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Originally featured on BroadcastEngineering.com
Mar 10

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3/10/2011 10:53 AM  RssIcon

Sony executives last week invited a selection of 10 key editors from the United States to visit three company facilities in Japan. The editorial trip included meetings at the Atsugi Technology Center, near Tokyo; Sony’s worldwide headquarters in downtown Tokyo; and the Sony image sensor factory in Kumamoto, Japan. This combination of high-intensity (and long) days of meetings allowed me to better understand some of Sony’s newest products and get an inside look at this wealth of new technology. Much of what I saw will be shown to the public for the first time at this year’s NAB show.

Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll treat Broadcast Engineering readers to a behind-the-scenes look at some of Sony’s plans and new technology. Armed with this information, I’m sure you’ll want to see for yourself at the show what the engineers at Sony have been up to.

Even so, there are some images I can’t yet show you. There are a few products that, while we were privileged to see, the final production versions were not yet in place, so I don’t yet have photos. But those images are coming — March 23, to be specific — so stay tuned.

Images begin with sensors

Camera quality is highly dependent upon the image that is developed in the semiconductor sensor. Add to that sophisticated digital processing, and the beginnings of a camera are realized. When it comes to building cameras, Sony pretty much controls the entire chain. In fact, the company’s imaging center in Kumamoto produces camera sensors for a wide variety of other camera vendors. None of those names were spoken, but when Sony makes sensors for a large portion of an entire market, it surely reflects the quality that even the competition sees in the products.

When it comes to large format sensors, the Sony Super 35mm-sized Exmor CMOS sensor is as big as they come. And, when mounted in the PMW-F3 camcorder, the results are nothing less than amazing.

The Super 35mm image sensor is used in four of Sony’s cameras: the NXCAM-S-35mm, PMW-F3, SRW-900PL and the F35. More about each of these cameras later.

The Super 33mm imager provides what Sony executives called, “shallow depth of field” providing “deep perspective.” I asked Sony marketing manager, Peter Crithary, about this feature, and he said that even ENG shooters are calling for access to this type of performance. He said, “We’re not just talking about more brightness and wider color space; we’re actually delivering it.” All I know is that the pictures displayed from this line of imagers looked damn good.

The Sony Super 35mm imagers are used in several cameras: NXCAM S-35, PMW-F3, SRW-9000PL and the F3. The CineAlta cameras, F-35 and SRW-9000PL use the imager, providing a full RGB signal, each channel with 6.3M pixels, 1920(H) x 1080(V) x 3 (RGB). They are capable of recording at variable speeds from one to 50fps.

A new CineAlta camera uses an 8K CMOS sensor providing a total pixel count of 20.4M, 8768(H) x 2324(V). Active pixel count is 18.7M, 5882(H) x 3179(V). This camera is also equipped to handle the new SR Memory onboard 4K recorder that provides RAW data storage. More later.

Over the next weeks, leading up to NAB, I’ll describe other new products and technology gleaned from my trip to Japan. The next article will focus on Sony’s proposed 4K/3D workflow. Key to building this super-high-end quality workflow is to capture in 4K and then extract the sub-formats as needed from the higher-resolution originals. Sony calls this a “resolution rich” workflow. The actual product line is called “Media Backbone.”

Just to tease you a bit, so you’ll follow along, there are some other new technologies to be revealed in this blog:

• A super 35mm sensor NXCAM camcorder for under $7000

• A compact NXCAM 3-D camcorder. Predicted price under $3500

• New HDCAM-SR products and features, including MPEG-4 SStP file operation

• New SR SxS Pro memory cards, releasing a 64GB version at NAB and ranging up to a 1TB card coming later

• New features for the PMW-500, HD422 memory shoulder camcorder, including live and play feature and proxy recording via USB memory

• New features and performance for optical storage, a new XDCAM drive providing high-speed read/write (2.6X read and 1.5X write). The drive will handle quad-layer write-once disks with 4-hour recording with HD 50Mb/s files.

• New line of OLED monitors. Gosh, I couldn’t believe the blacks and the colors displayed in darkly-illuminated scenes. But, you’ll have to wait for more details in my next report.

Stay tuned.

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