DTV begins at the camera. It's the first glass in “glass to glass” and, for broadcasting purposes, the most important. As such, it's also one of the most important purchases you can make. And ironically, with only five or six manufacturers in the market, it is also one of the most difficult product lines to properly evaluate.

Digital cameras are a mature technology. Largely, what delineates camera lines is no longer great spans of technology, but smaller considerations — feature sets, weight, compatibility, convenience. Cameras are a buyers market in that the camera you want with the features you want probably exists. Finding it among the multiple product lines offering distinct, but not exclusive, feature sets is the hard part.

Toward that end, the following is an overview of what was on display at NAB2001.

Ikegami came to Las Vegas loaded with several new offerings. Notable among them was the HDK-790E, a switchable HDTV studio camera (the 79E is its portable companion). Outputs are provided for HDTV and SDTV in digital and analog. Selectable native-interlace and progressive readout modes are available by 2.2-million pixel, 2/3-inch CCDs, allowing the camera to be switched to provide 1080i, 720p and 480p. NTSC signals can be independently switched to 16:9, 4:3 side-cut or 4:3 letterbox aspect ratios.

Also of note from Ikegami, the HL-45AW portable digital camera, an update of its HL-45 model. The AW utilizes three IT CCDs to provide 750 lines of resolution, and features a dynamic range of 600 percent and a sensitivity of f11 at 2000 lux. A memory card feature allows operating status to be stored so that camera setup, color matching and DTL settings can be duplicated for several cameras.

Thomson showed representatives from its newly acquired Philips line. The LDK-7000HD (see Pick Hits, p. 82) utilizes Thomson's HD Dynamic Pixel Management (HD-DPM) CCD sensors to make available 4320 vertical pixels to enable 1080i/720p switching internal to the camera sensors, without need of any other adaptation. The series uses Thomson's TriaxHD transmission system, allowing HD video to be transmitted over 1000 meters using industry-standard triax cable without any loss in signal quality. The system is lightweight and offers ergonomic features like a zoom control fitted to the top of the uppermost handle for easier shooting at ground level and a rotary Triax cable connector that prevents the cable from restricting camera placement.

Philips also premiered its LDK-23HS MKII, a new version of its 23HS high-speed camera. The 23HS MKII uses triple-speed image acquisition, scanning three times the normal 50- or 60Hz frame rate (150- and 180Hz), allowing the camera to sharply capture details.

The big news at the Panasonic booth was the launch of its AH-HDC27V, a variable frame rate HD cinema camera. The 27V's variable frame selectivity allows users to choose from a wide rage of rates — including 4- to 33fps (in one-frame increments), 36-, 40- and 60fps, allowing fast- or slow-motion effects as well. It offers 46 minutes of standard 720/60p format on DVCPRO large cassettes and provides the equivalent ASA speed rating of 1000 — f12 at 2000 lux.

Panasonic also launched the AH-HDC27A, a 2/3-inch IT three-CCD DVCPRO HD camcorder. The 27A offers sensitivity of f11 at 2000 lux and 46 minutes of recording with two channels of 16-bit/48kHz digital audio, and a power consumption of 30W. Its HD-SDI output enables full color live and tape playbacks. A memory card stores camera setups.

The AG-DVC200 camcorder, which was also launched at the show, is equipped with three broadcast-quality, 1/2-inch, 410,000-pixel IT CCDs to deliver 800 lines of horizontal resolution, S/N of 62dB at the camera output, low smear, sensitivity of f11 at 2000lux and low-light shooting to 0.5 lux. 276 minutes of recording time without a changeout are available via a standard DV cassette. A Firewire interface allows uploading and downloading images and audio to a Mac- or Windows-based PC for nonlinear editing.

In a nod toward added convenience, Panasonic unveiled three new feature cards for its remote-controlled, convertible cameras, including a studio/SDI card with SDI output combined with use of a 5-inch viewfinder, intercom jack and RCU capability; a scan converter card for direct conversion of S-VGA graphics into a computer; and a Web card, which facilitates pan/tilt system control from anywhere via the Internet.

Sony's big push for the show was its “Anycast” systems, which stress interoperability across whole platforms — acquisition, ingest, storage, networking and distribution. The “acquisition” part of that equation is partly represented by its HDW-750 HDCAM camcorder. The HDW-750 camcorder is compact — basically the size of the Betacam SX series — while still feature rich, offering HAD Sensor technology (the same CCD as Sony's film-quality HDW-F900), f10 at 2000 lux, 54dB signal-to-noise ratio, -135dB smear, 600 percent dynamic range, and built-in HD-SDI output. Additionally, the 750 can output downconverted signals (with the help of an additional kit), as well as HD-SDI signals without an external adaptor for added flexibility. Plans were also announced to introduce the HDW-730, designed specifically for 1080i/60 HD acquisition, later this year.

Hitachi demonstrated new cameras aimed at the Webcasting market. Its PT-1, an integrated, switchable, digital pan/tilt camera unit, was shown with a color touchscreen controller (the PT-TSC). The company also showed its wind- and water-resistant PTE-300 head, which is compatible with several of the company's cameras, for use in remote observation applications.

Hitachi also showed its SK-3100P, a multi-standard HD camera featuring a 2.2 million pixel IT-CCD that provides simultaneous 1080i HDTV and NTSC output. It is a portable EFP camera that can also be used in a studio configuration. NTSC (480i) outputs are provided in digital and analog and it features independent control of all detail settings.

JVC introduced the GY-DV700WCL fully digital DV CineLine Camcorder. The GY-DV700WCL features three 2/3-inch, 16:9 IT CCDs and a B4 lens mount compatible with a wide array of lenses. The camera's features include black stretch/compression, zebra-level indication, and built-in genlock and timecode needed for shoots or syncing to other digital tools. FireWire I/O gives direct output to computer or NLE. A useful feature, “Super SceneFinder,” automatically logs individual scenes as you shoot, then stores the SSF data on the head of a standard mini-DV tape so editing or batch digitizing is much easier. You can flag up to 134 scenes per cassette as you shoot.

Continuing its thrust into digital cinematography, JVC also showed the DY-90WCL, a 2/3-inch, 16:9, 50Mb/s 4:2:2 camcorder.

Lenses and camera support were another hot product segment in Las Vegas.

Lensmaker Fujinon showed its XA87× family of lenses for sport shooting and other applications where extreme close-ups and high image quality are critical. The lenses feature focal lengths of up to 2300mm and are available with an integrated image stabilizer — the OS-TECH Optical Stabilized Technology Adaptor. Fujinon also introduced its HA17×7.8E HD ENG/EFP lens, which offers operators precise control of zoom and iris functions via its Digi Power Servo unit.

Canon bolstered its HDxs family of lenses, offering three new members including the HJ21×7.8B, the HJ21×7.5B and the HJ11×4.7B wide-angle HD lens. The company also showed its DIGI SUPER 86 TELEx family, which is capable of zooming from 13.5mm to 1161mm (or 2322mm with a 2X extender). Canon extended its line of portable HD lenses with the HJ40X10B IASD-V and the HJ40X14B IASD-V TELE, which features a focal length of up to 1120 with a 2x extender.

Angenieux displayed its 40x HD and HR series zoom lenses. The lenses offer 440mm focal length with low ramping (1 degree) for EFP or ENG applications.

Radamec offered two new robotic control panels, the SC Mk11, which has a touchscreen display to provide the operator with full shot and transition information at a glance, and a camera robotics touchscreen control system that expands operator control to 16 cameras from one location.

Camera-support players showed their wares as well. Vinten showed its Vision 3 pan/tilt head for DV cameras and its Pozi-loc tripod, and Bogen showed its 503/505 video heads.

OConnor Engineering made a strong showing with two new entries: the 50-200 digital fluid head and the 55D tripod. The 50-200 is capable of counterbalancing a 200lb camera throuout its =/-90 degree tilt range. The 55D is a heavy-duty tripod for the Ultimate series 1030 and 1030S fluid dampened camera heads.

Finding your way through the various feature sets can be a daunting task, but those who take the time to understand their choices when selecting the first element in “glass to glass” will be rewarded by good results at the other end.