Thomson Camera Hits 14-Bits

With all the talk about high-definition, it would be easy to conclude that areas that rely almost entirely on SD equipment, such TV news studios, will suffer as manufacturers' developmental efforts concentrate on HD. But Thomson will introduce the industry's first 14-bit SD camera, the Grass Valley LDK-500, at the International Broadcasting Convention in Amsterdam Sept. 12-16, a move that should allay any fears of standard-definition's being left behind.

The company says the move from 12-bit to 14-bit will give users improved image quality and better video-processing capabilities (the company will also offer a new 12-bit camera, the LDK-300).

"The camera head has a new architecture based on two new ASIC [Application Specific Integrated Circuits] we developed," says Tim Felstead, marketing manager, production and acquisition. "The use of 14-bit provides better headroom handling for highlights and better noise handling and gain and also allows us to offer in-camera digital effects."

Felstead says that 12-bit cameras have 4,096 steps of quantization, the 14-bit camera more than 16,000. It's that extra headroom, he explains, that allows the improvements and the creation of new ways to process video content digitally. "Previous 12-bit cameras had a processing chain that was like analog cameras'. They would take the signal in from the CCDs, convert it to digital and then do some preprocessing."

Thomson is looking to move beyond that with the LDK-500, Felstead says. For example, freeze-frame capability allows talent and lighting director to spend less time setting up skin-tone detail. "That has always been a bit of an awkward process as it meant getting the talent to sit still in front of the camera. With this, they can press a button, freeze the image, and then the talent and lighting director can leave and carry on being their creative selves."

Also expanding camera horizons is a multi-matrix color corrector that can produce a considerable number of effects inside the camera. "It's a very radical departure from what cameras did in the past," says Felstead. "Gradients, sepia tones and soft focus with center spot in focus are all possible in the camera."

CCD sensors in the camera include Thomson's own DPM (Dynamic Pixel Management) CCDs, FT CCDs, or the new IT and ITW CCDs. According to Felstead, the DPM CCDs are completely smear-free and allow 4:3/16:9 switching without optical converters, and the IT and ITW have very low smear of –140 dB. The camera also has three layered remote-control filters for neutral density, effect filters and color correction. The filters can be controlled independently and also support external filters.

The camera has the same interface as the LDK-100 and LDK-200 cameras and also takes advantage of the Thomson C2IP camera-control system. That system allows Ethernet-based TCP/IP control of up to 99 digital Grass Valley LDK series cameras. An operational control panel, Felstead explains, provides features normally found in conventional master-control panels; a base station is backwards-compatible and can be upgraded with future changes.

The LDK-300 supports the same sensors as the LDK-500 and has two new 22-bit DSPs alongside the 12-bit analog-to-digital conversion to capture more visual information. It also is available with either one manual filter wheel or two remote-controllable filter wheels.

Pricing for the LDK-500 camera starts at $75,000, for the LDK-300 at $25,000. Both will be available in the fourth quarter.