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Low-Cost HD Newsgathering

With the local station business under economic pressure due to a steep decline in automotive advertising and the extra unplanned costs, in many cases, of keeping analog TV going until June, Panasonic and JVC last week introduced new low-cost, full-featured HD camcorders that sell for less than $11,000.

The new low-cost HD cameras, which use solid-state memory cards to store video, have already gained acceptance with two broadcast station groups. NBC Universal is ordering Panasonic's AG-HPX300 camera, which will be available in March at a suggested list price of $10,700, as part of a broader move to standardize its newsgathering operations on the P2 format. And Scripps Television, which has already adopted JVC's ProHD format across its stations, is ordering more than 100 units of JVC's new GY-HM700 camcorder, which records high-definition video on inexpensive SDHC memory cards and will sell for $7,995.

Joe Facchini, Panasonic's director of product marketing, said the pricing of the new AG-HPX300 camera isn't in direct response to last fall's economic meltdown, but was instead designed to fill a mid-range hole in the company's P2 HD camera line, which had models at $6,000 and $15,000 but nothing in between. “Besides, since September, the target has probably become a $5,000 camera,” Facchini joked.

But he emphasized that the new HPX300 is a high-quality unit for its price point. It has 10-bit, 4:2:2 image processing and uses Panasonic's AVC-Intra advanced compression scheme to record HD video at 100 and 50 megabit-per-second bitrates in both the 1080i and 720p formats using solid-state P2 memory cards. It comes standard with a Fujinon 17x lens, but will support a variety of interchangeable lenses.

“It's a real camera; it's not a modified consumer camera,” Facchini said. “You can put 2/3-inch lenses on it with an adapter.”

NBCU will be buying the HPX300, along with high-end HPX-2000 and smaller 170 and 200 series cameras, as it standardizes on Panasonic's P2 HD format for all newsgathering applications for the NBC Local Media station group, the Telemundo stations and CNBC.

The NBC deal, announced by Panasonic Broadcast President John Baisley at the company's pre-NAB press event on Feb. 11, is a huge win for Panasonic, as NBC has been weighing P2 against Sony's XDCAM HD optical-disc format for the past two years. A boost for P2 is that P2 camcorders are already used by the Fox stations that NBC is partnering with in its Local News Service news-sharing venture.

Joining the solid-state party

JVC's new GY-HM700 camera is a significant evolution in its cost-effective ProHD camcorder line; it is both the first ProHD camera to record on solid-state media and the first to record video in the same native QuickTime (.MOV) format used by Apple's popular Final Cut Pro editing system. The new camera, which JVC executives say will speed the news editing process by eliminating time-consuming format transfers between cameras and editing systems, will be available in March.

The shoulder-mounted HM700 records high-definition video on a choice of inexpensive SDHC memory cards or Sony's professional SxS memory cards through a deal JVC struck with Sony to license its XDCAM EX camera format technology.

Scripps, which has already bought about 200 JVC ProHD 250 series cameras for newsgathering at 10 stations, plans to buy 100 to 120 of the new HM700 cameras over the next two years. Scripps is also buying 37 units of the HM100 handheld camcorder, which will be available in April for a list price of $3,995 and also records natively in the Apple format.

Scripps VP of Engineering Mike Doback says the HM700 camera has several improvements over the 250, including an enhanced high-definition viewfinder, and that the solid-state recording media will fit easily into Scripps' existing file-based workflow. To date, Scripps has been using Focus Enhancements' Firestore disk drive units that attach to the back of its ProHD cameras to record video, instead of HDV tape.

“Moving away from spinning disk and other things with moving parts is absolutely the right thing to do,” Doback says. “At the end of the day, there are also probably economies of ownership in terms of the operating cost. The memory is cheap and readily available. It's got a lot of really good things going for it.”

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