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Grass Valley Goes Tapeless

Grass Valley took the wraps off its Infinity Series late last week at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam, introducing a line of tapeless cameras and recording decks intended to shake up the broadcast industry.

The line is designed to better meet the demands of newsrooms and producers embracing digital technologies, such as nonlinear editing systems, server-based storage and IP-based networks.

Broadcasters, particularly news organizations, view tapeless acquisition as a way to speed the time it takes to get a story on-air. The Grass Valley unveiling gives them a tapeless option alongside Sony’s XDCAM and Panasonic’s P2.

“The industry is moving into a nonlinear-acquisition world,” says Grass Valley Director of Market Development Scott Murray. “We’ve been watching the market for a long time, and we’ve seen a real shift to a file-based world.”

Historically, parent company Thomson made electronic-newsgathering camcorders that used video formats from other manufacturers. But now Grass Valley is hustling its way into the format business itself. While the competition relies on proprietary recording media, Murray says a benefit of the Grass Valley system is that it uses off-the-shelf recording media like CompactFlash, flash drives and iOmega’s REV drive. “We’re saying no more format wars,” says Murray.

iOmega is creating a professional version of its REV drive exclusively for Grass Valley. It records data on a 2.5-inch hard-drive platter and can record more than two hours of video on one 35-GB cartridge at 25 megabits per second (Mbps), the rate for standard-definition video. The drives cost around $60, low enough so they can be used not only for acquisition but also for archiving.

Power in the Customer’s Hands

Expect the Infinity camera on shelves in first quarter 2006 for about $20,000 (without lens) and the deck in the second quarter for about $10,000. Both can record high- and standard-definition and—an industry first—in either DV or JPEG2000 compression. MPEG is available with an optional card.

“The user can choose the compression rate, the media they want to store it on and the type of connectivity they want to use,” says Murray. “The huge difference between our approach to the market and the others is it leaves the power in the customer’s hands.”

If the user wishes to record on solid-state media, CompactFlash fills that option. CompactFlash cards hold up to 8 GB of material, and, although prices are high (about $650), the storage capacity doubles each year, and prices are essentially cut in half. The camera also offers a built-in solid-state cache that can record up to 30 seconds of material. Murray says that allows the user to change media while continuing to record because, when the new media is inserted, the cached material is dumped onto it—meaning the user theoretically never misses a shot.

The camera can record to Compact­Flash and REV at the same time, which Murray says comes in handy for multitasking. “If a reporter is shooting and wants to send something back to the station,” he says, “they can pull out the CompactFlash and send it while recording on the REV drive.”

Significant Enabling Technologies

Infinity’s tapeless deck also can record or play while transferring clips. It has all of the recording flexibility of the camera and can also feed material via satellite, microwave or even IP transmission.

One of the significant enabling technologies for the new line is JPEG2000, a next-generation format that has been tapped for use in a number of applications, including digital cinema. One advantage is that it is wavelet-based, a more advanced form of compression than the Discrete Cosine Transfer (DCT) methods used in MPEG compression. The JPEG2000’s codec is scalable, so it can compress video as high-definition, then decompress it as a low-resolution version for Web browsers, as a full-resolution HD version, and even as a 4:3-aspect-ratio version for standard-definition broadcasts.

“The signal no longer has to be encoded multiple times for playout,” says Murray.

JPEG2000 also allows random access to every frame and is easy to synchronize with digital audio and metadata—both essential for editing a story. While no systems currently edit JPEG2000 material, look for major nonlinear editing system-makers to add that capability this fall.