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Sony debuts low-cost 4K camcorder (for news?)

Although there’s some debate about how soon the consumer market will embrace 4K television in large numbers to make it affordable for everyone, virtually every video professional agrees that the equipment to make 4K content has to be lower in cost in order to make it practical. A $65,000 camera just won’t do for newsgathering or most productions, so something had to be done.

That’s why Sony’s introduction of a handheld camera capable of recording true 4K (4096 x 2160) and QFHD [3840 x 2160] at up to 60p for under $6000 has to raise more than a few eyebrows. The new PXW-Z100 4K camcorder, according to Tatsuro Kurachi, Director, Product Marketing & Management, Professional Solutions of America at Sony, is designed to fill the pipeline of video production everywhere, not just for Hollywood films.

Sony’s new slogan: “Professional 4K in your hand, Just like you shoot HD.” And that’s the idea behind the new PXW-Z100: There are no quirky rigs to configure and no extra gear required. Just point, focus and shoot … well almost.

“Consumers are beginning to purchase large-screen TVs with superior resolution to HD, but they will be disappointed when they see aliasing and other artifacts caused by cameras that are not recording native 4K images,” he said. “One of the things that hurt 3-DTV was a lack of content. We’re hoping to solve this problem before it begins. We have to get 4K equipment into the average video professional, including local news, so it has to be affordable. And at Sony, we mean really affordable.”

Weighing about 7lbs, the PXW-Z100 features variable speed recording (from 60X to 2.5X slow-motion), a new XAVC Intra 4:2:2 codec (outin the MXF format with time code) and 10-bit signal processing that, together with a single 1/2in Exmor CMOS sensor, provides rich color information. There’s also 4K monitoring capable via a single HDMI cable directly out of the camera, a Sony G Series fixed lens (20X), IP-based Wi-Fi remote control, a 3G-SDI interface and an on-camera monaural directional microphone.

The camera records to two Sony 64GB XQD S series solid-state memory cards, for a total record time of about 15 minutes per card.

Interestingly, Sony, a big proponent of inter-frame compression and long GOP in the past, said it switched to intra frame compression — where the codec looks at every frame before throwing out redundant information to reduce file sizes — for its latest generation of cameras because the newer codec handles higher resolution better.

Kurachi said he sees TV stations using the new PXW-Z100 camcorder for longer format shows and live events where the station might want to distinguish itself from the competition.

“A year ago, TV stations were not looking at 4K because of the price, but with cameras like the PXW-Z100, they can afford to experiment and try some things out ahead of the 4K TV buying curve,” Kurachi said. “We see 4K production becoming commonplace in five years, maybe sooner. And it’s cameras like the new PXW-Z100 that will help the marketplace get there sooner.”

Many TV shows in Hollywood today are shooting with Sony’s high-end F65 and F55 cameras, so the interest is there. Now that the price of achieving similar images (although with less color gamut) is nearly the same as a 1/3in CCD HD camcorder, it might be a no-brainer for potential buyers.

Of note: For the home recording enthusiast, Sony also introduced a consumer version 4K camcorder, the FDR-AX1, which is less featured than the PXW-Z100 (no variable frame rate recording or 3G-SDI connection) but still records QFHD (3840 x 2160) images. List price: about $4500. Both camcorders will be able to record in the new AVCHD 2.0 compression format later this year.

Sony will display the new PXW-Z100 for the first time at the IBC show in Amsterdam beginning next week.