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Sony MPEG Camcorder Revealed

by David Fox

Sony launched its first MPEG IMX camcorder at NAB 2001, with a confirmed order for 78 units from German broadcaster NDR. The camcorder features MPEG-2 4:2:2P@ML Intra-frame recording at 50Mbps, a higher bit rate than SX, and has been developed especially for European customers who wanted better multi-generational performance and higher quality pictures.

It has also won orders from several other broadcasters in Austria and Germany.

The widescreen switchable model includes improved CCDs, uprated 12-bit digital signal processing, and increased light sensitivity of F11 at 2000 lux, with a signal-to-noise ratio of 63dB. Even at its maximum -42dB gain setting, it delivers surprisingly usable pictures, with only a small amount of grain, which will make it particularly useful for news. It also has enhanced colour adjustment, similar to the Digital Betacam model, but with a few extra features. This allows users to balance skin tones very precisely and makes it simpler to colour match the camcorder to studio cameras. For easy set up, all values can be stored on a Memory Stick, which also records metadata, such as GPS location data. IMX will also replay SP, SX and DVW tapes and can record up to 74 minutes on a small tape.

Options include: loop recording to capture pictures and sound in advance of pressing the record button; SDI output; composite input recording; and metadata handling.

Although it is claimed to offer picture quality approaching that of Digital Betacam, Richard Lewis, camcorder product manager, Sony Broadcast & Professional Europe, maintains there is still a clear differentiation between the two formats. "Digital Betacam is firmly positioned as a high end format together with features suitable for drama, movie and commercial production. The new MPEG IMX camcorder is a multi-purpose digital workhorse for broadcasters wanting higher digital quality than provided by Betacam SX." More than 12,000 Betacam SX units are in use in Europe, but Lewis insists that adding MPEG IMX to the range merely extends customer choice within the MPEG-2 domain.

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NDR is the fourth German public broadcasting station to adopt Sony's MPEG IMX format, following WDR, BR and SFB. It will be moving to MPEG-2 in two phases, the first will see the adoption of the camcorders, office players and studio players/recorders, and in the second phase the playout systems will be also be upgraded. The total installation will be about 400 MPEG IMX units, including MSW-M2000P recorders, MSW-M2100P players, J-series compact players and the 78 camcorders. NDR and Sony BPE have also agreed to work together to further develop products on the platform.

"With the decision in favour of the Sony MPEG IMX we have found a solution which meets all our requirements and expectations of an economical, flexible infrastructure which is also assured for the future", said NDR production director, Joachim Lampe.

As existing NDR programme content is almost exclusively recorded on Betacam SP and Digital Betacam, the fact that these can be replayed on the MPEG IMX VTR without any additional expense, was a key element.

"Another deciding factor in addition to a positive general economic viewpoint was the logic of the Sony concept for a migration towards MPEG, and the close co-operation with Sony in the definition of a solution tailor-made to suit our requirements", he added.

The MPEG IMX system was originally developed to meet the requirements of RAI, which has been using it for more than a year.

JAN 2002

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David Fox