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Sony to play e-card in Vegas

Sony's introductions at the NAB show in Las Vegas in April won't be the usual vast laundry list of equipment the industry has come to expect, but they do include a plug-in card that could change the way users control and access Sony products.

"The eVTR plug-in card enables Sony recorders to transfer video programs as files over IP networks," explains Steve Jacobs, senior vice president of broadcast and professional systems. "It also enables VTR remote control from anywhere Ethernet reaches."

Says Ed Grebow, president, Sony Electronics Broadcast and Professional Co.: "It's a way of bridging together our current technologies. You network within a facility, you can access remotely, and you can diagnose the VTRs remotely with our SystemWatch capability. All of our new products will have the ability for remote monitoring."

According to Grebow, stations and production facilities are increasingly asking Sony to handle maintenance in a lower-cost way and also to improve work flow. The plug-in card is intended to help that. "We can monitor the life of the VTR heads or monitor how switcher software is performing or do upgrades," he says. "It saves on the need for on-site personnel or to send out a Sony repairman."

The pricing of the SystemWatch capability varies by how many devices will be monitored out of Sony's San Jose-based monitoring facility. "It's mostly done as part of the annual maintenance agreement," Grebow adds.

The key to the $10,000 eVTR, Jacobs says, is the MXF (Material Exchange Format), which is being ratified as a standard by SMPTE and has support from other manufacturers, such as Avid and Pinnacle Systems. Delivery is expected to be sometime in October.

The plug-in card will be able to be installed in MXF-compatible gear from other manufacturers, Grebow says, adding that he expects initial demand to be strictly for Sony gear. "Where you're going to find [it being installed on other manufacturers' equipment] is in integration projects that include both our equipment and equipment from others."

Another benefit of the plug-in card, Jacobs says, is that a user of one machine can access material on another machine. "We can click on a file, and, if we want to preview it before doing a transfer, we can open a small proxy window on the PC to watch the segment. And when we have chosen the file we want, it's an FTP transfer from the playback IMX machine to the destination, which could be a nonlinear editor, video server or another eVTR-equipped machine."

Another product headed for an NAB debut is the MSW-900 MPEG IMX camcorder, which gives the company a complete system for MPEG 50 Mb/s production (it joins IMX VTRs and servers). Features include MPEG I-frame recording at 50 Mb/s and Sony's Power HAD EX CCD technology for imaging. Weight is under 12 pounds, and the camcorder is switchable between 60i and 30p recording.

"IMX has had a great launch, and we're out of stock on some of the equipment," says Grebow. "The key is to get the complete system done."

Alec Shapiro, vice president of marketing, Sony Business and Professional, says that pretty much all of the networks have taken delivery of IMX decks, with NBC's use of 190 decks for the Olympics leading the way. "For legacy playback of half-inch tapes, IMX has sort of become a standard already."

For HD production, two new HDCAM cameras—the HDW-730 camcorder and the HDC-930 studio camera—will be available in June (pricing still to be determined). Both have new 2/3-inch IT CCD imaging sensors with 1920x1080 pixels and are switchable between 59.94i and 50i recording.

"The move to HD is moving very quickly for production," says Grebow. "What we're now doing is bringing the cost of HD production down so it's close to the cost of SD production."

The HDCAM camcorder weighs 8.1 pounds and has a built-in video cache. The cache records on a seven-second continuous loop, and operators can move the stored video to tape when the record button is pressed.

"We think people are going to find that very attractive," says Grebow. "It always has seven seconds in the buffer, so the main thing I see is there are no more missed shots when you hit record."

The new studio camera weighs 11 pounds and has an optional fiber interface for 1.5-Gb/s HD-SDI transmission.

Sony's 30,000-square-foot booth will anchor the new South Hall for NAB. Other exhibitors in the South Hall include Thomson and Leitch on the second floor and Sony, Apple and others on the first floor.

"Clearly, this is a difficult NAB to predict," says Grebow. "I think we'll have fewer attendees, but, the best I can tell, all of the important customers will be there.

"There are pros and cons to that," he continues. "I like crowded booths, but I think that customers will be able to see the equipment better and will actually be able to touch it. One of the problems in recent years was the booth was full of tire-kickers. I think we'll have less of that and people will be coming looking for specific solutions. We're designing our exhibit to meet that."