The present and future of post production business and technology

What did Panasonic reveal at their NAB 2009 Press Conference?

With Panasonic executives lining the wall, Nation Marketing Manager for Services, Jim Wickizer reminded the crowd of Panasonic’s role in the last 10 Olympics and revealed that Vancouver 2010 will be shot exclusively with Panasonic P2 HD -  the official recording format for the Vancouver 2010 winter Olympic games. Interestingly he noted the format would be 1080i60, which is not my first choice for fast action sports.

John Baisely, President Panasonic Broadcast waxed lyrically about MPEG-4 AVC (H.264) compression, commenting that it’s used in a “full range” of cameras, conflating the all-I-frame AVC-Intra used with P2 cards, and the AVCCAM range of camcorders featuring long GOP H.264 MPEG-4.

In probably the most exciting announcement, Panasonic revealed the P2 E series of cards. The E series are faster at ‘up to’ 1.2 Gbit/sec but more importantly, it is a more economic series, with 64 GB coming in under $1000 ($998); 32 GB $625 and 16 GB just $420. Unlike the original P2 media, the E series has a limited life of five years. The 16 and 32 GB cards will be available in May with the 64 GB coming in August. This significantly changes the cost dynamics of P2 media making it much more affordable to a wider range of people.

For the first time that I noticed, Panasonic have stopped using 720p24 as their benchmark for record time on P2 media, instead stating that a 64 GB P2E card will record one hour of 1920 x 1080 (full raster) 10 bit, 4:2:2 Intra-frame recording. With five slot cameras that’s a lot of continuous recording time at the highest HD resolution.

Director, Product Marketing Joe Facchini took the stage to reintroduce the HPX-300 – originally released just a few months ago – with 3MOS chips. 3MOS is Panasonic’s way of saying 3 CMOS chips. With 10bit AVC-Intra 4:2:2 recording, 20 variable frame rates and dynamic stretch it is a very nice camera. What was new is that there is going to be a customized studio configuration, for under $10,000.

Joe also addressed the rolling shutter issue that affects some CMOS implementations, like that in the HPX-300 (and most CMOS camcorders for that matter). He announced that a future firmware update for the HPX-300 will have “Flashband Compensation” to accommodate flashes that take less than a full frame, by borrowing information from an adjacent frame.

New to the P2 range are the:

AG-HPG20 P2 Portable 10 bit, 4:2:2 general purpose portable player/recorder weighing just 2.5 lbs (about 1 KG). The HPG20 has HD-SDI in and out for easy integration in existing workflows.

AJ-PCD35 five slot P2 card reader that connects to the computer via PCIe for high speed transfer.

AJ-HRW10 – a P2 ‘rapid writer’ that offloads up to five P2 cards at a time to two 3.5” hard drive RAIDs simultaneously. It includes the PCD35 and connects via Gbit Ethernet to the rest of your facility.

The only new P2 Varicam is the AJ-HPX3700, which outputs 4:4:4 RGB dual link signals live from the camera and records HD in camera to 4:2:2. It is positioned as a premium production Varicam.

Robert Harris, VP Marketing and Product development took to the stage to talk about the success of the AVCCAM format – based on the consumer AVCHD format but with higher bitrate options for improved quality. Pitched as “for those who can’t afford P2 independent frame products” like schools, event videographers, churches, etc.

AVCCAM records to ubiquitous SD media at data rates comparable to HDV. Like HDV AVCCAM is long GOP, although AVCCAM is H.264 not MPEG-2. H.264, which is also known as the AVC coded (Advanced Video Codec for MPEG-4). AVCCAM is gaining NLE support and theoretically provides significantly higher quality at any given data rate. H.264 is generally considered to be 2-4 times higher quality than MPEG-2 (HDV and XDCAM HD/EX).

So, while both HDV and AVCCAM produce Long GOP material, all else being equal, the AVCCAM footage will be significantly higher quality than that from HDV. All else being equal!

Panasonic announced a new camera to join the existing two products in the AVCCAM line: the AG-HMC70 and HMC-150. The new camera – AG-HMC-40 is a compact handheld camcorder (prosumer form factor) that weighs in at around 2.2 lbs (1 KG) with three 1/4” 3MOS chips, 12x optical zoom, Dynamic Range Stretch and Cine-like gamma. The HMC-40 records full raster 1080 at 60I, 30P and 24P; 720p60 and SD. Well equipped with outputs the camera features HDMI; USB 2; Composite and Component out. An optional XLR input adapter has manual level control. The HMC-40 will be available in August. The HMC-40 will carry an MRSP of $3195 and records to standard SD cards.

Also in the announcements from Robert:

HMR-10 – a compact, portable, battery powered recorder/player with  3.5” screen, HDMI and HD-SDI output, HD0SDI Input, USB port, audio input, remote start stop. At the highest bitrate it offers 3 hrs full raster recording or 12 hrs at 1440 x 1080 and a lower bitrate. (1440 x 1080 matches HDV and XDCAM HD/EX at below 50 Mbits/sec).

Billed as “HD Quality” the AG-HCK10 is a compact camera head with 3MOS 1/4” images. It teams with the HMR-10 where iris, focus, zoom and remote control come from the deck over HMR cables up to 10 meters each.

Both deck and compact camera head will be available in August with the HMR-10 coming in at $2650 and camera head similarly priced.

That completed the new product announcements but Robert Harris returned to the stage to commit Panasonic to supporting 3D throughout the entire camera-to-home workflow. He noted that the recent Monsters vs Aliens release had 28% of the screens showing a 3D version but those screens took in 56% of the total revenue! No wonder the industry is heading for 3D. The slide showed a single camera that had two lenses on the body – most unusual looking as the appeared to merge into the body.

No timescale was revealed for the Panasonic push to 3D but they are previewing technologies, particularly display technologies, on the NAB 2009 booth in the Central Hall.