Panasonic Aims High(Def)With P2

Panasonic's HD version of its P2 solid-state recording camcorder, a small palmcorder that was on display at NAB in the form of a mockup, may not be available yet, but it has already found some believers.

Seventeen stations and a major production-gear rental house are among the first to take the plunge into tapeless HD recording.

“This provides a great transitional tool for stations that don't know when they will go HD for news,” says John Baisley, president, Panasonic's broadcast and television systems. “There's been a lot more talk about HD news than even we thought there would be, and the one thing I've heard from customers is the manufacturer that helps with the transition to HD news is the one they'll go with.”

If that is true, Panasonic wants to be that company. It is offering what it believes is a compelling proposition in the form of the AG-HVX200 P2 palmcorder. The camera uses DVCPRO compression to record 1080i and 720p images at 60, 30 and 24 frames per second at 100 Mbps—the data rate that most in the industry say is best- suited for quality HD production. The HDV format records at about 25% of that data rate.

Edit HD Signal

“One hundred Mbps lets the user edit a true HD signal unlike HDV, which is high-compressed and can leave you stumbling along with problems in the MPEG structure,” says Jan Crittenden, Panasonic Broadcast business line manager for DVCPRO products.

The camera itself costs $5,995, making it competitive with the HDV camcorders offered by Sony and JVC. The cost of the media, however, adds another $4,000 to the price because the P2 cards, with 8 gigabytes (GB) of storage, go for about $2,000 each. The camera records on two 8 GB solid-state–based P2 cards, and the 16 GB of memory is enough to record 16 minutes of material at 1080i/60 frames per second (fps), or 40 minutes of material at 720p/24 fps.

That may not sound like enough to use it for serious electronic newsgathering, but Baisley says the rapid pace of technology invariably will lead to increased storage capacity as well.

And as Baisley notes, infrastructures are going toward IT systems, so the infrastructures need to go IT, too.

Liberty Corp. will purchase the units for four of its stations. Steve Smith, VP of engineering and technology for the station group, says that its top priority was finding a small handheld camcorder for daily operations. “This fulfills that need really well and can also record in both standard- and high-definition,” he adds.

It also has a Mini-DV tape drive so customers can shoot 16:9 images on DV tape and edit with existing workflows. But nonlinear editing systems will be able to work with the new format, making new workflows more attractive. Apple announced that Final Cut Pro will be able to edit P2 HD files because its systems can work with DVCPRO material, and Avid says it will support the format when Panasonic begins rolling out the cameras toward the end of the year.

Although the palmcorder style will not suit most news organizations, Panasonic expects to have a version with full broadcast-quality features (and a shoulder-mounted design) at NAB2006. The company is also working on a high-end production model that will match the performance of its D5 recording format—but that is at least two or three years away.

For now, the attention is on the palmcorder. The biggest order was placed by Birns & Sawyer, a Hollywood rental and sales firm that serves the motion-picture industry. The company will receive 25 AG-HVX200 DVCPRO HD P2 hand-held cameras later this year.

“It's a do-anything camera,” says Birns & Sawyer's COO Steve Tobenkin. “It's a good camera for the interim, as well as being forward-looking.”

One possible use is in reality programs that could record at 24 fps to extend the recording time.

As for broadcast stations, two Fox O&Os, KRIV Houston and WTXF Philadelphia, are adding the cameras. KRIV has also purchased 59 other pieces of standard-definition P2 gear, including 19 AJ-SPX800 camcorders and 15 AJ-SPD850 recorders with built-in DVD recorders. WTXF has purchased 16 AJSPX800 camcorders and 24 AJ-PCS060 P2 store drives.

Groups Go For P2

Media General will convert seven stations to P2 this year, which will make a total of 16 for the group.

Jefferson-Pilot Communications will convert its three stations to DVCPRO P2. Phase one of the purchase includes 45 cameras (six of them the HD palmcorders) and 28 AJ-PCD10 drives that allow content to be dumped off the cards so that they can be reused. The equipment will be divided among the group's WCSC Charleston, S.C., WBTV Charlotte, N.C., and WWBT Richmond, Va.

Cordillera Communications will add P2 to all of its 11 stations. KPAX Missoula, Mont., and KRTV Great Falls, Mont., KOAA Pueblo, Colo., and KVOA Tucson, Ariz., currently use it, and seven more stations will be converted in early 2006.