Camera Selections Grow for Small TV Operations

Hitachi SK-HD1000 HDTV camera used by a large church.

MULTIPLE CITIES—Public access television stations are taking advantage of clever engineering that has packed robust, top-end features into affordable video production cameras, allowing stations to capture broadcast quality video without busting the bank.

New cameras even come with on-demand streaming, letting stations go live from a distant location or sporting event without being weighed down with a remote truck. These so-called “TV stations in a box” represent a boon for public access stations that don’t have the budget or training of major broadcast outlets.

For example, Panasonic and JVC have new cameras that allow for live HD transmission when paired with a 4G LTE modem or hotspot. The technology envelope is constantly being pushed, said John Rhodes, product manager for Panasonic Corp. of North America.

“It’s conundrum for manufacturers because in a sense our engineers are too good,” Rhodes said. “They’ve been able to meet that challenge to make a better camera, make it less expensive and make something that we think is better than the competitors.”

Panasonic just released the AW-HE130, a pan/tilt/zoom camera that the company believes is a leap forward. It’s a great device with excellent optics that captures compelling images, Rhodes said. But the real magic is with its ability to produce multistream transmission of H.264 HD video and audio (up to 1080/60p at 25 Mbps.)

“It’s a camera with a television station inside,” Rhodes said.

The AW-HE130 will ship with full-stream ability, while its sister product, the AW-HE40 camera, will have full-streaming as an upgrade in July 2015, Rhodes said. Both feature power-over-Ethernet Plus, which allows for higher power transmission over existing cable lines. The cameras also incorporate newly-developed MOS sensors and Panasonic’s dynamic range stretch and digital noise reduction.

JVCKenwood GY-HM600 camera

The system is targeted at streaming content for a variety of applications, including corporate and government meetings, church services, concerts and sporting events, Rhodes said.

“The upside is that many more outlets, like churches, can now afford these systems when just a few years ago that could not,” he said.

Rhodes said there is a surprising trend in pan-tilt-zoom cameras: the non-mechanical PTZ. Most PTZ cameras on the market rely on small motors or mechanical devices to move the cameras within their housings.

However, mechanical parts wear out before the camera elements do and the company has rolled out the AW-HE2 HD, an all-electronic pan/tilt/zoom camera. It uses its HD MOS sensor to sample a portion of the image for full PTZ control. The electronic PTZ is the wave of future, Rhodes said.

“I’m pretty confident that within four-to-five years that pan-tilt cameras won’t have any moving parts,” Rhodes said.

JVC launched its own live-streaming camera earlier this year to a string of accolades, which included an endorsement from Verizon chairman and CEO Lowell McAdam, who called it a “powerful answer for the broadcasters.” Among the awards, it received the received the TV Technology STAR Award (TV Technology is a sister publication to Government Video.)

JVC calls the upgraded GY-HM650 2.0 ProHD a “mobile news camera” because it addresses the problem broadcasters face when trying to get coverage of a natural disaster in situations where damage makes it difficult to navigate and set up a news van.

A special feature of the camera is its dual codecs, said David Walton, assistant vice president for JVC Marketing Communications. The camera makes it possible to record two streams simultaneously: a web-friendly broadcast stream backed up with a full HD file recorded on a memory card. The GY-HM650’s 23x zoom lens works well for fast-paced action, and the camera offers good low light sensitivity of f11 at 2,000 lux.

As the revolution has progressed over the past few years, the differences between the old-style broadcast studio cameras and the ones available for PEG stations have shrunk. The GY-HM650 has the ability to do studio and remote shots once reserved for major TV stations, Walton said.

“Generally, the core hardware is similar,” Walton said. “[Today’s] more affordable cameras are more sophisticated. We can thank the digital revolution and manufacturers who have invested huge sums of money to create the chips that have reduced the prices.”

Panasonic AW-HE130 pan-tilt-zoom camera

It could be a championship football game at the high school, Walton said. If the school has a robust Wi-Fi, it could be as simple as connecting to the school’s wireless network and pointing it to a fixed IP address with a video decoder at the head-end.

Portland Community Media, the government and public access provider for Portland, Ore., just purchased 22 JVC GY-HM600 and nine GY-HM850 ProHD camcorders to support local programming production for its six channels.

The new cameras replace a fleet of JVC GY-HM100 and GY-HM700 ProHD cameras that are still working but have been in use for five years.

“We chose the JVC 600s and 850s because we had such an excellent experience with the JVC 100s and 700s,” said Bea Coulter, PCM director of operations. “The cameras make beautiful pictures, they’re versatile and support a variety of production configurations and uses, and they are rugged enough to stand up to the heavy use they receive from our community producers.”

Response to the new cameras has been very positive, said Ben Popp, PCM media education coordinator. Producers have praised the GY-HM600’s integrated 23x Fujinon autofocus zoom lens and low-light performance. Plus, the camera’s straightforward menu system, as well as the familiarity with other JVC models, made training much easier.

“Everyone’s been able to grasp it very thoroughly,” Popp said.

Canon joined the streaming rebellion with its XF205 Professional Camcorder. It is a compact, high-performance video camera that has built-in WiFi to transmit video files remotely, said Chuck Westfall, a technical advisor for Canon. The XF205 is targeted at sports production, TV variety shows, commercials and drama shows, in addition to independent movie production, government applications, education, weddings and other commercial videography, Westfall said.

For example, the Canon XF205 professional HD camcorder features a 20x Canon HD zoom lens, image stabilization, MXF and MP4 dual-codec recording to SD cards for convenient editing workflow, and on-board HD-SDI and 3G-SDI terminals.

Having one HD camcorder that can serve multiple purposes is economical. Features such as HD-SDI and 3G-SDI terminals allow for integrating the camcorder into multicamera studio set-ups where separate camera feeds are switched live, Westfall said. The same camera used to shoot a talk show or news telecast can also be used as a highly mobile HD camcorder to shoot location reports, interviews, cable access commercials, or even be used for film-style single-camera moviemaking.

Blackmagic Design Studio Camera HD

Instructors at Boston University’s Film & Television department were so impressed with Canon that they chose the company’s products for their film classes. The Film & Television department’s large-sensor Canon cameras provide the shallow depth of field and lens compatibility essential to the department’s core film-production program, which is geared toward fiction filmmaking, said Charles Merzbacher, associate professor and director of production at BU.

The Blackmagic Design Studio Camera is also a good choice for the PEG market. It is geared toward any live production professional looking for affordable access to professional multicamera production, from broadcast studios to outside broadcasts to live events, said Kendall Eckman, regional manager for Western North America at Blackmagic Design.

“Government customers often have to use cameras designed for general video production and this means that they don’t get the features live production demands, such as large viewfinder, talkback, tally and optical fiber,” Eckman said. “The Blackmagic Studio Camera helps customers save time and money by providing a purpose-built live production camera with professional features at an affordable cost.”

The Blackmagic Studio Camera is a better solution, he said. It delivers an affordable and professional live production camera with its built-in 10-inch viewfinder, four-hour battery, talkback, tally, optical fiber and strong metal chassis in 1080 HD and Ultra HD (4K) models.