it generates a 100% compatible MXF file. This means that the computer effectively thinks it is accessing another disk drive," adds Mike Rockwell, Avid's CTO.
"I think this is a really big step towards a seamless industry standard workflow based on MXF. The metadata is a very significant component too, and [P2's] support of AAF through the process," said Krall. Because there is no need for transcoding, user's workflow will be improved.
"The media is fast enough for nonlinear editing, so you basically edit off of it," explained Rockwell. "It's actually a higher throughput than a hard disk drive, and faster seek times, but it's going to be much more expensive to use, so it is useful as a temporary medium for editing, but not for archive."
While optical disc has a seek time of about 100 milliseconds, making it unsuitable for nonlinear editing, on a P2 card it is about half a millisecond, explains Rockwell. It also has about ten times the throughput as optical disc.
Thomson is integrating P2 into its Grass Valley products - initially its M-Series iVDR video server and NewsEdit SC editing system. It will also be used in future acquisition products. Valentin believes that the new format will prove to be more rugged, durable and offer "more efficient workflows for the whole chain of content."
"In servers and news products, we have to be open to various formats. We need to respond to the needs of our customers, but having looked at the technology, we decided that SD could revolutionise the workflow," says Mike Cronk, vp & general manager, servers and digital news production, Thomson Broadcast & Media Solutions.
"Because Panasonic has thought this through from an IT perspective, using open standards, it is very straight forward to integrate," he adds. "It helps us with our product development. It's based on open standards, which makes it easier for us to integrate. It is also a technology we believe will have widespread adoption. Because it's easy to integrate, other companies beyond Thomson Grass Valley will integrate with it too."
Cronk believes that SD will be applicable across the entire workflow, but sees news as its primary target due to its size, ruggedness and being able to access what's on the machine very quickly. "It is very IT friendly, which makes a lot of sense in news. It is just basically digital bits. If you have a long term archive, it can be digital tape or disk or DVD."
David Fox March 2004