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NAB 2009: Sony Moves To New Stage

For NAB 2009, Sony Broadcast and Professional Systems is moving from the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center to the back of the Central Hall, the same spot occupied by Sony at the Consumer Electronics Show each year. The new location is near a new drop-off location for NAB shuttle buses, says Sony senior VP Alec Shapiro, and will also allow Sony to repurpose some features from the CES booth.

With travel budgets being cut for many of its broadcast customers due to a reeling economy, Sony will once again create a “virtual NAB” on its Website with video and product information, as it has for the past two shows.

Like many broadcast vendors this year, Sony is saving most major product announcements for the show itself. But last week it previewed a handful of new products, including an HDV-format high-definition camcorder, the HVR-Z5U; a compact point-of-view camcorder, the HXR-MC1; and two new LCD monitors, the BVM-170 and PVM-L2300.

Most significant for the broadcast news market is a new field recorder for the XDCAM HD optical-disc format, the PDW-HR1, which complements high-end XDCAM 4:2:2 camcorders and also supports legacy formats including MPEG IMX, DVCAM and 4:2:0 HD 24P content. It is aimed at speed-sensitive applications like pool feeds, documentaries and reality programming.

With the PDW-HR1, users can record HD content to dual-layer 50 gigabyte XDCAM optical discs, storing 95 minutes of HD at the highest 50 Mbps quality, and 200 minutes at 25Mbps HD. It can also handle content on XDCAM HD single-layer discs.

The unit’s user interface is designed with “VTR-like” jog/shuttle operation, with control either through the front panel or a remote control unit, and it includes a nine-inch LCD display, built-in speakers, and a variety of professional inputs and outputs including HD-SDI in/out, HDMI out, SD-SDI in/out, composite in/out Gigabit Ethernet, RS-422A control and optional i.LINK TS in/out and DVB-ASI out.

Expected to be available in June at a list price of $21,000, the PDW-HR1 features a built-in up/down converter, multi-format (1080i/720P) recording flexibility, and HD/SD conversion and cross-conversion during playback between 1080i and 720P video. To give it higher-end production capability for use with Sony’s CineAlta digital cinema cameras, it also has 24P (23.98 frames per second) record/playback capability for 4:2:2 HD content as a standard feature. Other features include scene selection for EDL-based clip editing and trigger REC on SDI.

Sony hasn’t seen a complete stoppage in orders for new HD production gear from local stations, says Shapiro, and XDCAM HD units are still on backorder as Sony has fallen behind the demand. But many stations have postponed their plans. Others are mixing Sony’s high-end XDCAM 4:2:2 camcorders, which sell for close to $30,000, with low-cost XDCAM EX solid-state units that sell for $10,000.  

“Clearly there are challenges in broadcasting, particularly at the local level,” says Shapiro. “I think there will be more HD news, but TV stations are looking at lower-cost HD gear to do the news. We never designed XDCAM EX as an ENG camera, but it’s perfectly suitable for ENG.”

XDCAM EX camcorders weren’t originally designed to be studio cameras, either, but Sony has created a $20,000 optical fiber studio adapter, called Nipros, which lets the PMW-EX3 camcorder do just that. Sony has already seen strong interest in the EX-3 studio configuration.

For example, station group New Vision Television is taking advantage of the Nipros adapter in its deal to buy some 130 Sony XDCAM HD and XDCAM EX camcorders across its 17 owned-and-operated stations. New Vision is buying a combination of XDCAM 4:2:2 optical PDW-700 camcorders, which it will deploy at stations in big markets like Portland, Ore., and XDCAM EX units and Nipros adapters for small markets like Mason City, Iowa, where the flash-memory based camera will be used both in the field and the studio.

While a small XDCAM EX camcorder isn’t likely to match the performance or longevity of a dedicated Sony studio camera like the $65,000 HDC-1400, for many stations it will do just fine. In another move to address cost challenges, Sony plans to formally unveil an automation system for its production switchers that will compete with production automation systems like Grass Valley’s Ignite and Ross Video’s OverDrive.

“Local market TV stations have tremendous challenges ahead of them,” says Shapiro. “They’ve lost a lot of ad revenues. Local car dealers and banks were the two biggest advertisers local TV stations had, and that’s gone. So obviously, if you’re going to go into HD news, you’ve got to readjust budgets as far as what you could do.”

Fortunately for Sony, the episodic television production market, where Sony peddles its high-end CineAlta digital cinema cameras, is much healthier. Digital cinema cameras have now been accepted across prime-time sitcoms as an acceptable substitute for 35mm film, notes Shapiro, who estimates that Sony has about 75% share of that market.

Prime-time dramas have been slower to convert, with still about 70% shot on film. So that presents a growth opportunity for the CineAlta line, along with major motion-picture films. Primetime shows including The CW’s “Gossip Girl” and Showtime’s “Dexter” and “Weeds” have already moved to CineAlta cameras.

Sony’s sports stadium and systems integration businesses, while representing a small chunk of overall revenues, are growing nicely. But Shapiro won’t hazard a guess as to when the broadcast business might rebound.

“The business condition this year is the biggest story about NAB,” he says. “I think ‘09 will be a tough year, and I don’t think you’ll see a huge recovery in spending. The ‘good enough’ mentality for equipment purchases has always been there, but now it’s stronger than ever. I think the first priority [for stations] is to do as much conversion to HD as they can, and do it at whatever budget they can afford to do it at.”