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Cameras That Make the Right Connections

RELATED: Ultra HD Cameras Are Ready for Their Close-Up

The recent National Association of Broadcasters Show saw a number of notable technical advances in cameras, with manufacturers highlighting new 4K gear, better codecs and sensors and new models—often at much lower prices—that will significantly improve video quality.

As these new cameras make their way into the market, however, the biggest impact will be behind the scenes on workflows and the cost of news production.

“Workflows are critical and clearly what everyone is focusing on these days,” says Alec Shapiro, president of Sony Electronics’ Professional Solutions of America division. Shapiro cites new cameras that can be easily connected to the Internet as a key development in helping stations more efficiently produce news.

Technologies for sending video from the camera over an Internet or IP connection back to the TV station are nothing new. What’s unprecedented is the number of cameras that have been launched with IP connectivity in recent months and the wide-ranging alliances that camera manufacturers have forged with vendors of bonded cellular newsgathering technologies.

Currently Canon, Hitachi, JVC, Panasonic and Sony are among the major vendors offering new cameras that are designed to be easily connected to IP networks, either with built-in features or in combination with cellular bonding equipment.

To take advantage of this IP connectivity, David Folsom, VP and CTO at Raycom Media, says Raycom has purchased 130 of JVC’s GY-HM650 ProHD camcorders for its stations.

“To say it’s a game-changer doesn’t really cover the impact on workflows and news production, because we can’t really imagine all the possible uses,” Folsom says. “We’re at a stage where the technology has eclipsed the workflows, and the workflows will have to catch up.”

The Prices Are Right

Prices for these smaller electronic newsgathering (ENG) cameras routinely hit $10,000 a couple of years ago. But they are dropping rapidly as capabilities improve and manufacturers such as JVC, Panasonic and Canon have launched low-cost alternatives. JVC’s GY-HM650 ProHD is priced at only $5,999 but comes with a 23X zoom lens and “an incredible sensor” for low light capabilities, Folsom adds. In March, Canon introduced the Canon XA25 and XA20 camcorders that have wireless connectivity and will be priced at $3,199 and $2,699 respectively when they are hit the market in June. The cameras offer “tremendous improvements” over previous models, argues Chuck Westfall, technical advisor for the professional engineering and solutions division of Canon U.S.A.

These advances include wireless connectivity, an improved sensor, a 20x HD zoom lens, higher frame rates, OLED screen and simultaneous MP4 and AVCHD recording.

The lower costs and improved features have boosted demand for smaller cameras with IP connections. In addition to the Raycom deal, JVC has announced significant sales in the last two months to Sinclair and the BBC, which is buying 500 of them.

While all of these cameras make it easier to live-stream events, some also offer dual recording. That means one lower-quality feed could be streamed to the Web while a higher-quality version is being created for the on-air newscast.

Some camera-makers, including Panasonic, also announced much-improved codecs that will reduce bandwidth requirements, which make it easier and faster to send back video over IP networks. “Broadcasters clearly are interested in lower bit rates for news,” explains Steve Cooperman, Panasonic product manager. “But for a lot of these inexpensive cameras, the quality was not that good at 25 and 50 megabits per second.”

To rectify that, Panasonic introduced an AVCLongG50 codec with 10-bit, 4:2:2 color sampling and an AVC-LongG25 with 10 bit, 4:2:2 at 25Mbps. “There is nothing with that quality at 25 Mbps in the industry,” Cooperman says.

At NAB, Panasonic added even lower bit rate codecs—an AVC-LongG12 with 8 bit 4:2:0 color sampling and AVC-LongG6 with 8 bit, 4:2:0 color sampling at 6Mbps.

“It gives you the quality that has been accepted at 25 and 35Mbps profiles but at a substantially lower bit rate, which saves transmission space and storage time,” Cooperman says.

Additional time savings can be achieved by incorporating these IP-connected cameras to one of the cloud-based or distributed production systems offered by Avid, Adobe, Sony or Panasonic and Aframe that allow users in multiple locations to share and edit content.

Improving workflows was a key reason for Panasonic to partner with Aframe on a cloudbased production service that lets users quickly share content, says Cooperman, who adds that they have seen interest in the platform from station groups as well as TV producers. “This allows clients to not only upload and share content; it gives them a way to manage their content and production,” he says.

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