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Sony Rolls Out HD

Give the people what they want. Broadcast engineers are on the hunt for affordable HD production gear, so Sony rolled out a prototype first-generation HDV-format camcorder at NAB.

Most attendees taking a peek at the sample on view last week had the same response, says Bob Ott, Sony Broadcast vice president, professional audio/video products: "When, how much, now, please, yesterday."

The HDV format is the result of a collaborative effort by Sony, Canon, Sharp, and JVC. JVC set the pace last year with the first HDV camcorder and deck, each available for less than $3,000. The manufacturer says its HDV gear isn't designed for broadcast-quality applications, though, because of its lower bit rate.

Sony, however, is giving its flavor of HDV 25 Mbps of bandwidth for 1080-line interlaced and 19 Mbps for 720-line progressive, a move that will make it suitable for professional news organizations.

Sony also is focused on making sure HDV-related products are ready to roll when the format is introduced, perhaps late this year. "We're trying to get the nonlinear-editing aspect of it set up prior to releasing the product," says Ott. "When we released DVCAM, the NLE wasn't there, and people had to do machine-to-machine editing. We don't want our customers go through that again."

The HDV format is intended to duplicate the success of the DVCAM format. There have been 465,000 DVCAM units sold since the introduction of the product in the late '90s. Sony has shipped 466,000 units of Betacam SP since its introduction in the early '80s. The affordable price of DVCAM flexibility struck a nerve, and professional video hasn't been the same. Ott points to the broadcasters' acceptance of the DVCAM PD-170, a camera originally designed for the prosumer market, as a reason for Sony to be optimistic on HDV.

"This is a professional product," he explains, "because it has SMPTE time code, XLR-balanced audio and shotgun microphone, and other things that make it suitable for a professional application."

The format's success, says Ott, hinges on broadcast organizations' figuring out their costs and what they need to accomplish. But top-level engineers at major station groups and network news operations have said that an affordable HD acquisition format will be critical in bringing HD news to viewers. "It's going to have a wide gamut of customers," he predicts, "because the demand is there to produce content."

For those not interested in waiting for HDV, Sony introduced an entry-level HD camcorder priced at $48,000 and the HDC-X300 compact HD camera for less than $20,000. The HDW-730S is a three-CCD camcorder; the HDC-X300 is in use on a jib arm at KUSA Denver's news studio.

HD wasn't the only story from Sony. The company's efforts on the XDCAM optical-disc-based camera system kept the Sony booth crowded and busy. "The products are ready, and we shipped more than 1,500 products by the start of the show," says Hugo Gaggioni, Sony Broadcast & Production Systems Division chief technology officer and vice president. "And now broadcasters are beginning to understand the workflow."

Gaggioni says that, for stations working with tape-based formats, the move to XDCAM doesn't wreak havoc with operations. "You can use XDCAM and drop it into an existing analog infrastructure. It will work flawlessly," he explains, "And if you want to go to an IT infrastructure and move content around as files, XDCAM is ready to go."

To help the transition, Sony and Avid formalized a development agreement to make it possible for Avid nonlinear editing systems to work with the proxy-video capabilities of XDCAM and to mount the optical disk. That means the user could edit directly to the optical disk. "The important thing was to be able to see proxy video and drop that material directly onto the editing timeline," says Gaggioni. MPEG-4 Advanced Simple Profile is used to make that possible.

Sony is already previewing future XDCAM developments. Next year, it will introduce optical discs with 50 Gb of storage, as well as 3.5-inch versions to permit smaller cameras. In addition, HD will be a part of XDCAM phase two.

"We're showing it right now," says Gaggioni, "and we're looking to introduce a switchable version next year."