NAB Camera Preview: Cost-Effective Systems Shine in Tough Times

By Carl Lindemann
Special NABNow report for SVG and TV Newsday

If there’s an upside to the downturn, it’s less expensive HD cameras for the studio and the field. At NAB this year, manufacturers will be showcasing cost-effective products that deliver on the promise of IT efficiency and fit downsized and smaller budgets.

“You’ve got to respond to the needs of the marketplace. We still sell expensive cameras, but a station will buy a mix to meet their specific needs,” says Bob Harris, Panasonic Broadcast VP of marketing and product development.

Panasonic’s price-barrier buster for the 2009 NAB Show is the AG-HPX300. The shoulder-mount P2 HD camcorder is billed as the “world’s first affordable 10-bit, 4:2:2 camera” and is priced at $10,700 complete with a 17x Fujinon lens.

Already, Panasonic has inked a deal with NBC Universal to adopt the P2 format with the camcorder soon to hit the streets for NBC O&Os, CNBC, and Telemundo.

“The timing is right for the AG-HPX300,” says Harris. “There’s pressure on broadcasters and producers to improve quality at a lower price. The question is, how do you do that?”

Panasonic’s answer is the HPX300’s ⅓-in. CMOS native HD imagers with 2.2 million pixels of resolution. The chips “overcome the physics” of small chips to deliver low-light sensitivity, Harris says.

But Panasonic doesn’t have the low-cost HD market all to itself. JVC’s GY-HM700 will premier at NAB in April, building on the success of the GY-HD200/250 to deliver a next-generation professional product built around ⅓-in.-inch CCD imagers.

The new shoulder-mount camera records in 720p and 1080p at 30 fps and 1080i at 60 fps integrates a range of technologies, including SDHC flash memory and QuickTime native recording. It’s compatible with Sony’s XDCAM EX platform.

“We’re really pleased to be aligned with Sony and offer its 35-Mbps capability,” says Craig Yanagi, JVC national marketing manager of creation products. “I’ve never seen so much technology converge in one package.”

The GY-HM700 is expected to ship in June for under $8,000, including an HD lens. The combination has some customers lining up, including Michael Doback, VP of engineering for Scripps’s TV-station group.

“The GY-HM700 has an HD viewfinder and can encode HD video into an MPEG-2 stream that we can microwave over our traditional equipment,” says Doback. “The solid-state recording on inexpensive cards brings the cost of media to the same as videotape. That’s the nut.”

Sony’s entry in the high-stakes, low-cost arena is the PMW-EX3, an XDCAM EX solid-state camcorder touted as a “semi “shoulder-mount.” It records to SxS memory cards and features ½-in. CMOS sensors. Listing at about $10,000 with lens, the EX3 can also be studio-ready with the optional NIPROS/1 optical-fiber adapter for another $20,000.

Sony unveiled the EX3 at last year’s NAB and just announced that New Vision Television is going with the camera for its stations’ HD upgrades. The total buy is for 130 cameras for the 17 stations, a combination of EX3s and the pricier XDCAM PDW-700 optical-disc camcorders for ENG.

Mid-Market Price Sensitivity
Price sensitivity is also an issue in the mid market. Hitachi will be showing its new Z-HD5000 studio camera, an economy version of its SK-HD1000 released at the 2008 NAB Show.

“Market conditions have turned us towards lower-cost products,” says Sean Moran, Hitachi national sales manager. “There are customers out there, but they are in holding patterns, wanting to hold onto their cash. We’ve seen some potential clients go for lower-cost cameras because the SK-HD1000 is out of reach.”

The Z-HD5000 swaps the SK-HD1000’s 2.2 million-pixel sensors for single-megapixel interlaced chips. That brings the price for the head down to $24,000, 40% less than its predecessor.

But price is only one way to assess value. Grass Valley’s focus for cameras at this year’s NAB Show is imaging excellence.

“While there is a lot of interest in low-cost cameras, one of the most important things we have to educate people about are the compromises made when you have imagers less than ⅔-in.,” says Ray Baldock, CTO/VP of marketing for Grass Valley.

“There are reasons to go there if you want extreme portability,” he adds. “But to deliver a great HD experience takes ⅔-in. imagers and HD lenses.”

Meanwhile, Grass Valley’s Infinity Digital Media camcorder will bring new capabilities to NAB, including Long GOP HD recording. Choices for Long GOP HD capture include 18, 25, 35, and 50 Mbps for the 10-bit 4:2:2 HD camcorder.

A studio option is also now available for Infinity with the Telecast Fiber Systems CopperHead. The package price is under $50,000.

“We’ve hit the bar for bringing what was standard-definition high-end prices to HD. We’re under that now with a number of our products,” says Mark Chiolis, senior director of marketing.

Grass Valley will also showcase its Elite HD series of studio and field cameras with three new models: the LDK 4000 Elite, the LDK 8000 Elite, and the LDK 8000 SportElite.

According to Baldock, the new cameras are a radical upgrade from the predecessor LDK 8000 series, with all-new DSP circuits, but they will sell for about the same. The LDK 4000 Elite is a fixed-format version to provide additional affordability, but it can be upgraded. The SportsElite model adds 2x super slow motion.

Ikegami will exhibit the finished version of its GFSeries, a flash-memory-based production suite designed to meet the need for a lower-cost ENG system. Prototypes were shown at last year’s NAB, and now they are ready with new peripherals to speed workflow.

The GFCAM HDS-V10 tapeless camcorder has ⅔-in. AIT imagers found on its $85,000 studio cameras. At $25,000 for the body only, the camera does not break any price points. But, according to Bob Molczan, Ikegami engineering specialist for tapeless products, it is not as likely to break as some other cameras either.

“Going cheap will get you something that acquires HD and works well with a reporter who puts it in his trunk and shoots a story occasionally,” says Molczan. “But, for real-life environments when equipment is getting knocked around and being subjected to extremes of heat, humidity, and dirt, you want a camera that will last more than two years before you need replacement parts.”

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