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P2 launched
P2 Cam
Secure Digital storage

PANASONIC'S P2 - The first products unveiled

by David Fox

Panasonic's new P2 solid state recording system is being shown as final working products at NAB 2004, with shipping due to start worldwide in May - the first time Panasonic has simultaneously launched a product globally. "This is seen as a global product. It fits into an NTSC or PAL environment," explains Robert Pascher, marketing manager, Panasonic Broadcast Europe.

Panasonic is also revealing how P2 fits into the broadcast infrastructure, with alliance partners like Avid, Pinnacle, Quantel and Thomson Grass Valley showing how they support the P2 file structure and metadata with such systems as non-linear editors and servers.

Robert Pascher, marketing manager, Panasonic Broadcast EuropeP2 launched

Beta testing of P2 systems began in March (2004) with various broadcasters, such as the BBC, TF1, ZDF, Reuters and ITN in Europe, as well as several in the US and China. Initial feedback from broadcasters has been "quite positive," says Pascher, who claims the key benefit is a much quicker workflow compared to tape, optical disc (such as XDCAM) or even hard drives. "It's really the first media where you can directly edit the content on the card," which can be plugged into any PCMCIA-compatible laptop editor. P2 offers up to 20 times real-time transfers into an edit system, or to DVD for archive. "Instead of moving media around, you can just move the content around, via local access points," which could be an Internet cafe.

However, he admits that it will take time for broadcasters to find the best way to implement the new workflows and migrate from their existing workflow. Also, the high cost of P2 cards ($2,100 for 4GB and $1,000 for 2GB initially), means that most users will have a limited number of cards, so on longer shoots will perhaps use mobile hard disk systems for storing material. But, Pascher believes TV is going the same way as radio, which already moves most material around as files, as do several European TV stations, such as Danmarks Radio.

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P2 cam

The initial $19,500 SPX800 P2 cam is a full-specification shoulder-mounted camcorder, based on the SDX900 widescreen-switchable camera, but the P2 system will eventually be available in simpler, video journalist models (a prototype is being shown at NAB). Having five slots in the P2 cam using the 4GB cards allows 80 minutes DV recording without changing cards, but as SD memory capacity rises, two slots (or even one) may be enough. The camera can also record two cards at the same time, for a back-up copy. Because they are hot-swappable, it is possible to do continuous recording.

Users can also record additional data on the P2, such as voice memos or GPS data, which can be accessed during editing. It can also generate low-res video proxies using MPEG-1, MPEG-4 or any codec broadcasters require. These proxies can also be stored on a separate, standard SD card, for viewing and even rough-cut editing in a PDA, etc. This also saves having to generate a low-res browse copy in the newsroom for network access.

A wireless transmitter can also be fitted to the camera's multi-function PCMCIA slot, which allows instant access to pictures via a WiFi equipped laptop or even mobile phone (via Bluetooth), so that a director or reporter can see what the camera is recording.

The camera includes simple clip management, and users can select thumbnail clips and create an an in-camera storyboard on the camera's swing-out LCD monitor.

A $2,500 PCD10 P2 drive fits in a standard 5.25-inch PC bay drive enclosure and reads up to five cards at a time, with data being transferred via a USB 2.0 connection. The $15,000 SPD850 P2 deck, which also has five card slots, offers FireWire, Ethernet, SDI, analogue and component i/o, a 3.5-inch LCD for browsing and clip selection, and an optional DVD recorder for back-up.

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Secure Digital Storage

How quickly the P2 product range expands depends on the development and availability of the SD storage cards. By NAB 2005, Pascher expects that cards with at least 8GB will be available, mainly because SD is widely used for consumer devices such as digital cameras and MP players - areas which are demanding greater capacity.

There is also a new mini-SD card available, half the size of the consumer SD card, which is aimed at such applications as mobile phones. Although only 128MB at first, this will increase the market for SD further and leads Panasonic to believe that SD will have 50% of the solid state memory market by early next year (it already has at least 30%).

"It is the highest speed media in the market, which makes it also useful for digital photographs. All the other standards are limited in terms of capacity and transfer speed," comments Pascher. More than 770 manufacturers are supporting SD, and some 350 consumer products are already available - including Panasonic's own consumer camcorder. He claims that SD, which has built-in error correction, has proved particularly safe and durable in all the applications its been used in. A card can be rewritten a minimum of 100,000 times without performance degradation and its connector will last for a minimum of 30,000 insertion and removal cycles.

P2 is also intended to be used for HDTV, for which it needs at least 16GB cards, which should be available in 2006. "Technology-wise, it is already possible today, but the capacity of the cards isn't sufficient," explains Pascher. The current model records DV, DVCPRO or DVCPRO 50 (with up to four audio channels compared to two on tape), but future models will record anything up to HD DVCPRO. This will be vital for Chinese broadcasters, who want HD for the 2008 Olympics - intended to be the first to be entirely covered in HD.

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Panasonic's other new products....

Pascher claims that sales of DVCPRO 50 have increased due, in part, to P2. "As people can see a migration path, it gives you security for the future." This was one reason that Swedish TV opted for DVCPRO 50 after IBC 2003.

NAB 2004 sees a new $18,900 DVCPRO 50 tape camcorder for news, the SDC905 (available November), as well as a simple FireWire-based desktop VTR (the AJ-SD93 - $6,500, available August) for feeding 50Mbps tape into NLEs, such as Final Cut Pro. The SDC905 has the same features as the SDX900 - except for its cine gamma and 25p progressive recording.

"The current trend is that news production goes to 50 megabits," says Pascher, who sees it as a good base level for VJ camcorders when news eventually moves to HD.

Also being unveiled is a new widescreen-switchable 3CCD DVCPRO camcorder, the SDC615 - expected to cost $14,800 when it goes on sale in October.

It is also launching new third-generation, multipurpose, ultra low-light 3CCD box cameras, using improved 1/3-inch, half-inch and 2/3-inch CCDs capable of producing pictures down to 0.00005 lux. There are also a variety of new accessories, such as a high-speed pan-tilt head and a pan-tilt controller (for up to five systems). The convertible cameras can be used for a wide range of applications, from studio to sports.

Panasonic is also introducing a high speed, HD 3D graphics processor for on-air sports and live graphics. The $80,000 AV-CGP300 runs standard 3D graphic software such as VizRT and Kaydara, and offers real-time rendering of 3D graphics in 1080i, 720p and 480i resolutions; and optional real-time rendering at 1080/24p. Also new is the AV-CPG500, a more powerful multi-format, real-time 3D graphics processor for virtual set creation and advanced simulation applications.

Also on show is a new miniDV-based 4:3 camcorder, the DVC30, which fits its range just below the DVX100, and a variety of new TFT LCD panels and PDP plasma displays for SD and HDTV.

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